Sunday, July 4, 2010

Oakland waits, or do we?

It’s interesting to drive around Oakland this weekend. Life in East Oakland isn’t very different from other 4th of July weekends. Cops are everywhere. However, I drove through Fruitvale yesterday, and noticed some signs of all the media hype. In response to a letter issued from City Hall, a small handful of businesses have covered their storefronts with plywood. The funny thing is, these businesses also have to put an additional “open” sign on the plywood to distinguish themselves from other boarded up store fronts that are out of business, which are not exactly an unusual sight in Oakland. Other than some plywood, East Oakland and Fruitvale seemed like I thought it would: business as usual.
However, downtown is a much different scene altogether.
Driving in on East 14th, you first see the downtown skyline as a backdrop for a post-apocalyptic scene that used to be the grounds of the Kaiser Auditorium’s parking lot. The parking lot has been torn up, as well as much of the landscaping in between the auditorium and the lake. Huge piles of concrete surround both sides of the street and the median. I’m pretty sure none of it had anything to do with the Mehserle trial, but it certainly seemed appropriate for a town that everyone else thinks/hopes is destined to explode.
Once in downtown, Oakland seems like the place that you read about in the news. Some businesses are already boarded up per the ominous warning from City Hall. Many more were getting boarded up on Saturday morning. The City Center surrounded its entire Broadway entrance with fencing. It looked like they are doing some sort construction project that must have been planned a long time ago, but given the circumstances, you never know. I do know that this is a great time to be a plywood retailer and/or a carpenter.

Trial-related graffiti abounds. It’s mostly wheat-pasted posters. I didn’t see too much spray paint or marker work, although I wasn't on foot, and I don't kick it by the lake. I do know that there is one mural that looks like it was done legally: it's more gallery art than graffiti art. The posters range from being pro-Justice for Oscar Grant to being staunchly anti-Mehserle.
Earlier in the week, someone had used red spray paint to write some propaganda around the Lake Merritt area that went so far as to threaten Mehserle’s son. Not sure whether or not he even has one. I do know that cops often use red spray paint when they want to spread their propaganda though. When you factor in the fact that it was only around the lake, that kinda lets you know what kind of graffiti artist did it: someone who is simultaneously afraid of East Oakland (where Mehserle actually killed Grant) AND wants lakeside residents to be afraid of all of Oakland. Basically, someone who is in the fear industry. There’s a difference between justice and revenge.

Also last week, the “Black political leaders and clergy” issued a letter warning against destroying ‘our’ city. I’ve hated all of the other calls for peace, because I believe that people are entitled to their own grieving process. I do believe in strategic and coordinated action, but I’m not a fascist, and encourage all people to have their own feelings, opinions, and coping strategies. This letter from the “Black political leaders and clergy” did a good job of warning against following the lead of “outside agitators” at least. We all know who really breaks windows and sets trash cans on fire, and I’m glad that someone is calling attention to the provocateurs rather than just fear mongering or pre-emptively justifying police over-reactions.
I'm positive some bullshit shenanigans will go down, even if people are gathering for a victory celebration, but don't believe the hype. Store-front businesses have a right to worry, the black bloc will surely be out in force, but I've seen maintream press coverage that makes the looming verdict seem like a race war might erupt. Maybe tensions are high in Los Angeles, where the trial is being held. They usually are. The Bay Area is different though. We know who the real enemy is. And it ain't the small local businesses on 17th street.
They've been gathering their armies and psyching themselves up for weeks while we've been struggling just to make ends meet. We got numbers though, and we got game.
Thankfully for the local tourist industry, the Mehserle Jury waited til after the holiday weekend to deliver a verdict.
So while the media tells the rest of America that Oakland is about to descend into chaos, real Oaklanders are celebrating another beautiful summer holiday weekend, watching the heavens explode.