OAKLAND, Calif. – Emotions ran high as Occupy Wall Street supporters and public officials dealt with the aftermath of protests that shut down the nation's fifth-busiest port before spiraling into chaos near the movement's downtown encampment.
Dozens of people who participated in the massive demonstrations Wednesday returned a day later to help clean up after a night of violence by what they characterized as a rogue band of troublemakers.
A group identifying itself as the movement's media committee released a statement Thursday expressing regret that their day of peaceful protests was marred by an "autonomous" group that broke windows and marked scores of buildings with graffiti. Later, hundreds of people attended an unruly City Council meeting as the board considered a resolution that would sanction a long-term protest camp at the plaza across from City Hall.
Varucha Peller, who identified herself as a member of Occupy Oakland's media committee, said at an afternoon news conference she thought the protests that drew 7,000 people to the streets and shut down the Port of Oakland had been a huge success. The media were wrong to focus on the rampant vandalism and spasms of violence that led to more than 100 arrests, she said.
"That's extremely irrelevant. What's relevant is there has been no general strike in the United States since 1946 and yesterday there was tens of thousands of people in the street, taking over banks, using a diversity of tactics and in many ways shutting down the city. We had tons of unions and workers come out," Peller said.
Things got testy, however, when another member of the media committee, Shake Anderson, said participants in the encampment outside City Hall had called the mayor's office early Thursday to disavow the people who were causing damage.
Peller interrupted him, saying that Occupy Oakland had not cooperated with the mayor. "If individuals called the mayor's office they do not represent Occupy Oakland."
She added, "Occupy Oakland has a policy that has been passed through the General Assembly that we do not negotiate with politicians and we do not involve political parties."
During the first few hours of the special meeting of City Council, many of the more than 100 people awaiting an opportunity to speak urged the panel to vote in favor of Councilmember Nancy Nadel's resolution that would support the camp.
Some in the crowd jeered when interim police chief Howard Jordan said his officers used "great restraint" during the protests. The council did not vote on the measure.
A night earlier, police in riot gear arrested dozens of protesters after bands of masked demonstrators took over a vacant building, erected roadblocks and threw chunks of concrete and firebombs. Five people and several officers were injured. Oakland officials said 103 people had been arrested by Thursday afternoon.
Hours before the group of what city leaders called "provocateurs" clashed with authorities, setting fires, spraying graffiti and shattering windows early Thursday, the demonstrations in the city had gone smoothly.
The far-flung movement challenging the world's economic systems and distribution of wealth has gained momentum in recent weeks, with Oakland becoming a rallying point after an Iraq War veteran was injured in clashes with police last week.
The 3,000-person protest outside the port Wednesday night represented an escalation in tactics as demonstrators targeted a major symbol of the nation's commerce with peaceful rallies and sit-ins, managing to effectively suspend maritime operations there for the night.
An accounting of the financial toll from the port shutdown was not immediately available.
A protest organizer in Chicago, Joshua Kaunert, said the shutdown was an "amazing" event for the movement, but he didn't want to speculate on what effect the violence would have. He said the lack of a formal leadership structure — and the emphasis on what he called a "true, direct democracy" — makes it difficult to weed out potential troublemakers.
"As a movement, it is definitely hard to keep that kind of element away, but that's a double-edged sword," Kaunert said. "If you want true, direct democracy, you're going to have issues, regardless."
In Denver, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore told Occupy supporters to be mindful of people trying to incite violence within the movement, saying they could be working undercover for the government.
Moore, who has been visiting Occupy protests in several cities, said governments have a long history of infiltrating protest movements.
"They want to ignite something to give them a reason to act violently against you," he said. "If you see somebody who says they're a member of this group trying to behave in a violent manner, you must surround that person with love and stop them."
Bob Norkus at the Occupy Boston camp said the riots didn't represent the broader movement and likely wouldn't have a lasting effect on it, either. The movement is still evolving and mistakes are inevitable, he said.
It "has to be nonviolent, or else it will just end. We won't get the support," he said. "It doesn't mean you can't agitate people. But you can't also be breaking windows and burning."
Associated Press writers Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco, Terry Collins and Haven Daley in Oakland, Jay Lindsay in Boston and Christina Hoag in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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