Friday, January 23, 2009

Fire Sale: Mythical Flower Now Hot Commodity

Natalie Dylan thinks she's a feminist, when really, she's just a capitalist.

My Beloved, Burning Oakland

On Jan 1, 2009, Oscar Grant III was shot and killed by a BART police officer. Judging by all available video captured on phones by bystanders, the shooting was unwarranted. BART, The City of Oakland or Alameda County all had a week to respond and they did nothing.

Nate and I weren't aware of this until we went to seek out donuts on Jan 7, 2009.

We'd been working at Mama Buzz (a downtown Oakland coffee shop) all evening. I had heard ramblings from a biking hipster about a text he'd received from a friend, and was annoyed by the deafening helicopters circling the neighborhood. Apparently, a riot had broken out in protest of the shooting. Of course, we still didn't put any of it together until the donut part.

Ironically, I never let Nate talk me into donuts - a point he mentioned in the car. But in a moment of weakness, having just come off a sugar-fueled Christmas vacate, I didn't fight him. So we headed downtown.

Turning from Telegraph onto 17th, the scene was beginning to become clear. Cop cars blocked off Broadway, parked in front of the closed donut shop. We lamented the early closing, wondering where to purchase fried fat. Proceeding on though, the thoughts of food diminished - especially when we saw a gaggle of more police cars coupled with a group of running rioters ON MY STREET.

A surge of what-the-fuck? enraptured us, and we turned down Jackson. Approaching the end, there were thirty officers dressed in riot gear, holding their clubs and in self-promoting stances forcing us to turn onto a side street. Nate rolled down his window, "What's going on? She lives right there." Rudely, we were only addressed with knowing, put-off looks and commanded to keep on driving.

We passed a burnt out car and knew shit was serious.

And this was the most serious shit we'd ever encountered. Having both grown up in boring Indiana, we didn't see much civil action in the name of social justice. I had been on a protest arc living out here - having attended a Iraq War traffic stopper in downtown San Francisco, marching with my gay brothers and sisters indicting the blatant inequality of the recently passed Proposition 8 and interning for an anti-Vietnam documentary. We wanted to see what this was all about and document the experience via photo and audio.

Parking a couple blocks away, we hustled up to the blocked intersection, passing more riot-geared, stone-faced police - confident history was happening around us and we would see and feel it close-up and minus the glass of a television screen or computer monitor.

The intersection at Jackson and 14th was almost completely shut down. Riot gear, police motorcycles, long-neckers and kids on bikes swirled in my eye line. A couple vegan chicks were ogling the damaged McDonald's. At least four sections of window were smashed. I addressed the one in the skirt, "What is this all about?" She revealed the details of the shooting but was more enthralled with the beat-up fast food icon, "Did you see the McDonald's? It's so cool! I'm a vegan so it makes me happy."

"Yah, I'm a vegetarian so I understand."

She figuratively high-fived me with a smile.

We quickly rushed to my apartment to pee, split a beer and grabbed pertinent gear. By the time we returned, the whole mass of police and civilians were running down 14th toward downtown. There were mumblings that Mayor Dellums, camped out at City Hall, would be addressing the angry crowd.

Nearly every car parked on the street had busted out glass. A Indian family, replete with small children, stood bewildered at their destroyed auto. I asked them if they lived in the neighborhood. Nope. They'd been visiting friends. Welcome to Oakland?

By the time we reached Broadway, the crowd was strong and incensed. They chanted at the police, "Go Home!" The feeling was violent, but my adrenaline for experience drowned out the fear I should have been feeling. We pressed on to City Hall, anxiously awaiting the Mayor's address. Nate snapped photos with my who-knew-it-was-shitty camera, while I whined that my audio recorder needed batteries. Nate, without his fancy camera, and me without my only fancy piece of electronic equipment caused us pain and some light-hearted ribbing of each other. Everywhere people were filming both stills and video, some stood on high pillars yelling at cops, Nate and I mostly turned in circles trying to take in the sight we were witnessing. Each time we moved, we ended up within the police barricade. Having recently been reading People's History of the United States, I knew we were at risk of arrest or smoke inhalation or worse, just by virtue of being there. Nate, even more concerned than me, admitted later he felt like he had to watch out for me -- you know, me being a weak lady and all.

Finally, the Mayor stood before the crowd. Enveloped by reporters, his assistant held a mega-phone which hadn't seen action since the Ford administration. He would have projected further with a rolled up newspaper. It didn't help that the helicopters hovering above drowned him out. Only ten people deep, I could only hear maybe five percent of his message. There was something about respect and something else about a promise that the City of Oakland would investigate the murder. Then he left; people: not placated, sprinted off, intending to wreak more havoc on private property.

We didn't immediately follow, unsure about what the hell we may be getting ourselves into. But once we heard the booming breaking of glass, we knew we'd have to trail behind, only to see what we'd never seen before. Were we interested, or we were we our parents? I knew this was my one chance to approach a cop and shout, "Fuck the police!" My one chance, and I blew it.

Nate and I argued about what we'd witnessed, what was happening around us. We spoke of the diversity of the crowd. He blamed the white kids, their faces covered by handkerchiefs - like Wild West outlaws, circling their bikes and taking charge of the crowd- for incensing the violence and the indiscriminate property damage. I wanted to discuss the bigger picture though. When a government fails its people, when there is no social justice, when racism is pervasive and plays out in police brutality, when the voice of the right is silenced because the bureaucracy of the powerful is too loud -- what are folks to do to get noticed? Well, as Nate put it: Surround City Hall, break out its windows and burn the fucker down.

Since that night, the BART police officer has been arrested and is facing murder charges. Whould this have happened without the destructive riots? I'd like to think so, but I doubt it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Movie Pre(view)diction: Yes Man

I’ve been on blog hiatus since I’ve had absolutely no inspiration to write about anything. It’s a sad state of affairs for someone who wants to be a “writer”. So I was walking to Whole Foods at lunch and I spied, on the side of a bus, a big blue poster for that new Jim Carey product, Yes Man.

I’ve not seen it, but I thought I would review it anyway.

I can guarantee it’s terrible. Without really knowing the premise, I’m guessing it runs along the lines of, “THE GODDAMN PEN IS BLUE”, but not near as funny. And, incidently, that would be a better title if you could only get away with using the word Goddamn on the side of a bus.

And I don’t know why Zooey Deschanel gets indie artist cred at all when she chooses sell-out scripts like this one. Sure, she knows which indie rock credited dude to record with and she knows which indie rock credited dude to marry, but just because she can sing and has a low “I’m so above it all” voice and big, big eyes, doesn’t mean she has any taste. And now I’m starting to question Ben Gibbard’s taste. Because really, could you marry an actress that starred in sell-out unfunny, manipulative, broad-humored marketing vehicles like Yes Man and still drone about The Man on stage every night?

Which really goes to show: Just because your music kicks ass and demonstrates your depth of being and awareness, it doesn’t mean you know shit about movies.

Let’s check out Rotten Tomatoes…

Yep, 43%.