Cultivating Resistance in Afrikatown [Interview with Linda Grant]

Originally Posted on FireWorks

On Saturday, March 7th, 2014, a group of people came together to paint a mural on the exterior wall of Qilombo, a radical social center located at San Pablo and West Grant in Oakland. Over the next several days, the mural was completed by a variety of artists. During this time, people began to congregate in the garden every day. A dozen garden beds are now bursting with food and people are always there. This place is now called Afrikatown, and Qilombo is at the center of it.

Embedded image permalinkOn March 26th, landscapers hired by the owner of the lot arrived with a bulldozer and began to open the fence around the Afrikatown garden but were stopped before they could drive in. A group of people stood in front of the bulldozer and eventually the police arrived. Ultimately, the lot owner backed down and promised to return on Friday, April 3rd. Undercover law enforcement have been seen observing Afrikatown from unmarked cars, as well as two white males in a white van and a silver pick-up truck. The latter are probably contractors.

“Welcome to Afrikatown” sign in West Oakland on San Pablo Ave.

The entire Afrikatown territory is within one of the “opportunity areas” of the West Oakland Specific Plan (WOSP). Because of this, the block that houses Qilombo and several low-income apartment buildings is now under increased threat of eviction. Just six blocks from Afrikatown is the old Sear’s building, now being called “Uptown Station,” which is slated to be filled with a luxury food court, BART access, and tech offices. In between, a small park that had been the site of a long-standing homeless camp was recently fenced off. This fence was briefly torn down, like St Andrews further north on San Pablo, but has now returned. The forces of capitalism are gathering around San Pablo – but so is the resistance. Continue reading

West Oakland Mural Bulldozed

Original mural. Photo by Oaktown Art

Original mural on Mandela Parkway. Photo by Oaktown Art

A familiar West Oakland mural (formerly on Mandela Parkway and 12th Street) commemorating the 1968 Olympics “power salute” was razed last week. In 1968, Olympic medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medalists in the 200m run, stood during the national anthem with their heads down and black-gloved fists raised.

At a press conference after the event Tommie Smith, who holds seven world records, said: “If I win I am an American, not a black American. But if I did something bad then they would say ‘a Negro’. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.” Smith said he had raised his right fist to represent black power in America, while Carlos raised his left fist to represent black unity. Together they formed an arch of unity and power. He said the black scarf represented black pride and the black socks with no shoes stood for black poverty in racist America.- BBC

1968 Olympics Power Salute

1968 Olympics Power Salute

The West Oakland mural, sitting on a private lot, paid respects to this historical moment. It served a double purpose for the owner who commissioned the piece to prevent tagging. It seemed to have worked. No one who has graph-writing ethics would dishonor it. The city’s priorities don’t match graffiti artists’…but that’s common knowledge. Oakland Councilmember Lynnette McElheney tried to get constituent points on her Facebook when she heard the news:

Speaking with the contractors, this was removing State water testing tanks that were installed to monitor WO groundwater contamination levels at this site which was once a gas station. They told me that the water is now testing within normal ranges so the state ordered the removal of the tanks and testing equipment and the demolition of the shed. The mural was commissioned by the owner to keep the shed from being tagged.

She continued that she wasn’t notified and didn’t get there quickly enough to stop the demolition.

Facebook screenshot

Facebook screenshot

Nice try, McElheney. You hold the pen in drafting the demolition of West Oakland, aka the West Oakland Specific Plan [Read about WOSP here]. (And yes, they actually named that shit “wosp.”) Do you think you’re gonna convince us that the preservation of anything that is part of this historical neighborhood or a tribute to the struggle is suddenly your top priority? We already know what your priority is. It is not preservation of history or community. It is development.

McElhaney also says that people are unrealistic about development prospects. Developers want to build in San Francisco, but they do not want to build in Oakland, she said. The only one willing to build in the city are Oakland-based developers…“Oakland can’t beg a developer to come to the city right now. But the reality is that you can’t get (developers) to come here without incentivizing the development.” – The Post News Group, 17 July 2014

Development, by overlapping institutions of state, capitalism and white supremacy, destroys community. And the successful destruction of a community requires a short memory of the resistance that went before us. Whether every moving part of the gentrification process is deliberate or not, these small events are certainly part of the nature of the beast. A politician is a politician is a businesswoman. This is the mural after the message was changed a few years back. The image stayed the same:

West Oakland kids before the mural was torn down

West Oakland kids before the mural was torn down

This more recent wording came from Rage Against the Machine’s “Know Your Enemy:”

Born with insight and a raised fist A witness to the slit wrist, that’s with As we move into ’92 Still in a room without a view Ya got to know Ya got to know That when I say go, go, go Amp up and amplify Defy I’m a brother with a furious mind Action must be taken We don’t need the key We’ll break in Something must be done About vengeance, a badge and a gun…