Sideshows and the Extractive Economy

A still from Clyde Carson's 'More of That' video, showing squealing Maseratis and Harleys. (Director: Jeff Klevins)

Last week, Oakland-based rapper Clyde Carson dropped a music video for his new single “More of That”—and at just the perfect time.

The uptempo track is another driving anthem from Carson, who you probably know from “Slow Down”—the Bay Area hit that went national and was featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto. His latest track's music video suggests how one might slide through, either on a Harley or squatting in a Maserati, knockin’ the DJ Chopp-a-lot produced song. Perfect for the sunny days ahead (well, if it weren’t for the cost of gas).

Clyde didn’t know it, but "More of That" spoke directly to my recent thinking about how sideshows—and many of Oakland’s issues, and the world’s issues, for that matter—fall under this concept people are calling “The Extractive Economy.”

“The only problem is: I need more of that shit, more of that shit,” Clyde says on the hook of the song, the first single off his upcoming album Late Night Money High. Asked why he had cars and motorcycles gracefully sliding through the scenes in the video, Carson told me, “That's just the culture out here; they do it everywhere, but we put that real pride in it out here.”

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I brought up the topic of some recent weekend sideshows, one of which led to a shipping truck being ransacked and a bus being burned. Many folks vented on social media, while one woman who goes by HellaCrafty on Instagram teamed up with a few other folks, took to the streets and actually cleaned up the mess. Simultaneously, the Oakland police department announced a plan to work with law enforcement agencies from across the region in order to preemptively shut down the gatherings this past weekend.

'Sideshows are part of our culture but trashing our city isn't!!' wrote user @HellaCrafty on Instagram, after cleaning up a sideshow intersection with friends.
'Sideshows are part of our culture but trashing our city isn't!!' wrote user @HellaCrafty on Instagram, after cleaning up a sideshow intersection with friends. (via Instagram/@HellaCrafty)

The thing is, sideshows have been a happening in Oakland since the 1980s. The large gatherings of drivers and bystanders who show off their cars and oftentimes burn rubber, do donuts or swing figure eights have even spread to L.A.—giving rise to a state assembly bill, AB410, which would make repeat sideshow activity a felony offense. The entire Oakland City Council supports AB410, with at least one council member, Nikki Fortunato Bas, suggesting mitigation by using the Coliseum as a venue for legal sideshows.

While some folks are up in arms about it, like it's something new, Carson would remind people that today’s sideshows aren’t too different from sideshows of the early to mid-2000s; he suggested watching the Go Dumb USA documentary to those who think the activity is anything new.

When I brought up the possibility of legalizing sideshows, Carson said, “That'd be dope if they could. If there was some kind of space where you could congregate and kick it, that'd be dope.”

And then I asked him if he ever heard about the extractive economy.

Quinton Sankofa
Quinton Sankofa. (Pendarvis Harshaw)

I didn’t tell Clyde this, but I’ll tell you: I learned the term from some environmentalist. I admit it. I’m bringing an environmentalist’s term to solve an urban transportation and public safety issue.

I first heard about the extractive economy through Patrick Reinsborough, who currently works with environmental nonprofit 350.org. Patrick suggested I contact the Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project, as they offer an entire booklet that displays our current model of extractive thinking, and how we can make a just transition toward a regenerative economy.

Quinton Sankofa, a buddy of mine, works for Movement Generation. When we met up in a backyard in Berkeley, even before I ran my recorder, Sankofa started explaining to me how greywater systems work, the importance of waterless toilets and the Mongolian origins of yurts.

Sankofa then began breaking down the issues within our economy as they stand today. “We say we got here not because we’re burning fossil fuels, but because we stole indigenous people’s land and stole people from Africa—those are the roots of the ecological crisis. Later on, people started burning fossil fuels, and now we have a climate crisis in the midst of an ecological crisis.”

The underlying theory being: everything and everyone can be taken, exploited and thrown away. Sankofa says this is how we approach just about every resource on the planet—water, oil, plastic, human labor—and that’s an issue shown through just about every aspect of American culture.

“What we have now is the extractive economy,” Sankofa told me. “Some people want to say capitalism, but the reason we say the ‘extractive economy’ is because we want to get at the fundamental idea that this economy is based on taking: from the living world, from our bodies, from our culture.”

He elaborated that three steps sum up the extraction process: “dig, burn, dump.” That’s what we do with our resources. “One of the reasons we don’t label it as just ‘capitalism’ is because it’s true: you can have a socialist economy and do the same shit (dig, burn & dump),” Sankofa said, mentioning Venezuela's oil dependent economy as an example. “In theory, our system is made to provide jobs, freedom, resources. But in reality, it produces income inequality, poverty, hardships and the concentration of wealth and power.”

He drove the point home with a simple statement: “The purpose of a system can only be understood by what it actually produces.”

In this country, he added, the product of the system is protected by militarism. “When you look at a city, like Oakland, the number one budget line item is police,” Sankofa said, noting how police departments inefficiently extract financial resources from the city. “And on the federal level, it’s the military.”

I asked if he could name examples of the extractive economy around his house in East Oakland.

Sankofa sighed, and said, “I see it in the faces of every black person who doesn’t have a home to live in.”

Movement Generation's Strategy Framework for Just Transition
Movement Generation's Strategy Framework for Just Transition. (Movementgeneration.org)

Homelessness, of course, is an extractive process as well—homes are either taken away, or people are taken from their home. Unsheltered people, imprisoned people, people working for pennies in the gig economy—we could name examples all day. It’s all around us, from littering as we drive through the Town to burning fossil fuels and rubber from tires as we spin donuts in a 5.0 mustang: the urge is in us to dig, burn, and dump resources. And we’re all guilty of it, in varying degrees.

We need a shift, that’s all I want, toward a regenerative economy. Last year, when I wrote about the possibility of legalizing sideshows to make them an opportunity instead of a problem, I simply wanted a change from our decades-old cat-and-mouse game that has done nothing but pad the pockets of officers working overtime and extracted people from our community for driving recklessly.

Maybe legalizing sideshows isn’t the complete answer. I don’t think we could get people to start swinging cars that run on electricity and come equipped with regenerative braking systems anytime soon, but man, the dig, burn and dump way we’re currently running sideshows isn’t working.

When I asked Clyde Carson about the extractive mindset, he got it instantly.

“We were kind of raised on that thinking, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and stuff like that,” said Carson. “My mom would always come in with pyramid schemes. Lotto, running numbers and all that… I think that's part of American culture; greed in a sense, and that's dangerous as well.”

The dangers of this mindset—thinking that anything and everything is expendable—aren’t just shown through the heinous news of a mother and her child being killed by a reckless driver on Foothill Blvd., it’s shown through the way we constantly demolish the planet. We’ve got to shift away from that lack of consideration.

There's an opportunity here for Oakland stakeholders to recognize the will of the people in this region and do something constructive, create some sort of infrastructure that would create a safe space for this activity. We might even be able to restore resources to Oakland, instead of taking a 'tough on crime' stance and further criminalizing people of color without providing an alternative.

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It's a lot, I know. I don't have all the answers. But I know one thing: global warming isn't slowing down, and neither is the sideshow.

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