Of Risks and Rewards

Frank Ogawa Plaza
Oakland, CA

 Yesterday’s local evening news was almost solely dedicated to the Occupy Oakland demonstration and general strike scheduled for today. It reminded me of what I wrote yesterday on the topic. As the Occupy movement continues across the bay and here in the city, my interest grows. I’m curious as to what effect these movements have in the present, and what it will look like for the future not just here in the Bay Area but across the nation.

One of the first things discussed when I flipped on CNN this morning was OccupyOakland and the General Strike. According to a San Jose Mercury News article today’s events are scheduled as follows:

 “Mass gatherings at Frank Ogawa were scheduled for 9 a.m., followed by another assembly at the Plaza at noon, and again at 5 p.m., which will be followed a two-mile march to the Port of Oakland. The staggered times of demonstrations are designed to make sure everyone who wishes has a chance to participate even if they cannot take the entire day off work.”

Port of Oakland
The purpose of today’s general strike (according to Tim Simons, an organizer with Occupy Oakland via CNN) is to shut down the city of Oakland. Additionally, protesters want to stop the “flow of capital” at the Port of Oakland – the 5th busiest in the country. (It was also the first major port on the west coast, according to a Wikipedia article dedicated to the topic.) Workers at the Port of Oakland have been encouraged (by the longshoreman’s union, to which most, if not all of the workers, belong) to support the movement by not crossing the picket line and participating during break times, according to KGO Bay Area News.

It’s interesting that a rep, from what is arguably the largest and most powerful union on the west coast, publicly encouraged workers (and ILWU workers) at the Port of Oakland to support the cause tonight by not crossing the picket line. With the jobs of hundreds, if not thousands, of people on the line one would think that supporting the protest (during work hours on company time) in any way, shape, or form has the potential to jeopardize one’s employment. Either the ILWU feels confident enough in their ability to successfully defend their members in the event that one or more of them faces unemployment as a result, or they realize that some of their members might identify with the Occupy movement as it seems to have the same feel as the mission and purpose of labor unions (worker’s rights/rights for working class).

But I can’t help to see that the lines are blurred: even though the Occupy Oakland demonstrators will be marching to the Port of Oakland to shut it down, employees who work at that same port are being encouraged to support the movement. There’s a very fine line between making a statement to try and to stop the “flow of capital” while at the same time putting the employees of the port at risk. Especially considering the possibility that some of the worker’s there feel like they too, are a part of the 99% and support the Occupy cause.

And that blurriness continues when thinking about the government of Oakland. As mentioned in another post, Mayor Jean Quan gave city employees the day off for the strike, with the exception essential personnel (nurses, police officers, etc.). Isn’t part of the reason the Occupy movement has gained so much momentum is because people agree that there is something wrong with our current government and that it needs to change? If I’m getting this right – the mayor of Oakland (an elected government official) gave city (read: government) employees the day off to support a movement that is in many ways anti-government.

 In economically uncertain times such as these, many people are in fear of losing their jobs … and then their homes and their livelihoods. I venture to guess part of the reason the Occupy participants will be out en force today and tonight in Oakland has to do with exactly that – fear of losing their homes, jobs, and families. Or maybe they’re out today because they have already lost those things and want to express their anger or frustration (or both) about the role that our government had in the event of that loss (or losses). But for those that are currently employed and taking the day off to support the cause anyway, they must feel that the rewards will outweigh the risks.

Devoting time and effort to a cause that lacks a strong vision for the future and a clear, actionable path to get there isn’t an appealing reward to what might be the risk of losing a valuable job. Maybe I still don’t understand. Or maybe I’m not part of the 99%.

[Thank you to ingridtaylar for the Port of Oakland image, gwen for the Frank Ogawa Plaza image, Marc-John Photographic for the We Are the 99% image, and Bookandcoffee for the ILWU logo. It is greatly appreciated that each image was marked as available for reuse!]
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