That’s what happens when you force one of the busiest ports in the country to shut down: You make it harder for Americans to find work and conduct business.
We’re suffering through a Great Recession. Most Americans never have experienced harder economic times. Even those who are fortunate enough to have jobs are burdened by worries, from paying for mortgages to affording college.
Ignorant of these realities, the Occupy Oakland movement targeted the Port of Oakland, where trade-based economic activity supports more than 73,000 jobs in the region and more than 800,000 across the country.
Farmers depend on the Port of Oakland because it’s a major export center for wine, rice, fruit, and nuts. Last year, the United States sold more than $100 billion in agricultural goods to customers in other countries. Without fully functioning ports, products would not move and farmers would watch their harvests spoil in their fields or back-up in their storage.
One Occupy Oakland organizer said the purpose of the shutdown was to halt “the flow of capital.” Does he not understand that a lot of this capital flows into the pockets of farmers, businesses and workers?
Attacking a port is like declaring war on U.S. agriculture and commerce.
Here in the American heartland, we don’t appreciate this assault on our livelihoods. Nor do we like the ugly turn this political movement has chosen to take.
When the Occupy Wall Street protests began and then spread to Oakland and other cities, I didn’t necessarily agree with what its participants were saying. But neither did I think they were a menace to society. They were simply Americans exercising their rights to assemble and speak out in a time of economic anxiety.
On November 3 in Oakland, however, many of them stopped playing by the traditional rules of civil disobedience. A peaceful movement turned violent.
“Several thousands of people converged” on Oakland’s port, according to the Associated Press, “swarming the area and blocking exits and streets with illegally parked vehicles and hastily erected chain-link fences.”
The port shut down.
The mob even harassed individual workers. That evening, reported the Bay Citizen, “about 200 protestors surged toward a white pickup truck driven by a longshoreman trying to make his way home.” (Eventually, they let him go.)
Suddenly, “the 99 percent” faced a new threat–and it came from the very people who claim to represent their interests.
“Any additional missed shifts represent economic hardship for maritime workers, truckers, and their families, as well as lost jobs and lost tax revenue for our region,” warned the port in a statement. “Continued disruptions will begin to lead to re-routing of cargo and permanent loss of jobs.”
Sadly, Occupy Oakland’s acts of economic vandalism and personal intimidation failed to satisfy the protestors and their hunger for destruction. Hours later, they rioted in the streets, scrawling graffiti, breaking windows, and hurling Molotov cocktails.
One local businessman, Phil Tagami, defended his downtown building by standing outside of it with a shotgun. “I support a peaceful protest,” he said to the San Francisco Chronicle. “But it was a siege situation last night.”
These accounts reminded me of what I saw in Seattle a dozen years ago, when political activists showed up at a meeting of the World Trade Organization. I saw the smoke, smelled the tear gas, and escaped with nothing worse than a pair of bent glasses. But I also came to realize that just beneath the allegedly good intentions of many protest movements lurks a brutal anarchy.
American workers and farmers don’t need shuttered ports. We need bigger and busier ports that can handle the commerce of a globalized economy, allowing us to sell goods and services made in the U.S.A. to buyers in foreign lands.
How else are we to meet President Obama’s goal of doubling exports by 2015?
The good news is that the Port of Oakland has reopened. The chaos appears to have subsided. Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for the Occupy protestors to create a single job.
Dean Kleckner chairs Truth About Trade & Technology www.truthabouttrade.org