The last time San Franciscans talked this much about Oakland was in 1906. The City was ablaze and 100,000 residents fled across San Francisco Bay, many never to move back to San Francisco. They say the population of Oakland doubled in roughly 72 hours.
There’s a funny analogy here. San Francisco is currently ablaze again and in the midst of changes that, while not on the scale of a three-day fire, will forever change the physical, cultural and demographical landscape, just like in 1906. New buildings and cranes scrape The City’s skyline while people who call themselves San Franciscans are being pushed from their homes by forces out of their control. Cataclysms are not always caused by nature.
And once again, Oakland is there to take the brunt of it, pick up San Francisco’s pieces, and be forever changed by thousands of refugees just looking for a place to call home. Too bad no one asked Oakland how it felt about it.
I was out in Oakland this week with my good friend Sayre, who’s been living in The Town for seven or eight years and is one of its biggest cheerleaders.
At one point we ran into Boots Riley from the legendary hip-hop group The Coup. Boots is an Oakland native involved in radical politics who cares deeply about his city’s plight and capitalism’s role in it.
Boots and I became friendly when he was on my talk show, “The Kinda Late Show with Broke-Ass Stuart,” and we have been in touch ever since. We were at Legionnaire, one of the many new bars that have exploded into downtown Oakland in the past couple years, jamming out to the music of Motown on Monday, a party that originated in San Francisco. Marvin Gaye was bumping through the speakers and Soul Train was being projected on the screen. The crowd was far more diverse than any I’ve seen in San Francisco recently.
“So how do we stop Oakland from becoming the Mission?” I yell-talked at Boots over the blaring Motown. It was something that Sayre and I discuss often, but this was the kind of thing Boots focuses on in both his music and his activism.
“We need to begin with functional rent-control laws,” Boots yell-talked back to me, “and focus on bringing in jobs that pay real living wages for the people who are already here. Neither of which are things that City Hall has any intention of doing.”
Later on, Sayre pointed out other things Oakland could do like occupancy requirements for new residential construction and penalizing property owners in places like West Oakland who just sit on fallow land until the price rises high enough for them to sell. But we all know City Hall won’t do that.
I’ve spent so much time over the last few years lamenting the things that Mayor Ed Lee’s administration has allowed to happen in San Francisco, yet I never even thought about what his counterparts were doing just across the Bay. I didn’t realize that Oakland’s City Hall was as deeply entrenched in the same “capitalism at any cost” ideology as our own.
And maybe that’s at the heart of what’s happening in Oakland. When you live in San Francisco, it’s the center of the world. We like to think the things created here reverberate around the globe, but we fail to notice how the serious issues we view as just our own are actually affecting the communities around us.
There’s an old saying (that I’m completely making up right now) that goes “As San Francisco goes, so goes Oakland.” And for Oakland’s sake, I hope it doesn’t.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in The San Francisco Examiner.