OAKLAND, CA — Such testimony was heard repeatedly at the Oakland-wide Anti-Displacement Forum, “Speak Out to Stay Put”, held on October 17. Over 400 people joined together to denounce the corporate dictatorship that pushes displacement, and to seek answers on how to save their homes in the face of massive gentrification caused by the spread of “Silicon Bay”.
Rents have doubled since 2009 and 60% of Oakland residents rent. While Oakland residents are being driven out of the city, corporations are making big profits by manipulating housing. Wells Fargo and Bank of America have begun evicting up to 10,000 families in the city, while Air BnB is buying up homes to turn into residency hotels. Developers are building condos, while Uber is moving its headquarters to the city. These corporations are consciously creating a “rentership society”, directed by corporations that feed off foreclosures to create high-priced rentals.
Like most cities, Oakland has more empty houses than it has homeless people. But putting homeless people indoors would ruin the real estate market. The immorality of homelessness is augmented by the predatory nature of gentrification. Corporate policies have forced one quarter of Oakland’s African-American residents to leave the city since 2010. But the newcomers to the city’s neighborhoods aren’t always exactly “neighborly”.
Pleasant Grove Baptist Church has held services in West Oakland for 67 years. New residents, comfortable in their condos, are reporting the church to the police for making too much noise! At the same time, residents of the Dimond District and other newly “upwardly mobile” communities are logging onto Nextdoor.com in order to post unsubstantiated suspicions about African-Americans they see walking down the street.
This is more evidence that it is impossible to fight poverty without fighting racism, just as it is necessary to fight racism in order to fight poverty. These two evils are joined at the hip. What else can we expect in a country with such a legacy of slavery?
For an African-American (or any low-income person) to just walk down the street in peace in America requires ending killer cops, militarization of police, the prison-industrial complex, the militarized border, the school-to-prison pipeline and the New Jim Crow legal system.
Now gentrification must be added to the list, for the police are part of a real estate plan. Corporate developers live by the formula that police create security, security creates investment, investment creates developments, developments create real estate markets. This is corporate dictatorship, organized on many levels, both open and secret, working through and around the legal process. People lose their homes, primarily because they lack political power over the class that calls the shots.
Oakland’s elected politicians make noises about how they will guarantee low cost housing, but Oakland is still one of the cities in California that does not force developers to do so. Pious statements just won’t do in the face of gentrification. Oaklanders must develop the political power to force the politicians to guarantee our communities, not the profits of corporations.