Friday, October 29, 2010

Oakland Strike, Rally Demand Justice for Oscar Grant

Strike, rally demand justice for Oscar Grant

By Judy Greenspan
Oakland, Calif.
Published Oct 27, 2010 9:22 PM

The stage and steps of Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland shook and trembled with the strong unifying cry of “We are all Oscar Grant!” as over 1,000 people — Black, Brown, Native, Asian and white — came out despite rain to attend a rally that followed the dramatic shutdown of Bay Area ports by workers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

The ILWU drill team opened the Oct. 23 program in full uniform, marching to the beat of “What time is it? Union time!” and “We are the union — the mighty, mighty union!”

Clarence Thomas, long-time ILWU Local 10 member and labor activist who co-chaired the rally with Jack Heyman, another ILWU dockworker, proudly announced, “All of the Bay Area ports are shut down today in honor of the fight for justice for Oscar Grant.”

This rally comes just two weeks before the sentencing of Johannes Mehserle, the Bay Area Rapid Transit cop who shot and killed 22-year-old Grant, an unarmed Black man, as he was tightly restrained face down on a BART platform on Jan. 1, 2009. The labor and community protest was held to send a message to the court demanding the harshest possible sentence for Mehserle.

Mehserle was charged with second-degree murder but was convicted of only involuntary manslaughter. Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, said immediately after the verdict, “My son was murdered. He was murdered and the law has not held the officer accountable.” “(San Francisco Chronicle, July 9)

Many speakers noted the incredible role played by the ILWU in supporting today’s rally. The union has a long history of supporting anti-racist and progressive causes with work stoppages. The dock and warehouse workers union has also, since its 1934 general strike, developed a strong relationship with the Black community in West Oakland and other parts of the Bay Area.

Power of the working class

Richard Mead, president of ILWU Local 10, recalled that the shooting of two workers sparked the 1934 general strike led by the dock and maritime workers in San Francisco. “Oscar Grant’s death was also murder,” Mead said. “[A general strike] — that’s where we need to go now.”

Thomas put Grant’s killing in a larger perspective. “The war on the Black community, particularly on the youth of color, always intensifies during times of economic crisis. Oscar Grant could have been any one of our sons, nephews or grandsons.

“We stopped international commerce today. We shut down all of the ports. That’s the power of the working class,” Thomas announced.

Cristina Gutierrez, a Latina activist representing Barrio Unido, a San Francisco-based organization for general and unconditional amnesty for immigrants, delivered a moving statement on the strength of the unity of all people against oppression. “Yo soy Oscar Grant, I am Oscar Grant, I am Mumia, I am Lynne Stewart, I am Black, I am Brown, I am Chinese, I am a worker,” Gutierrez exclaimed.

“I am the one who came to this country to seek work. Unless we work hand in hand with our Black brothers and sisters, we cannot win,” said Gutierrez.

BART workers from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, led by past president Harold Brown, stood together on stage and delivered a moving statement in support of justice for Oscar Grant. Brown, a train operator on the BART line which passes through the Fruitvale station, the site of Grant’s killing, noted, “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of Oscar Grant. This should never have happened.”

The impetus for the justice rally came from members of Oscar Grant’s family, who went to the ILWU seeking their support. The highpoint of the event came when a large group of Grant’s family and friends took the stage.

The atmosphere on the plaza became electrified when Grant’s 6-year-old daughter Tatiana was introduced to the crowd. A moving letter to the sentencing judge demanding the maximum sentence for Grant’s killer was read by Tatiana’s aunt.

Other speakers at today’s gathering included Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown, former leaders of the Black Panther Party, and representatives from several unions including the Service Employees and the Oakland Education Association/California Teachers Association.

Throughout the afternoon, rally organizers reminded the crowd, “We cannot let this movement end today.” Plans are underway to keep the momentum of this coalition going, including a mass meeting of the Justice for Oscar Grant Community Outreach Committee on Oct. 26 in Oakland.
Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Support independent news DONATE

No comments: