By Travis Gillmore
More than 200 businesses in Oakland, California, shut their doors in protest Sept. 26—with some closing for hours and others for the day—to object to policies they say are allowing criminal activity to impact their livelihood and the community’s safety.
Organizers held a press conference the same day in front of La Cheval, a renowned Vietnamese restaurant with a storied, 38-year history in the city that will be shutting its doors this month due to high crime, according to speakers.
“Today, we want to collectively join together as one voice and make some demands,” Carl Chan, Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce president, said while leading the press conference. “Because we are all suffering. We need your help.”
Community leaders are asking for direct resources to support businesses, crime rate reductions, and public safety measures implemented by local, state, and federal governments.
The idea for a strike began in earnest earlier this year when more than 100 businesses, many of them gas stations and convenience stores, wanted to strike in protest of nearly daily robberies and high levels of theft.
“Today, we want to focus on the solutions—what we can do to make positive changes,” Mr. Chan said. “It’s not about division. It’s about unity. People don’t feel safe.”
One speaker said officials are failing to maintain safe environments for residents, resulting in widespread negative impacts jeopardizing public safety.
“We’re here to demand that our government—city, state, and federal—fulfill their end of the social contract to provide basic safety in our streets,” Jennifer Tran, president of the Oakland Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce, told the crowd. “Without basic safety, there’s no business; without basic safety, there’s no community; without safety, there’s no city—there’s only chaos.”
With her frustration palpable, she demanded immediate action and suggested that elected officials are busy pointing fingers instead of solving problems.
“Safety is the foundation of our community’s existence. Change the policy or change our leadership,” Ms. Tran said. “We are exhausted with the infighting we see every day while nothing gets done.”
Recognizing the unique dilemma voters are in—with officials and policies seemingly failing the community despite receiving broad support—she urged voters to reconsider their priorities and take responsibility for their choices.
“As progressives, it’s not easy to admit that we supported failed policy, but someone right now with the maturity and courage to admit that we were wrong is the exact kind of leadership we need right now,” Ms. Tran said.” Letting crime run rampant is not the way. Letting violent criminals out as soon as they are apprehended and booked does not lead to public safety.”
She noted that while it is difficult for some to accept that past decisions are now threatening the community, self-reflection is a necessary part of the solution.
“Of course, there are consequences,” Ms. Tran said. “It’s time to stop following false narratives. It’s time to elect elected officials that tell the truth even when it is unpopular.”
With critiques coming from the opposition that called the strike and press conference “fake” and “organized by millionaires,” one speaker denounced such claims as simply untrue.
“I sure in the hell ain’t fake, and I’m not a millionaire. What’s going on is absolutely upsetting—we have to do something fast,” Derek Johnson, owner of the Home of Chicken and Waffles—a well-known destination establishment located in Oakland’s Jack London Inn—said to the audience. “After more than 20 years of business, I’m shaking my head wondering if it’s worth it.”
Business owners are reeling from what is being described as unprecedented crime, including violent assaults, carjackings, and smash-and-grab robberies.
Retail theft is so high that some business owners are reportedly afraid to report losses to their insurance companies for fear of having their policies dropped, according to speakers.
Bearing the weight of all losses, some owners are now saying they are losing so much money they are considering laying off employees and closing.
Running out of patience for city officials, organizers said that the strike will not be the last protest, and they will continue raising their voices until something is done.
“If they don’t fix it, we will fix it,” Mr. Chan said.