JANE STILLWATER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Chabon ever right! I'm currently reading Michael Chabon's latest best-seller, "Telegraph Avenue," wherein he describes how the construction of the humongous Grove-Shafter freeway back in the 1960s destroyed enormously huge chunks of both north Oakland and Oakland's downtown. I just drove along parts of that freeway this morning and, OMG, was
The Grove-Shafter freeway, at the time of its construction, was the largest freeway interchange in the world by far -- carved right out of the very heart and soul of the City of Oakland. It was humongous. Miles and miles and miles and miles of it -- and it's almost a half-mile high in some parts too. Dominating everything. And this monster freeway that can almost be seen from the moon has been slammed right down into the middle of an extremely densely populated city. "But, Jane," you might ask, "what became of all the people who used to live in all those houses that were destroyed and who worked in all those destroyed businesses?" Over 8,000 homes and local businesses were destroyed. "And how did the city ever recover from that, the most high-handed use of eminent domain ever?" you might ask next. It didn't. The knife of the cruel Grove-Shafter freeway still slices through the heart of Oakland today.
It's almost like the city's politicians planned it on purpose, to destroy Oakland's affordable housing sector and strong working class. "What's more important, really?" they probably asked themselves, "the lives and hopes of the citizens of Oakland -- or getting commuters to San Francisco from Walnut Creek faster?" The answer here is obvious. And then, according to 2012 Oakland mayoral candidate Arnie Fields, Jerry Brown stepped up to the plate next. "I want a people-friendly city," Brown happily declared during his many "We the People" campaign stump speeches for mayor back in 1998. And yet somehow Brown. after being elected on this people-friendly platform, still managed to increase property taxes and assessments (even despite Proposition 13) in working-class West Oakland residents and to run a disastrously huge "blight-removal" campaign there.
And the next thing you knew, retirees in West Oakland who had owned their homes outright for years or working-class heroes who paid their mortgages on time were suddenly being forced into foreclosure because they couldn't afford to come up with an additional $15,000 or more in taxes on the spur of the moment; or because suddenly their homes (but not homes in the same condition in the more yuppie parts of Oakland) were being condemned for "blight". Bye-bye West Oakland. Hello developers and condos. And it didn't even take a freeway to knock all those houses down. But still the City of Oakland held on. And then along came Occupy Oakland in 2011 -- and a pro-corporatist police riot was staged that cost Oakland taxpayers approximately three million dollars. So. Where was all this extra money to come from? Perhaps by shutting down even more Oakland schools and dropping the wages of Oakland's municipal employees? Sounds like a plan.
In 2012, five Oakland schools were closed. And now the City of Oakland just had a one-day strike by its municipal employees, who have been faced with even more economic concessions to the City -- none of which are in their favor. Municipal employees have suffered many benefit-package take-aways in the past few years -- but have been given absolutely no new perqs. (Watch this SEIU video for proof.)
But still the people of Oakland hang in there (and please always remember that, in the end, it is only the people themselves who can actually turn a city into a "City"). And the people of Oakland still have flash and charm too! And there is still a THERE over there in Oakland -- despite all its politicians' herculean efforts to tear out its heart and soul.
But of course, now the biggest danger to the working class and poor in Oakland is sweeping gentrification that is accompanying the wildly high real estate values in the Bay Area due to the Silicon Valley invasion of millionaires.
But hope and community organizing fuel resistance and the battle for a better future for those with lesser means.
(Photo: Courtesy of Jane Stillwater)