Countermapping Displacement and Resistance in Alameda County with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project
Anti-Eviction Mapping Project
The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project is a data visualization, data analysis, and digital storytelling collective documenting dispossession and resistance upon gentrifying landscapes. As a collective of housing justice activists, researchers, technologists, artists, filmmakers, and oral historians, we create digital humanities pieces embedded in broader antidisplacement work transpiring in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York City. Having produced over one hundred digital interactive web maps, nearly that many oral histories and video pieces, a dozen reports and articles, and several map projections and digitally interactive murals, the project works across disciplines with numerous community partners. Yet all our work arguably fits into the rubric of the digital humanities, using digital tools to investigate human experiences of home, displacement, and resistance. At the heart of our methodological approach is an intersection of digital activism with feminist science and technology studies, critical race studies, critical geography, and American studies. Critical of the technologies with which settler colonialism, racial capitalism, and the heteronormative household have consolidated to inform private property and displacement praxes, our work maintains a decolonial and abolitionist geographic perspective.1
For our submission to this special issue of American Quarterly, we are focusing on ongoing work that we have been conducting in California's Alameda County since 2015, when we launched a project mapping displacement and resistance in three of the county's cities: Oakland, Fremont, and the City of Alameda. We first self-published much of this work in September 2016, as part of a community event that we orchestrated at the East Side Arts Alliance in East Oakland. However, since then, the work has continued to grow, largely living [End Page 601] online in our interactive report, Counterpoints: Data and Stories for Resisting Displacement (arcg.is/10SKLX).
Beginning with the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 and enduring into the present, these three cities have experienced heightened rates of displacement, disproportionately targeting poor and working-class communities of color. While the recession devastated the region, installing new racialized meanings of home and space,2 foreclosure rates have subsided in recent years. Evictions, on the other hand, have not, exacerbated by pressures of Silicon Valley growth and real estate speculation.3 And, like the foreclosure crisis, these forces too are embedded in a matrix of what Cedric Robinson described as racial capitalism.4 While San Francisco has received much attention for the gentrifying effects of technocapital and real estate, the East Bay has often remained either peripheral to, or as comparable with, San Francisco. And yet experiences of East Bay gentrification are not fungible with those in San Francisco,5 thereby calling for a unique cartographic approach.
Until initiating this project, eviction data throughout Alameda County had been largely inaccessible to the public, making our work timely and useful for the many community partners we developed. After cleaning, sorting, and analyzing data retrieved from the Alameda County Court and Oakland Rent Board in 2016, we began creating online interactive digital maps and visualizations, so that the data could be better interpreted, temporally and spatially. Since then, we have continued to merge these data with other data sets, so that we can better understand the demography of displacement, spatiotemporal concentrations of loss, speculators and developers profiting from dispossession, infrastructural relations, as well as more intimate experiences of loss and resistance.
As such, much of our mapping also involves qualitative data, from oral history pieces to video work, from community-based power mapping entries to crowdsourced data conducted by East Oakland youth. We have also created story-based web-maps informed by our own investigations into the loss of single resident occupancy (SRO) and Section 8 housing, as well as the corrosion of public space. This narrative and investigative work prioritizes a life-history approach to storytelling, focusing on deep neighborhood histories of what is no longer, but also stories of refusal and protest. In this way, we hope for the narratives themselves to serve as tools and inspiration for future struggle.6 By geolocating and overlaying stories on county and city eviction data sets, we have used digital tools to relate data sets that would have otherwise been collected, visualized, and archived separately. [End Page 602]
In addition to producing oral history and video work with our community partners for this project, we produced a Community Power Map. Inspired by Clyde Woods's call to refrain from creating autopsies of subjugated spaces,7 we constructed this map to remember what still lives in Oakland, and to create a tool useful in ongoing spatial struggles. We began by painting a map of Oakland's topography on the walls of the POC-run Betti Ono Gallery, and then invited the public to contribute to it, marking sites of community power. This enabled our remapping of Oakland as a space of resistance and not only loss. After dismantling the mural, we digitized its contents and made it available as a crowdsourceable online map (arcg.is/2bnNUMa), also included in our report.
Counterpoints is the work of countless members of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. We are not a nonprofit and nor are we for-profit; rather, we are volunteer-driven and reliant on the labor of all our members and community partners. We find it pertinent to produce digital work to amplify spatial struggles in the wake of the Silicon Valley tech boom, fighting for technological futures driven not by racial capitalism but by antiracist, anticapitalist, and feminist technological visions.
Erin McElroy is a doctoral candidate in feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, studying frictions of socialist and Western technological modernities in postsocialist times, looking to Romania and Silicon Valley. Erin is also cofounder of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, a digital countercartography collective documenting dispossession and resistance in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York City, as well as the Radical Housing Journal, which features housing justice struggles transnationally.
Counterpoints emerged as a collective Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP) work, conducted in partnership with Tenants Together, as well as with the Alameda Renters Coalition, the Betti Ono Gallery, the Bayanihan Youth Group, Filipino Advocates for Justice, Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition, Chela Delgado and Oakland Coliseum College Prep, RISE Coalition, Tenants of 2044 International Blvd, Matt Palm and Deb Neimeier of the National Center for Sustainable Transportation at UC Davis, and Braz Shabrell of the East Bay Community Law Center. It was a joy to work on this project with so many AEMP members, and special thanks to those who shouldered so much of the work, including Ariel Appel, Finley Coyl, Austin Ehrhardt, Terra Graziani, Salima Hamirani, Rachelle Hughes, Mika Hernandez, Carla Leshne, Aloka Narayanan, Nando San Jimenez, Mary Shi, Leah Simon-Weisberg, Shamsher Virk, and Carla Wojczuk. Funding was made possible through the Creative Work Fund. Thanks too to the peer reviewers for this special issue for their helpful feedback.
1. Manissa Maharawal and Erin McElroy, "In the Time of Trump: Housing, Whiteness, and Abolition," in Contested Property Claims: What Disagreement Tells Us about Ownership, ed. Maja Hojer Bruun, Patrick Joseph Cockburn, Bjarke Skærlund Risager, and Mikkel Thorup (New York: Routledge, 2018), 109–25.
2. Paula Chakravartty and Denise Ferreira da Silva, "Accumulation, Dispossession, and Debt: The Racial Logic of Global Capitalism—an Introduction," American Quarterly 64.3 (2012): 361–85.
3. Erin McElroy, "Postsocialism and the Tech Boom 2.0: Techno-Utopics of Racial/Spatial Dispossession," Social Identities 24.2 (2018): 206–21.
4. Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (London: Zed Press, 1983).
6. Manissa Maharawal and Erin McElroy, "The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project: Counter Mapping and Oral History toward Bay Area Housing Justice," Annals of the American Association of Geographers 108.2 (2018): 380–89.
7. Clyde Woods, "Life after Death," Professional Geographer 54.1 (2002): 62–66.