Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Another Offering for a Peaceful East Oakland
I stopped yesterday morning by another street sidewalk altar on East 55th Avenue. A small rememberance for a young life? How did the young man -- I speculate, for all I know the altar honors an church elder -- die? A bullet? Rare , fatal disease? A car accident? How is his/her death affecting his/her siblings, parents, friends, the neighborhood, the community? The altar the death represents hits me; black and brown youth take it out on each other and our present and future diminishes.
The evening before I was driving by and there was a gathering of young people, their backs to street. I knew what was going on. So on my way to work I stopped to see their offerings.
Drive-by shootings and killings are memetic, they infect the survival mode with violent, irrational motives and hunger for revenge.
Power grows out of a barrel of gun, Mao declared. Powerlessness pulls the trigger, powerlessness over one's destiny and the attempt to impose it over others. Losing a loved one to violence is devastating, a black hole that attempts to suck everything of life into it and drown the days, the dreams. Anything having to do with hope, optimism, becomes an ordeal.
Black on black violence, brown on brown violence, the young feeding off the young, the old alone and unheard. Mourning spews out of the barrel of gun.
A bullet hole dominates the horzion.
I have a bullet hole in my heart.
I have bullets for eyes.
I have bullets for words.
I have pulled a net of bullet holes over the sky.
The horizon is reddening with the madness of fast food, drive-in's, drive-by's, prostitutes who are teenagers, drug dealers fresh out of middle school; gangbangers that stick up for each other and threaten anyone who offends their onion paper thick sensitivity. Gangbangers that stick up the local tienditas that sell everything we need at inflated prices.
I have spent shells for music.
Useless conch shells that call out to deaf gods and ancestors
Empty cartridges that have opened bloodied eyes on the bodies of another young man
Spent shells that wll never hang on a gold chain to revere a revolution.
We do not honor the living until they are dead. The youth honors each other on the sidewalks after it's too late. They make pledges out of fear; they are marked.
The odds have always been against us. I never thought I'd live to be this old. Neither do my children and their friends. What is this that U.S. capitalism makes us fulfill it's own branding, its own consumer rush to powerlessness through things?
The gun is the ultimate rush. Those with power and control have guns at their disposal -- either on their side or in their police forces, army and other institutions and agents of coercion.
In parts of Oakland, the police force is replaced by the deadly force of an empty economy, an economy that fuels predators and informal economies of scale: the body of a girl or a young/old woman for sale, the small-time pusher in marijuana and other intoxicants.
Day laborers who are solicited for yard/landscaping work, construction, clean-up, and sex. There are the mini-empresarios, the street vendors who sell snacks, tamales, coffee, pan dulce, grilled maize (corn on the cob), tacos, home-made goat cheese, quilts, clothes, ice cream, sodas, and other utensils.
They/we live and work, they/we smile and grow, side by side with the homeless, the small family-owned stores, gas stations, sidewalk sales. They/we say with their/our bodies, their survival work:
We are here and we matter, we belong here and here we will stay, thrive or struggle withut bitterness or rancors, with our way of happiness.
We all want to push away poverty. Even the poor want to end not just their but everyone's poverty. Being poor is not about money -- although having money to pay bills, buy healthy food, get access to culture doesn't hurt!
Being poor is about not having adequate housing, health and access to relevant and quality health care, education and other social services and support that generates livinghood, hope, a different future. I wouldn't mind continue being a migrant farmworker; farmworkers need health care that is conscious of the precarious conditions udner which we toil (pesticides, the physical bombardment the body receives from just working in the fields -- hunching over, carrying heavy loads of produce, the dust, the long hours and longest hours when harvest seasons come; the need for real vacations, breaks out of the sun my granfather would say. He never understood why anyone would want to go sunbathing. Try working 12, 14, 18 hours in the sun and you'll see what he means.
We survive against all odds, but they are not our odds. Someone is literally making a killing off our impoverishments, off our dead youth, off our incarcerated youth and elders, off our crumbling schools, off the Flatlands.
And we honor ourselves and our friends, our sons, daughters, our students sometimes too late.
Through their altars we remember to live differently, love constantly those around us, love one's self too.
Social class analysis calls these social urban clumps the lower strata of the working class. Urban planning and city hall officials and police would call this those who they believe have no dignity, no vision, no power, no will, no plan and subject to us to their plans, their indignity that comes with their power, vision, power, will and demeanor over us.
They forget that we too are Oakland.
The Hills thrive off the Flatlands; they come down for tasty food, sex workers, drugs and gentrify in the process. We drive to the Hills, yet we get profiled as prowlers.
Hills and Flatlands are inseparable in the natural and social worlds.
We live in and occupy different socio-economic strata and spaces, yet we are the offspring of the same socio-economic and political mother. We are blinded by colors, race, genders, social classes, social stratae.
I call this the inability of capital(ism) to absorb us or crush us. We are inside its process, subject to its depradations, yet stand outside of the economic crises, the dot boom-bust, the recession, the banking collapses, the auto bailout. We are affected and unaffected, we are already poor, lack health care, have access to low expectations and machine-age teachers, day laborers all. We make capitalism possible, have made and are making Oakland possible.
We can get poorer, more impoverished, sicker, meet death in any of foreseen possibilities, work full time and yet be homeless forever.
We are cast as the inhumane face of capitalism. Capitalism calls us names, brands us incorregible, imprisonable, exploitable; we are the ugly. Capitalism has no humane face that anyone could be proud of -- in comparison to us, the lower strata, the unplanned, the unemployed/underemployed, the Flatlanders, the toxic wasted sites, capitalism has a prettier face. The chain stores and cafes can hire young beautiful women to sell their addictions; super and everyday models of consumption.
Yet we are a market, we consume, we shop, we flock to the big box stores, when we can afford them, when we have a car to get us there. Or we walk to the local corner stores, go walk to the Fruitvale. Or the street vendors, the mobile little stores, come to us, pass by our apartments and houses, our homes and beckon with poetic calls, bells and songs.
Stop the Violence, How?
When he was Oakland's Mayor, Jerry Brown proposed 100 new cops for Oakland, but mainly for east and west Oakland. The Oakland electorate voted to get the new cops but did not want to pay for them.
Our new Mayor Ron Dellums tried again to get voter approval for 100 new cops.
In the meantime, from every Thursday evening through Monday early morning, at least 100 cops are brought into east Oakland, they prowl Jack London Square, zoom about certain parts of downtown and west Oakland. They stare at young men of color, they pull them over and ticket them, harass them to leave. But, to where?
Saturation policing, racial, ethnic-nationality and religious profiling, cops pulling over young men of color for any slight offense. Other drivers pulled over for being on the cell phone, or making a rolling stop. Check-points eyeballing drivers for color and class.
How about a 100 new jobs in east Oakland and 100 for west Oakland -- stable, lifelong, living wage jobs that make a difference? How about 100 new teachers, 100 new park-n-rec programs, 100 new affordable housing units, 1oo new small businesses, 100 new cultural centers, 100 new chapbooks, posters and magazines featuring the voices and dreams of east Oakland?
How about a 100 poetry readings and writing workshops -- two a week from January 1 - December 31? One concert a week of live music, blues, hip hop, jazz, corridos, cumbias, punk, rock en español, rock-n-roll, metal?
How about building a skate park on the lot that's at 55th and "International," nee East 14th?
We can stop the violence. We have to change the channel, change the numbers, a change of heart, make poetry, bread, style, laughter, community, health and culture in east Oakland, in west Oakland, in Oakland. We can't make much culture when the solution is policing, state violence and coercion, the pressure and pushing out of gentrification.
I am still shocked and in shock of the youth on youth violence, the young who die so young. I have lost friends to violence since I was young. Now that I am older, I still am losing young friends to violence and despair. I mourn the loss of the youth who perished and was honored on 55th.
But the majority of youth are succumbing to gun and other types of violence. They are succumbing to the violence of social and economic policies that have written them off. The violence and despair of little or any living wage job prospects. The standardized violence and despair students learn at the schools and lack of prospects for higher education.
We cannot just be survivors. We have to be strugglers, organizers against state violence, the daily bread of militarism that's got us in a choke hold. We have to live, work, worship, study and play in peace. For that we need a redirection of existing resources. We need hundreds of new things. Maybe we do need a 100 new cops, 100 that live and hope in east Oakland; it's work, too. But we need hundreds of new jobs, hundreds of investors willing to take a risk with the youth themselves, hundreds of spaces where culture, art, elders and youth can sit side by side and enjoy live's longest cycles so that no one perishes in vain.
We choose to live, even when we suffer losses that cause profound pain, seemingly unending, darkness when anyone we love, however old or young, dies.
After I snapped a few photos, even though it was cold, I bought an ice cream cone from Esteban,a peripatic ice cream vendor. It was a crisp, coldish morning.
I asked him how it was going. He said, I'm just getting started. He took off walking down the neighborhood and I got in my car and drove off -- both to work in Oakland.