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Protester ranks grow in Oakland
Thousands aim to disrupt bank, port operations
OAKLAND, Calif. — Thousands of protesters marched against Wall Street in the streets of Oakland on Wednesday as they geared up with labor unions to picket banks, take over foreclosed homes and vacant buildings, and disrupt operations at the nation’s fifth-busiest port.
Demonstrators as well as city and business leaders expressed optimism that the widely anticipated “general strike” would be a peaceful event for a city that became a rallying point last week after an Iraq War veteran was injured in clashes between protesters and police.
Embattled Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who has been criticized for her handling of the protests, said she supported the goals of the protest movement, which began in New York City a month ago and spread to dozens of cities across the country.
“Police Chief [Howard] Jordan and I are dedicated to respecting the right of every demonstrator to peacefully assemble, but it is our duty to prioritize public safety,” she said.
Protesters planned to hold similar rallies across the country in solidarity.
In Philadelphia, police arrested about a dozen protesters who were sitting peacefully inside the lobby of the headquarters of cable giant Comcast. Officers moved in after they refused to leave. The protesters were handcuffed and led into police vans as supporters cheered.
In New York, about 100 military veterans marched in uniform through Manhattan to protest what they called police brutality against the Iraq War veteran injured in Oakland.
Students from colleges in Boston and union workers, for example, were expected to march on local Bank of America offices, the Harvard Club and the Statehouse to protest the nation’s burgeoning student debt crisis.
They say total student debt in the country exceeds credit card debt, increases by $1 million every six minutes and will reach $1 trillion this year, potentially undermining the economy.
Along with protesting financial institutions that many within the movement blame for high unemployment rates and the foreclosure crisis, supporters of the Oakland events are expanding their message to include school closures, waning union benefits and cuts to social services.
Nurse, teacher and other worker unions are taking part in the protests, and Oakland is letting city workers use vacation or other paid time to take part in the general strike. About 5 percent of city workers took the day off Wednesday, said City Administrator Deanna Santana.
About 360 Oakland teachers, or 18 percent of the district’s 2,000, didn’t show up for work, said Oakland Unified School District spokesman Troy Flint. The district has been able to get substitute teachers for most classrooms, he said, and children were sent to other classrooms where that wasn’t possible.
• AP writers Terry Collins, Beth Duff-Brown, Mark Pratt, JoAnn Loviglio, Jon Fahey, Verena Dobnik and Christina Hoag contributed to this report.
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