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Oaklanders Celebrate May Day with Caravan, Vacant Home Art Installation

Hundreds of workers and a coalition of over 25 Bay Area groups celebrated May Day in Oakland with a car / bike caravan, block party, and an art installation that explored ways of opening and occupying vacant housing units.

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Cherri Murphy (center), of Gig Workers International, speaks to a crowd of protestors on a flatbed truck at the Lake Merritt Bart station in Oakland. Photo by Zack Haber on May 1st.

Makayla Walker waves a Black Lives Matter flag during a caravan to celebrate May Day, also known as International Workers Day, in Downtown Oakland. Photo by Zack Haber on May 1st.

Hundreds of workers and a coalition of over 25 Bay Area groups celebrated May Day in Oakland with a car / bike caravan, block party, and an art installation that explored ways of opening and occupying vacant housing units.

The celebration started as about 80 vehicles and about 40 people on bicycles gathered at Lake Merritt’s Bart Station. Standing on a flatbed truck behind a red and white sign that read “MAY DAY WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE,” Minister Cherri Murphy, with Gig Workers Rising, was the first to address the crowd.
“Welcome to May Day 2021…as we unite low wage workers, fight against police violence and killings, and demand housing for all!” she said.
The flatbed truck then led the caravan on about a five and a half mile route through Chinatown, Downtown Oakland, then stopped outside Oakland’s Whole Foods Market, stopped again by Lake Merritt, then returned to downtown. Vehicles and bikes had signs attached to them in support of workers, Black life, housing for all, and against police violence.
Some bikers had signs which read “EVERY WORKER NEEDS A UNION.” An activist named Makayla Walker stood up putting her body outside of a car’s sunroof while waving a large flag that read BLACK LIVES MATTER. A UHAUL truck had a large orange sign attached to it which read “from OAKLAND to KABUL, DOWN WITH CAPITALISM.”
Drivers in the caravan honked their horns loudly. The honks were at their loudest when the caravan stopped outside of Whole Foods Market. As vehicles blocked a road to access the market, Nell Myhand, co-chair of the California chapter of The Poor People’s Campaign, stood in the flatbed truck and addressed the caravan and grocery shoppers.
“We’re here outside of Whole Foods…to say that we’re in solidarity with Amazon workers in Bessemer and Amazon workers around the globe because 15 dollars an hour and a union is a modest demand,” said Myhand. “What we really need is a living wage, which here in the Bay Area is 30 dollars.”
Organizers of the caravan chose the site because Jeff Bezos, currently the world’s richest person, founded and is the CEO of Amazon, which owns Whole Foods Market. Workers in an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama recently lost their vote to unionize, but those that led the unionization effort say Amazon illegally interfered with the process. In her speech, Myhand also said that all workers, including those who do unpaid care work, deserve a living wage, safe work environment, and dignity.
Hashid Kasama, a worker from Fresno and member of Rideshare Drivers United who makes ends meet by doing gig work delivering groceries for the app based Instacart company, spoke outside of Whole Foods in support of The Protect the Right to Organize Act. The proposed legislation, widely known as The PRO act, would expand the right to unionize to many app based gig workers. Such rights were limited in California after the state passed Proposition 22.
“I am boldly requesting all of you in the audience to please tell your co-workers, friends and family to support The PRO-Act by any means necessary,” Kasama said. “My son needs to eat and I, as his father, need flexibility. But that doesn’t mean I have to lose my rights as an employee.”
After speeches ended outside of Whole Foods Market, the caravan stopped on Lake Merritt Blvd just east of Oakland’s central branch library and next to a patch of grass that serves as a popular hang out location for the city’s residents. Rachel Jackson of The People’s Strike Bay Area spoke out against police killings there.
“In the devastation of COVID,” she said, “one thing that never stopped is murders by police concentrated in communities of color and the neighborhoods where so-called essential workers live.”
Jackson specifically mentioned Breonna Taylor, Dante Wright, Tyrell Wilson, Miles Hall, and Mario Gonzales, who all died during interactions with police.
After stopping by Lake Merritt, organizers encouraged caravan participants to independently move to a vacant home in the Lower Bottoms neighborhood of West Oakland as the last stop for the May Day celebration. At that location, participants ate food and listened to speeches and DJs in front of the vacant home. House the Bay, an organization that works to get people off the the streets and into empty housing, helped organize the event. A purple and white sign draped out of the home’s window read “LIBERATE HOUSING.” The front door was unlocked and people entered and exited.
The home is owned by Sullivan Management Company (SMC) East Bay, a company owned by Neill Sullivan, who organizers said they consciously targeted. The anti-eviction mapping project has shared data showing Sullivan purchased over 350 properties after the 2008 foreclosure crisis and served over 350 eviction notices in a six year period ending in 2016.
A small plaque outside the home explained that the project was an art installation called “what you’ll need to get in and stay” that aimed to “take a closer look at tools and symbols of vacancy and squatting to deconstruct our fears around attaining homefulness.” Literature was given out for free to share information about extralegal methods of entering, occupying and securing vacant homes.
Inside the house, activists had written messages on walls against profiting off of housing by keeping homes empty. One section of wall writing near the home’s entrance described the home’s history, claiming it was owned by a Black family from 1978-2011 until Sullivan purchased it for $100,000, then repeatedly took out reverse mortgages on the home and profited off of the interest while leaving it empty.
“Organizing around housing is very much part of what makes working class lives livable” said a person involved with opening the art exhibit in the vacant home. They asked not to be named out of fear of retaliation.
“This action was to demonstrate we could do it and to share skills with people,” they said. “The goal is to get to the point where it’s not outside activists but it’s everybody cracking houses on their blocks.”

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Bay Area

Spoken Word Offers Aid to Black Men Facing Hardships

Their mission statement highlights that through sharing their lived experiences, members of Black Men Speaks and Men of Color “promote self and communal wellness, recovery, and freedom”.

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Image provided by Black Men Speak website

According to a National Health Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted in 2019 for the African American community, 6.5 million African Americans had a mental illness and/or substance abuse disorder.

These numbers don’t compare to the more in depth statistics on those who receive treatment and who do not and how, specifically, Black men are affected. For a lot of Black men and men of color, access to resources that may aid in mental health or substance abuse treatment are slim because of the influence within their own communities and outside of it to turn their backs on things that are perceived as anything less than the strength they should possess as a man, especially a Black man.

Black Men Speak, INC.(BMS), an international speakers bureau, was founded in 2009 through the Alameda Pool of Consumer Champions with this very notion in mind, that the best way to connect to other Black men who were struggling with mental health and substance abuse was through storytelling of their own struggles.

Three years following Black Men Speaks’ foundation, Men of Color(MOC) speaker’s bureau was established, which allowed them to expand their reach in the community.

Their mission statement highlights that through sharing their lived experiences, members of Black Men Speaks and Men of Color “promote self and communal wellness, recovery, and freedom”.

The stories that are told are set in the present day and feature unique challenges of loss, trauma, social and family issues and community violence and the importance of faith on the road to overall wellness & recovery.

Besides aiding their fellow men through connection in storytelling, BMS offers resources that help with employment, housing, homeless prevention, mentoring and peer support and training for presentation and public speaking.

Alongside these resources and mentoring, they make sure to do their part in advocating and assertively addressing other issues within their communities that have a direct impact on the African American community.

Black Men Speak is located in Oakland at 303 Hegenberger Road in Suite 210. Hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 510-969-5086 or email 1blackmenspeak@gmail.com.

 

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Activism

Jasmine Market Encourage Unity in Marin City

During the event, Jong Lee, Caitilin Damacion, and Tammy Lai discussed how to raise the awareness of the various ethnic groups to each other in Marin City. A mobile clinic provided free COVID-19 vaccines.

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Top: The Jasmine Market at the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. Bottom: Jong Lee, Caitilin Damacion, Tammy Lai (Photos by Godfrey Lee)

The First Marin City’s Jasmine Market was an inclusive, outdoor market celebrating Asian joy and intercultural solidarity in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in May.

It was hosted by the Marin City Community Development Corporation (MCCDC) and was held at the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City on May 28, 2021.

A Marin City Librarian read an AAPI story. Sammy Brionnes gave a musical performance. Natalie Nong performed a Spoken Word poem.

During the event, Jong Lee, Caitilin Damacion, and Tammy Lai discussed how to raise the awareness of the various ethnic groups to each other in Marin City. A mobile clinic provided free COVID-19 vaccines.

Lee is the director of Women’s Rights and Peace Bay Area, and a board member for the Asian American Alliance of Marin. She is involved in advocating for ethnic studies in the Marin County School District and is working to spread awareness of the “comfort women” from Korea and other Asian nations. These women were forced to serve as sexual slaves for Japanese soldiers during WWII.

Tammy Lai is the CEO at Foundation for Justice and Peace (jpf.world).

Damacion, who lives in the East Bay, is the Micro-Enterprise Program Manager at the MCCDC.

During the discussion, Lee says that God created people in his image. We need to treat people in the image of God.

Lee really wants to see Asians, especially women, integrate with the other minorities, such as Koreans, who can become culturally isolated, and spoke to the need to bridge and understand other ethnic groups. “We need to step forward to meet each other halfway, and to reach out to understand each other,” Lee said.

Lai says that we have this opportunity, as we question ourselves in this cultural landscape, to build bridges. Communities become healthier when its members take one step toward one another to understand, listen and to build something better together.

Damacion, who is Filipino and mixed-raced, feels very strongly about building connections that are positive and beneficial to a community. Through her work with the MCCDC, she will work to advance diversity in Marin City, and will shed a light on the beauty she sees in Marin City and how people in the community took care of each other for generations.

Lai’s family immigrated from China to America after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882. Her family history has brought her a deeper awareness of her identity. It becomes important to carry these conversations forward and share them with others.

“We all have our stories and should be open to tell them. There is nothing new under human history so we should learn to share them. You become much closer to each other,” says Lee.

For more information, go to www.marincitycdc.org/jasmine-market

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Bay Area

Vice Mayor: Business Group Wants to Buy Coliseum, Attract WNBA Team

The group will provide additional details of its effort at a news conference at 11:00 a.m. Friday at a site to be determined.

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Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan.

Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan said a local business group has made serious inroads to buy the city’s 50% stake in the Oakland Coliseum complex and to bring a WNBA team to the city.
Kaplan’s office shared a news release Monday about the effort by the African American Sports and Entertainment Group.

Kaplan said the group is in negotiations with the Oakland-Alameda Joint Powers Authority, has submitted a formal proposal to WNBA officials, and has submitted a term sheet to the city, which the City Council’s rules committee recently voted to advance to the full council for a vote.

The group will provide additional details of its effort at a news conference at 11:00 a.m. Friday at a site to be determined.

“I am pleased that there is such great interest in doing an important development at the Oakland Coliseum that will provide jobs, revenue and community positivity,” Kaplan said. “My goal is to help this process move forward before the summer recess.”

Kaplan said the group has the backing of more than 30 community groups of faith-based institutions, labor organizations, civic leaders, and job development organizations. She did not name the groups

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