OAKLAND, Calif. — Thousands of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators jammed downtown Oakland Wednesday for a general strike — then marched en masse to shut down the nation's fifth busiest port.
As many as 5,000 people, by police estimates, clogged the main entrance to the Port of Oakland and seven other gates, chanting slogans and halting all truck traffic going in or out.
"Whose port? Our port!" many yelled, while dozens climbed on top of the idled trucks and waved signs.
The few police officers within sight kept a considerable distance, and the waterfront took on the air a combination protest and street carnival, with everyone from office workers to gutter punks standing alongside each other denouncing inequality.
Dozens of trucks sat idling at the port, unable to enter or leave and port spokesman Isaac Kos-Read said maritime operations had effectively been shut down. Interim Oakland police Chief Howard Jordan warned that protesters who went inside the port's gates would be committing a federal offense.
Some in the crowd began leaving as the night progressed. No arrests have been reported.
With the port closure, Occupy Wall Street protesters escalated their tactics beyond marches, rallies and tent camps.
"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.
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 Oakland protests as peaceful and orderly. 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."
Organizers said 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 that its members were not being called to strike but that they supported the protesters.
Elsewhere, police in Philadelphia arrested nine protesters who staged a sit-in inside the Comcast lobby. Officers handcuffed them and led them into police vans as supporters cheered.
One protester, Bri Barton, said she was there because the Comcast tower represents excessive wealth in a city with many blighted neighborhoods. "It's hard for me to see this and that existing in the same city," she said.
In New York, about 100 military veterans marched in uniform and stopped in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
"We are marching to express support for our brother, (Iraq war veteran) Scott Olsen, who was injured in Oakland," said Jerry Bordeleau, who served in Iraq through 2009.
The veterans were also angry that they returned from war to find few job prospects.
In Boston, college students and union workers marched on Bank of America offices, the Harvard Club and the Statehouse to protest the student debt crisis.
They say total outstanding student loans exceed credit card debt, increase by $1 million every six minutes and will reach $1 trillion this year, potentially undermining the economy.
"There are so many students that are trying to get jobs and go on with their lives," said Sarvenaz Asasy of Boston, who joined the march after recently graduating with a master's degree and $60,000 in loan debt. "They've educated themselves and there are no jobs and we're paying tons of student loans. For what?"
Information from the San Francisco Chronicle was used in this report.