Last Friday, I attended a really creative action in Oakland, California – a reenactment of the 1946 Oakland General Strike – the last general strike in U.S. history, where about 100,000 workers walked off their jobs in support of striking retail workers at two downtown department stores.
The interactive performance, called Oakland 1946!, was an original script, written by a bunch of activists, and the play is performed outdoors at the location where the strike actually began – Latham Square, where Broadway and Telegraph meet in downtown Oakland. Actors move in and around the crowd, and audience members are recruited as strike picketers or otherwise encouraged to participate in the show (when workers are winning, what do we do? We cheer! When the boss is winning, what do we do? We boo!). On Friday, about 150 people attended and the crowd was so anti-boss that at times it was difficult for the actor, radical theater professor Larry Bogad, to get his lines out!
I was really impressed with their creativity. They used an unusual format to bring history to life, and call attention to current struggles. I loved that at the end, they talked about strikes throughout history AND brought speakers from local unions to talk about current struggles. Did you know that following the 1946 strike, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act in response to union radicalism, outlawing solidarity strikes, and effectively ending the possibility of another general strike? For real? Did you know that workers are sitting in at a factory in Chicago right now?
The photo above is from the Oakland Tribune, which ran a great story on the Sunday performance. The photo features Pete Woiwode who played the newsie, making announcements throughout the performance and moving the plot along.