Rebel in the Night
We went into the streets with graffiti artist FED UP and talked about what it’s like to keep the walls alive in the rapidly changing city of Oakland.
Two minutes into my support role in a graffiti mission I’ve already ripped a hole in my crotch. “Looks like they boarded up the gap in the fence here,” remarks artist FED UP as we hop barbed-wire, squeezing ourselves between the tops of two poles. Our goal for tonight: getting into an abandoned oil refinery near Downtown Oakland. I’m with graffiti artist FED UP, who is carrying a backpack full of paint and a roller. “We’re going up there,” says FED UP, gesturing to a huge metal ramp that leads to massive silos. Is it too late to state that I’m scared of heights? I think to myself as we begin our climb.
We’re here tonight because someone dumped paint all over graffiti left by FED UP and another writer, IROT. “Somebodies hatin’, don’t know who it is though. Maybe it’s the X-MEN,” ponders FED UP. (The X-MEN, he tells me, are a group of vigilantes, possibly paid by the city, that paint over people and “X” them out.) Looking straight up from the ground, over a hundred feet into the air, we can see buckets and pools of paint that the perpetrators left behind.
We sit down for a quick smoke. FED UP cracks open a forty. “What I need you to do is watch the road. You’re going to be looking for security guards or blacked-out police cars. If they roll up on us, we can try and run or just walk out, get the trespassing ticket,” says FED UP while scanning the road. Behind us, the water in the San Francisco Bay glistens, and for a moment I wonder if we could swim our way to freedom. But the thought of braving the water only to find a police car on the other side quickly dispels that fantasy.