Economic activity at the Port of Oakland came to a halt on Friday as thousands of workers and supporters gathered on Middle Harbor Road to protest police brutality and racism in the United States.
The demonstration, organized by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, coincided with demonstrations planned today at 28 other seaports in California, Oregon and Washington.
The day of action — expected to shut down the port for all of Friday — was held on Juneteenth (June 19), a day that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. With support of the ports, workers stopped processing cargo and rallied to mark the anniversary and call for police reform.
The Juneteenth stoppage follows mass protests on June 9 at all 29 West Coast ports which idled terminal operations for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time a police officer in Minnesota knelt on George Floyd’s neck— an African American man — leaving him gasping for air before he died, on May 25.
Sparked by Floyd’s death, protests have continued for three weeks across the country, toppling Confederate statues amid a flurry of announcements from companies that are pledging to do better on diversity initiatives. The protests, which also include outrage over the police killings of Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and others, have spread beyond the United States and into other countries.
Local 10, Local 34 and the African American Longshore Coalition led the rally at the port. Demonstrators drove in a caravan, and marched, to the Oakland Police Department headquarters and City Hall from the port.
“You represent the potential and the power of the labor movement,” Angela Davis, a longtime activist who was a member of the Black Panther Party, said at the rally. She said she hopes that other labor unions will join in the effort of “abolishing the police as we know them” and “re-imagining public safety.”
Other speakers included actor Danny Glover, who called in to voice support, and Michael Brown Sr., the father of Michael Brown Jr., the 18-year-old black man who was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.
“We’re not working today. We’re standing in solidarity,” said Willie Adams, president of the ILWU, at the Port of Oakland. He said dock workers in Genoa, Italy had stopped work in solidarity. “Good cops have got to start checking those bad cops. You can’t stand by and let something happen. You’re just as guilty,” Adams said.
Cestra Butner, the board president for the Port of Oakland and a prominent African American business leader, said there’s no question that the port stood behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We want this country to live up to what it’s supposed to be,” he said in a Friday video addressed to employees and the public.
On June 6, the port issued a statement supporting the movement for social and racial justice. Butner called for more. “I’m proud the Port has a statement on this issue,” he said in the video. “Now we have to follow that up with our actions. We must ask: Are we making everything equal?”
The mood in downtown Oakland was exuberant as cars honked, music from James Brown played and over 100 bikers sped up and down Broadway with raised fists. A troupe of drummers performed in front of City Hall starting around 1 p.m. as the crowd swelled to thousands around Frank Ogawa Plaza, which activists are calling Oscar Grant Plaza for the black man killed by a BART policeman in 2009.
Rapper and film director Boots Riley said in front of Oakland City Hall that the port work stoppage and other labor efforts would maintain pressure for meaningful change.“We don’t want to just ask for things to get better. We’re going to say, ‘It’s going to get better or else,’” he said.
Oakland resident Gwendoline Pouchoulin displayed homemade signs that said “All Black Lives Matter” and a quote from author Alice Walker (“The most common way people give up power is by thinking they don’t have any)”. She first started attending local protests in 2013 and said this year’s were much larger.
“I think if there’s a moment to show up, it’s now,” she said.