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What Do Occupy Oakland, Oscar Grant, and Giants Mania Have In Common?
Ben Christopher | Photo: Joe Sciarrillo and Matt Werner | January 28, 2013
A Q&A with local journalists Joe Sciarrillo and Matt Werner on their new book, Bay Area Underground: Photos of Protests and Social Movements, 2008-2012.
Bay Area Underground isn't your typical coffee table book. Drawing on over four years of street-level reporting, Oakland citizen journalists Joe Sciarrillo and Matt Werner have put together a Kickstarter-funded anthology of demonstration, celebration, and occupation across the Bay Area.
SF: Let's start with the title: Bay Area Underground. What about the Occupy Protests or Bay to Breakers is "underground"?
MW: We define "underground" similar to how "underground hip-hop" is defined: existing outside of the mainstream. If something's underground, it means that it's under-reported. Joe and I were often the only people who covered these various events that weren't deemed "newsworthy" by the Bay Area's media outlets. We captured these events, like the protests after the shooting of unarmed Oscar Grant by a BART police officer, to make sure that they're not forgotten.
SF: This is a book about "protests and social movements." And yet the first section is dedicated to the San Francisco Giants' two World Series wins. Since when is Giants-fan mania a social movement in the same vein as Occupy?
JS: As someone who had stopped following sports for several years while focusing on politics, the Giants 2010 success opened my eyes to the power of sports to unify communities (and, specifically, an entire metropolitan region). Fandom becomes a social movement once sub-cultures start joining in the streets to celebrate together. Even today during the 49ers celebrations, you have hipsters, bankers, SRO tenants, and Mariachi singers all cheering together on places like Mission Street. and Valencia Street.
MW: Many of the social movements and cultural events we covered complemented each other—they didn’t live in isolation. For example, some photos taken at Oakland’s First Friday Art Murmur look as if they were taken at Occupy Oakland protests. What unifies them is that they're events where a cornucopia of subcultures gather to exchange ideas and inspire each other.
SF: Of the 130 photos in this book, do you have personal favorites?
JS: Mine is one that Matt took [first photo in the slideshow above]. The sun was setting and you can see a reflection of the sun bouncing off of the Sears building on Telegraph. One can read into it and see a lot of the Bay Area's political history. You have the buildings of the corporate giants in the background, including the Wells Fargo building, while the remodeled Fox Theater is in the middle, symbolizing the emerging arts and nightlife scene. The foreground speaks to the dissent and democratic voices in the Bay. The protester almost looks like an anonymous shadow, who could represent many causes.
MW: My favorite photo is the one of two boys riding scraper bikes through West Oakland [second photo above]. On the surface, it's a photo of ordinary life in the Bay Area—two boys riding their bikes. But examining it closer reveals something artistic, and something that's beyond the sum of its parts. I also like the photo because these boys are part of the Scraper Bike Movement, which was started by Baybe Champ in East Oakland to give youth a positive outlet and supportive peer group centered around bike-building skills and education.
SF: What are you hoping people will take away from this book?
MW: We hope our photographs shed a new perspective on life in the Bay Area and on movements that perhaps people didn’t realize were happening in their own neighborhood.
JS: We shouldn't just associate the Bay's social movements with the notorious images of the 60s and 70s protests. New movements are alive today.