Oakland, California is my home. Donald Trump in a recent New York Times interview with Robert Draper told a story about Oakland — calling my city one of the most dangerous places in the world. Biking Oakland’s streets or walking the sidewalks does not feel particularly scary to me. Of course one should always be aware and sensible of your surroundings while moving through the urban scape. But there is so much good at work and at play in this city, designating it simply as dangerous, dismisses it unfairly. Engaging with my fellow city dwellers at the farmer’s market, the YMCA, the coffee shop, or at Cato’s watching the Warriors, I become part of the city’s story. And it is wonderful to talk, walk and work with these diverse and special people and hear what makes us Oaklandish.
Oakland is a vital city undergoing change. San Francisco’s high cost-of-living has brought a wave of immigrants to Oaktown who live and work amongst longtime residents. New buildings are under construction and old buildings are being renovated. Change brings a new skyline, new traffic patterns, and new conversations and exchanges between people of differing genders, colors, sexual preferences, and creeds. And like many cities, experiencing a rebounding economy, crime, poverty, injustice and pain exist alongside the rebirth.
There are many stories to be told about Oakland: stories of success; stories of despair; stories of challenge; and stories of recovery. These are the stories that we who love Oakland want to tell and hear told. Irresponsible politicians write a city off when they label it dangerous without understanding the community, with little knowledge of individual stories, without context or perspective. It is criminal to disparage a town, without having a clear understanding of who lives there, their dreams and their capacity to achieve those dreams. It is criminal to dismiss a city without knowledge of the problems it faces, without a sincere concern for it’s people and without suggesting sustainable strategies to help resolve the challenges it faces. Stories, of poverty and pain, are rewritten by building faith in community, and keeping hope in individuals alive. Stories, of poverty and pain, are resolved with better access to education, a decent minimum wage, affordable housing, and health benefits funded by raising the taxes of the wealthiest 1%.
There are many ways to tell stories, and artistic works are usually at the forefront of engagement making the human connection, building awareness, and starting a dialogue. Thirty-second sound bites and 140 character tweets by grandstanding politicians can end a story before it has a chance to begin. The book arts, the dramatic arts, the performing arts, and the visual arts create spaces that reveal our experiences, open hearts and initiate listening. The great soul is in everyone and their stories should be told.
The poet William Carlos Williams in his poem Asphodel, That Greeny Flower wrote:
“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.”