* Anti-corporate demonstrators rally in downtown Oakland
* Protests shuts down major container port
* Unions sympathetic but decide not to join strike
By Dan Levine and Noel Randewich
OAKLAND, Calif, Nov 2 Protesters shut down
operations at Oakland's busy port and blocked traffic on
Wednesday in demonstrations against economic inequality and
police brutality that turned tense as the night wore on.
The protest by some 5,000 people fell short of paralyzing
the northern California city that was catapulted to the
forefront of national anti-Wall Street protests after a former
Marine was badly wounded during a march and rally last week.
As evening fell, an official said maritime operations at
the Oakland port, which handles about $39 billion a year in
imports and exports, had been "effectively shut down".
"Maritime operations are effectively shut down at the Port
of Oakland. Maritime area operations will resume when it is
safe and secure to do so," the port said in a statement.
A port spokesman said officials hoped to reopen the
facility on Thursday morning.
Protesters, who streamed across a freeway overpass to
gather in front of the port gates, stood atop tractor-trailers
stopped in the middle of the street.
Others climbed onto scaffolding over railroad tracks as a
band played a version of the Led Zeppelin song "Whole Lotta
Love," using amplifiers powered by stationary bike generators.
"The reason I'm here is, I'm sick and tired of trying to
figure out where I should put my vote between the lesser of two
evils," student Sarah Daniel, 28, said at the port.
The atmosphere turned tense after a protester was
apparently struck by a car in downtown Oakland, and incorrect
reports spread that the person had died. Acting Oakland Police
Chief Howard Jordan later said the pedestrian was taken to a
local hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.
At about midnight (0400 GMT Thursday), a police force that
had largely kept its distance through the day moved in to
confront hundreds of protesters lingering on streets near a
public plaza that has been a hub for demonstrations, ordering
crowds to disperse as officers declared an unlawful assembly.
Police lined up shoulder to shoulder and donned gas masks,
then fired tear gas as protesters turned and ran, some stopping
to pick up canisters and hurl them back at officers. Some
protesters shouted: "This was peaceful until you came!"
The anti-Wall Street activists, who complain bitterly about
a financial system they believe benefits mainly corporations
and the wealthy, aim to disrupt commerce with a special focus
on banks and other symbols of corporate America.
The demonstrations centered on Frank Ogawa Plaza adjacent
to city hall, scene of a tug-of-war last week between police
Protesters, prior to marching on the port, also blocked the
downtown intersection of 14th street and Broadway, where
ex-Marine Scott Olsen was seriously wounded with a head injury
during a clash with police on the night of Oct. 25.
BANK WINDOWS SMASHED
Windows were smashed at several Oakland banks and a Whole
Foods market, with pictures of the damage posted on Twitter.
Few uniformed police officers were spotted at the rallies,
but Jordan said demonstrators would not be allowed to march
beyond the gates of the port. He blamed the vandalism and
unruliness on a small group he identified as anarchists.
Local labor leaders, while generally sympathetic to the
protesters, said their contracts prohibited them from
proclaiming an official strike.
Oakland Unified School District spokesman Troy Flint said
more than 300 teachers had stayed home, most of those having
made formal requests the night before.
"We did have to scramble a little bit to cover the extra
absences," Flint said, adding that some classes were combined
but no students were left unsupervised.
Other residents like Rebecca Leung, 33, who works at an
architectural lighting sales company, went about their ordinary
activities. Leung said she generally supported the protests.
"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 near the plaza protest site,
meanwhile, said weeks of noisy rallies and ongoing encampment
had only served to hurt his small business.
"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."
Olsen remains in an Oakland hospital in fair condition.
Protest organizers say Olsen, 24, was struck by a tear gas
canister fired by police. Jordan opened an investigation into
the incident but has not said how he believes Olsen was hurt.
Elsewhere, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told Wall
Street protesters he would take action if circumstances
warranted, saying the encampments and demonstrations were
"really hurting small businesses and families."
In downtown Seattle, about 300 rain-soaked protesters
blocked the street outside the Sheraton hotel where Jamie
Dimon, chief executive of the biggest U.S. bank, JPMorgan Chase
& Co, was speaking at an event.
Earlier in the day, five protesters were arrested for
trespassing after chaining themselves to fixtures inside a
Chase bank branch, Seattle police said.
In Los Angeles, several hundred protesters marched through
downtown in solidarity with their Oakland counterparts, while
in Virginia protesters sought alarm whistles at their
encampment in a public park in Charlottesville because women
were concerned about their safety overnight.
"You're seeing people who don't really care about the
Occupy movement, who are doing their own thing," said Zac
Fabian, a spokesman for Occupy Charlottesville.