As Oakland braces for Wednesday's general strike, potentially the biggest demonstration in the East Bay since the Vietnam War, Mayor Jean Quan found herself under fire, both from her own Police Department and a neighboring mayor, for her handling of the Occupy Oakland protests.
In a letter posted on its website Tuesday, the Oakland Police Officer's Association said Quan is sending conflicting orders and that "we need real leaders now who will step up and lead -- not send mixed messages."
"On Tuesday, we were ordered by Mayor Quan to clear out the encampments at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza and to keep protesters out of the plaza. We performed the job that the mayor's administration asked us to do, being fully aware that past protests in Oakland have resulted in rioting, violence and destruction of property," the letter states. "Then, on Wednesday, the mayor allowed protesters back in -- to camp out at the very place they were evacuated from the day before."
There are now more than 100 tents on the plaza lawn. The Oakland teachers union has paid for at least nine portable toilets at the camp and there is a new food station, medical aid available from the California Nurses Association and freshly planted gardens that protesters say will sprout to feed the occupiers.
The police union said that adding to their confusion was a memo issued to all city workers Friday giving all employees permission, except for the department's 645 police officers, to take the day off or demonstrate on their breaks.
"Is it the city's intention to have city employees on both sides of a skirmish line?" the union letter states.
For her part, Quan issued a statement Tuesday saying she hopes the general strike is peaceful and puts the issues of the 99 percent front and center.
"I am working with the police chief to make sure that the pro-99 percent activists -- whose cause I support -- will have the freedom to get their message across without the conflict that marred last week's events," Quan said.
The general strike, the first of its kind in Oakland since 1946, could bring thousands of people to downtown Oakland.
Organizers are urging residents to stay home from jobs, keep children home from school and disrupt commerce, including at the Port of Oakland, to dramatize support for what they see as income disparity and economic inequality.
Port Executive Director Omar Benjamin said workers will not be encouraged or discouraged from exercising their First Amendment rights.
But the memo makes it clear that they are expected to show up for work, and it reminds them that some labor contracts prohibit workers from "engaging or taking part in any strike, slowdown or interference of any operations or activity of the port during their work hours."
Hundreds of Oakland's public school teachers plan to take part in Wednesday's general strike, and the nurses association is encouraging its members to participate in the events downtown, which will include rallies, a cook-off, speakers and marches on banks.
"Nurses are part of the 99 percent. We see the health impacts of job loss, home foreclosures, and poor nutrition related to the economic crisis," said Martha Kuhl, an Oakland nurse. "Nurses care for patients who delay or forgo needed medical care because of the cost, and see more stress-related disease, inability to afford medications, and rising numbers of the uninsured."
Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said she will march part way with residents who plan to trek 10 miles from Richmond to Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. McLaughlin said Quan made a "big mistake to have the police attack and raid the movement" last week.
"I think that (attack) was a major mistake and I think Mayor Quan is trying to reverse herself and that's what she should do," McLaughlin said in an interview.
During the Oct. 25 protest, demonstrators were overcome with tear gas and some were hit with projectiles during a violent clash with police. One man, Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, 24, of Daly City, suffered a skull fracture and remains hospitalized.
In many videos, Olsen is seen falling to the ground, but it has not been determined what caused the skull fracture. At least five police agencies were on scene that night but none are taking the blame for launching anything that could have hit Olsen.
Quan said the initial investigation continues. "We want to be swift, but we must also be thorough," Quan said.
Whatever the outcome of the investigation, it was a costly night. The police union said the raid on the camp and the night protest cost the city more than $1 million. Karen Boyd, a spokeswoman for the city administrator, said final expenses are still being tallied.
Strike organizer Tim Simons said that the mood for the strike is expected to be more festive than angry.
On Tuesday, many people leaving work said they planned to join the strike.
Lexie Jackson, who would only say she is a government worker in Oakland, said she supports Occupy Oakland in theory.
"I am taking a personal day on Wednesday. America needs a lot of help right now. Just don't fight the police for it," she said.
Meanwhile, city leaders said Oakland will be open for business Wednesday. "And we have urged downtown businesses to stay open as well," Boyd said.
In Chinatown, a business district close to the center of the protests, merchants on Tuesday were planning for the safety and livelihood of their shops, their employees and their customers, said Oakland Chinatown Chamber board member Carl Chan. He said he worries that the strike is an "opportunity to take over and cause trouble."
"Our message is pretty strong: We will be open for business, and we have to live on. We may support the cause, but we cannot afford to be counterproductive," Chan said. "We hope the Occupy Oakland movement will not become the Destroy Oakland movement."
The Police Department is also preparing by boarding up administrative offices at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza.
Lark Omura, a UC Berkeley student who was camped out at Occupy Oakland on Tuesday night, said the vast majority of people who are coming Wednesday are nonviolent, but acknowledged there are elements that will agitate.
"People can police each other's behavior. There is no official position (within Occupy Oakland on violence). We don't want (the general strike) to turn into anarchy," she said.
Some demonstrators, calling themselves the Oakland Liberation Front, have distributed fliers condemning pacifism and calling for "the complete annihilation of capitalism."
"Are you a pacifist?" the flier headline says. It goes on, "How dare you even ask for nonviolence, when violence has already been used by the police?"
Staff writers Hannah Dreier and Katy Murphy contributed to this report.