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Occupy Oakland and Workers Back Off Plan to Shut Down the Golden Gate Bridge for May Day

Strikes, walk-outs, marches and rallies are part of Occupy Oakland's May Day plans, but the centerpiece, an attempted shutdown of the Golden Gate Bridge, may be off.

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A hotline has been running for weeks to collect complaints from non-unionized workers whose employers will not allow them to leave work on May 1. Roving community picket lines organized for the morning of May 1 in Oakland aim to shut down these and other businesses around the city. 

A 3 p.m., a workers march "for dignity and resistance," which will include many undocumented laborers, " employed and unemployed, paid and unpaid," is planned as a Bay Area wide convergence in Oakland. Organizers have obtained a permit for the event, putting them at odds with some Occupy activists; they say the permits were necessary for the protection of undocumented workers who will be participating. They are expecting thousands of attendees on the march from East to downtown Oakland. 

The decentralized protests may be met with decentralized enforcement from police, who have vowed to change tactics. Last November’s general strike ended in a haze of tear gas, broken windows and more than 100 arrests after police marched on the Occupy camp in city hall plaza. "A key element of our strategy change is to intervene early," said Oakland Police Chief of Staff Sergeant Chris Bolton. Oakland police also say they may use "small teams" to go into crowds and make targeted arrests as opposed to surrounding and arresting marches and protests en masse as they have in the past. These sorts of “snatch squads,” as protesters are calling them, might succeed in heading off actions like the black bloc anti-capitalist march of November’s general strike, where protesters smashed and graffitied bank windows and a Whole Foods around the downtown Oakland area. "The Constitutional tests of time, place, and manner -- among other factors -- will determine our tactics and approaches," said Bolton. 

It remains unclear whether law enforcement will allow these pickets as community protest actions protected by the First Amendment, or will crack down on them as marches organized and held without city permits. "We are looking at changing our tactics in terms of how we approach [the protests] to be much more assertive in terms of not allowing unpermitted marches throughout the city," said Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan of the May Day plans. 

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild immediately expressed concern at this announcement. Such changes would fly in the face of the current federal court-ordered crowd control policy, which states that a march’s lack of a permit is not reason enough to declare it an “unlawful assembly” and arrest demonstrators. The current crowd control policy was put into place as result of a lawsuit filed against the Oakland Police following excessive use of force at anti-war protests in the Port in 2003.

Since that announcement, plans for the policy upheaval have been “postponed” until after May Day, according to the Oakland city attorney.

Nonetheless, Occupiers are, as ever, braced for the crackdown, but focused on the task at hand. 

"There's so much that we can do and we're just kind of finding our way," said Smith. 






Susie Cagle has written and drawn for the, Truthout, In These Times, American Prospect and others. Follow her on Twitter at @susie_c.

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