Oakland Stores Deal With General Strike Differently

Some stores close while others are forced to shut down as protests grip the city.

For Allen Michaan, shutting down the Grand Lake Theater in solidarity with the Occupy Oakland general strike was only natural.

The owner of the historic theater in Oakland's Lake Merritt district has never been shy to take a political stand and it is famous for its political messages on its marquee.

"It was natural for us to put up the message to support the Occupy Wall Street movement and when they announced the strike a few days ago I made the decision," Michaan said adding that he has long supported progressive causes and that his theater has hosted speakers and events for democratic events.

Tuesday a sign on the theater's marquee set the theme for several locally-owned business that joined the general strike.

"We proudly support the Occupy Wall Street movement closed Wed to support the strike."

But locally-owned businesses were not the only ones to shut its doors down on Wednesday. The Men's Warehouse shut down its store on Wednesday in Oakland's Frank Ogawa Plaza to support the protesters.

A spokesman for the Houston-based men's retailer said the store was closed because the protesters are standing up against measures that impact not only its customers but its employees.

"The Mens Wearhouse closed its store near Oakland City Hall today, for one day, to express the company's concern for the issue of wealth disparity in our country," the spokesman said. "The issue affects our employees and customers across the political spectrum."

Both the Men's Wearhouse and Michaan said the decision to close was not centered around money.

Michaan said he has been losing money on the theater for years, in part because of policies put in place by Oakland officials, and that he runs the business out of a labor of love.

Another group that doesn't do what it does for money also joined the protests Wednesday.

An estimated 15 percent of the city's teachers also joined the movement and took the day of work to march with the protesters.

The Oakland Education Association said some of its members decided to join the protests because they teach the 99 percent and the group has been negatively impacted by budget cuts caused by the distribution of wealth.

"The state budget for California public schools has been cut by $20 billion over the past three years," OEA President Betty Olson-Jones said. "The Oakland Unified School District has been cut tens of millions of dollars over the same period—and all of these cuts are related to the fact that the top 1 percent of earners and many corporations are paying far too little in taxes."

The city of Oakland was technically opened for business as normal Wednesday but Mayor Jean Quan's office said about 5 percent, or 200 of the city's 4,000 employees, took the day off to join the protests.

By 6 p.m. the major target of the day for the general strike was shut down when the Port of Oakland announced that all maritime activities had effectively been shut down because of the thousands of protesters who descended on the port.
"At this time 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," Port Spokesperson Marilyn Sandifur said in a statement shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Protesters reportedly blocked the passage of port employees from going home, which prompted Sandifur to plead with the rally organizers to allow them to pass.

"Safety, security, respect and dignity for everyone remain of paramount importance," she said. "We continue to ask that everyone remain calm, respectful, and safe. Specifically, we ask that the marchers allow port workers safe passage home. Please allow your fellow 99% to get home safe to their families."

Some stores that chose to remain open also suffered at the hands of a few rogue elements within the protest that caused damage.

Windows were smashed at a Wells Fargo branch in Oakland, while an ugly scene broke out at a Whole Foods just outside the downtown Oakland area, where some vandalized the store.

The store was forced to shut down early because of the protests Wednesday but Whole Foods Regional President David Lannan said in a statement that the store planned on opening for regular business hours on Thursday.

The protesters may have been set off by a rumor that had been circulating earlier in the day that the Oakland Whole Foods would take disciplinary action against any of its employees that joined the protests.

"We totally support our Team Members participating in the General Strike today - rumors are false," Lannon said. "Again, no team member is losing (their) job for supporting (the) strike."

In all six businesses were damaged during the protest. Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan blamed the vandalism on a group of anarchists.

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