Oakland’s Museum of Capitalism makes anti-capitalist discourse accessible to all

Aslesha Kumar/Staff
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Propelled forward and then suspended in time, the Museum of Capitalism brings an immersive, post-capitalist experience to South Oakland.

Capitalism as a political, economic and social system has never been one for the long-term. It’s a system that aims to serve the immediate — past the direct profitable transaction at hand, there is not much else that worries a true capitalist.

This modern ideology — founded in European feudalism and then bolstered by neoliberalism in the 20th century — has proven in the modern era to time and time again work to help maintain the status of those already in power. The Museum of Capitalism aims to communicate that this dominant Western system is a dying one. Split into three general sections that can be tied to past, present and future dissent from capitalism, the open space layout allows visitors to build a personal anti-capitalist ideological arsenal.

In the front left of the museum, the historically detrimental effects of capitalism are highlighted with a comprehensive display of photographs, magazine clippings and speech excerpts from the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, which was organized by Martin Luther King, Jr., and demanded economic and social justice for poor people in America. By exposing the intrinsic nature of capitalism’s exploitative structure — specifically towards poor people of color in the United States — the museum lays the foundation for the intersectionalities of identities suppressed under capitalism.

It achieved this by specifically focusing on the display for Resurrection City, the camp set up on the National Mall by more than 2,500 activists. From May 12 to June 24, the community of protesters and activists built a balanced socialist society. This microcosm of a more collaborative society that doesn’t hate poor people works as a historic base of praxis within the museum; with this exhibit, visitors were allowed to observe firsthand both the capitalist structures at work against the proliferation of minorities across all intersectionalities as well as the collaborative nature of community and socialism.

Almost shrouded by a darkness, tucked further back in the museum’s warehouse space, far away from the large windows allowing for streaming natural light, sits the most illuminating intellectual area of the entire museum. In a bare-walled open room, a series of quotes printed out onto lengths of tape criss-cross across the floor.

Each quote acts as a hook, leading the reader to a small, simple television with an expert on the screen speaking for 20-minute loops on their hyper-specific, alternative social or economic system to capitalism — systems ranging from anarchist feminism to caring economics to indigenous polynesian communism.

In the third area, the focus shifts to a post-capitalist, almost clinically futuristic space. Peppered with display cases of old capitalist artifacts serving as displays of phallic representations of command and power — such as wands, vibrators and remotes — the space allows for a retrospective view of capitalism, distancing viewers from their daily reality enough for them to properly examine the smaller elements of their lives.

Not to be missed is the capitalist bathroom experience, in which curators call out the absurdity of how our very bodily functions are policed with pamphlets and wall text. The display presents a powerful theme; regardless of the fact that the need to defecate is universal, divisions of gender and public versus private access are still enforced upon us.

Maintaining a balance of theory and praxis, the curation of capitalist critique leaves the visitor with a haunting feeling. In our constant capitalist race under the name of modernity and progress, we need to make sure that we understand that the downfall of this system is in ourselves. This museum highlights the isolated nature of capitalism; it shows us that in this chase, we are so focused on our own progress that we may run over ourselves in the process. This Faustian downfall must be recognized.

The Museum of Capitalism stands as a physical daily reminder that if the development of the world is not for the communal good of the most marginalized groups as well, the self will become the main obstacle of progress.

Aslesha Kumar is the assistant opinion editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @ASLESHA_TXT.