Business owners take damage done during anti-Trump protests in stride
on November 23, 2016
On election night, protesters gathered in downtown Oakland after midnight yelling angry things like “Not my president!” and “Fuck Trump!” in the quiet streets. Others took it a step further and lashed out against nearby businesses, breaking glass doors and windows and spray-painting graffiti anywhere visible, like on the windows of the Chase bank, the walls of the BART public elevator and the pillars of the Oakland federal building.
Garbage cans were set on fire and worried faces peeked out through doors after the angry crowd passed. Confused bystanders were upset at the damage to their property, and others worried about their safety, while the rest followed the trail of fires left on Broadway, trying to catch up to the mob either by running or riding their bikes. By the next morning, garbage, broken glass and graffiti covered the downtown.
And it kept going. Protesting continued for four days; the city’s report on total damages is due out in early December, according to Karen Boyd, communications director for the city’s administration.
But some small business owners said they are taking the damages in stride. Julia Roberston, owner of Revolve Café, posted a sign on blue and green construction paper reading “Stand up, Fight back!” after her business was sprayed with graffiti. Protestors tagged scribbles of unreadable letters in white spray paint on the glass façade of the shop, next to the name of the business alliance: “Qulture Collective.” Revolve Café shares space with a gallery and together, they are a cultural collective for queer people and their allies, people of color, and other marginalized communities that need a space to express themselves to create art or organize.
Although she is a new owner whose business had only been open one week at the time, Roberston said she was not upset by the damages. Instead of spending money to hire someone to remove the graffiti, she dedicated her time to doing research on how to remove it on her own with household products. She added the “Stand up, Fight back!” sign to the front window of her business as a tactic to prevent her café from being vandalized again.
“I put up my sign up front because it’s how I feel,” said Roberston. “But also maybe they’ll realize that we’re on their page and don’t mess with our space.”
Roberston has a small bar and a three metal stools facing the window, and across the street one can see tags reading “Fuck Trump” on neighboring businesses. “Honestly, I kind of like looking at the ‘Fuck Trump’ signs all over the place,” said Roberston with a small smile. “As long as they can be easily removed. The acid is the problem because you have to actually replace the glass … and you can buffer it out, but it’s not going to look like fresh, clean glass again.”
David Boyle, owner of 1544 Events located on Broadway, said he also has not worried about the destruction done to his shop. 1544 Events hosts events such as weddings, bar mitzvahs, galas and works with nonprofits as a space for their fundraisers. The two front windows of 1544 Events are currently all boarded up with plywood, after the front windows were broken on one of the nights of the protests.
“We are a part of the protest as well,” said Boyle. “It’s fine. If they want to break windows, then we’ll replace them. It’s fine because the protest is bigger than that, you know.”
Boyle decided to make the covered windows into something positive. The business was hosting a project called “Hope Art” to raise money for the medical needs of Haitian children and women by selling tickets to arm wrestling matches. So they used the boarded-up panels as a mural to make an art installation that not only promotes the project but protests the president-elect. The plywood panels now have pink letters reading “Lady Power!” and “#notmypresident,” “#armwrestling2016,” and the name of the project’s website: “www.projecthopeart.com.”
“It actually gave us an opportunity to let everybody know in Oakland and all the people that are likeminded, like us, that we are a part of the protest,” said Boyle. “And we are a small business and we want to benefit the community.”
Boyle’s business was not the only one that took the precaution of boarding up windows. Some of these include the Cathedral building, which boarded up all their doors and windows on the first floor, and Oaklandish, the community retail store, which placed plywood on their doors after they were broken into the second night of the protests. Milton Williams, Oaklandish community coordinator, declined to comment on the break-in or repairs.
Replacing windows could be expensive. A rough estimate given to Boyle for replacing one of his windows was about $500 to $600, which didn’t include the expenses for removing the plywood. It’s an extra charge for that service, Boyle said, but added, “it’s a small price to pay, because the protest is bigger than that for us.”
A press release written on November 10 by the Oakland Police Department media relations team tallied some of the aftermath after the biggest protest, the evening of November 9. It states there were at least 16 reports of vandalism (broken glass, graffiti, looting) to businesses and structures. The Oakland Fire Department and the Oakland Police Department extinguished approximately 40 fires. There were 5 medical calls on that night, three police officers were injured, and there was one incident of arson to a downtown business. The city is still in the process of summarizing all the events that happened in the four days of consecutive protesting.
While some downtown business owners supported the protesters’ message, they hoped people would not continue to damage the downtown for the sake of vandalism alone. “Vandalism is just a problem. I mean there’s a difference between vandalism and graffiti,” said Roberston. “Graffiti kind of has a political message and kind of serves a purpose. Some people know what the rules and the codes are, but now a lot of people are just doing it as an ‘ego booster.’”
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