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Bay Area Underground: New Book Explores Protests And Social Movements (PHOTOS)

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BAY AREA UNDERGROUND
Matt Werner

This post was excerpted from Bay Area Underground: Photos of Protests and Social Movements, 2008-2012 (Thought Publishing / January 2013 / $25.00), by Bay Area natives Joe Sciarrillo and Matt Werner.

Occupy Oakland. The shooting of Oscar Grant. The 2008 election of Barack Obama. These events raise images and memories to people in the Bay Area. But what if the mainstream media narrative didn't fully capture the reality of what happened? What if key viewpoints were kept silent by journalists cranking out stories on 11 p.m. deadlines?

Bay Area Underground features photos of the Bay Area's major events over the last five years. These images call the reader to look back and re-examine how these changes affected the Bay Area's social and political landscape. Now that the dust has settled, or perhaps the more apt metaphor is, now that the clouds of tear gas have subsided, the whizz of rubber bullets and blinding flash bang grenades has calmed down, we can come together and piece together what happened during these major events, and figure out what they mean to us today.

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The San Francisco Bay Area is home to several large cities (San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, and Richmond). Its nine counties total 7.15 million people. Each city fosters its own identities and cultures as well as subcultures within each neighborhood. Rebecca Solnit writes "No two people live in the same city," but our book shows how cities and neighborhoods blend together and create an interplay of identities. This nuanced perspective, captured with Joe's multiple-angle camera shots, helps readers transcend the black and white, stereotyped images and labels in the mainstream media, and hopefully help Bay Area residents form a more complete narrative of the last few years.

The 2010 Census reveals dramatic demographic shifts in Bay Area neighborhoods, and the next decade promises to bring even more changes to the Bay Area. These shifts will likely produce conflict, but also generate exciting cultural movements and creative new uses of urban space. My book Oakland in Popular Memory captured the great movements happening today in Oakland's art and music scene, and the Bay Area will continue to be a center for culture production. However, the Great Recession still looms over our cities, with a high rate of unemployment, foreclosures, community struggles, homelessness, and education budget cuts. The next five years will likely bring more fights for the preservation of public spaces, community landmarks, social services, affordable neighborhoods, and tenants' rights.

It's hard to articulate the asymmetries and multiple worlds coexisting in the same space, and unfortunately, it oftens comes down to clashes, like Occupy, or the shooting of Oscar Grant, when these asymmetries are revealed to the general public. When these shocking events happen, they call us to step back and question our values, and ask, "How could such a thing happen in one of the most progressive and diverse regions on the planet?" Joe's photos artfully reveal the many asymmetries of our society, and some of his photos, such as the can collector on p. 25 picking up beer bottles after Bay to Breakers runners, give a glimpse of the world through the eyes of the disenfranchised in our community, whose stories often aren't told. Some of the photos, like the library at Occupy Oakland on p. 111, run against the mainstream media narrative about the camp being overrun by disorganized anarchists and drug dealers.

Most of the photos in the book were taken by Joe Sciarrillo who was on the ground photographing the major protests in the Bay Area over the last five years. He's co-founder of the African Advocacy Network in San Francisco's Mission District. Joe took photos at the various rallies and protests he attended while advocating for immigrant rights. We published our event coverage on my blog and on the news website Oakland Local. Out of the thousands of photographs we took, we chose the best 130 images and had Isa Woods edit them to make the photos look consistent. In all, we used six different digital cameras, ranging from a Canon EOS 5D Mark II to the 7 mega-pixel camera on my Android phone. Given the spontaneity of some events we documented, we had to shoot with what we had on us at the time.

What's interesting is that many of these social movements and cultural events complemented each other--they didn't live in isolation. For example, pages 82-84 feature photos taken at Oakland's First Friday Art Murmur, but visually, they look as if they were taken at Occupy Oakland protests. It's still too early to determine the Occupy movement's legacy in Oakland, but since the movement started in 2011, several new art galleries have opened up near "Oscar Grant Plaza" in Downtown Oakland. At an event like the First Friday Art Murmur in Oakland, hip-hop artists come into contact with conceptual artists, urban farmers, activists, and cycling advocates. At these cultural events, Bay Area thought leaders from a cornucopia of subcultures gather to present their work, exchange ideas, and inspire each other.

Sports celebrations add a unique component to the book because they unite Bay Area residents based on geography and not through political ties. Many residents throughout the Bay Area, regardless of political affiliation, religion, or economic status identify with the Oakland A's or San Francisco Giants, and likewise with the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco's teams did exceptionally well in the time period of this book, and we've captured Giants fans celebrating in the street in the opening pages.

Nearly all of the photos in the book were taken in San Francisco and Oakland, because that's where Joe and I live and go out. We focused on these locations because that's where we've grown up and what we know best. It's also where much of the cultural and political action is, so we decided to focus our attention on those cities.

And while neither of us really has the Occupy movement "all wrapped up," and may not agree with all the different causes we documented, we felt compelled to include these events in this book. We saw that people in our community were upset, and they took to the street because often they had few alternative options to make their voices heard. We knew these stories were newsworthy at the time, and we were surprised when some events weren't covered at all by the media, or covered in a very limited capacity. Looking back at this book ten years from now, it will be interesting to see how the events in this book will shape those to come. This book captures the indefatigable democratic spirit in the Bay Area, where ideas are forged that--for better or worse--go on to power the world. Joe and I were privileged as photojournalists to document what we saw.

Meet the authors at Oakland's SoleSpace on Friday, March 15 at 7 p.m.

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