I was cruising by a condo construction site on 40th Street in Oakland recently and noticed it was burned out, the metal scaffolding and rebar twisted and bent in on itself.
I immediately assumed arson, and when I got home I looked it up and discovered the police determined the same thing.
It wasn’t surprising — the idea of using terrorism to drive out “luxury housing” is sort of out there in the zeitgeist in Oakland right now.
When Ghostship burned down, Oakland’s illegally and precariously housed people barely had a moment to breathe before the government and property developers instrumentalized the tragedy to start cracking down on illegal living spaces. The government did it to cover its own ass, and property developers smelled blood in the water, a way to pick up underutilized properties for cheap.
When the supportive housing on San Pablo street burned down it was immediately obvious that it was an arson, an attempt by the property owner to drive out the poor people who’ve been using it as grey-area housing of last resort.
There have also been fires at Oakland’s growing homeless encampments, one on Wood Street that broke out likely because of a combination of a kitchen accident and the deleriously dangerous makeshift construction techniques used there, but also some other recent ones that were apparently started by drive-by arsonists trying to drive the camps out.
If you read through the backlog of complaints on SeeClickFix for Oakland it becomes very obvious that housed Oakland residents are fed up with the camps and angry at Oakland’s government for halfway sanctioning them. So it honestly doesn’t surprise me that someone would try to burn one down. Just as it didn’t surprise me to discover someone had burned down the condo site.
It also didn’t surprise me that Greg Gianforte won the special election in Montana after beating the shit out of a reporter and getting charged with misdemeanor assault. He’ll probably get convicted for it. It won’t matter.
It won’t matter because of the tension simmering beneath the surface. People want this stuff to happen. People want to see their enemies destroyed. “Live and let live” is being strained to its limits, and the thin veneer of civility that normally keeps this kind of thing from happening has been stripped away. It only takes one person to act on these impulses for people to admit they’re not actually mad about any of it, that in their heart of hearts this is what they wanted to happen all along.
I also suspect that people who voted for Trump aren’t mad that he congratulated Duterte on his ongoing mass murder of drug addicts, or that bodyguards for Erdogan kicked the shit out of protesters on U.S. soil. Because that kind of extremity is exactly what they want, and all the safeguards that made people take a step back and say “…but that’s probably not really a good idea” are being eliminated one at a time.
I’m guilty too. I’ve been in riots and behind burning street blockades cheering on the fight with the cops or with the Nazis at the Milo event in Berkeley. The only reason I haven’t gone to more of these antifa callouts is that deep down, I want to see these fucking idiot internet anime fascists catch a beating, and I’m afraid of what I’d do if I were actually there.
And I’m afraid that what’s happening in this country is ultimately a reflection of what people really want.
I remember the moment I stopped even making jokes about “the Rev”, when I broke with insurrectionist politics that want to see a complete rupture and breakdown of society. It was the day twelve people were assassinated at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and the following week where all my friends on the radical left were either ambivalent about it at best, or cheering about it at worst. Because Charlie Hebdo wasn’t on our team, it was problematic, and apparently nobody should shed tears for the victims of a vicious assassination if they’re guilty of punching down.
I realized that’s what revolutionary violence would actually look like, and it stopped being romantic.
Now there’s revolutionary violence breaking out everywhere, much of it not only sanctioned by the state but sanctioned by the legitimacy of the vote. And I realize there is actually a very good reason to universally condemn this kind of violence in all of its forms.
The world is getting scarier, and it seems like it’s happening because that’s what we’re all secretly hoping for.