OAKLAND, Calif. —Several thousand Occupy Wall Street demonstrators gathering in Oakland forced a halt to operations at the nation's fifth busiest port Wednesday evening, escalating a movement whose tactics had largely been limited to marches, rallies and tent encampments since it began in September.
Police estimated that a crowd of about 3,000 had gathered at the Port of Oakland by about 5 p.m. PDT. Some had marched from the city's downtown, while others had been bused to the port.
Port spokesman Isaac Kos-Read said maritime operations had effectively been shut down, and interim Oakland police chief Howard Jordan warned that protesters who went inside the port's gates would be committing a federal offense.
In Philadelphia, protesters were arrested earlier Wednesday as they held a sit-in at the headquarters of cable giant Comcast. Military veterans marched in uniform in New York, angry at their dim job prospects. And parents and their kids, some in strollers, formed a "children's brigade" to join the Oakland, Calif. rallies.
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"There's absolutely something wrong with the system," said Jessica Medina, a single mother who attends school part time and works at an Oakland cafe. "We need to change that."
In Los Angeles, New York and other cities, demonstrators held their own rallies in solidarity with the Oakland protesters, who called for Wednesday's "general strike" after the city became a rallying point last week when an Iraq War veteran was injured in clashes with police.
Protesters, city officials and business leaders were optimistic the strike would be peaceful, and there was little to no visible police presence all day.
Although windows at two bank branches and a Whole Foods store were broken and graffiti was painted inside one of the banks, officials described the protests as peaceful and orderly and said no arrests had been made.
"It is important to acknowledge the word is watching Oakland tonight," city administrator Deanna Santana said as demonstrators began to gather at the port. "And we need to ensure it remains a safe place for everyone."
Potentially minimizing any significant disruptions at the port, leaders of the longshoremen's union said they could not call for members to join the protests under their contract with the port.
Organizers say they want to stop the "flow of capital." The port sends goods primarily to Asia, including wine as well as rice, fruits and nuts, and handles imported electronics, apparel and manufacturing equipment, mostly from Asia, as well as cars and parts from Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai.
Craig Merrilees, spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, said its members were not being called to strike, but that they supported the protesters.