The recent West Coast Port Shutdowns revealed several key points about the future of Occupy Wall Street in the West, and also gave a tantalizing glimpse of what may eventually be possible nationwide (even worldwide, if we dare to dream) given the attempted participation of Houston. What I am going to argue here is that peacefully shutting down the Port of Los Angeles is the natural strategic focus of all Occupy West of the Rockies, and further that it is one essential prong of an eventual three-pronged nationwide General Strike. I will not sugarcoat how tall an order this is - quite the contrary, I will be exhausting my talents exploring precisely that, but will nonetheless show that the objective is sine qua non.
I. Relevant Background Points re: OWS
At the heart of the movement is an epiphany - that the power corrupting our democracy and destroying our rights is concentrated ultimately on Wall Street, in the capital markets and other politically erosive, entropy-promoting stock exchanges. This is not a trivial leap of understanding: We have known for a long time that out-of-control business and concentrated wealth were poisoning our society, but concrete appreciation that All Roads Lead to Wall Street was lacking - the financial sector was seen as merely one head of the hydra, with Big Oil, retail, and other major villains getting equal time in our attention. But the 2008 financial collapse, bailouts, and subsequent criminal impunity of the banking sector was a wake-up call that these institutions were not merely one head of the hydra, but the trunk.
These markets are so highly-leveraged, specialized, and timed down to the second that even momentary interruptions can be enormously costly to ownership without likely impacting employees or consumers. As a result, the NY General Assembly attempted to directly march on Wall Street in an attempt to shut down the stock exchanges, and came very close without succeeding. Inasmuch as peacefully shutting down those exchanges is the pinnacle objective of Occupy East of the Mississippi, and indeed the keystone of the entire worldwide movement, the Port of Los Angeles has similar importance to the Western half of the continent.
In the globalized trade economy, the Port also has a vulnerability to interruptions in ways similar to the stock exchanges (albeit to a lesser extent), given how tightly-wound the system of cargo movement is. Delays in the throughput of trade goods from China can cost billions, so there is a profound opportunity to cost Big Business big money without compromising the interests of workers or consumers - not to mention scoring a colossal PR win for the 99%.
II. Overview of the Port of Los Angeles
First, I should say that when I refer to the Port of Los Angeles, I am actually referring to the entire complex seen in the satellite image above, which includes two contiguous facilities operating under separate jurisdiction: The Port of LA proper, on the left half of the image, and the Port of Long Beach on the right half. For all intents and purposes, they are the same port, so I will simply combine them as "the Port" when making general statements. The distinction is only important insofar as it hinders gathering information about the complex as a whole, as official facts about the Port of LA only concern the LA side of it.
The combined grounds of the Port cover approximately 43 km2, making it the size of a small city. As you can see from the satellite image, it is divided geographically into three main areas: The mainline channel coast on the left and top, corresponding to the San Pedro and Wilmington districts of the City of Los Angeles, as well as Southwestern Long Beach; Terminal Island, which dominates the center of the image above; and the peninsula on the right that belongs to the Port of Long Beach. Terminal Island is divided between the two jurisdictions, with the very large artificial bay in the center of the picture controlled by Long Beach.
According to the website, the Port of LA is currently the busiest in the United States by container volume, and the Wikipedia page claims that in 2010 it handled $236.4 billion in cargo - a figure we can set as $230 billion flat for subsequent calculations given the likelihood that shipping in 2011 has declined from the previous year. Meanwhile, the Long Beach side handled about $140 billion in 2010, for a combined Port throughput of roughly $370 billion per year. Although traffic does not occur at a constant rate year-round (and anyone is welcome to look deeper for a more precise finding), we can use an average figure and say that daily throughput is about $1 billion. Combined, the two sides of the Port represent the sixth-busiest port in the world.
Port facilities are divided into terminals for containerized cargo, dry bulk cargo (i.e., large quantities of a solid commoditized product like scrap metal), liquids (e.g., petroleum products), break bulk (individually-processed cargo not in a container), automobiles, and passengers (which we can ignore). Here are the terminal maps for the LA and Long Beach sides of the Port, respectively:
A closer look at Port facilities - feel free to skip it if the details don't interest you:
- China Shipping Container Terminal (Berths 100-102) and the Yang Ming Container Terminal (Berths 121-131) are operated by West Basin Container Terminal LLC.
- TraPac Container Terminal (Berths 135-139) is operated by TraPac Inc..
- Port of Los Angeles Container Terminal (Berths 206-209) is operated by the Real Estate Division of the Port of Los Angeles - a fact whose implications are unclear to me.
- Yusen Container Terminal is operated by Yusen Terminals Inc..
- Evergreen Container Terminal (Berths 226-236) is operated by Seaside Transportation Services LLC.
- APL Terminal / Global Gateway South (Berths 302-305) is operated by Eagle Marine Services.
- APM Terminals / Pier 400 (Berths 401-406) is operated by APM Terminals.
- California United Terminals (Berths 405-406) is operated by the company of the same name.
- Berths 195-199 are dedicated to automotive processing, and is managed by Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics.
- The Port's Breakbulk terminals are at Berths 49-53 - operated by the Real Estate Division of the Port; Berths 54-55, operated by Stevedoring Services of America; and at Berths 174-181, operated by Pasha Properties Inc..
- Dry bulk cargo is handled at Berths 165-166, operated by U.S. Borax Inc.; and Berths 210-211, by SA Recycling.
- Liquid bulk cargo is processed through Berths 118-120, operated by Kinder Morgan; Berths 148-151, operated by ConocoPhillips; Berth 163, operated by NuStar Energy; Berth 164, operated by Valero; Berths 167-169, operated by Shell; Berths 187-191, operated by Vopak; and Berths 238-240C, operated by Exxon-Mobil.
- Pier A (Berths A88-A96), Pier C (Berths C60-C62), and Pier J (Berths J243-J247, J266-J270) are all managed by SSA Marine.
- Pier F (Berths F6-F10) is managed by Long Beach Container Terminal Inc.
- Pier G (Berths G226-G236) are managed by International Transportation Service (no website given).
- Part of Pier T (Berths T132-T140) is operated by Hanjin / Total Terminals International LLC.
- Parts of Piers C, D, E, and S are designated for containerized cargo.
- Breakbulk terminals include Berths B82 and B83 of Pier B, operated by Toyoto Logistics Services; Berths D50-D54 of Pier D, operated by Forest Terminals / Crescent Warehouse Company; Berth T122 of Pier T, operated by Weyerhaeuser Company; Berths F206 and F207 of Pier F, operated by SSA Marine; two unstated Berth ranges of Pier T (links broken) operated by Pacific Coast Recycling and Freemont Forest Products; and one link-broken Pier F terminal operated by Cooper / T. Smith Stevedoring.
- Liquid terminals include parts of Pier G operated by Chemoil, parts of Piers B, C, and T operated by BP, two parts of Pier B (Berths B82 and B83 serving Shell and Petro-Diamond.
- Dry bulk terminals include Pier G Berths G212-G215 operated by Metro Ports; Pier F Berth F210 operated by Morton Salt; Berth F211 operated by Koch Carbon (yes, that Koch - and FYI, I hadn't known the name was pronounced "coke," I thought it was like former NY Mayor Ed Koch "cawtch"); a link-broken area of Pier F is operated by Mitsubishi Cement; Pier D Berth D32 is operated by Cemex USA (Pacific Coast Cement); Pier D Berth D46 is operated by G-P Gypsum; and unlinked portions of Pier B are designated for Dry Bulk, as you can see from the map above.
These details will be important in prioritizing areas of the Port to shut down, although the precise determination is beyond the scope of this analysis: I leave it to others in the Occupy movement to research these terminal companies and the businesses they serve, the monetary volume of cargo they each handle, and how they should be prioritized. However, it is reasonable to recommend that incoming cargo reflecting trade based on low-wage/outsourced labor would be a higher priority for interruption than exported goods. The goal is still to shut down the entire Port, but priorities are necessary in the event of only partial success.
III. Strategic Assessment
The word "strategic" is often misused as a synonym for tactical, but it is actually a very different concept having more to do with logistics than clever maneuvering. For example, a tactician would approach a chess game by narrowly focusing on the board, while a strategist would become an expert in the nature of his opponent. In other words, cultivating an awareness of the context and environment in which the game occurs - an appreciation for the unboundedness of cause and effect. Strategy identifies the objective through an understanding of process, and tactics select the method of achieving it via maneuver and control.
1. Why the Port?
Although it lacks the notoriety of Wall Street, the Port of Los Angeles is the economic nexus of the Western Pacific, and thus the natural focus of OWS in the region. Nothing else even comes close: Entertainment, finance, oil, mining, agriculture, etc. are all either trivial in comparison, or else are too widely-distributed for large-scale confrontation to be practical. The Port is both massive in absolute economic terms and profoundly dense, cramming an economy the size of Argentina into a geographic area the size of Berkeley, CA - another quality it shares with Wall St., which crams even more money into an even smaller area via abstract financial instruments.
Now, the vast majority of that economy is transitory - i.e., it occurs as value moving through the Port rather than emerging from it or being invested in it. But that is a large part of what makes it such a potent subject for OWS - from top to bottom, the revenues of every villainous corporation and subsidiary thereof West of the Rockies either directly pass through the Port or are deeply affected by resources that do. Wal-Mart needs its constant fix of slave-labor retail goods from China; for Exxon, Shell, BP, et al The Spice Must Flow; and every other business on this side of the country that fired well-paid American workers in order to relocate its factories overseas depends to some extent on the Port to be rewarded for their betrayal. Even companies that use other West Coast ports depend on this one to keep traffic manageable and fees affordable. US ports just barely keep up with trade as it is.
Furthermore, it represents a tangible infrastructure that in part or in total belongs to the people of the United States - it is our coastline, our border, and a facility that can legitimately exist only to serve our needs. It cannot be allowed to exist only for the needs of a handful of extremely wealthy people who use profits derived from the Port to fire American workers, make those who keep their jobs impoverished and unsafe, destroy the environment we all depend on, and undermine democracy at home and abroad through corporate interference in politics. Interruptions in the flow of cargo through the Port of Los Angeles, much like breaks in the flow of money on Wall Street, cascade throughout the world.
In addition to the role it plays globally and nationally, the Port is the only real source of economic gravity in the region - otherwise West Coast resources are all spread across huge swaths of territory: Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Downtown LA, Century City, California's Central Valley farmlands, and various smaller archipelagos of entertainment, finance, tech business, energy, and agriculture throughout CA, OR, and WA. Other than small-scale protests against the scattered headquarters of individual companies and camping on foreclosed properties, there is not much for Occupy to work with around here - no Dark Fortress to besiege as in New York; no obvious unifying focus. There is only the Port, and if Occupiers on the West Coast come to appreciate its significance, it can serve as just such a unifier both within the notoriously diffusive Occupy LA, and between West Coast occupations. Achieving that would also nail down one of the three key pivots in an eventual General Strike, which I discuss more fully at the bottom of this diary.
2. Who needs to be on board?
Broad-based support for the specific action (and not just OWS) in the general public, the local community, and especially among the workers who depend on the Port is strategically critical - without it, there is no point to shutting down the Port, and it might actually be counterproductive if it causes people to begin thinking the movement has lost touch with them. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Truckers who haul to and from the Port.
- Other workers directly dependent on the Port.
- Support staff.
- Communities adjacent to the Port.
- The public at large who would otherwise only learn of the shutdown through biased media.
Unanimity or even majority support is not required, as long as a strong proportion are at least convinced of the action's sincerity, understand the reasoning behind it, and are made to feel like their concerns and views are taken more seriously by the movement than by the authorities. Truckers in particular need to be accommodated in some way, since many of them are paid upon delivery of loads and may face direct adverse consequences from a shutdown. While directly compensating all of them may prove impractical (or maybe not - it's worth looking into), they need to be convinced that we care, that we are listening to them, that shutting down the Port is meant to help them too in the bigger picture, and that we would do what we can to help them with any immediate problems it causes them. Getting truckers on board opens up important capabilities, which I explore further in the Tactical Assessment below.
A substantial part of the average population must be convinced that shutting down the Port is justified well in advance - it is not sufficient to just do it and hope they sympathize based on their situation and the rhetoric surrounding the action. Failure to make the effort would simply alienate people and make them see the movement as something increasingly distant from the problems they face in daily life. Pamphlets, flyers, and internet organizing are not sufficient - not even close. Face-to-face conversations, town halls in as many venues as possible (you may want to offer free refreshments or something similar as enticements), and the careful cultivation of a mainstream aura around the action is essential. The action must transcend the narcissism of some of the core OWS organizing constituencies who feel like the movement is their property - in other words, get over the impulse to value radical zeitgeist over practical success.
In publicity terms, the shutdown should be promoted as a matter of The People asserting prerogative over a facility that belongs to us, not the petulant action of an angry minority seeking to punish society for failing to live up to our standards. Attempts by conservatives and their media properties to portray it in the latter sense must fall flat and contradict average people's personal experiences in seeing how the movement engages them, portrays itself, and approaches its actions. In other words, there is to be no hostility to the Port itself as an institution, to global trade in general (albeit objections may be raised to specific policies), or to the people who operate it, but rather to corporate institutions that have come to regard it - and indeed this entire country - as their private property. In other words - and this is potentially a very potent spin - the shutdown is an attempt to "restore law and order" to the Port. If this framing can be carried off, it should be - it would turn the dominating narratives on their heads.
The shutdown cannot proceed without having so thoroughly covered the action in mainstream appeal that it barely seems out of the ordinary - the objective is to cost Big Business and get the masses on board with holding them accountable, not to incite further zeal in the faithful. Now, I realize this goes against the instincts of many in the core organizing constituencies, but it is utterly essential. Focusing inward and structuring the hype around the action in ways that only speak to the radical or issue-oriented activist rather than the apolitical citizen is far more likely to create rifts than to inspire The People.
As much as some in the movement enjoy wallowing in radical zeitgeist, they have to see beyond that to graduate into the real Big Leagues of strategic victories - shutting down the Port of Los Angeles can only practically happen, and if it does happen can only yield broad-based solidarity rather than division, if it is seen as the act of ordinary people with no more complicated agenda than standing up for their families and rights. So the necessity of it has to be argued long in advance, and achieve real social penetration long before the day.
To be perfectly clear, subsidiary agendas that seek to selfishly feed off the energy of the 99% should be discouraged from doing so overtly unless they are clear that the overall purpose supersedes their parochial issues. Protesters should wrap themselves so thoroughly in mainstream appeal that they sicken themselves: American flags should be everywhere, and not in ironic or contemptuous ways - not upside-down, or the mockeries with corporate symbols in the star fields. Real flags, wielded respectfully and preferably tastefully. It is unfortunate that some activists find the American flag offensive or disingenuous, but success demands solidarity well beyond the bounds of narrowly-focused ideological or issue niches: The symbols of patriotism are not optional for people demanding drastic change. Reclaiming the flag is a first, symbolic step to reclaiming the country, and it should be a prominent part of every major action - especially something as massive as this. I would recommend "planting the flag" as a symbolic act of reclamation at every protest assembly point.
In terms of Occupiers themselves, there is a distinct and problematic division of talents among the various local movements: Occupy LA appears to accurately represent the diffusive nature of Southland politics in microcosm, and its ability to play a central leadership role in a Port shutdown is thus doubtful - I get the impression from accounts posted here and elsewhere that there is a critical lack of social unity and common purpose in its ranks, making it less effective than NY and Oakland. However, it does have plenty of people - no one will ever accuse LA of not having enough of that - and it is within range of the Port, although not directly adjacent to it (LA only controls its half of the Port through a narrow strip of land created expressly for the purpose of contiguous jurisdiction).
Occupy Long Beach seems to be more cohesive, although I have less information about them. My guess, based on very limited information, is that they would have a stronger ability to organize the local strategic elements of the shutdown than OLA, or at least would be the more effective partner in a collaboration. This is purely an observation, however, so it is non-essential: If OLA and OLB know differently and choose an arrangement that relies more heavily on the former, then they are in a better position to know.
Moreover, Occupy Oakland, which by far has the most experience with successfully shutting down ports, is hundreds of miles away from the Port of Los Angeles, and only so much can be communicated over the internet. They have now twice proven their ability to shut down the Port of Oakland, but that is a relatively modest facility compared to the Port of LA complex, so it seems their talents and uncommon energy would be better applied to going after bigger fish. Occupy Oakland should be directly involved in this.
In light of these facts, I would recommend every Occupy on the West Coast (including the Canadian GAs) take up a proposal to convene a West Coast General Assembly at a location and date TBD, bringing together members from San Diego, LA, SF, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and whatever other coastal Occupies wish to participate. Whether they wish to do this by delegation or just by letting people decide for themselves is up to the individual GAs. At this event, they could settle on some of the broader details - such as whether to support the shutdown at all, of course - and have working groups focus more closely on how to achieve the objective. Still, while a West Coast GA is desirable, it isn't necessary: They could coordinate just fine by acting independently while communicating with each other.
Ultimately, all Occupies on the West Coast - and possibly even all in the Western half of the continent, including Nevada, Utah, Colorado, etc. - would have to participate to some extent for it to succeed. The number of people needed to shut down the Port would be quite large, and the amount of money and planning involved would be challenging though I doubt prohibitive. But it is clear that OLA and OLB, even together, do not have the resources or the numbers to do it alone. So for the purposes of the Port shutdown, the Western Occupies would have to de-emphasize localism and be willing to deploy significant distances from their home grounds in order to achieve a massive victory for the overall movement. If that does not occur, then there is no shutdown.
Another subject that needs to be addressed is potential blowback with respect to the 2012 elections. A massive, economically disruptive act of civil disobedience may force Democratic candidates to further disassociate themselves from the cause at a time when the plight of the 99% is the Party's most potent electoral weapon, causing ill will on the left and dividing the vote. Mainstreaming the action as described above would mitigate this potential problem, but I'd recommend timing the event to coincide with the primary season so that any divisions that do occur may be turned to positive results by nominating more progressive candidates. Doing it after the primaries have concluded would be sub-optimal since it would not lead to better Democrats, but still cause divisions that might impact the general election.
Furthermore, I want to be clear about something: The President of the United States, no matter how much he supports the 99%, cannot and will not support the shutdown of America's busiest ports, and in fact may condemn it. GET OVER IT, or else we will have to resign ourselves to a permanent conservative majority on the Supreme Court that will forever strike down every attempt to make this country safe for democracy while upholding every right-wing authoritarian violation.
3. Shutting down the Port
The three high-level tasks needed to shut down the entire Port complex are these:
1. Bring enough people to do the job.
2. Converge on the respective destinations before they can be intercepted.
3. Passively defeat attempts at dispersal or removal for an indefinite time.
Task 1 can be accomplished by having as many Occupies involved as possible, as well as cultivating active participation by members of nearby communities. We can arrive at a ballpark figure for the number of people needed by adopting the cautious standard that 100 people using a variety of tactics can hold one lane of traffic. Examining the satellite map of the Port, I've identified 13 primary assembly points along the perimeter that would choke off nearly all access if held by protesters, accounting for about 90 combined lanes of traffic (including on/offramps and rail lines). A map of primary assembly points:
Primary Assembly Points
(Links lead to close-up aerial photography)
Based on our 100/lane standard (counting only one street's lanes in an intersection), this gives us a figure of 9,000 people for the direct protest, which would have to be augmented by at least half as many reserves capable of joining later or assembling at secondary points to shore up the primary ones, as well as dedicated camera people arrayed diffusely around each assembly point. We can thus say 20,000 people is the ballpark bare minimum head count for even a slim chance at a successful, enduring shutdown. If I had to guess, I would say that 50,000 would be optimum target, provided the added numbers are no less focused and disciplined, but 20,000 would be the cutoff beneath which the event simply isn't worth attempting. These are not especially large numbers for a traditional protest, but are gargantuan for civil disobedience.
The key obstacle to achieving Task 1 is time - it would obviously take longer than the timeframe of the Oakland shutdowns to get 50,000+ people on board with taking direct action, consulting with the various groups identified above, and organizing the logistics involved. Since it is a truly massive undertaking, and one with few precedents to judge by, I would recommend an ample stretch of time: 3-4 months. Some activists might be tempted to set May 1st as the target date due to its significance to labor, but I would suggest moving sooner due to the electoral issues already mentioned - March or April, or even earlier if it's found that the numbers are not as hard to generate as I assumed. But given that this is late December, we can say with reasonable confidence that late February is the absolute earliest ETA, and probably inadvisable given the amount of preparation involved.
Task 2 is more complicated, since protesters can be intercepted at any point in the process of their travel from home to the assembly point. They may be preemptively arrested days before the event if authorities know why they're in the area - a tactic we have seen repeatedly over the years prior to big protests.
Strategies for avoiding interception
- If coming from outside LA County, arrive in the region at least a week before the event.
- Stay somewhere reasonably far from the Port, such as in one of the many pleasant cities of the broader County.
- Do not house together in groups or congregate prior to the protest except in small, innocuous meetings, such as having lunch.
- Do not blog about where you are or what you're doing until the very moment the protest begins.
- Do not look like a protester stereotype.
- Do not drive cars with out-of-state license plates in the area.
- Plan for the most absurdly heavy-handed and paranoid police attempts to stop you from even getting to the Port, and prepare accordingly. But common sense will do in most cases - don't go out of your way to announce why you're there.
- If you consider yourself an especially notorious protester likely to be tracked via cellphones or laptops, buy all new equipment when you get into the region and don't use it (other than to check that it works) prior to the protest.
- Stay in areas that a racial-profiling cop would not find suspicious. Young white people suddenly flooding the streets of a Latino neighborhood in the days before a ballyhooed protest of epic proportions would obviously attract attention, and attention could very easily mean preemptive arrest and confiscation of critical resources.
- Arrive at your designated assembly point simultaneously with everyone else, and do so by converging from all possible directions. If road blocks prevent access, proceed on foot from a random direction (i.e., RUN). As can be seen in the linked maps above, most assembly points are wide-open, and would be very difficult for authorities to completely block without causing the very shutdown they'd be trying to prevent.
Participants should arrive in the area as close to the start time as possible, but arrive at the actual assembly points simultaneously - this would cause police intelligence to badly underestimate the numbers of protesters planning to participate, and have difficulty coping with the underestimate. Such estimates tend to be based on how many protesters are already on scene or known to be in the area, but if people flood in unexpectedly from everywhere around the region, the state, and the country, it could not be adequately predicted. Arrivals should occur via as a wide a variety of conveyances as possible, including just walking, but timing is crucial - it is not good for people to trickle in slowly for police to sweep up at their leisure, or for large groups to assemble outside their assembly points and then try to march to them: Police would simply block their movement and turn it into a by-the-numbers standoff and crackdown.
Furthermore, a decision would have to be made about whether to occupy key rail crossings or focus exclusively on roads. There would be special risks involved in trying to shut down the rail lines into the Port - namely, that someone wouldn't get the message that there are people on the rails, and that they're not in a position to move if a runaway train came barreling toward them. That could pose dangers not only to protesters, but to the personnel on the trains. In my amateur opinion, it could still be done safely by ensuring constant communication with the rail managers, but there are downsides either way. It certainly wouldn't be anywhere near as risky as standing in front of a tank in Tienanmen Square, or being a freedom fighter in Libya or Syria, so it's important to put risk in context.
To arrive at and effectively take possession of an assembly point would require that police aren't already holding it - something that is likely to be the case in several instances, given how much lead time would be needed to organize the shutdown. As a result, every intersection and access point into the Port around the perimeter should be assigned a backup priority as an assembly point for groups from surrounding points.
In other words, they would know that if they arrive to find the primary objective occupied by authorities, they either attempt to create de facto control of an intersection by taking over the two streets that comprise it - an option that would force them to divide their strength - or else move on to their secondary point. If the secondary point is already taken, or some other group has moved into it due to their own exigencies, they move on to tertiary point, and so on. The same convergence strategy should be used in this case as for the original assembly - moving in simultaneously from random directions to avoid being kettled or swept up. Bicycles, skateboards, or rollerblades might be useful for allowing mobilized protesters to move quickly, given the wide-open nature of the terrain in most assembly points.
Task 3 is by far the biggest practical challenge, demonstrated by how quickly police dispersed and rounded up the recent half-assed (sorry, it had to be said) attempts to shutdown the Ports of LA, San Diego, and Houston. Clearly there are two aspects to achieving the task: One is preventing removal from the chosen location, and the other is ensuring that the protesters' health isn't compromised by it. I address the former in the Tactical Assessment immediately below, but the latter is both more straightforward and more difficult: In the midst of likely brutal police activity and arrest-first-ask-questions-later behavior, getting water to protesters who are locked into position for hours or (if successful) days would be a serious problem.
It's entirely possible police would deliberately use that as a siege tactic if they failed to break the assembly points, knowing that dehydration would cause protesters' health to rapidly deteriorate. So if the occupiers succeeded at drawing out the shutdown for any length of time, we would have to be highly innovative at getting relief to them through police cordons and roving patrol vehicles sweeping up strays, scouts, and camera people. Unfortunately, for those who choose to be locked into place so they cannot be removed, such niceties as bathroom breaks would probably be a necessary sacrifice, and there aren't many non-icky solutions to that.
IV. Tactical Assessment
There are three areas of tactical planning I would like to cover:
1. Getting there.
2. Staying there.
1. Getting there.
This is an area where maximum flexibility is key, and must be a large part of the robustness of any final plan. In other words, the ability to arrive at the assembly point shouldn't be dependent on anything - there should be a vast network of available contingencies that would accomplish the task equally well. If you don't have access to a car, then hire a taxi; take a bus; ride a bike; jog; walk; whatever - just as long as it's planned far enough in advance so that the timing still works out, and nothing tips off police to stop you on the way.
However, there is one concept that I've found a lot of fun to think about, and that may be worth considering as one more option among many: Given some level of active support from truckers, it may be possible to introduce large numbers of protesters into the Port grounds via transportation inside Trojan horse cargo haulers. They could be let out right at the assembly points with authorities being taken by surprise, or else (given large enough numbers) enable seizure of interior secondary points to impede law enforcement movement between primary points. This might carry some risk for the drivers - e.g., possible confiscation of their rig and/or loss of trucking license - but there may nonetheless be willing truck drivers. As long as the paperwork accurately states the weight of the "cargo," I wouldn't foresee much chance of police being able to practically intercept such a "shipment" unless they stopped and searched all incoming trucks - something that would effectively shut down the Port itself.
2. Staying there
The tactical arrangement of an assembly point would be as follows: An inner core lock boxed into a secure circle or square of several dozen (at least) immobile protesters whom authorities would be unable to move expeditiously even if they were alone; an outer core of free-moving or merely arm-in-arm protesters cordoning off the inner core, and functioning as scouts and supply gofers; and a diffuse third ring comprised of dedicated camera/communications people recording the events, blogging, and maintaining signal access to the protesters against electronic jamming, local bandwidth throttling, or interference with nearby cell towers. A diagram of the arrangement:
As the link above explains, a "lock box" in the context of a protest is a strong device that attaches the limb of one protester to that of another (or else to a fixed installation) in order to prevent authorities from easily dispersing or arresting them. Usually this occurs as PVC pipes being used to connect the arm of one protester to another, but stronger materials may be used, legs connected rather than arms, or different apparatus may be chosen as connectors (e.g., solid-bar handcuffs, or heavy blocks of something).
Since shutting down the Port would be a massive undertaking with (in all likelihood) a Wagnerian police response, the inner-core lockbox area of every assembly point should probably involve the strongest practical connector materials, connect the protesters into the strongest tactical configurations, maximize weight to minimize the ability of authorities to move the entire group by force, and not exclusively rely on arm-to-arm connections so that inner core people still have at least one free arm to operate cameras. One possible configuration would be arm-arm-leg-leg, so that each protester has one arm and one leg connector. Another possibility is that - since they would be sitting on the ground anyway - that only legs be connected, freeing up both arms for managing cameras, text messaging, etc.
Bicycle, motorcycle, football, and other sports helmets, pads, and equipment should be worn to ward off baton blows, at least among the outer cordon who would be interposing themselves between authorities and the lockbox. There is no law against armoring yourself up like a hockey goalie in order to safely protest - at least not yet. But for the moment there are no laws demanding that people make themselves vulnerable to being bludgeoned, so the outer cordon should look like the wall of a sporting goods store.
The camera people, meanwhile, are critical to making the tactical success of a shutdown into a strategic success, because without their coverage and the accountability it brings, the police would pretty much get away with murder - probably literally. They must be dispersed in a wide field around each assembly point in order to make arresting them more difficult and time-consuming for authorities, and they should seek out vantage points ideal both for recording and for escaping arrest. It is absolutely essential that every moment of every assembly point be captured from as many angles as possible for the safety of the protesters and to safeguard the possibility of justice against likely abuses.
If the movement has done its job in selling the shutdown to the public, and if the protesters conduct themselves with grace and dignity, any abuses by will only further enhance the credibility of the movement while damaging the political capital of authorities. Camera people would also be responsible for bringing wireless routers, transmitters, satellite dishes, and other portable signal infrastructure to get around any dirty tricks such as jamming signals, throttling bandwidth, or messing with the local cell towers. They may also serve as relief reserves for outer cordon protesters, if they and the people they're relieving can evade police.
Camera fields should extend indefinitely in all directions, and overlap with those of other assembly points via people with long-distance equipment; mobile photographers zipping around perimeter roads in cars or motorbikes; people on rooftops and small boats in the nearby marinas; perhaps even some of those remote-controlled "OccuCameras" that Horace Boothroyd III has brought to our attention:
All protesters of any group should become experts in the road layout, topography, and photographic sight lines of their designated areas well in advance of the event. Scouts could provide some of the information, but it should be augmented by personal research to avoid allowing any one person's mistakes or oversights to have broad consequences for the success of the shutdown. Their decisions on where to be, and planning for contingencies, cannot occur on an ad hoc basis the way it has in the past - real strategic thinking and foresight is needed to make something like this work. They have to defeat every imaginable police tactic short of a general massacre before it ever occurs, and know exactly what to do when it does.
If this is sounding like a military operation, that's because it essentially is - the objective is strategic rather than symbolic, and logistics rather than tactics are the critical factor both in choosing the objective and accomplishing it. So a shift in mentality is needed to carry it off: We will never, ever, ever shut down either the Port of Los Angeles or the Wall Street stock exchanges by organizing attempts as if they were just ambitious political protests. They have to be approached as peaceful, nonviolent versions of military assaults where protesters' own bodies are used to passively interfere with the logistics of the other side. We have plenty of real war veterans among us, so there are undoubtedly some with a functional understanding of this fact. Their knowledge and experience should be solicited.
Now, this is only a preliminary, superficial analysis that should not be relied upon exclusively as the basis of an actual plan. Unfortunately, it's my impression that this is already way beyond the level of strategic thinking Occupy usually does, so it is crucial that the movement use this as a starting point for deeper fact-finding and planning. But I think I've reasonably argued that (a)shutting down the Port of Los Angeles is the logical target for West Coast Occupy, and (b)it can be done.
V. Toward a Three-Pronged Nationwide General Strike
But if it is done, there is no reason to do it in a vacuum: Coordinating a Port of LA shutdown with an equally ambitious port project on the Gulf Coast (be it Houston or Louisiana) and a serious, strategically-planned shutdown of the Wall Street stock exchanges would amount to the core of a nationwide General Strike. Until now, Occupy has been pretty ad hoc - just scatter leaflets around, chatter on the internet, and then see who shows up - but if it proves that it can organize self-disciplined, deeply-thought, targeted civil disobedience on a mass scale and succeed, then it will have stepped up into an entirely new league of influence: One in which the statement that this is OUR country begins to resemble a fact, not just an aggrieved expression.