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oakland, the last refuge of radical america

August 1, 2012

Just finished reading what amounts to Jonathan Mahler’s reactionary critique of Occupy Oakland and radicalism (i.e., socio-political movements aimed at fundamentally changing the structure of society through revolutionary means) in general. The first paragraph immediately sets the tone and assures the reader: this article isn’t going to be kind towards Occupy Oakland. And Mahler doesn’t disappoint, seemingly doing his best throughout the article to point out the socio-economic conditions that motivated much of the Occupy Oakland movement only insofar as it serves to help blame the ‘radical’ residents of Oakland for the existence of poverty, high crime rates, and a dysfunctional government, and then to repeatedly smear and condemn them for getting involved with a movement openly angry at the systematic inequalities of capitalism and willing to confront the system head on—painting them all as little more than a bunch of stoned, violently radical nihilists comparable to ‘the Menace’ of the Hell’s Angels (as Hunter S. Thompson famously called them in the opening line of his first book), as if there’s little difference between the two groups. Moreover, Mahler’s piece as a whole seems to assume the superiority of neoliberalism to any of the potential alternatives — all but praising its assured victory over the challenges of ‘radical America’ and the ‘extreme’ politics of activists like Boots Riley (despite neoliberalism’s obvious failings), calling the attempts of those who dare to dream otherwise “an extreme exercise in the denial of the reality that is at their door” — and implying that any serious challenge to neoliberalism is doomed to failure, ending with “the Menace’s last stand.” However, I think Mahler’s unrelentingly hostile portrayal of Occupy Oakland and repeated comparisons to the Hell’s Angels echoes the Lynch Report, which Thompson felt vastly exaggerated the menace of the Hell’s Angels and misrepresented their lifestyle.

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