[This was first published on the Project Oakland on March 21, 2012.]
Writings about cities are paradoxical: on the one hand, they are part of a worldwide, basically place-less culture of reflection on urban life—known as “urban studies”—and yet, on the other, they interact with the specific city that they study and are a factor in its development. They are simultaneously super global and super local.
Some cities have been more productive of urban self-reflection than others. Residents of London, Paris, and New York have been especially capable of integrating their local experiences into larger debates about urban life as such. For its part, San Francisco has become an important center for urban rumination thanks to writers like Kenneth Rexroth, Rebecca Solnit, and Chris Carlsson. But Oakland has been relatively circumspect in this regard, which is surprising, considering that it has given birth to so many dynamic political and cultural forces.
But the city does have some chronicles and, among them, Warren Hinckle’s “Metropoly: The Story of Oakland” holds an important position. Published in Ramparts Magazine nearly fifty years ago, his article was not the first appraisal of Oakland as a whole, but it was the first to treat it from the perspective of the Left. Though inevitably dated, his depiction of a conflicted, racially stratified city will resonate with contemporary residents, as will his portrayal of anxious, incompetent elites. The essay is part of Oakland’s small but meaningful legacy of urban self-reflection and deserves to be remembered.
~ Chuck Morse
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METROPOLY: The Story of Oakland, California
AS IF THE CREATION of some perverse master of idle pastimes, Oakland spreads out like a giant game board from the north shore mud flats of San Francisco Bay to the rolling hills of the coastal range. The game is “Metropoly,” and, as it is played in Oakland, it must also be played by anyone living in any American city over 250,000 persons. The object is survival, and the obstacles are chronic unemployment, racial imbalance, cultural deprivation, economic strangulation, educational disparity, housing inadequacy, en trenched power, stultifying bureaucracy, and loss of identity.
Playing rules are simple. If you are among the substandard income families that make up 47 per cent of Oakland’s population, you wait your turn, shake the dice, count your spaces and keep quiet. Go to jail when you are told, only pass Go when you receive permission. Pay your taxes. And above all, don’t rock the board. The rules are more lax if you are one of the elite group which makes 99 per cent of the decisions in Oakland. After all, you know the banker. Since the other players constantly have to land on your property, the rents they pay make it difficult to buy any houses or hotels themselves. Whatever property they do have will be the cheapest on the board, and the odds are that you will end up owning it too.
The analogy is familiar, but it applies with dismaying exactitude to life in Oakland, California, where the game of “Metropoly” is being played on a scale slightly below the epic.
[A GEOGRAPHY LESSON]
OAKLAND MAKES A NICE “Metropoly” game board since it is an “All American City.” Look magazine said it was, in 1955, and a plaque from the Look hangs in Oakland’s marble-walled City Hall to prove it. A red, white and blue billboard reminds motorists of this honor as they speed along Oakland’s perimeter on an elevated freeway that. slices across depressed flatlands of marginal industry and decaying housing. The view from the freeway is a city planner’s version of the seventh layer of hell: an ugly, squalid, depressing hodgepodge of commercial neighborhoods, smoke-deadened greenery and neglected residences of Victorian design and Edwardian vintage. The dominant color is gray. At the turn of the century the flatland area was a well-manicured community of bright gingerbread architecture that provided suburban housing, via ferryboat, for the more vital, if more sinful, city of San Francisco across the bay. But Oakland was doomed by its own geography. Its flatlands provide a natural base for industrial expansion of hilly San Francisco, an expansion that assumed forest-fire proportions as the twentieth century pressed on through the catalytic periods of World War I and then, World War II.
In the boom period after World War I, port facilities, heavy and light industry, stores and storage tanks crowded the flatlands, without comfort of zoning or planning, and the residents fled inland, toward the pretty hills that mark Oakland’s boundary to the east and south. Middle-class workingmen’s homes were built by the score between the waterfront and the hill slopes, but, within decades, only the sacrosanct hills were free from unchecked commercial blight. Pockets of minority settlements became etched into the flatland topography—chronologically, Irish, Germans, Portuguese, Chinese, Italians, Mexicans, Indians and Negroes. Illegally subdivided old homes afforded cheap housing, and as a tremendous influx of Negro workers came to Oakland to work in the shipyards during World War II (“imported,” an Oakland official said, “by the Federal Government from the South”), the racial characteristics of the ghetto became well-defined.
Thus, race begins at sea level in Oakland. Some 90,000 Oakland Negroes, constituting almost one quarter of the city’s total population, are jammed into restricted and blighted flatland areas on both the east and west sides of the city. As the height above sea level increases, the population becomes paler. The attractive, sylvan hill areas are reserved for expensive homes for whites. There is integration in Oakland, but it is basically the integration of necessity forced upon poor Negroes and whites alike by their economic status.
Oakland’s unemployment is twice the national average, its Negro unemployment rate. even higher; it is the fifth largest city in California, but its welfare case load is the second largest. A city planner estimates that Oakland needs to spend $80 million annually to keep the ghetto from the boiling point, but the city is administering less than $1 million in an ineffectual poverty program, in which the poor are excluded from participation.
The men who run Oakland have disassociated themselves, even geographically, from the acute problems of the city. The mayor lives in the chic Claremont Hotel in Berkeley; the police chief in the racially-restricted Oak· land hills. Business and civic leaders also live outside the congested, depressing cityscape—or above it, in the hills. Or in Piedmont, a Caucasian mountain-city of upper-class homes surrounded on all four sides by Oakland. Their contact with the ghetto consists primarily of driving through it on the way to work. Business-dominated official Oakland’s answer to the growing civic crisis occasioned by a massive minority influx, chronic unemployment and the flight of the racially insecure, home-owning whites to the more distant suburbs is, basically, more industry—and more police. If only the people in the ghetto could somehow be wished away, Oakland would make a truly splendid industrial park.
[“A SPECTRE HAUNTING OAKLAND”]
OAKLAND’S LEADERS SEE A twofold spectre haunting their grimy city: the fear of an explosion from the ghetto within, and an invasion or “outside agitators” from the sprawling, adjacent Berkeley campus of the University of California. Both fears were combined last fall when the Berkeley Vietnam Day Committee (VDC) scheduled an anti-war march from the campus through Berkeley and on through the Oakland ghetto. It provoked a confrontation that set in bas-relief, before an incredulous nation, the tinderbox condition of the great Oakland ghetto and the cantankerous, running-scared mentality of the city’s leaders. Oak, land’s anguished reaction to the prospect of anti-Vietnam War demonstrators marching through its public streets underscores the fear and confusion with which Oakland leaders view the intellectual Berkeley community.
Oakland’s ruling mentality is basically deep-Southern: conservative, Protestant, dreary, friendly to those who accept their perspectives, vindictive toward any who challenge them. The permissive, sexually open, blatantly intellectual Berkeley community constitutes an alien and dangerous world which the Oakland Establishment is incapable of understanding and must inevitably view with suspicion. The student activists are considered beatniks, savages, Communists—ne’er-do-wells, who must be kept from disturbing the normalcy of Oakland.
Oakland has had its native rebels, but for relatively short periods of residence. Gertrude Stein was a native, but apparently left home shortly after becoming ambulatory. “The trouble with Oakland is that there’s no there THERE,” Miss Stein said. Jack London, also Oakland-born, ran, disastrously, for mayor on the Socialist tickets in 1901 and 1903. But Oakland has forgiven this indiscretion; it named a waterfront night-life square in London’s honor. It is doubtful that the new breed of rebels plaguing the Oakland leaders will ever be treated with such nostalgia. They will not become expatriates, but will remain and insist on rubbing the world, and the ghetto, in Oakland’s face. They want to remake society, and since Oakland is one of the worst examples of American society, they consider it a good place to begin.
Approximately 100 anti-Vietnam war protest marches were held in cities across the country on October 15 and 16. A Berkeley-Oakland march began in Berkeley, but it never made it into Oakland. Blue-uniformed Oakland police were massed, in a scene reminiscent of Selma—tear gas guns and billy clubs out—at the Oakland city limits sign, as some 15,000 marchers approached from Berkeley on the night of October 15. The demonstrators were turned away, and blocked again the next afternoon as. another march attempted to tramp upon Oakland streets.
OAKLAND’S SINGULAR INTERPRETATION of the constitutional right of freedom of assembly was based upon numerous rationales: the danger of marching at night, possible traffic congestion in a daytime march, the city’s professed inability to protect the marchers from possible, but undefined, dangers. Essentially, it was based upon the incontrovertible fact that Oakland is afraid.
It is afraid of a Watts. Life in Oakland’s slums is so oppressive that Oakland Negroes have been known to suggest, sarcastically, a move to Watts to better their lot. (The Los Angeles riots, through a masterful public relations stroke by Mayor Sam Yorty, are always called the “Watts riots”—as if Watts was anything but Los Angeles’ prime area of Negro restriction; but if the Oakland ghetto explodes, the city cannot escape the appellation of the “Oakland riots.”)
It is afraid of outsiders, of intellectuals, of “agitators.” It is afraid of anything that might upset the delicate status quo. In short, Oakland officials are afraid of the city they govern.
The VDC originally planned to engage in massive civil disobedience by means of a sit-in at the Oakland Army Terminal. But as the march date came closer, enormous pressure was brought against civil disobedience plans. Pressure from the University of California faculty, from state and’ national officials, but mostly, pressure from within the VDC. A large proportion of VDC participants had been arrested in the Free Speech Movement sit-in at the University’s Sproul Hall the year before, and the costly experiment of mass arrest made them fearful of the prospect of another long court battle that would divert energies from anti-war agitation to legal defense. The VDC met and revised its civil disobedience ideas: it would provoke no mass arrests. It would merely march to the Oakland Army Terminal. This decision was announced u week before the parade, but Oakland authorities continued to react publicly as if they were going to be forced to arrest over 10,000 people. It made it easier to be adamant.
Oakland’s hysteria was painfully obvious during II series of lengthy and fruitless meetings as VDC representatives sought permission to parade. Chief of Police Edward M. Toothman accused the negotiators of wanting to instigate a riot which would be “more bloody than Watts.” Mayor John C. Houlihan, running hot and cold between moderation and obduration, charged the VDC with being “disrespectful” to Oakland and eventually decided that the attempt to march was a “challenge” the sovereignty of Oakland.
Oakland is the heart of Alameda County and Alameda County District Attorney Frank J. Coakley played the super-patriot. He attacked what he termed the “seditious and treasonous interests” of the demonstrators. He tried unsuccessfully, to get a federal court to deny the marcher! their constitutional rights. He issued ominous press releases based on Section 2387 of the United States Criminal Code—sedition; he worked with the California Attorney General to threaten marchers with possible felony conspiracy charges; he made strange allusions to Berkeley officials “conspiring” with the VDC; he helped create a climate of crisis, whereupon California’s easily influenced Governor “Pat” Brown put the National Guard on alert, signed a paper in advance of the march declaring a state of emergency, assembled the preposterous number of 3,200 law officers at Berkeley, and had the State Highway Patrol commissioner sleep on a cot in his office, just in case. Kent Purcell, chairman of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, watched the massive police preparations and shook his head. “They’re crazy, those marchers, but they’re not going to push us around,” he said. “We’ll arrest 10,000 if we have to and when the Jails are full, we’ll use the armory.” This preparation was for the same sort of peaceful protest march that went unencumbered down Fifth Avenue in New York, and down streets of 100 other less paranoid cities that same weekend.
[CHARGE OF THE HELL’S ANGELS]
AS THE OAKLAND ARMED FORCES lined up on a Saturday afternoon in a Selma wall at the Adeline street boundary to their town, a bizarre event with the most preposterous consequences occurred. Although the police armada was sufficient to stop 8,000 marchers from entering Oakland, somehow eight Hell’s Angels succeeded in getting around or through the police and into the ranks of the demonstrators. The Angels challenged the marchers to fight, ripped the loudspeaker from the rented truck that led the parade, roughed up a few demonstrators and are accused of breaking the leg of a Berkeley police sergeant during the ensuing melee. The Oakland police had known the Hell’s Angels, who have a reputation for bad manners, were there—but did nothing to disperse them despite their often professed fears of a riot. “Those guys got their constitutional rights too,” a police officer told one of the marchers who complained about the invading motorcyclists.
The story for the Sunday newspapers couldn’t have been better if they had invented it. Hell’s Angels. Vietnam Protest. Beards. Beatniks. Violence. Great copy. The Angels, the papers said, “broke up the march.” This was not exactly true since the 8,000 demonstrators could not have moved one inch further without getting smashed by the Oakland police, but it served the unlikely purpose of making the Hell’s Angels, who used to be nothing but cancers, some sort of momentary patriotic heroes.
Thus, in the diffuse perspective events can take in the unreal world of Oakland, the Hell’s Angels carne to represent respectable Americanism, while the marchers—professors, middle-class families with their children, students, veterans, ministers, all voicing their consciences—became the misfits of society.
A threat of the Angels to interfere with the second VDC march was extremely bad news, but Oakland authorities were curiously modest about the ability of their famous police force to stop the cyclists. This was an ambivalence displayed often during the great march crisis: they were fearful of another Watts in Oakland, but on the other hand gave the vague impression that they would almost welcome a riot. It would demonstrate the truth of what they had been saying about the “agitators,” and, since the permit to march had previously been denied because of the danger of a riot, would prove their point. Southern police welcome violence over racial demonstrations for the same reason: it supports their rationales for keeping the “outsiders” out.
[A BUDDHIST AMONG WARRIORS]
ALEN GINSBERG WAS STUFFING his Christmas turkey. He was in his apartment in San Francisco, but he was talking about Oakland. “Oakland needs soul cleansing,” the poet-philosopher said. “It is paranoid, but its paranoia is just a reflex in a small part of the overall paranoia and insanity that is gripping the world today.”
Ginsberg’s analysis, Oakland officials will readily tell you, is something they can do without. They got quite enough of it last fall when Ginsberg self-cast himself as the man to bridge the human gap between Oakland, the Hell’s Angels and the VDC.
Ginsberg played his Tibetan silver prayer bells and sang Buddhist chants for the protection of the demonstrators before the first march and was justifiably worried about the second. Three days before the march he went on a peace mission to the Oakland residence of Sonny Barger, the Angels’ Northern California President. Accompanying the poet were Ken Kesey, the novelist, who was against the war but also for the Angels, and Neil Cassidy, Kesey’s side-kick and the hero of Jack Kerouac’s novel 0″ The Road. Ginsberg later issued a hand-printed press release which told the whole story:
“Ralph Barger, president of the Hell’s Angels, entertained Ken Kesey, Neil Cassidy and Allen Ginsberg on Wednesday night in his home in Oakland. Also there were numerous Hell’s Angels. The conversation ranged from the Vietnam Day, Committee March to Buddhist philosophy. The night was relaxed and friendly and ended in singing and dancing. Kesey said he was on the side of the Angels and ‘that he wished all blessed. Sonny Barger said that the Angels’ previous declarations of peaceful intent on the Vietnam March had been underplayed by the press . . . Barger explained the Angels’ position as one of pro-Americanism and patriotism. Barger felt that a Communist victory in Vietnam would lead to a police state in America. Everybody present agreed that America was already too much of a police state. Some guests were sympathetic to the Vietnam Day Committee and explained that the march was an anti-war march, not pro-Communist march. That the majority of the marchers were equally opposed to a further growth of the police state. They also pointed out that the war was creating police state conditions everywhere. A Buddhist prayer (the highest, perfect prayer which says that the universe is an illusion) was chanted, as well as other high, holy songs. The host, Mr. Barger, put Bob Dylan’s “Gates of Eden” on the phonograph and also “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” He also said he enjoyed Joan Baez’ music. The evening ended with a collective sigh and the good wishes that other potential hotheads might find their way to conduct themselves with the same cool this weekend.”
As a peacemaker, Ginsberg should commute between Washington and Hanoi. The Angels called a press conference to announce that, in the interest of tranquility, they would not attend the march on Saturday but would “go drink some suds” instead. Sonny Barger also announced that he had sent a telegram to President Johnson offering the services of the Angels, en masse, as “Gorilla” fighters in Vietnam.
There was a feeling prevalent among VDC members that the Angels represented the “new wave of fascism,” and were put up to their interference with the march by the desperate Oakland authorities. But Ginsberg said this. is nonsense, that the Angels actually believed the marchers were mostly Communists. The attitude of the Angels towards the marchers was not much different from the American public as a whole, he said. “The Angels are in the center of the American consensus,” the poet said. “Didn’t Vice-President Humphrey suggest the peace marchers were dominated by Communists? Any misinformation the Angels get either about the war or about the march is from the mass media and is misinformation shared by the American public at large. After all, when the Angels very crudely announce that if we don’t fight in Vietnam the Commies are going to start getting us in California, they only repeat a line which is expressed in more sophisticated fashion by spokesmen for the Johnson Administration.” Ginsberg was critical of the VDC, also. He said they had no proper upaya (an Indian word, literally translated “method”). “In a situation surrounded with hostility, the VDC had no real means of transmitting wisdom,” he said.
If to no one else, the VDC certainly had trouble transmitting their wisdom to Oakland officials. The city resisted plans for the second march down to the last final hours, although under orders from a federal judge to “reach an agreement” on the parade route with the VDC.
Ex-Senator Knowland refers to Berkeley as the “Polish Corridor” through which the invading VDC marchers pass on their way to the strategic target—Oakland. The void between the two worlds of Oakland and Berkeley loomed immense in those fitful days of discussion before the march in mid-November. An exasperated VDC leader surveyed the gap: “What we didn’t understand was that our frame of reference was so different from that of Oakland. When we think of the results of denying us the right to march we think of students, the liberals, the press headlines, the difficulty of talking about Vietnam and the great ease with which discussion of Vietnam is related to the right to protest. But the problem was that the police and city manager are thinking about their responsibility to the merchants, the right-wing letter writers, and to people who give money to political campaigns, the Establishment interests. And to them, giving us a permit to march is appeasement and cowardly and they are not fulfilling their responsibilities.”
Oakland, intransigent, went down to defeat before a Federal Court order. It is indicative of the city’s mentality that, rather than deal realistically with a situation it disliked, it would make the Federal Government step in and force it to go along. This is the classic pattern of Southern resistance to civil rights progress. In Oakland, even if you can’t shoot, you must stick to your guns.
[THE MEN AT THE BARRICADES—I]
Assemblyman Don Mulford
ABSOLUTELY THE BIGGEST DAY in Assemblyman Don Mulford’s life was on the seventh day of the Watts riots when the telephone rang in his Oakland office. The call was long distance; Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker was on the line, Parker invited Mulford to fly down and ride with the police through the riot-torn area the next day, an invitation Mulford accepted with alacrity. It is not every week that the police chief of one of the nation’s biggest cities asks you, in person, to ride around with him and watch his town burn down. This was just Chief Parker’s way or expressing his appreciation for Mulford’s efforts in the California State Legislature on behalf of policemen. For instance, Mulford is the author of a new law which makes it a felony to assault a policeman in California. He has always been strong on law and order.
Don Mulford represents the white and rich part of Oakland, but mostly he represents the 18th century. A Republican from the monied, mountain community of Piedmont that overlooks the Oakland slums, his Assembly seat is secure as long as he remains in favor of motherhood and the American flag. He has been very busy with the American flag lately because his district includes that part of Berkeley which is the University of California—where recent events have given him heartburn. The Assemblyman is extremely concerned over the “agitation” at the University, his alma mater and also his wife’s. He believes that the social protests on campus were “professionally organized” by people “oriented toward the Mao brand of communism.” The Assemblyman tells of his briefing by “security people” who told him the University is a sort of training ground for agitators who then move on to bigger and better things. Mario Savio, he points out (as if to prove his intelligence report), is now at the University of London.
Mulford believes that the VDC’s attempt to march against the wishes of the Oakland police was a “threat of anarchy.” He says the VDC used the campus to plan illegal acts in Oakland, and sees as many conspiracies at the University as the late junior senator from Wisconsin saw in the State Department. “I have in front of me a list of 54 incidents of illegal activities taking place in the classrooms on the Berkeley campus of the University of California,” the Assemblyman melodramatically told a startled junior chamber of commerce audience during the Vietnam protest hoopla. Alameda County District Attorney Coakley, a man who would like nothing better than to prosecute a good conspiracy on the University campus, had to tell Mulford that there was nothing to the “incidents,” unless the legislator had more specifics. Mulford didn’t.
[THE MEN AT THE BARRICADES – II]
District Attorney J. Frank Coakley
GANGBUSTERS. That is Alameda County District Attorney J. Frank Coakley. He is gangbusters against the Red Menace; gangbusters against murderers, armed robbers and dope addicts. But he is not so gangbusters against civil rights violations. Or the crimes of corporations. Or police brutality. A hanging D.A. whenever he can be, Coakley believes in stiff punishment for ordinary criminals; he knows nothing of the sociology of crime. A prototype of the tough D.A. so favored in American cities, he is an honest, tough man who is hipped, lately, on two things: anti-communism and the young radicals at the University of California.
Coakley’s debut in the prosecution business came in 1944, when he was a legal officer in the Navy. A munitions ship, the Port Chicago, blew up in an East Bay shipyard and over 300 people were killed. Most of the dead were Negroes who had been brought from the South to work in the yards. Fifty Negroes who had lived through the explosion refused to go on loading ammunition. The Navy decided to prosecute them for mutiny and Coakley got the case. He prosecuted it with a vengeance. It was the biggest mutiny trial in Navy history.
Coakley tried to prove that an organized conspiracy existed, beginning a long career of conspiracy-conjuring. In summing up his case he said of the 50 Negro sailors, “Any man so depraved as to be afraid to load ammunition deserves no leniency.” And Coakley had his way. The 50 Negroes got no leniency from the court. They received sentences ranging up to 15 years in prison. Thurgood Marshall, the present United States Solicitor General, Will at the trial as an observer and wrote a report in which ho described the trial as an example of the Navy’s discrimination policy against Negroes. Whether it was a case or discrimination with Coakley or not it was clear that ho had utter contempt for the sailors. Typical of the way ho handled them on the witness stand was his interrogation of Seaman Frank E. Henry: “Don’t you know you’re guilty of insubordination for not having called me sir?” roared Coakley. Henry shook his head blankly.
Coakley’s most dogged prosecution of a case as District Attorney was the trial of an 18-year-old Negro shoeshine boy, Jerry Newsom, for the murders of a white Oakland pharmacist and his Negro assistant. Coakley’s office strained through three trials to get a murder conviction—one decision against Newsom was reversed by the California Supreme Court, the other two ended in hung juries.
Coakley’s hunger for a conviction in the Newsom case led him into some strange activities. One of Newsom’s attorneys discovered a hidden microphone planted in the visitor’s room in the county jail. The attorney raised u public outcry about it. Coakley was unabashed in taking full credit for having the mike planted. Of course, he explained that he had no intention of listening in on II privileged conversation with an attorney; it was just 18-year-old Newsom’s conversation with his girl friend that he was interested in. Said Coakley, the sleuth:
“That mike was put there for the entirely legal purpose of helping to solve one of the worst murders in the history of the slate.”
Newsom’s defense attorney was Robert Treuhaft, a left-wing Oakland lawyer who handled most of the police brutality cases during the 1950’s, when other local attorneys preferred not to antagonize the police department, The Newsom case apparently became an obsession with Coakley, who has since carried a grudge against both Treuhaft and his wife, Jessica Mitford, Oakland’s leading intellectual-in-residence. Newsom was eventually sent to prison on an unrelated robbery charge, and Coakley marked his calendar every year to send a letter to the Adult Authority stating, in effect, that Newsom should be treated as a murderer, not a robber, and never paroled. Civil rights groups developed an interest in Newsom’s case and began to agitate for his parole. This infuriated Coakley. [n one of his running letters to the Adult Authority, he hinted that the “brazen tactics” of the “Civil Rights Congress, the People’s World [the then Communist daily], and other subversives,” had somehow influenced the Stale Supreme Court to reverse the trial. Actually, the ground for reversal was the fact that the prosecution suppressed evidence that would have hurt its case—a police report of fingerprints (not Newsom’s) taken from the druggist’s rifled cash box.
During a 1960 State Assembly hearing on criminal procedure, Coakley took the witness stand to defend his handling of the Newsom case. The District Attorney, a short, pudgy man with a winsome, red face, also took the occasion to announce the existence of another conspiracy. This time he linked Treuhaft and his authoress wife, who had been involved in civil rights activities, together with Treuhaft’s law partner, in a plot connected with the “Communist cause” aimed at discrediting the District Attorney’s office.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s office is a large one, and Coakley infrequently takes an active role In trying cases. But when the Free Speech Movement II developed at the University, Coakley saw a political hue of red. The District Attorney felt certain there was a Communist base to the FSM, and set out to prove it. Treuhaft was arrested in Sproul Hall during the big sit-in, and many people believe that Coakley wanted the arrest because he saw the political possibilities in getting Treuhaft (with left-wing ties in his background) linked with the students. Treuhaft was in Sproul Hall as an observer-attorney at the request of the FSM, and was in the press room talking to reporters when Coakley’s deputy district attorney walked in. “Somebody is here who is not a member of the press,” said the deputy. “Well, that makes two of us,” said Treuhaft. The deputy D.A. looked at a sheriff ,who was in the room, and Treuhaft was arrested. The case is still pending.
Coakley’s visions of conspiracy by no means ended with his discovery of the Treuhaft-Mitford axis. At one point In his running court battle against the VDC, Coakley suggested that the city of Berkeley itself was involved in some sort of cooperation with the VDC to “aid and abet” what he termed “seditious” activities. Gangbusters against Berkeley!
[MEN AT THE BARRICADES III]
THE SLOGAN ON THE EDITORIAL PAGE of the Oakland Tribune says “Home Owned, Controlled, Edited,” and that is about the truest statement· ever printed in Oakland’s leading and only daily newspaper. Oakland citizens call the paper “the old lady of Oakland” because it is so stodgy, but reportedly 50 per cent of the people in Oakland who can read, read it.
Yearly profits are close to $1 million. It is not fair to say that the Tribune is the most reactionary newspaper in California. It did, after all, support Goldwater for president whereas the Santa Aria Register, in the heart of Southern California’s Orange County, refused to support the Republican candidate because they considered him too liberal.
The Tribune is now in the hands of former United States Senator William F. Knowland. Knowland was a Senator from California until he decided to come home and get beaten for governor, but he was best known as the “Senator from Formosa,” because of his heavy-handed support of Chiang Kai-shek. He assumed the management of the paper from his 81-year-old father, “Old Joe” Knowland, one of the wealthiest men in California and for decades the “biggest man” in Oakland.
With the Knowlands at the helm of the Tribune, there is little “disharmony” in Oakland, and if there is, the paper doesn’t report it. The Tribune doesn’t admit to any race problem in the city, and is extremely proud of its role in promoting a huge new sports arena and a new museum, and in talking the public and the Federal Government into building an “Oakland International Airport”—a white elephant ever since it opened.
Knowland runs a tight ship. Pinkerton guards stand at the doorways of the Tribune Building to make sure employees don’t take home a paper without paying for it (10 cents). No “outsiders” are allowed into the Tribune’s library (known to late evening television movie audiences as the “morgue”) without a court order, though the availability of clipping files to the general public is considered traditional public service by most newspapers. Restrictive editorial policies have prompted much unrest among Tribune employees. AI Reck, a dissident city editor, staged a sit-down strike several years ago, then quit in disgust before he could be fired.
Knowland becomes upset if someone suggests that the Tribune runs Oakland. His view of the paper is that it just covers the news and states its opinions on occasion. That’s it. In one sense, he is right. The Tribune and the Knowland family have been so powerful for so long in Oakland that they have succeeded in molding the type of city they want and establishing a system of priorities to their liking. The system seems to be working very well, and Knowland really has no further need to push people around. Needless to say, the Knowland’s list of priorities does not include any essential change in the city’s social structure. Knowland is analogous, now, to an old baron preparing for retirement, his kingdom well-organized and running itself. He has disassociated himself from state and even city active politics, and spends his time tending to his newspaper and various civic boards, and his family including “eight grandchildren and two 200-lb. St. Bernards.” A friendly, congenial man with a gray crew-cut and ruddy face, he is fond of saying that Oakland has achieved that euphemism of politicians, “Progressive government. ”
Knowland’s strong right-wing hand in running the paper is Paul Manolis, who was Knowland’s administrative assistant in the Senate. Manolis is considered a very powerful man in Oakland because it is he who allows the ex-Senator’s wishes to be known to the Oakland Establishment. The new upsurge of social unrest in Berkeley has given Knowland his first genuine cause since Chiang began to talk about invading the mainland. Tribune front page editorials have complained that radicals and beatniks are using the tax-supported University of California to stage assaults upon the city of Oakland, and have accused the VDC of working for a Communist victory in Vietnam. Knowland even takes a strong hand in counting bodies at the demonstrations. (While most other bay area newspapers estimated there were 15,000 marchers on October 15th, Knowland’s paper reported the number as 4,000.) It could hardly be expected that the estimate of the ex-Senator’s paper would be anything but conservative.
[MEN AT THE BARRICADES – IV]
Mayor John C. Houlihan
SHORTLY AFTER THE Los Angeles riots, a group of Oakland Negro leaders decided the community must take precautions to prevent a similar disaster in the tense Oakland ghetto. They asked Mayor John C. Houlihan for a meeting, a proposition to which Houlihan reluctantly assented. Before the scheduled meeting, Houlihan said at a public gathering: “Tomorrow I have to meet with the biggest bunch of kooks ever assembled in the city of Oakland.” That is typical of the political style of Mayor Houlihan, called “Hooligan” by his detractors and “a fighting Irish mayor” by his supporters. Houlihan is touted as the “new face” of Oakland—a reform, energetic mayor, eager to deal with massive civic problems and, unlike the older and more conservative men who used to run the city, willing to work with the Federal monolith. He is representative of the breed of American mayors who came into office in the post-New Deal period.
Houlihan is also considered an intellectual, a tenuous status made official by his assignment as a consultant to the high-minded Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Santa Barbara. The mayor loves to sit at the green felt·covered conference table in the Center’s mansion atop a picturesque Santa Barbara hill and discuss the problems of the core city in America, and particularly what Oakland is doing in leading the way to solve them. Houlihan’s trips to the Center are reminiscent of the days of Russian nobility just before the Revolution. They would meet and academically discuss the serious problems of their country with no conception that the problems really were serious, and the country was about to explode. Houlihan and his former City Manager, Wayne Thompson, who has since fled to higher ground and better pay as manager of a large midwest department store chain, spent several sessions at the Center last year talking about their city. The mayor and the city manager had some original contributions to make on the role of private enterprise in municipal management. Thompson said Oakland was curbing the “socialistic trend” of cities—socialistic things like running an emergency ambulance service. The job is better done under contract by private industry, Thompson said. He said he would like to see the fire department taken over by an insurance company, and some. enterprising businessman open branch libraries around the city. Houlihan got kind of excited about that idea: “I can see where we would have to require that certain reference books be carried in that library and that library be open so many hours and so on and so forth,” the mayor said, “but we wouldn’t try to tell them what kind of books to have on the shelf.”
One of Oakland’s most essential fits of municipal genius was to hire out the garbage business. The City Manager used garbage to make a point about his concept of how the modern city should be run. As the resident intellectuals of Santa Barbara listened in wonderment, Thompson said, “Look at some of the garbage department employee in other cities and you find a man who . . . you sometime wonder, if he really has his heart in his work when he go around picking up that garbage. He is a government employee and he doesn’t appear to have much spirit. But come into our city, Oakland, and watch that garbage man. Boy, he just pounces down that street, his head is high and he is whistling and smiling and he really loves his job, for he is a part-owner of that company, and if you are ever out with him socially, he will invite you to go duck hunting at his duck club and that sort of thing. You won’t find that in any other city besides Oakland.”
Mayor Houlihan said that Oakland’s unemployment rate runs between four and five per cent above the national average because “we are the reception center for Southern migrants. Also 8,000 American Indians, whose chances for employment are very slim, have been deposited in Oakland,” he said. The depositor is the Federal Government which, in Houlihan’s view, has done Oakland wrong in the past and is going to have to spend a lot of money to make good in the future. For instance, he is resentful of the fact that Federal shipyards attracted tens of thousands of Negroes to Oakland during World War II—Negroes still in Oakland. “The Federal Government sent recruiters through the South and everybody they saw standing on the street corner, doing nothing, they went up to them and said ‘how would you like to go to California? All expenses paid, and you will make a lot of money every day.’ They said, ‘Well, I can’t do anything,’ and the recruiter said, ‘they’ll teach you . . . ‘”
THE UNDERLYING RATIONALE of the city administration is that no program can be viable unless it is instigated and administered at the City Hall level. That is known in cruder language as “keeping the lid on.” Listen to Mayor Houlihan at a City Council meeting. Under discussion is the request of some ghetto organizations to lessen racial tension by establishing a police review board: “We have only heard from the minority in the community and not from the majority who vote the members of the City Council and who pay the bulk of the taxes. We have an obligation to consider the wishes of the rest of the community, not the most vocal part of the community.”
Listen, also, to His Honor Houlihan on the question of who “controls” the poverty program: “We don’t have machine politics in the West like they have in the big eastern and mid-western cities so we haven’t had the problem of control over the poverty money for the purposes of political patronage. Nevertheless, we control all the money. We [City Hall] must approve all the policies made by the poverty program.”
Oakland doesn’t have a machine. It has a computer. New city councilmen are appointed, click, click, very efficiently, when an incumbent steps down.
There is rarely such a thing as an open seat in the City Council come election time. If a man is retiring, it is cricket for him to resign early so a kindred spirit may be appointed in his place and have the advantage of running as an “incumbent.” Mayor Houlihan considers this “just damn good politics. If you have a good team doing a good job, it’s easier to pick a man rather than go out and get an entire new person. I think it is a compliment that a man who is thinking of leaving will come and tell the Council and give them a chance to replace him.” Houlihan does not take umbrage at the suggestion that a club is running City Hall. “What’s evil in a club? Both major parties have done it this way for years. I don’t think it’s evil. If we pick a bad man he will be defeated.”
Houlihan calls Oakland a “well-integrated city.” He is especially proud that the city recently retired a Negro fire captain and that there is a Negro captain in the police department. The pride in these two individuals is the key to Houlihan’s attitude toward minority problems. He deals with “respectable” and “responsible” Negroes, the older, more conservative, middle-class, civil servant-type Negro, and he honestly feels that he is communicating with the Negro masses. Other, more militant and less respectful Negro leaders are per se irresponsible. They don’t represent anybody. If there is trouble, it is explainable in the George Wallace syndrome: there is nothing wrong here. Our Negro people are good people. Trouble is the work of outside agitators—radicals from Berkeley, the dissident elements in the community.
In the city’s approach to other problems of the modern metropolis, there is the same air of total reasonableness—and a sense of grasping at straws. The city cannot cope with its problems, it looks to the Federal Government, to private industry. The leaders surround themselves with organizational superstructures and with activity: new agencies, a new sports palace, new buildings going up so the people in the hills can look down and feel that things are happening, that everything is all right.
[MEN AT THE BARRICADES – V]
Police Chief Edward M. Toothman
OAKLAND POLICE HEADQUARTERS is in a sterile new, ten-story, downtown bastille next to a freeway. The big picture window in operations headquarters on the eighth floor affords an excellent view of the ghetto, and legend has it that police officials gather there at dusk on Friday afternoons and pray for fog. If the fog comes in, as it often does from the San Francisco Bay, there is a deep relief among the constabulary. The fog cools things off; no Watts that weekend.
That is a quasi-apocryphal story but it represents the tension between the ghetto and the cops, just as the modern new building reflects the computerized mentality of Oakland’s current Police Chief, Edward M. Toothman. Toothman prides himself on running a well-paying police force which recruits rookie candidates throughout the land from universities with police science courses. The Oakland Police Department is considered something of a model force and Look magazine, which thinks a lot of Oakland, wrote it up as such in 1962. This was nice for a change because the Oakland force used to be one of the most corrupt in the nation. In the late 40s Oakland was worse than a small southern town. The cops beat Negroes whenever they were picked up, and rolled drunks openly in the streets. The brutality became so blatant and the corruption so extensive that the California State legislature launched an investigation into the Oakland force. The police chief resigned under pressure and one officer was sent to San Quentin. A reform police chief named Wyman Vernon came in and pulled all the roots out of the department. He professionalized it. He was incorruptible; he laid down the law to his men. And, surprise for a police chief, he was genuinely concerned with civil liberties and civil rights. Like all good things in Oakland, Vernon didn’t last. Toothman assumed office in 1959 and has had a difficult time filling his predecessor’s footprints. A, traffic specialist with academic credentials from the Northwestern University Traffic Institute, but with no deep understanding of social problems, the Chief is honest and hardworking, though a rigid and insecure man who has difficulty accepting new ideas. He had, for instance, a good deal of trouble accepting a Federal Court judge’s. decision allowing Vietnam demonstrators to march on his streets. He called the decision “undemocratic,” and complained that the judge wouldn’t let the demonstrators go on federal property (the Army Terminal) but allowed them on Oakland property (his streets). Besides, Toothman said, there were tremendous traffic problems connected with the march.
The Oakland Police Chief, who once banned an issue of Playboy from Oakland stands, said frankly that he believed Communists were behind the agitation at the University of California. He said his intelligence squad men know “every move the local Communists make,” and assigned his chief of intelligence to infiltrate the Berkeley-based VDC months before the march. A large, heavyset man, balding, with heavy eyebrows and basset hound bags under his eyes, the Chief is annoyed by complaints of Negro organizations about police brutality and inefficiency. He denied a rumor that Oakland police don’t answer calls in Negro areas. Every complaint is logged on an IBM card, he said, and “sometimes the police were accused of having too many men in the Negro areas.” He said any claim of police brutality is thoroughly checked out by his Internal Affairs Department (but Oakland civil rights attorneys often advise their clients not to give information about alleged police brutality to the Internal Affairs Department because the depositions mysteriously turn up being used by the prosecution as incriminating evidence).
There are only 19 Negroes out of over 600 men on the Oakland Police Department. Toothman says he has difficulty getting “qualified Negro applicants.” This is not difficult to understand. Being a Negro is bad enough in Oakland, but the cops are hated so much there that to be a Negro and a cop is almost masochistic. One Negro on the Oakland force who gets around a lot is Odom Sylvester. Sylvester is a captain, and Toothman is in the habit of bringing Sylvester along whenever he has to meet with Negroes.
The Chief brought Sylvester with him, for instance, when he met with the people who were picketing his home last fall. Toothman became very angry when. some 300 people showed up outside his residence high in the Oak. land hills to bring home to the Chief their demands for a police review board. He was so angry that he called his office and told 45 cops to come out and bring their gas masks. Then he rushed outside and told Negro leader Eugene Stovall: “I won’t be intimidated by you people.” The Chief was absolutely flabbergasted that the ghetto people would come up to the hills and picket his house. His house! He told Stovall of all the things he had done for “you people.” He said he always consulted with “your leaders.” And now, he waved his hand at the line of pickets; look what they’d gone and done. Stovall said that demonstrations acted as a pressure valve on the ghetto tensions and limited the prospect of a full-scale riot. “If the Negro community wants to riot, it’s up to them,” the exasperated Chief said. Then he went back inside, leaving the 45 cops and 300 pickets in his front yard. It was clear that Toothman was visibly shaken by the encounter. In his own front yard. Pickets. Negroes. Unheard of. Upsetting. Out of line. Radicals. Negroes. And in his own front yard!
[THE POWER APPARATUS]
YOU HAD TO RING FIVE TIMES, then the freight elevator came rumbling down, very slowly, and an elderly, thin-faced man with a gray crew-cut opened the steel cage he operates in an Oakland office building from nine to five. His name is Ronald Cooley and he has had his ups and downs in Oakland politics for many years, both in labor activities and in the municipal machine. He semi-retired to the elevator business in 1950, but he knows how power operates in Oakland: “No one runs for election in Alameda County, people are appointed . . . The Knowlands were always the big name in Oakland politics . . . but another big man was Earl Warren” (former Governor of California, now United States Supreme Court Chief Justice). The back-scratching syndrome that keeps the Oakland political wheels grinding smoothly is like a connect-the-dots game. When you draw in enough lines you get the whole picture. From his long political memory Cooley sketched a few dots, taking Warren’s loyal career as an example, The key position in local patronage is District Attorney, The D.A. makes the deals. Warren, with the backing of the Knowlands, began his Oakland career as an Assistant District Attorney, an appointee of D.A. Ezra Dacoto, Dacoto later kindly stepped down to make room for Warren’s elevation to District Attorney. Not one to forget a favor, when Warren became governor he appointed Dacoto to the first vacancy on the Alameda County Superior Court bench. Then there was that little matter of Warren, as governor, appointing Bill Knowland to fill In unexpired term in the U.S. Senate.
The same merry-go-round pattern prevails in Oakland municipal politics. This sort of stagnation can go on because the Oakland voters are generally apathetic. The oily itself is so depressing that it is difficult to get charged up over the idea of going to the polls to do something about it. Part of the reason for this stagnant polities in Oakland is the labor movement, Cooley said. Labor has big muscles on bread and butter issues, but never challenges the power structure. Labor leaders are conservative And generally satisfied with the status quo in terms of working conditions and wages. They are also secretly Concerned about minority agitation for more union jobs for nonwhites.
IT IS DIFFICULT and, if your Epicurean sensitivities are beyond the Doggy Diner, impossible to get a civilized meal in the downtown section of Oakland. There are no good restaurants. The area is so miserable that no one would venture there in the evening, and at lunch time all of the important people downtown—the big businessmen, city officials, judges—eat at private clubs. This dining pattern is representative of the exclusiveness of Oakland’s decision-making process. If you do not belong to the Elks Club or The Athenian Nile Club, or to one of the Masonic Clubs, you are on the outs. You eat lit a lousy sandwich shop and the guy having the chicken soup next to you is on the outs, too. Thus, decisions bearing on the future of the city are made by a small group of self-elected men—leaders in industry, some politicians, labor leaders, a few civil servants, members of social and civic boards. The mass of Oakland citizenry is supine, apathetic and impotent.
There is a descriptive phrase for this singularity of collective decision-making: “power structure.” A power structure is necessarily amorphous because power, like electricity, is invisible. All you can see is what it does. In Oakland, it maintains order. It keeps the boat from rocking, or even swaying. It is heavily business-oriented. When “Old Joe” Knowland’s political machine began to decay a decade ago, the younger men who moved into the gap were business bosses. Unlike the old-style political bosses, they did not desire power for its own sake, but to keep the community safe for the efficient functioning of business and industry.
It is not unusual to have a coalition of industrial and political leaders making the big decisions in American cities, but the situation in Oakland is entirely out of hand. Dr. Floyd Hunter, a respected sociologist who has extensively studied community decision making, said that what stands for business and what stands for politics in Oakland have melded, fused, interlocked and become indistinguishable. Oakland’s City Hall is an “enlightened part of the civic machine of business bossism,” he said. The City Government has become a “coordinating effort for the business community.” Big businessmen sit on the committees concerned with city policies. A city manager form of government was installed to put municipal government on a “business-like basis.” The people who run City Hall were responsible for getting the mammoth Kaiser Industries to headquarter in a skyline-dominating edifice overlooking the city’s Lake Merritt. A necessary corollary of this is that Kaiser plays a very important role in city politics. (Kaiser, an industrialist who was made largely by the largesse of federal spending, has eased the way for acceptance of federal aid for things like redevelopment. The Knowlands, junior and senior, still consider the proper functions of the federal administration to be limited to minting the coins of the realm and maintaining the armed forces.)
Dr. Hunter sees in the Oakland power structure the penultimate merger of the two vast systems of patronage in the United States: business and government. This pooling of psyches has produced the ideology central to all of Oakland decision making: the panacea for all civic problems is to bring in more industry which will generate economic growth which will somehow, one day, filter down to the people in the ghetto. In the meantime, the poor must be kept, at a minimum of local expense, in a large, supine relief pool and prevented from creating any social unrest that might affect the climate for attracting new industry.
The power structure in Oakland has no formal apparatus, nor does it need one. A “lively communications circuit” of informal clearances and “cues” on policy decisions is largely handled by professionals in the business-oriented municipal government “who do not necessarily need to be told what to do or not to do, but through long experience in handling policy matters can anticipate, or are thoroughly convinced that they can anticipate, the reactions of the higher echelons of decision,” Hunter said.
Despite an unwrinkled power apparatus, Oakland is a city in panic. The men at the top are fearful—and their fear drifts down through the labyrinthian channels of authority. It is a faint, uncertain fear, like the blip-blip-blip of a distant earth-circling satellite, that somehow, something is drastically wrong with their city. Oakland’s industrial plant is aging, a large portion of its commercial areas are already decayed. Industry has moved out because other cities can give them a better deal and, in any event, Oakland is a depressing place. (Ironically, neighboring San Leandro, which discourages Negro residents, is successfully wooing Oakland industrial firms by offering tax advantages Oakland cannot match because of its large Negro welfare expenditures.) The tax base is evaporating as white families, afraid also, flee toward the suburbs. And, though the men lunching at the Athenian Club seldom talk about it, the shadows cast by the thousands of able men standing idly on street corners get longer, and grimmer, each day. The Oakland leaders simply do not recognize the enormity of their problems. They do not even realize that the problems are bigger than they are.
[THE POVERTY SUPERSTRUCTURE]
Or, How You Can Drive a Jaguar
While Helping the Poor to Riches
EYEN IN THE HOPELESS WORLD of the Oakland ghetto, there was a brief, shining moment of optimism when the great Johnsonian War Against Poverty was promulgated. This was the program designed to begin closing the gap between the “Two Americas”—the America of the Oakland hills and the Oakland flatlands. That no economist or social critic of any stature ever took seriously the prospect of the program eliminating poverty in the nation—there simply wasn’t enough money appropriated—is understandable when you look at the funds that trickled down to Oakland: Dr. Floyd Hunter estimated it would take $80 million to begin to do something substantive about eliminating poverty in Oakland. The sundry social and welfare service agencies in the city estimated they needed $8 million yearly just to perform their jobs adequately. But the poverty program is allotting only $800,000 per year—and most of this money goes to the bureaucrats rather than the poor.
Despite such obvious limitations, the War on Poverty managed to spark the enthusiasm of those bounding optimists, the liberals. Their hopes were centered on the political possibilities of the program, a hope The New Republic, which should have known better, summed up:
The hope for the poverty program was not that it would wipe out poverty overnight but that it would begin to revive the instruments of representative governments which lie in wreck and ruin in the fast-growing Negro slums that now are the core of the American City.
The sentence in the poverty program enabling legislation which caused such excitement said there would be “maximum feasible participation of the poor” in formulating and carrying out the poverty programs. The concept of involving the poor in the making of policy made the poverty program, as originally announced, the most far-reaching piece of social legislation since the New Deal. But what seemed a bold and radical plan for generating some life in the dormant slums of America I! becoming, in the reality of big city politics, just the opposite—the politicians and bureaucrats, instead of liberating the poor, are using the poverty program to strengthen their own entrenched positions. In Oakland, it happened faster than you can say John C. Houlihan.
From his prime list of “reasonable men”—the “responsible” leaders of business, labor, the social agencies—Mayor Houlihan appointed the members of a group called the Oakland Economic Development Council. The poor were not represented. The Council adopted the city-run Department of Human Resources as its staff, whipped out a 180-page request for poverty funds, and sent it off to Washington. Only after the program was approved and’ the $800,000 was in the bank did the council set up the ghetto area “Advisory Councils”—the instrumentalities that were supposed to involve the poor in the program. But there was nothing for the Councils to do; the program was in operation, the professionals had already decided what the poor needed.
Houlihan considers the poverty program one of the proudest accomplishments of his administration. On paper it is an exemplary program—the poverty superstructure is in place, the bureaucrats are spending their $800,000. But there is no intention of fulfilling the central idea of the poverty program’: allowing the people to develop their own leaders and express their own needs. In fact, the constitution of the Oakland poverty program specifically prohibits the neighborhood Councils from making any policy decisions. In this anal-retentive form of municipal management, everything must be kept within the safe City Hall structure. The officials are actually afraid of involving the poor. The important thing is to keep the machinery functioning smoothly; the poor might get out of hand and foul up the program being run for their own good.
HOULIHAN HAS TWO “REASONABLE” Negroes ill key jobs in the Oakland poverty program. One is Judge Lionel Wilson, a highly respected and intelligent jurist who is chairman of the Oakland Economic Development Council. He took the job only after he was assured by the mayor that he would be independent of City Hall. But there is no need for City Hall pressure, because the poverty program has done nothing to challenge the power structure, and Judge Wilson is not the person to take it in that direction. Wilson is a good and humane leader, but like most liberals in positions of responsibility, he tends to be skeptical about the .possibilities of the poor organizing themselves. Ho views the rebels in the ghetto who are trying to goad the poverty program into becoming what it was supposed to be—an instrument for social change—as either naive, or just plain troublemakers.
Dr. Norvell Smith, the city’s Director of Human Resources, is the very stereotype of the middle-class “Negro leader” painted by militant ghetto leaders. A light-skinned Negro with horn-rimmed glasses, wearing a tweed suit and a vest, Smith is 41 but looks in his 20’s. He said he was proposed for his position as the effective head of the poverty program by what he called “a majority of the established Negro leadership.” Smith shares with Judge Wilson both a feeling of independence from City Hall and a limited view of the possibilities of the poverty program. He feels he has limited funds but does a good job with them. His biggest problems, the educationist said, are created by people who see the poverty program “as a means of obtaining power.” Some of these people are the “bona fide poor” who want a voice in what happens to them (but ‘can’t have it). Now that is legitimate, Smith said. But then there are the people “trying to use the program for their own purposes”—the radical and left-wing students who look upon Oakland as their laboratory, the wide spectrum of ministers and middle-class liberals working in the slums. It does not matter to Smith that their “purposes” are to make the ghetto in some measure livable; their “purposes” do not coincide with the limited aims of the bureaucracy he directs and are therefore not desirable.
Smith is very sensitive to the feeling in the ghetto that he is a bureaucrat who has no real feeling for the poor. He vigorously defends his neutral, administrative status: “I wear a Brooks Brothers suit and I drive a Jaguar but I have been working all my life. I am not a leader of the poor.” Smith brands as “white interlopers” the white radicals who are working in the ghetto to organize the poor against the conservative dictates of the middle-class Negro leadership. He calls them the “white colonialist leadership. ”
Smith, who worked his way up the bureaucratic ladder in administrative posts in the Alameda County school system before getting the plum poverty assignment, believes the radicals are perpetrating a myth about the “so-called dignity of the lower classes.” He thinks this is just so much nonsense. The only way to go, he said, is the good old middle-class way—just the way he did it. “My commitment is to make these people (the poor) middle-class. I want to make them acquisitive and aggressive and I want them to compete for the jobs that the people in the suburbs are now getting.” The concept of a community of the poor or a political movement of the poor is distasteful to him—the label “good but honest poor” is something to be shed like dirty clothes, and, eventually, the people in the ghetto, with poverty aid and the Protestant ethic as spurs, may all be driving Jaguars like him. Or at least buying their underwear at Brooks Brothers.
A majority of the federal poverty funds for Oakland will go to the Inter-Agency project, the city’s original and well-publicized vehicle to control the problems of the poor. What the project actually does is to coordinate the efforts of the many agencies whose programs don’t get through to the poor anyway, and as far as the ·ghetto residents are concerned, the prime effect of Houlihan’s pet project is to make more efficient the instrumentalities of their miseries. Before “coordination” a family might have been dealing with only one agency, but now they are harassed by two or three. While the essential need in the ghetto is for jobs, one-half of the funds requested are for education—and in Oakland, that means the federal funds will be spent for blatantly segregated education.
THE ALAMEDA COUNTY WELFARE DEPARTMENT performs two-thirds of its functions within the City Limit signs of Oakland. The Department is basically anti-welfare. Its case workers mechanically carry out their functions under the spell of a combination of the racist and 19th Century Gilded Age ethic—”the poor are lazy and immoral and undeserving.” The attitude of most of the welfare workers is paternalistic, callous and even brutal—characteristics usually increasing in degree with the number of years a worker has put in the department. The County is infamous for its cavalier treatment of the poor—peaked in Mack Sennett fashion by a series of sensational early morning “bed raids” several years ago. Welfare workers, in the best tradition of Alameda County, would bang, at 5 a.m., on the door of a mother receiving “aid to needy children” because her husband had left her, force their way in and look around the bedroom to see if the woman was sleeping with anyone other than her children. Recently the State investigated 49 cases of aid discontinued by the department, and found exactly 49 of them to be illegally and wrongfully cut off.
The director of the Welfare Department is Harold B. Kehoe, a chain-smoking, aging civil servant who is going to retire early this year and is very glad of it. Kehoe, who has devoted his life to not rocking the boat, has a kind of fey, naturalist ideology that involves the inability to understand why a man is not working, while at the same time recognizing that unemployment is the result of the improper functioning of the economic system. There are unemployed because there are not enough jobs; yet, one who is unemployed must have something wrong with him.
He complains that welfare grants, especially for housing, are tragically insufficient for many families. But, he shrugs, “The state fixes the figures.” What Kehoe doesn’t say is that the County has the power to. grant supplements to state welfare checks in case of need if it so desires. It doesn’t.
Members of his staff, Kehoe said, are “embarrassed” to say they are social workers, such is the degree of the Oakland white community’s distaste for the black poor. “When they went to a party or a bar they used to say they were social workers, but now they just do not mention where they work.” Welfare workers who have tried to do something more than keep the lid on the dole and cut people off the welfare rolls at the slightest excuse have either quit in disgust ·or been fired. But, Kehoe says, “I haven’t seen any anti-Negro feeling on my staff. In fact, we just conducted a probe and we did not find any.”
Such are the mentalities involved in administrating the “dynamic” poverty program in Oakland. The attitude of the people who are supposed to be receiving the benefit of this enlightened munificence is represented by an elderly Negro sitting on the sagging porch of a weather-scarred apartment house in the East Oakland slum. “You are not going to get nothing done in Oakland until it burns to the ground,” he said, with finality.
[THE GUERRILLA WAR – I]
“Elly” Harawitz Strikes Back
ELLY HARAWITZ GOT INTO THE POVERTY BUSINESS, underground division, two years ago. That was when she encountered a Negro mother of seven children whose welfare checks had been cut off because she was living in “unfit housing.” The house was unfit because it had just about burned down and no longer had a roof on it, and the woman needed her next welfare check to move out and make a deposit on a home with a roof. An Alameda County welfare worker, with unfailing logic, told the woman that people who live in unfit housing don’t get welfare checks. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Harper, but the longer you wait to move, the harder it will be on you.” And it did get harder. It is easy for things to get harder when your seven kids’ clothes have all been burned up and your bed sheets have burned up and you don’t have any money to buy food or even to move into a flop house with a roof on it. And then it became harder still, because it started to rain.
When Elly Harawitz, a petite, attractive, vital brunette of 25 chanced to meet Mrs. Harper, she found her hysterical—and talking even of suicide. Elly got the woman and her children some food, went with her to the modern, eleemosynary offices of the Alameda County Welfare Department, and asked them what the hell they were trying to do, anyway. “The social workers were uncooperative and cold. They had no legal basis to hold the check. And when I asked the social worker why it was being held, she replied ‘to provide this woman with incentive,'” Elly Harawitz said.
When the welfare worker mouthed the word “incentive,” Elly recalled, a small twitch began to flutter in Mrs. Harper’s left eye. “It is difficult to appreciate how deeply a person is affected by an Establishment that is at best condescending and at. worst, punitive toward those who depend on it for their survival,” Elly said, in the bedraggled stone front office she runs in West Oakland, two blocks away from the well-scrubbed Welfare Department headquarters.
Elly calls her group the Welfare Rights Organization. It grew out of her experience with Mrs. Harper and her realization that the people of the Oakland ghetto will only be able to get civilized treatment from the authorities when they band together and demand their rights on a united front. Her organization provides legal aid .and counseling to individuals either cut off or ignored by the Welfare Department, and seeks to provide food and housing during the time when the person’s case is being fought out with the bureaucrats in charge of the dole. “We found that when rights are fought for, and fought for by two rather than by one, then it is possible to win something.”
To win your rights in Oakland, if you are poor and Negro, you should be Kirk Douglas or John Wayne or else it is going to be very difficult. As Elly Harawitz puts it, “Oakland is an absolutely stinking city; it is just incredible. You can never find out who is responsible. When you go to complain to the Welfare Department, to the School Board or at the City Council meetings, no one wants to see you. They don’t want to acknowledge your existence. Just try to find out who is responsible for something. It is a process of political education. You go to a social worker—she is not responsible. You go to Supervisor number one, and she is not responsible; then Supervisor number two and she is not responsible; finally you end up at the Board of Supervisors and they try to pawn it off on somebody else, and then you see how this whole mess is tied together.”
The essential contradiction in Oakland’s vision of a welfare state is that the human needs and the welfare eligibility requirements are in direct conflict. For instance, the average Alameda County monthly allowance for welfare housing ranges from $38.00 for a family of one to three persons to $54.00 per month for families of 10 or more. “The only way we can get anything from them is through a political organization. They must be pressured and shown that we can get a lot of people out to demand their rights. Then we can win something for the people,” Mrs. Harawitz said.
The need for a political organization to gouge even substandard living conditions out of the Oakland authorities Is far more than a physical need. It gives a new scope, and hope, to life in the ghetto. What kind of a life is it? Listen to Elly Harawitz: “A woman and her four kids were denied welfare aid because they did not meet Alameda County residence requirements. She refused to return to Arkansas, so the Welfare Department refused even to give her a food order. She had been living on the contributions of her neighbors for several months when we met her. By that time all the kids had puffed bellies. The oldest, a boy of six, had rickets. His legs were bowed, he limped, dragging one leg behind him, one arm was almost totally useless, his hands were always in his mouth, he drooled all over himself, and it seemed his brain was beginning to be affected by the disease. I remember sitting with this boy on a couch while his mother and a neighbor went to the church to try to get some food. We were looking through an old Life magazine, playing a game.-I would point to a picture and he would tell me what it was. Around us the wall swarmed with roaches and we looked at ads for carpets and Cadillacs. This child had not eaten for days and we looked at a picture of kids licking their lips around a steaming bowl of Campbell’s soup. So is this boy supposed to identify with those kids? Was Life Magazine about his life? Could it ever be? How to measure his “alienation” when he grows to adulthood?”
The Oakland Establishment has no conception of this sort of alienation from their white, insulated world. But it is just this sense of alienation, in growing proportions and under outrageous human conditions, that is leading to the almost certain explosion that will come if the Oakland ghetto remains as it is. Elly Harawitz’s organization is working toward overcoming this sense of alienation by advocating an “adjustment” to society-but not the type of “adjustment” the educationists and other well-meaning, but naive, social theorists speak of. This “adjustment” is essentially different because it does not require acceptance of the very things that alienate the people. “Our group adjusts to the society by first reasserting its rights as members of the society and then trying to change the conditions which alienate them,” she said.
ELY HARAWITZ’S ORGANIZATION is trying to do the things that the poverty program should be involved in—informing poor people of their rights, bringing pressure on public officials to change their astigmatic notions of how social services should be dispensed. For a few suspenseful days, the Welfare Rights Organization did provoke some excitement in Washington circles. Edgar Cahn, an aide to Poverty Program Chief Sergeant Shriver, wrote Mrs. Harawitz and expressed great interest in her organization. He spoke of incorporating some of her ideas into the poverty program, he suggested the possibility of flying a Welfare Rights Organization representative to a Washington poverty conference to report on its activities. He even implied the possibility of a grant to the Welfare Rights Organization so that it could expand its work. But Cahn’s enthusiasm quickly cooled. The offer of a trip to the Washington conference was diplomatically withdrawn and further enquiries about the possibility of financial support were met with polite suggestions of going through channels. Somehow the word had gotten back that Elly Harawitz, or her organization, might be a little too radical, or just too eager and amateurish.
There is a final, ironic footnote to our story which bespeaks the failure of the official War on Poverty. Edgar Cahn, the man who had passed the word down to the Welfare Rights people, had in July 1964 written, together with his wife, Jean, an exceptionally perceptive article in which they warned of the danger that the poverty program could become a vast exercise in military style bureaucracy, too cautious to fulfill its goals. In that article they called for a “civilian perspective” that would keep the program open for spontaneous, indigenous programs by grass-roots people—precisely the kind of program that the Welfare Rights Organization is engaged in. Their article was prophetic—the dangers they warned of have come to haunt the Oakland ghetto. What Cahn could not have anticipated, perhaps, was that he would be presiding over that process. But that is the way the liberal ball bounces in America.
[THE GUERRILLA WAR II]
A Parish for The Poor
THE REV. BARRY M. BLOOM, an Episcopalian priest, had a penchant for startling audiences with this description of his environment: “I come from Oakland, the shitbox of the West.” Rev. Bloom was one of the thoroughly unconventional clergymen who ran one of the most radical—and effective—grass-roots organizations in the Oakland ghetto. It is called The East Oakland Parish, an inter-faith movement for social and political action founded by clergymen who felt their churches had lost any relevance to the real problems of the poor. The clerics, who wear uniforms of black pants, turned up collars and black windbreaker jackets marked by the yellow insignia of the parish, are making life quite difficult for the Oakland Establishment. They believe they are following the example of the historical radical, revolutionary and heretic named Jesus Christ. They call Christ their “corporate executive director” and think it will take them a long time to raise the qualitative type of hen he did.
The East Oakland Parish is one of the independent, underground poverty programs attempting to accomplish the virgin goals of the official War on Poverty. With the other guerrilla poverty organizations, the Parish people share a deep distrust and hostility to “downtown”—the official agencies and the bureaucrats and politicians who run them. The Parish makes its headquarters in an old bank building at 14th and Fruitvale Avenues, deep in the 80 per cent Negro East Oakland flatlands. In addition to the eight clergymen (seven Protestants and one Catholic priest) who make up the Parish’s Board of Directors and work at least one day a week in the ghetto, the Parish has two full-time community organizers and 23 students working part-time under a work-study grant from the University of California. They administer first aid to the entire gamut of the sores of the poor—debilitated housing and diets, lack of medical, dental and legal services, no jobs and no job training, inferior schools and inferior schooling, broken homes, adult and juvenile delinquency in equal measures, and, worst of all, a lack of any power or organization to do anything to change their conditions.
But the Parish workers do more than parallel the paper projects of the official Poverty Program. They picket with the poor. They shoot pool with them. They actually live with them. Organizers for the East Oakland Parish make $200 a month—and live on it, and live in the ghetto. Organizers for the official program get $9,000 to $10,000 a year for the same type of job—and commute to work.
Although it is a phrase that is overused and underdone, it is “Christian witness” which the pastors in the East Oakland parish are giving. The cornerstone of failure in conventional social service, they feel, is the “destructive condescension built into the staff-recipient or professional-client relationship.” The converse proposition to this institutionalized welfare syndrome is the poor organizing and running their own war against their own poverty—and this is the proposition to which the Parish is dedicated. “In our generation the best way to accomplish this job seems to be through community organization—a technique for change, indeed, for revolution—whereby paternalism is throttled and the Lord is in fact free to help those who help themselves,” said the Rev. Barry Bloom, now serving a Peace Corps stint.
It is unusual to find Catholic priests actively participating in radical social movements, but Fr. Savio Dindia is an exception. The young Franciscan priest, assigned to a Catholic high school in the ghetto, became one of the organizers of the Parish. “Because the welfare department is anti-welfare and the political power structure refuses to admit that this is a disaster area, the only solution is to organize the neighborhoods and create the power base necessary to get things done: control votes, get new people in to change the direction of Oakland,” he said. Toward that goal, Parish volunteers registered over 5,000 new voters, most of them Negroes, last year. Besides fighting the Establishment, the Parish has instigated pr grams designed to “shame the city into doing things”: It started a drop-out school, is planning a series of “Business Development Centers” to create jobs by helping small businesses to expand.
But, in the Christ-oriented approach of the Parish, it is the spiritual blight of the ghetto that must be combated. This is a goal recognized by all the parish workers. Said Cheryl Arnold, a blond, heavy-set, WASP-looking 24-year. old volunteer, “You have a smooth-running machine downtown, but here in the ghetto there is so much apathy, and no feeling of life having any meaning. There is no connection with other people in the community. I think that’s where the frustration and the anger come from,” She was saying that Watts, aside from its physical deprivation, is also a state of mind. And it is the same state that Oakland is in.
[THE GUERRILLA WAR – III]
Where The ACTION Is
CENTRAL REALTY ON OAKLAND’S SEEDY Telegraph Avenue is a home away from home for those citizens who would like to abolish Mayor Houlihan. Among them are Jody Edmonson and Arlene Slaughter, who are principals in a wide-ranging ghetto organization called ACTION. This stands for the Alinsky Committee to Integrate Oakland Now. ACTION emerged last year from a seminar attended by Oakland ghetto leaders and run by Saul Alinsky, the professional radical. There is much excitement in the ghetto about the prospect of Alinsky moving into Oakland and taking over the war with the Establishment, and the people in ACTION are peppering city leaders with Alinsky’s direct action tactics to kind of pave the way.
Jody Edmonson is a tall, thin, and forcefully articulate Negro who is a co-chairman of ACTION; Arlene Slaughter, middle-aged, graying, tough, with a bit of the Jewish mother about her, runs the Central Realty office out of which ACTION moves. She wears a button with “We Try Harder” printed in Hebrew on it. The pair said that ACTION began after a series of City Council meetings on the tensions in the ghetto. Or at least, what were supposed to be a series of meetings. Mayor Houlihan threw everybody out of one meeting, then kept cutting off speakers from the ghetto by arguing with them at a second gathering. At a third meeting, some 300 people came to debate on a proposal for a police review board. They should have stayed home, because the discussion lasted only three minutes and then the Council voted overwhelmingly against any such board. At that, the 300-member audience got up and marched outside singing “We Shall Overcome,” and have been marching ever since.
ACTION is an umbrella, activist organization that encompasses some 20 ghetto groups and stands ready to picket at the drop of a sign. It serves as the organizational channel for the increasing militancy in the ghetto, and for this reason it is shunned by the NAACP. That doesn’t bother Arlene Slaughter much, who thinks the NAACP is composed of middle-class types who don’t want to cause any trouble and have no influence in the ghetto. Strangely enough, that impression is shared by the President of Oakland’s NAACP, attorney Clinton White. He warned the City Council members not to use their NAACP contacts to assure themselves that they had control over the Negro masses. White came right out and said that this was an illusion—that the NAACP had no importance in the ghetto.
ACTION is just getting going, and at the moment neither it, nor any other organization, has the following of large numbers of ghetto residents, Jody Edmonson said. There is no such animal as a “Negro leader,” just now, in Oakland. “You can be a Negro leader for $5,” he said. “I decided I would be one by going to the meeting of the Alameda County Negro Leadership Conference. It cost me $5 to register. Unfortunately, only two other people showed up.”
ALL YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND racial segregation in Oakland’s public schools is a pencil. Draw a square. Then draw a horizontal line across the top, about one-third down. Then divide the remaining space into three equal vertical sections. You have a diagram of how the Oakland school districts were gerrymandered for racial considerations. The horizontal portion at top represents the school district of the white hill area—the three vertical sections are the school districts running up to the hills through the largely nonwhite flatlands. This gerrymandering was done by the school board in 1961 and resulted in the establishing of the virtually all-white Skyline High School. The Board also adopted an “open enrollment” plan which allowed parents to send their children to any school in the city—a practical criterion being if the parents had the money to transport their children every day to non-neighborhood schools. So the result of the open enrollment plan has been to allow middle-class white parents throughout the city to send their children to the Caucasian classes in Skyline High.
Oakland’s style of segregated schooling, known to Latin scholars as de facto, has one other debilitating side effect: that of economic as well as racial singularity. Many of the schools, particularly grammar and junior high schools, are of “one class, one race” constitution. The Negro bourgeoisie lives as far into the white hills as it can get outside of West Oakland—the symbolic home of the Negro poor. Thus there is little chance of a Negro slum child mixing with any of his economic betters, even those of his own race. ” In a legally segregated Southern school you at least had more diversity,” said Oakland Negro civil rights attorney John George. “Since all the Negroes in the area had to go to the Negro school, you had the sons of middle-class Negroes mixing with poor Negroes—but in Oakland the poor black know only the poor black.”
The same incestuous pattern that marks Oakland’s municipal office holding is true of Oakland’s School Board—in spades. In the last three decades, 21 school board members have been appointed and only three first came into office by standing for election. The overwhelming majority of the appointees were conservative Republicans. Their choice for Superintendent of Schools was Stuart Philips.
Philips has a concept of the melting pot which is barely post-Victorian. He scores any sort of “social engineering” which would lead to a “racial mixture” in the schools as “repugnant to me.” Unrepugnant, of course, is the arbitrary zoning of Skyline High School: “I respect the freedom of choice which in an unregimented social area must result in a particular school being composed largely of one race or another.” Speaking is the school superintendent of the city with one of the largest, most concentrated Negro populations in the nation.
Oakland school officials have their own unique version of “jug”—the traditional after-hours punishment period for errant students. Their version is to put the students, if they are Negroes, in the real jug—jail. Every Negro school in Oakland has a regular city police patrol, and Negro children who get in any way out-of-line are taken to the police station to await their parents. This practice fits in with an old Oakland school tradition known as the “kick-out.” It is just like the drop-out, except that the student doesn’t do it voluntarily. Negro students, especially in their junior and senior years of high school, are discouraged or kicked out of school for being “stubborn,” or “uncontrollable” or “uneducable.” Suspensions are also legion for Negroes. Five days for smoking. Thirty days for playing with a fire cracker. Ten days for coming to gym without a gym suit.
This crack-the-whip atmosphere in Negro-dominated high schools was documented in a 1963 study of Oakland schools by the California Fair Employment Practices Commission. “In a predominantly Negro high school the principal was almost completely discipline orientated,” the report said. Principals boast about things like their school having fewer broken windows than other schools With as many Negroes. One Oakland high school principal told a state investigator that he felt it necessary to limit the number of activities which would require a large attendance by the student body, such as theatrical productions, because when Negroes got together they got what he termed “fever.” He told the investigator that, when excited, Negro students could vent their feelings in “fearful ways.”
When Negro parents try to become involved in school affairs they are treated no less cavalierly. A group of Negro mothers in the East Oakland ghetto picketed the Havens Court School to protest its disciplinary policies toward their children. They were so harassed and intimidated by school officials and the police that many of the mothers became frightened and dropped out of the organization. One of those who stayed, Mrs. Robinson, was awakened one morning at 2 a.m. by a burly Oakland police officer with a warrant for her arrest on a charge of assault and battery on a school teacher. Mrs. Robinson maintained that she never laid a hand on the teacher whom she had complained to about her child’s treatment.
Dr. Robert L. Nolan, an Oakland physician and former school board member who led a fruitless fight to get his fellow board members to even discuss anything as foreign as de facto segregation, considers the future outlook “very bleak” for Oakland schools. “Berkeley at least is making an effort to solve its problems of segregation,” he said, “but Oakland, if anything, is trying to prevent a meaningful solution to this problem.”
[THE SUPPRESSED REPORT]
OFFICIAL OAKLAND HAS sometimes done very naive things, but in 1962 it outdid itself. The city hired Dr. Floyd Hunter to do a study on housing discrimination. A majority of the members of the Mayor’s Committee on Full Opportunity, which did the hiring, didn’t believe there really was any discrimination in Oakland and considered Hunter’s Berkeley-based consultant firm a sort of super public relations outfit which would reinforce the committee’s preconceptions. “They didn’t know who we were or what I had written,” Hunter said,
This was a major oversight because Dr. Hunter was just about the last person a city with an ostrich mentality like Oakland’s should want around. A native American radical in the populist tradition, Dr. Hunter years ago wrote an extremely controversial sociological book on the community power structure of Atlanta, which had the denizens of Atlanta running record blood pressure counts. It can be reliably surmised that much the same reaction occurred in Oakland when Dr. Hunter dropped a 118-page bomb. Housing discrimination, he said in his report, existed in fully one-third of the city where both brokers and property owners were either acting in a discriminatory pattern or openly admitting they would if given the chance; his survey found that 60 per cent of the whites in Oakland had prejudicial feelings, mostly against Negroes.
But Dr. Hunter went even further. He came right out and said what was wrong with Oakland, and what had to be done to save it. The Oakland “civic machine,” the sociologist said, needed its “social sights raised radically.”
The city leaders were possessed of an “hypnotic inability” to think of racial problems in other than negative terms, and spoke “a local language full of cliches about achievement where little or none exists,” he said. The more-more-industry panacea of official Oakland was a manifestation of “national economic anarchy and nonsense”; the city needed to jettison “cruel political cliches” about welfare and to institute “massive social solutions” to problems the magnitude of which Oakland failed to recognize. For starters, Dr. Hunter said it would be necessary to spend $80 million annually in order to advance the incomes of almost 50 per cent of the city’s population to “general community norms of adequacy.” He said that Oakland was in such a physical mess it didn’t need renewal—it had to be rebuilt, beginning with an expenditure of $125 million to replace just plain rotten housing. And he charged that minorities be allowed to play active roles in “all circumferences of government,” most immediately and specifically the closed-club of the City Council.
Well! Dr. Hunter’s phone began ringing as soon as the first draft of the report reached City Hall. The City Man ager called to say there was no such thing as a power structure in Oakland. Members of the Committee called to say that Hunter had gone a little too far, and offered the use of their garden hoses just in case he wanted to. water it down. But Hunter stock to his findings. The committee was fearful of showing such a radical document to the Mayor, but Houlihan, with a Gnosticism that allows him to recognize social problems on an intellectual level but to be oblivious to them in the real world, accepted the report with equanimity.
Cooler heads, however, prevailed, and with its usual smoothness in handling such things, the City printed only 125 copies of the report, then destroyed the stencil. The 125 copies were as hard to find in Oakland as first editions of Fanny Hill. As word got around about the Hunter Report findings, the demand for copies reached a sort of howl. But this was the time of the campaign for California’s controversial Proposition 14, which would make discrimination legal, and it was obvious the Committee didn’t want in circulation a report about the extreme discrimination in Oakland housing. After the election, and the defeat of the state’s fair housing law, the stencil was retyped and put back on the mimeograph machine.
[THE SHIBBOLETH MARCHES ON]
THE FOREGOING CHRONICLE is not to leave the reader with the impression that Oakland is not making concrete plans for future contingencies. It is. Just last fall, a high-ranking group of Oakland police officials met with a Los Angeles deputy police chief and discussed the problems Los Angeles cops encountered in handling Watts, and how Oakland could do a better job when their own Watts inevitably came. For one thing, the Oakland police were advised to get portable jails to facilitate hauling the rioters away quickly and thereby to leave the policemen on the scene to arrest more people. They also discussed extra-hard rifle butts, special colored helmets to identify ranking policemen easily during the melee and the number of National Guardsmen that Oakland should call in.
Thus, Oakland prepares to meet its future. To survey this city of over 380,000 citizens, the second largest industrial city in the nation’s most populated state, is like watching old March of Time film clips:
* Prohibition is enacted—it will never last—it doesn’t.
* Hitler is a tough-minded democrat who is shaping up a sagging German economy— Germany invades Poland.
* Harlem is an explosive Negro ghetto; Harlem is bound to explode—Harlem riots.
* Negroes in California are better off than Negroes in the South; Watts has a high unemployment rate, but at least the Negro families live in pleasant suburban-type dwellings—Watts turns to fire.
These are the shibboleths we once lived by, and we now recognize them as shibboleths. At the very least we recognize the inevitable results. But in Oakland, in 1966, the shibboleth marches on. The ghetto is ignored. The leadership is blind. The worst may come—but all they can do is prepare for it. They can do nothing to stop it.
The tragedy of Oakland is not regional. It is a national tragedy. It is the tragedy of the American city bowing under the arthritic pains of the 20th century. Yet Oakland, unbowed, refuses to admit it is sick. Its leaders mouth dry phrases about new coliseums and airports, a “professional” police force, “progressive” city government, “comprehensive” social service programs. But the malady is clear to even the casual visitor, an infirmity of such long duration that even Oakland’s bed sores are visible. Ben Segal, an official of the Federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, came to Oakland recently, and went away aghast. “Oakland is a powder keg,” he said.
Oakland cannot cure itself. Its problems are regional, and national, but it will take more than the Federal government, in all its largesse, to provide the answers. Washington spends billions on aid to underdeveloped countries—but this is money, often literally, over the dam, if the administrative bureaucracies in those countries are unwilling to effect basic changes in the social and economic order. Like Monopoly, the analogy applies to Oakland.
As all American cities in trouble, Oakland needs more than new Federal programs and new industries. It desperately, essentially requires a revitalization, a redefinition of itself as an heterogeneous community. And this rebirth can only come, as the Phoenix, from the ashes of the ghetto. Only such a revolutionary awakening, stirring in the slums and accepted in the hills, can save Oakland from the deepening and eventually disastrous war between its two worlds.
Despite the singular obtuseness of its public officials, Oakland is not unique. It is America—it is the American core city. Oakland may be a funny place, but the joke is on all of us.
– By Warren Hinckle