This Tuesday, parts of Occupy Oakland marched against gentrification. It wasn’t a successful march (the bocce ball courts at Make Westing are still crowded with hipsters), and as one reporter noted, the march wasn’t particularly representative of the people usually displaced by gentrification.
If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably aware that am a graduate student studying land use and that I love Oakland. I moved to Oakland four years ago, and am very much a part of its gentrification. I support and oppose various parts of Occupy, like most people. But I thought this pamphlet, titled “Oakland Open for Business“, deserved a wider audience.
Gentrification and urban renewal have a complicated history. Most American cities have razed entire neighborhoods in the name of “public health” and “social welfare”, including Oakland. In hindsight, some have come to terms with the paternalism of the decision that an entire neighborhood is blighted and deserves to be town down, its occupants displaced. But many have not. In 2009, the US Supreme Court extended the use of eminent domain to support private businesses for economic development.
Whether you support Occupy or not, this pamphlet, transcribed as precisely as possible, is a perspective on an old issue that isn’t going away any time soon.
Oakland Open for Business
Since the early 20th century Oakland’s downtown business associations as well as the Oakland Tribune have used the rhetoric of city beautification as a tool of state repression. To prevent people from rioting, striking and protesting throughout Oakland, downtown business interests have been claiming that a newer, fancier and cleaner downtown will create a ripe investment climate that will bring jobs and cheap housing to the workers of Oakland.
Throughout the 1946 General Strike and surrounding labor struggles, the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power to current Occupy movement and other struggles, the Tribune has worked closely with the Chamber of Commerce and downtown businesses owners to promote a specific political agenda, creating a rhetoric that attempts to discredit any activity that impedes the flow of capital or disrupts the city of Oakland. This is done by the downtown interests blaming militant political activity for the entrenched economic and social despair when in actuality the origin of all of this is caused by capitalism and the current social order.
In 1968 members of “Blake Strike for Justice” organized a boycott around the Housewives Market, a major downtown retail store, and demanded the indictment of the police for the murder of Bobby Hutton. In response, everyday for one week the Tribune, supported by downtown business owners published a full-page advertisement featuring a “disembodied, gloved hand pointing a revolver directly at the reader.” The advertisement called the boycott “extortion” asserting that “Negro militants were holding the city hostage.” The newspaper had a quote from Mayor Reading that said “when I came in to office three years before, black people wanted civil rights, equality and jobs. Now they want nothing short of absolute political control of the city.” We hear these same sentiments today: “Occupy Oakland is bad for business, they want to take over the city, new jobs for people of Oakland are being sent to other towns because of the disruption.”
The propaganda of the Tribune and Chamber of Commerce in the 1960s that promised jobs to those who were patient and maintained order in Oakland never came to fruition. Most jobs continued to be filled by out of town Whites and the process of city beautification only brought a concentration of investment into downtown. The intention never was to serve the people but instead to create an upscale shopping district that would begin the violent process of gentrification throughout the rest of Oakland.
And the back:
Gentrification is the product of the city successfully quelling social movements, imprisoning rebels and setting up gang injunctions. With the streets clear of disruption this allows business owners and investors from Oakland and elsewhere to use the city as their playground. Redeveloping warehouses into upscale lofts and coffee shops invites a wealthier crowd to move into the once lower income neighborhood where residents have lived for years. In some cases generations are forced to move out because they can no longer afford the rent.
The state, downtown businesses and their media will never have our interests in mind. Gentrification, or in their words, “city beautification,” is not for our benefit, it’s for the profit of those on the Chamber of Commerce and other investors. Gentrification keeps us gasping for air. As it creeps in we can only hope our rent will not be raised and next year we aren’t stuck looking for another place to go, or taking on a 2nd or 3rd job.
In order to survive we end up helping to maintain our own repression, that is, we serve coffee at the new gentrifying cafe, we wash the floors at the fancy hotels and we build the sleek new condos. We don’t care about keeping up downtown or raising the property values of homes, we don’t want the jobs we are given, we want to take over the city and we will take it hostage. On May 1st 2012 we are taking it all back.
In a separate section, offset by color:
Gentrification, as it creeps in and tries to pass as a beneficial element to the city, tends to be hard to pinpoint. In our current times, the following is a list of places that embody gentrification.
These small businesses aren’t here for our best interest. They are places of commerce that through their mere existence demand policing and exclusion. The aesthetic of trying to look like a hip, sleek community business is only a facade for what they actually contribute to the community. Stylish coffee shops, green community markets and art galleries bring in an affluent clientele, that successfully kick out the homeless and help create tree lined streets and lower the crime. People don’t want to live in high crime neighborhoods but gentrification and the emergence of hip small businesses do not actually get rid of homelessness or poverty – the problem is only swept away to another street or city.
Historically used as a way to de-radicalize social movements and strengthen the state, non-profits will never be a form of transformation. These groups exist as a false outlet for frustration to the funneled into compromised solutions. Since non-profits fund their projects from the government they will forfeit their ideas and desires & just work within the confines of state regulations.
Downtown Business Associations
The Downtown/Uptown Business Associations are another form of policing, under the guise that successful business helps the neighborhood. The interests of these small businesses and investors are the priority for the city. We know that all new shops or condos lead to the state’s most effective tool of repression: gentrification.