Camping in Oakland

San Francisco lived up the reputation that preceded it…

“It’s amazing here!  Come visit!”

“Eh, it wasn’t what I was looking for. Something about it; …there are a lot of crazy people.”

“Oh dude, I really wanna go to San Fran!”

“It’s magical, it’s where your Father and I got engaged!”

It was disjointed, communal, free, and restricting – all at once. I felt like I was surrounded with progressivism, artists, innovators, culture! I felt worried, introverted, hesitant that maybe I shouldn’t go down that next road; Nervous to people-watch or gaze around, unbridled and curious, should one of the men yelling to himself and smoking a massive blunt, soaked in his filth and the filth of the city, enquire if I have change with his name on it, or if I want to join his imaginary parade about the town.

People were open, friendly, talkative. Art abounded in murals, in shops, on, and in the people themselves. “I could live here,” I thought walking down a street in North Beach, just east of Chinatown, a delicious Dim Sum dumpling in one hand, reading beat poetry written in the side-walk. “I can’t live here,” I thought as we turned a corner to reveal a boutique shoppe for the ultra-elite of the financial district, then turned another corner to see what appeared to be a serious gang planning something serious and dark.

So we headed over to Oakland.  ?.

Another city, often without mixed reviews; a city with gangs, poverty, general hard-knock-life sort of stuff. During a side trip to the city across the bay earlier that week, – just south of artsy, young, hip, collegiate Berkeley – we spoke with a girl who started the conversation saying, “Yeah, I feel pretty unsafe here. It’s a little scary.” Followed by, “There was this great dance event the other day, and everyone from all around came to see it! It felt so communal, so together. It was nice!”

So perhaps the east bay is no different? Perhaps the human spirit sans the hard oversight and community planning conservatism and quaintness of east coast living, is necessarily more diverse: Cultural, Economic, Mental….

None the less, after a visit with an old friend just outside of ‘the ghetto’ (as she described it herself); after a dinner in a restaurant so guarded you had to call ahead to get them to open the metal-gated door; after a few games of bowling, getting throw lessons from a gold-teethed fella with an amazing swagger, a seriously huge shiny watch, and massive biceps, with which he hurled the ball nonchalantly down the lane, with a force and confidence that could have been honed through street savvy and turf fights; after all that, we decided to camp in the fenced back yard of our friend’s ghetto-edged home, amid thumping subwoofers, feral cats, and sirens. (Thanks to her cat for making her couch less appetizing to my asthma; inspiring such thoughts.) Luckily exhausted, we fell asleep with thoughts of change, society and how it ought to be, injustice, and violence.  “How does a ghetto even happen?” I wondered.  Theoretically, I can think of, and name many reasons.

Capitalism by its nature, corruption, racism. A few, at least.

But really, how can we let this happen?; Let people live in confusion, fear; concerned with pride and money, combating the oppression with oppression of their own. So commonly disjointed we all are; so restricted by ourselves that freedom – a common goal – becomes not the lack of restriction, but a contradiction; an equal, or exceeding retaliation; a revenge.

Isn’t freedom the norm?; Freedom surely is free, (despite what bumper stickers say). It seems increasingly delusional to me that we expend such energies – a tug-of-war – to attain the thing that we all already have and are.

And San Francisco was that; And Oakland was that.

These cities are what humans are. Disjointed, yet together. Free, yet restricted.

One Response to “Camping in Oakland”
  1. Derek PRice says:

    I just learned in class that after World War II we only allowed WHITE veterans to benefit from the G.I. bill. The suburbs were actually created for the white veterans because they had been living in crammed city apartments or countryside shacks. They were given very cheap housing as a thank you for their service. It could have been a time to integrate more black americans into the middle class but that opportunity was squandered. Black veterans – who numbered over a million – were left homeless and destitute. For blacks, there was just public housing which was also a new invention. Ghettos had existed, but now they were being created with an Orwellian sense of purpose and social engineering. White fight also tipped the balance, so that as black folks moved into the cities, whites began to leave the cities and enter the suburbs, which were barred to black people. As white people left so did the jobs, the tax base, the businesses, and the resources. When a few black people started moving into neighborhoods in the city, the banks would scare white neighbors into leaving by telling them that scary black people were taking over their street (which is where the saying “there goes the neighborhood” originates). Even white folks who didn’t mind living near black people were enticed to leave by the banks, who gave them cash upfront and very good deals on their houses to incentivize their white flight. The banks were using this as a scheme to make money, I think ultimately off of white people buying the new houses in the suburbs, but I am not exactly clear on this aspect.

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