Occupy protests underway at Portland, West Coast ports

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by Associated Press and KGW Staff

NWCN.com

Posted on December 12, 2011 at 8:58 AM

Updated Monday, Dec 12 at 9:39 AM

PORTLAND -- Anti-Wall Street protesters up and down the West Coast joined in an effort Monday to blockade some of the nation's busiest ports from Anchorage to Portland to San Diego.

In Portland, Occupy activists started gathering at  Kelley Point Park around 6 a.m. with plans to picket the entrances of some Port of Portland terminals along Marine Drive.

Several hundred had gathered by 6:30 a.m. holding signs along the roadway.  One group marched to the entrance to Terminal 6, where they linked elbows, later marching in a circle.

Shipping operations at Terminal 6 appeared to be largely shut down. A line of trucks awaited entry. One driver told KGW if he can't complete a delivery, he loses about $150 he intended to spend on Christmas gifts.

A second group marched to the Terminal 5 entrance where activists held signs and chanted. Trucks were also blocked there. One driver who managed to complete a delivery told KGW that he was angry that protesters were being allowed to break the law.

After an initial appearance by officers in riot gear, the police appear to have largely pulled back to allow the protest to continue.

A carload of Occupy protesters were in a minor wreck on Marine Drive at I-5 on the way to the protest in what turned out to be a vehicle reported stolen from Forest Grove, according to Lt. Robert King.

The driver was accused of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, King said.

Earlier Monday morning, three men drove up to the Kelley Point Park entrance and told police they were there for the protest.

The driver had a suspended license. One of the trio had a loaded handgun and no concealed weapons permit. A second had an outstanding warrant. Police confiscated the gun, extra clips, two-way radios and a sword. The third man was released.

Kari Koch, speaking for Occupy Portland, said those men were not part of the group.

Demonstrators marched on the Port of Oakland, which Occupy protesters successfully shut down in November. They descended even earlier on the sprawling port complex spanning Los Angeles and Long Beach as the work day began.

Occupy groups in Seattle, Tacoma and the Canadian city of Vancouver were also planning blockades.

The protests being billed as action against "Wall Street on the waterfront" are perhaps the Occupy movement's most dramatic gesture since police raids sent most remaining camps scattering last month. Demonstrators began forming those camps around the country about two months ago to protest what they call corporate greed and economic inequality.

Organizers hoped to draw thousands Monday to stand in solidarity with longshoremen and port truckers they say are being exploited. "Taking on and blocking the 1 percent at the port is also taking on the global issue of exploitation by capitalism," said Occupy Oakland blockade organizer Barucha Peller.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents many thousands of longshoremen up and down the West Coast, has distanced itself from the shutdown effort. The union's president suggested in a letter to members that protesters were attempting to co-opt the union's cause to advance their own agenda.

Protesters have cited a longstanding dispute between longshoremen at the Port of Longview in Washington and grain exporter EGT as a key reason for the blockades. Shutdown supporters say they're not asking longshoremen to organize a work stoppage in violation of their contract but simply asking them to exercise their free speech rights and stay off the job, in keeping with the union's historic tradition of activism.

If protesters muster large enough numbers to block port entrances, arbitrators could declare unsafe working conditions, which would allow port workers to stay home.

Organized labor appears divided over the port shutdown effort. In Oakland, which saw strong union support for the Nov. 2 general strike that culminated in the closing of the port, the city's teachers union is backing Monday's action, while the county's construction workers have come out against the shutdown, saying the port has provided jobs to many unemployed workers and apprentices.

The Port of Oakland has appealed to city residents not to join the blockade, which they say could hurt the port's standing among customers and cost local jobs.

"The port is going to do all that it can to keep operations going. Our businesses need to hear that. Our workers need to know that," said Port of Oakland spokesman Isaac Kos-Read.

Officials at West Coast ports say they have been coordinating with law enforcement agencies as they prepare for possible disruptions. Protesters say police violence against blockades in any city will trigger an extension of blockades in other cities as a show of resolve.

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