There is no such thing as bad publicity. You can take that from Navin Johnson. Or Oscar Wilde. With this in mind, I began to page through Jonathan Mahler's article in last week's Magazine section of the New York Times, entitled "Oakland, The Last Refuge Of A Radical America." The first question that occurred to me was this: "What is a magazine doing in the middle of a newspaper?"
And then I read more. I read the whole thing, even though there was nothing that truly constituted news for me in the article. I live in Oakland. I lived through most of what Mister Mahler described in his account of the ups and downs of the most recent revolutionary flurries here: The challenges faced by the Occupy movement, and the challenges they presented the powers that be in city government and law enforcement. Without taking a particular point of view, Mahler managed to paint most of his central characters as confused and out of touch. There were no heroes, and the villains were mostly those who were attempting to make the best of the bad situation which they had inherited. It paints a pretty bleak, sad picture.
It got me to thinking that a really great ending to this whole piece would be to have the people of Oakland do some sort of Mayberry/Hooterville double-cross on Jonathan Mahler, inviting him to the true anarchist inner sanctum, and feed him plenty of noise and fury about the next great insurgence, but it would be too believable. Rather than staging some sort of ugly scene on the occasion of Barack Obama's visit to the city at the end of July, protestors played it pretty much down the middle. Both sides seemed to respect the barriers set in place by the Secret Service. It wasn't until this past weekend that the rabble decided to rouse again as the local Art & Soul Festival prepared to get underway. Last Friday night was the night that "the people" took to the streets, they were voicing their displeasure with the permit system for vendors, police brutality, and culminating with their anger for plate glass windows at the Obama Campaign's Oakland headquarters. So much for Hope and Change, I guess.
There is an interesting moment in the article when Mahler describes a confrontation between "rapper and activist" Boots Riley and an African American policeman who says that he is a big fan of Riley's music. Both men are trying to do their job, trying to do what's right. Maybe that's the problem we all have with Oakland. Perhaps somehow, Jonathan Mahler managed to get that ambivalence just right.