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A Love Letter to Oakland in the Wake of Friday’s Fire

We deserve better. We deserve our safe spaces.
December 7, 2016, 4:18pm
A memorial to mourn lives lost in the warehouse party fire in Oakland, California. Photo by AP

I miss the way you make me feel. I miss the friends I used to have there. I miss the warehouse parties at the Rec. Center, going shopping on International with Jazper (Boytweetsworldx), going to the Farmers Market at Fruitvale Station, smoking blunts on Lake Merritt, and lingering at the San Pablo Flea Market on the weekends. I miss everything about you. You were the last place I remember calling home.

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In 2010, I moved to Oakland from San Francisco. I lived off the MacArthur Bart Station. I recorded my first song in the closet of my friend Sad Andy's house in Oakland. I filmed my first music video in a nightclub in the Mission District of San Francisco. I played my first show ever off Telegraph Street in Downtown Oakland. I had a role as a hooker in the legendary Bay Area movie Licks shot in East Oakland. In Oakland, I made memories that I might have forgotten, but friends I will never forget.

When I heard about the fire Friday night at Ghost Ship my heart sank immediately. Ghost Ship was beautiful, covered with paintings and tapestries on the walls. They always had amazing curation of unique and diverse artists. Although they had a limited budget, the collective behind the space created an incredible environment for often ignored artists to be heard. I remember partying at Ghost Ship one time a few years ago, and after the party I went home with a tatted skinny punk boy. White, tatted, skinny punk boys aren't usually my type, not that I don't find them sexy, but the majority of them don't really fuck with me. But in Oakland, that wasn't the case. No one gives a fuck in the underground culture, everyone is family and friends, and everyone is down. If you are a misfit, queer, woman, person of colour, or an outsider in any way, there are always places you can go to feel safe and comfortable.

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While I lived there, I rarely partied at bars or clubs, so I found myself lingering in warehouse spaces where people shared similar values, like Ghost Ship and artists' homes my friends were squatting at. One of my favourite places to party, record music, and hang out with the homies at was the Rec. Center. Sadly, after I moved away, the Rec. Center was shut down and the artists involved, including the infamous Oakland collective

Trill Team 6, were driven out due to escalating rent and gentrification.

The energy in Oakland is hard to explain. The underground culture is so heartwarming and beautiful, yet it's the the fifth most-expensive rental housing market in the United States. And although it is wealthy and full of culture, there is also a dark side. I'll never forget this one night as I was walking home from MacArthur Station, I was attacked in front of my house. I was turning the key to the gate of my house, and all of a sudden a man came out of what seemed like nowhere and twisted my arm back and said, "Bitch, don't scream I have a gun." As he put a gun to my head I started hyperventilating and coming to terms with the fact that I was going to die. Things turned violent fast, and thankfully my roommate eventually heard me screaming for help and scared the men off. Although this story sounds terrifying and out of the ordinary, especially now that I'm living in Canada, it is not a rare occurrence in Oakland at all. Safe spaces in Oakland are so vital for just this reason alone.

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It bothers me so fucking much that the narrative following the fire in most media has been about DIY spaces being places everyone goes to get fucked up on drugs. Yes, that occasionally happens, but I found, especially in Oakland, that what these spaces ultimately provide is a community for those identifying as queer, women, people of colour, misfits, and those who are usually sidelined by the mainstream culture. Because of the disparity between the rich and poor, artists can't find housing in most parts of the Bay Area, either because they can't afford it or it is unsafe for them. Most artists in the Bay Area seek refuge in potentially hazardous artists colonies like Ghost Ship or illegal residences where they squat. Imagine a world where this scenario would prompt the government, large tech companies, and the more affluent people in these communities into coming together to make DIY spaces sanctioned and support gender non-conforming people, POC, and all misfits in general in the arts and music communities. But sadly, this is not the world we live in. All I foresee coming out of incidents like the fire at Ghost Ship this last Friday is a loss of underground music, arts, and culture.

I would like to sincerely thank our so-called "humanitarian saviours" who have so bravely come to our rescue by reporting all DIY venues, squat houses, and artist colonies just to crush what little creative energy we have left. I've seen so many of my favourite spaces disappear due to gentrification-fueled displacement. As artists, we spend our lives trying to break down barriers and create spaces where we can care for each other and create a platform for marginalized artists that have never been invited to play at large venues, because of who they are. The infrastructure of capitalism isn't helping us much, but every day we still get on our hands and knees to collect coins off the floor, even though the floor burns us every time. We fight for each other. We come together to have our long-disparaged creative expression shine. If we don't have these spaces where we feel like we belong, we have nothing. We deserve better. We deserve our safe spaces.

Follow Chippy Nonstop on Twitter.