OAKLAND -- Occupy demonstrators turned their ire on big banks Wednesday by marching, blocking traffic and chanting -- and in some cases, defacing ATMs and pounding on doors at Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase and Citibank branches around downtown.
Thousands of people from all walks of life poured into downtown Oakland from points east, north, south and west, with more heading in every minute to lend their support and their voices to the general strike, the first of its kind in Oakland since 1946. For a time large crowds split off in separate marches, with some staying at the Occupy Oakland camp at 14th and Broadway, and others marching and protesting at various banks located near the Kaiser Center at 20th and Webster streets.
Students and teachers from Berkeley and Laney College marched downtown to join the strike after first stopping to serve a symbolic eviction notice at Oakland Unified School District headquarters.
Joel Velasquez, a parent of two children at Westlake school, said school board members are "on notice that they will be evicted from office in the next election for doing the dirty work of the 1 percent."
"They are part of institutional problems that cause hardship on low-income children," Velasquez said.
A group of children were also gathering at the Oakland Main Library branch before marching to Frank Ogawa Plaza at 14th and Broadway, home base for thousands of demonstrators participating in the massive Day of Action.
About 1,000 split from the group to target banks near the Kaiser Center on Lakeside Drive. At Bank of America, some protesters pounded on the locked doors and defaced ATMs with graffiti before moving down the street to Wells Fargo.
Earlier the massive crowd had done a loop around downtown Oakland, stopping in front of the Elihu M. Harris state building on Clay Street before marching down Broadway and blocking the intersections at 12th and 14th streets, The march followed a peaceful rally at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza during the first of three planned actions to disrupt business.
There was nary a police officer in sight as some in the crowd stood in front of Wells Fargo and Comerica bank branches at 12th and Broadway -- with a few in the crowd occasionally banging on the locked doors.
The general strike remained peaceful into the early afternoon, said Mayor Jean Quan on returning from a tour of the downtown area.
"I want to thank everybody, particularly the citizens of Oakland and the demonstrators who kept it pretty peaceful and orderly," Quan said at a press conference from the city's emergency operations center at about 12:30 p.m. Interim police Chief Howard Jordan said that as of noon there had been no arrests, but police were aware of "a small group of people in the crowd perhaps looking for a confrontation with the police.
"We ask that the peaceful folks continue to police themselves, and report them to us if they see anyone ready to become violent," Jordan said.
Quan said that 200 of the city's civilian workforce of 2,500 workers had taken advantage of floating holidays or furloughs to call in sick today, and she asked the demonstrators respect the rights of area employees who may support the movement but were unable to take time off.
"At this point we fully expect this is going to be a good day for Oakland, and we can show how people can protest and get their message across and we can keep the city safe at the same time. We're looking forward to a day of peaceful protest," Quan said.
Oakland police are the only enforcement officers on the ground, Jordan said, although mutual aid is available if the need arises.
Several businesses did close, including the Men's Wearhouse and the Grand Lake Theater. Those businesses closed to support the general strike to protest the inequality of wealth and power, but other businesses, such as small restaurants in the plaza, opted to close for different reasons.
The UC office of the President decided to have its more than 800 employees work from home today over concerns that BART might be shut down at some point. About 1,300 people affiliated with UC work in the building, and all stayed away.
The city of Oakland remains open for business, as does the Port of Oakland, contrary to rumors. ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees said that about 40 stevedores failed to come to work, out of about 325 expected on the morning shift. Trucks are going through the gates and cranes are moving cargo on and off the ships, although there is a backlog at some terminals also due in part to problems on Monday and Tuesday with the handling of refrigerated containers.
The Occupy Oakland camp got the rally going before 8:30 a.m., putting together signs and pumping music from speakers outfitted to a truck that will serve as a rolling platform.
Carey Dall, 35, a dockworker with the ILWU, was among the first to arrive at Frank Ogawa Plaza, which the Occupy camp has renamed Oscar Grant Plaza. He was standing next to a pile of about 100 signs "Stand with the 99 percent" ready to be distributed.
The strike is an important symbolic gesture, he said.
"Economic impact is how you make change," Dall said. "It's going to take sustained activity like this if we are going to see changes in this country."
The Men's Wearhouse in the Rotunda Building posted a sign in the window saying "We stand with the 99%. Closed Wednesday, Nov. 2." The venerable Grand Lake Theater, never one to shy away from political cause, also shut down today, with its marquee saying "We proudly support the Occupy Wall Street movement, closed Wednesday in support of the strike."
Peter King, spokesman for the UC Office of the President in downtown Oakland said the office is closed and employees working from home today. He said that most of the 1,300 employees who work in the building take public transit and BART may not be reliable given the masses of people expected to take part in the strike downtown.
Today's planned strike will be the first of its kind since in Oakland since 1946, and it could potentially turn out to be the biggest demonstration in the East Bay since the Vietnam War.
The demonstration aims to shut down the city by targeting banks, corporations and the Port of Oakland in solidarity with worldwide Occupy movement that decries the economic wealth of the very rich 1 percent while 99 percent of the population struggles to find jobs and pay the bills.
And there is an Oakland twist to today's action, with a call to "end police attacks on our communities and defend Oakland schools and libraries (against budget cuts)."
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan issued a statement Tuesday saying she hopes the general strike is peaceful and puts the issues of the 99 percent front and center.
"I am working with the police chief to make sure that the pro-99 percent activists -- whose cause I support -- will have the freedom to get their message across without the conflict that marred last week's events," Quan said.
During a demonstration Oct. 25, police fired tear gas, bean bag round and other nonlethal projectiles into a crowd of hundreds of protesters after orders to clear the intersection of 14th and Broadway. Several people were hit, and former Marine Scott Olsen was struck in the head and suffered a skull fracture.
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.
Several labor unions are urging their members to join the day of action. Hundreds of Oakland's public school teachers plan to take part and the California Nurses Association, or CNA, is encouraging its members to participate in the events downtown, which will include rallies, a cook-off, speakers and marches on banks.
"Nurses are part of the 99 percent. We see the health impacts of job loss, home foreclosures, and poor nutrition related to the economic crisis," said Martha Kuhl, an Oakland nurse. "Nurses care for patients experiencing who delay or forego needed medical care because of the cost, and see more stress-related disease, inability to afford medications, and rising numbers of the uninsured,"
The city will stay open, and it has urged downtown businesses to stay open as well.
Merchants in Chinatown on Tuesday were planning for the safety and livelihood of their shops, their employees and their customers, said Oakland Chinatown Chamber board member Carl Chan, who said he worries that the strike is an "opportunity to take over and cause trouble."
"Our message is pretty strong: we will be open for business, and we have to live on. We may support the cause, but we cannot afford to be counterproductive," Chan said. "We hope the Occupy Oakland movement will not become the Destroy Oakland movement."
City employees who plan to take the day off must clear it with their supervisor and take some form of furlough leave other than sick time.
Staff writers Karl Fischer, Hannah Dreier and Katy Murphy contributed to this story.