Wood Street Commons saves lives. Myself and others have shared hard conversations over how we have come close to taking our own lives, from the ways that this fucked up world chewed us up and spit out out. But this place gave us purpose, love, a sense of belonging. A feeling of being part of something that could revolutionized how humans care for one another. I’ve heard so many people say that the home that’s been built and sustained at the commons has kept them out of prison, because of the ability and camaraderie and mutual aid/care we provide here. It’s been a refuge for folks getting out of prison, and starting over from scratch. I’ve had the distinct privilege of driving community members back to their home and family here at wood street. The palpability of the joy that erupts when these folks return home is earth-shaking and warmed me to my core to be able to witness. This place has been the last stop for so many people not because there is nowhere else to go, but because they don’t want to be anywhere else.
This place gives me a reason to wake up every morning. The only reason I have capacity to offer mutual aid to encampments across Oakland is because of the love and support I get at Wood Street. To go shopping with John for him to throw something on the grill to cook up something for dinner. To kick back and feel back in our bones, in our marrow that we matter because we are alive. Here you don’t have to pay to exist. No-one is turned away for lack of funds. Your money, color, gender, sexuality, and ability are not prerequisites for participation. Here you get support and acceptance because you are here. We also know in our marrow that we are not perfect. Flawed and traumatized in all our different ways. So fights do happen, but because of the trust we’ve built and the ways we have grown to know one another, we are able to regroup, make up, repair, and continue to feed, clothe, and heal one another day in and day out.
Day in and day out we get lip service and disrespect from people in higher places than us, but we take it on the chin and continue to show up for one another with the fullness of ourselves. We make sure folks have access to potable water and electricity. If someone’s spot is in disrepair we help fix it. We cook and pass the bottle to celebrate the ways we each get through it. To celebrate still being here despite all the bullshit and all the ways the system jumps on us just for being poor. We laugh and cry till the sun sets on the freeway and the moon rises over the majestic view of downtown. No-one can tell us we ain’t here and we ain’t doing nothing, because when you’re gathered around the warmth of the fire and I see the glint of the flame in people’s eyes, I know we’re doing something. We living, we giving, and welcoming everyone to the circle, blessing up and throwing down. Fire in our marrow that keeps burning after every BOSS meeting, every eviction notice, every council meeting, every court hearing, every time someone asks what we’ll do if this gets destroyed. A fire that keeps burning even as our eyes well up as we look over our homes and our family’s homes. The houses, the canopies, the vehicles, the grills, the kitchen, our minds flashing with the bulldozers tearing it all down. A fury, a grief, a panic, a tearing up inside burns there, but a love and knowing burns there too. We can’t fathom how to impart to someone who hasn’t truly known and experienced this place the depth of what we will lose if this place is destroyed.
We burn with a love knowing we made this place, our presence here made a space where people could seek refuge from the system that failed and screwed them in the first place. We burn with the history of this place. We burn with the day to day of this place. We burn with the dream of what this place could grow into for ourselves and others. We burn at the thought of the destruction of this place, knowing that the spirit of this place will live on wherever we go. We are devoted to what this community has become to ourselves and others outside of it. We are scrappy enough to do it all again no matter how many bulldozers and cops are siced on us. But we are reaching out in an offering, in an invitation, for you to build it with us instead.
Jaz Colibri read this piece to journalist and filmmaker Caron Creighton in January, before the most recent round of sweeps at Wood Street destroyed the Wood Street commons.