Election night, Oakland
The night of the election, 2016, I took BART from San Francisco, where I was working, to Oakland. The mood in San Francisco had been somewhere between muted and despairing, as a part of my social circle mostly comprised of normally pacifistic nerds learned Evasion and Escape techniques and glumly watched our future collapsing around us. So when I got to Oakland, which will, as one of my correspondents phrased it, “riot if someone sneezes,” and stepped out at 19th St, I was unsurprised to smell burning plastic. I tied on the scarf/gas mask that I always carry with me anyway, and walked upstairs to see this:
A literal dumpster fire.
In fact there was a row of fires, about one per block, down the middle of Broadway. Burning dumpsters, garbage cans, newspaper machines, even one empty overturned metal trailer with a lit road flare in it, as if they forgot to bring fuel. The strangest part was that the street was absolutely silent.
No cars, few people, fewer than usual in downtown Oakland at 1am on a Tuesday night, and almost all of them taking photos of the fires. A couple walked by hand in hand, and only after they passed did I realize they were both wearing bandanas across their faces. The smell of burning plastic filled the air. Then, after I had gotten about a block, a line of a dozen police vehicles came rolling without fuss down broadway, slaloming around fires with quiet grace. They didn’t stop to put any out, just continued down to West Grand and all turned presumably in the direction the protestors had headed. I asked a guy drunkenly leaning against a lamppost in front of a bar what had happened. He gave an extravagant shrug and said “Hashtag is Oakland burning.”
The circling helicopters kept me up until dawn.