November 2, 2011 / 7:25 PM / 6 years ago

UPDATE 2-Protesters block Oakland streets in strike bid

4 Min Read

* Anti-corporate demonstrators rally in downtown Oakland

* Port remains open - official

* Unions sympathetic but decide not to join strike

By Dan Levine and Emmett Berg

OAKLAND, Calif, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters blocked a major Oakland intersection on Wednesday in what they called a general strike to protest economic conditions and police brutality, but fell well short of paralyzing the city.

Business in the northern California city appeared to be largely normal, with most stores and businesses remaining open and workers going to their jobs.

Organizers of the Occupy Oakland movement, which had vowed to shut down the city, said they had effectively closed Oakland's port, one of the biggest container ports in the nation, but a spokesman for the facility said it was open.

"At the seaport, marine terminals are generally operating, although the situation is fluid," port spokesman Isaac Kos-Read said in a written statement. He said each of the terminals operated independently.

The protesters, who complain bitterly about a financial system they believe mainly benefits corporations and the wealthy, had aimed to disrupt commerce, with a special focus on banks and other symbols of corporate America.

"A lot of the small businesses actually have closed," organizer Cat Brooks said of the strike's effectiveness. "A lot of the food places and other things, we appreciate them staying open (to feed protesters)."

Local labor leaders, while generally sympathetic to the protesters, said their contracts prohibited them from proclaiming an official strike.

Craig Merrilees, a spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said about 40 out of 325 unionized port workers had stayed off the job.

"There was no call for a strike by the union," he said.

City officials also said schools and government offices were remaining open.

'I Can't Afford to Close'

Residents like Rebecca Leung, 33, who was headed to her job at an architectural lighting sales company, went about their ordinary activities. Leung said she supported the theme of the protests and would check them out during her lunch break.

"I don't really feel striking is necessary. I work for a small company, I don't work for Bank of America," she said.

The owner of a flower shop complained about the impact of the demonstrations, which have gone on for weeks, as well as the nearby protesters' encampment.

"Business has not been the same. Everything has gone downhill around here, the noise, the ambience and the customers," the man, who identified himself as Usoro, told Reuters. "I can't afford to close down."

The focal point for the demonstration on Wednesday, which drew an estimated 1,000 people, was the intersection of 14th street and Broadway in downtown Oakland. Traffic was diverted, but few uniformed police officers were seen.

It was at that intersection that ex-Marine Scott Olsen suffered a serious head injury last week when marchers clashed with police, an incident that galvanized protesters across the country.

Protest organizers say Olsen, 24, who is in an Oakland hospital in fair condition, was struck by a tear gas canister fired by police. Acting Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan has opened an investigation into the incident but has not said how he believes Olsen was wounded.

"We stand in defense of Scott Olsen and in memory of Oscar Grant," Angela Davis, a radical leader prominent in the 1960s and '70s, said at a rally on Wednesday.

Grant, 22, was shot to death on an Oakland train platform on New Year's Day in 2009 by a policeman who said he mistakenly drew his gun instead of his Taser electroshock weapon during a scuffle.

Video of that incident touched off a night of rioting in the city in January 2009, and civil unrest erupted again in July 2010 when the officer was cleared of murder charges.

Elsewhere, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told Wall Street protesters he would take action if circumstances warranted, saying that the encampments and demonstrations were "really hurting small businesses and families."

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