Strike, rally demand justice for Oscar Grant
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.
Oakland, Calif., Oct. 23.
WW photo: Judy Greenspan
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
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
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
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
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.
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