In the summer of 2008, I hitchhiked to the Bay Area by way of Fresno, California as a transient, wayward youth. In my possession was nothing more than an army issue backpack, sleeping bag, change of clothes, my guitar, and five dollars in my pocket. After a week of busking in the Haight and sleeping in Golden Gate Park, I scrounged together enough money for a BART ticket and made my way to Berkeley, hearing it was warmer there, that a longstanding tree sit on Berkeley campus needed support, and the Suitcase Clinic was open for walk-in healthcare services. Arriving at the Downtown Berkeley station, I wandered through campus toward the Southside neighborhood in search of People’s Park, knowing a friend I had met in Eugene, Oregon might be camped along the edges. I found him sitting in front of Cafe Intermezzo at Telegraph & Haste, eating a free salad and feeding his dog the bits she would accept. I sat down on the sidewalk, butted up against the curb, and putting down my pack noticed a short stack of newspapers within arm’s reach of my friend’s guitar case. That paper was Street Spirit.
Most of our income at that time was generated through busking, playing our repertoire of songs over and over for days on end, but Street Spirit provided an extra avenue to engage with those who passed us on the sidewalk. Anyone dropping a donation into our guitar cases was offered a paper in return, though many people accepted a paper for an extra dollar, and in many cases with an invitation for conversation. I learned very quickly that Street Spirit served a purpose beyond its suggested monetary worth. The medium in itself—a print newspaper, a physical object to be held, turned, and crumpled in one’s hands—when exchanged between passerby and vendor, becomes an implicit act of community care and connection. Hands brushing hands, a subtle mention and review of that month’s headline, eye contact, a smile. Had I eaten that day, did I need a place to crash? Many times, someone would buy a paper and stick around, ask to hear a song, or sit down with us for a while. We, together, talked with one another on the streets, discovered the parallels between our affinities and differences, and in many ways, sitting inches from the gutters of a then-bustling Telegraph Avenue, the streets talked with us too.
Now, in 2023, I look back on those formative years of my life on the road and recognize just how much of an impact street newspapers had in cultivating my understanding of community here in the Bay Area—the sense of communal worth, of giving voice, of belonging and collective power that flourishes in sidewalk communion. My entrance into the East Bay community began with Street Spirit, and I am both humbled and honored to announce that fifteen years later, I am stepping in, alongside Alastair Boone, as its new Co-Editor in Chief.
Yet after 28 years of print publication, Street Spirit currently stands at a crossroads. We recently lost our funding and offices with Youth Spirit Artworks, and our final print issue—a collaboration with Street Sheet and the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust—was distributed to East Bay vendors on June 1st. Street Sheet will continue to provide papers to support our vendors through this interim period, and our new fiscal sponsor (Western Regional Advocacy Project [WRAP]) has generously offered us space in the San Francisco offices. We will continue writing both with Street Sheet and on our website as we work to meet our fundraising goals for the upcoming year.
As of this writing, Street Spirit has raised $80,000 through community donations and events, nearly one-third of our total goal of $250,000 to cover the first year’s budget and associated expenses. We want to thank each and every one of our supporters, sponsors, and readers in getting us to this point. We would not be as determined, hopeful, and optimistic about the future without all of you.
Our first benefit fundraiser on July 15th at Tamarack in Oakland featured a panel moderated by KQED host and journalist Alexis Madrigal (in conversation with Alastair, Talya Husbands-Hankin of Oakland’s Love and Justice in the Streets, and Street Spirit vendors), music by DJ Shruggs, and food by Hausa Vegan and Brown Cap Soft Serve. The outpouring of support we received from our community raised over $8,000 between tickets, merch sales, and donations at the door, and the collective spirit, joy, and connection we experienced together bolstered our confidence that Street Spirit’s goals for the future are not only possible, but palpable.
Our next fundraiser will take place on Sunday, August 27th from 3–7pm at Art House Gallery & Cultural Center in Berkeley, featuring live music from Desiree Cannon, Katsy Pline, and a special guest. We are currently working on promotional materials for the event, so stay tuned for more details as they are announced, which we will also update here. We can’t wait to see you and dance the day away!
We still have a long way to go to reach our $250,000 goal, and Street Spirit’s fundraising efforts will continue through the rest of the year. We plan on hosting more events and shows in the near future, and are always open to ideas and collaborations with community members and organizations. Please feel free to reach out to us via email or DM us on Instagram @streetspiritnews.
In the meantime, there are a number of ways to support our campaign to relaunch Street Spirit:
For tax-deductible donations either online or by check, you can give through our fiscal sponsor Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP). You can make a donation online at tinyurl.com/SAVESTREETSPIRIT—just make sure to scroll down and write “Street Spirit” in the box at the bottom of the page entitled “If you have a special purpose for your donation, please let us know.”
If you’d rather send a check, you can send it to:
Western Regional Advocacy Project
2940 16th Street, 200-2
San Francisco, CA 94103
Write “Street Spirit” on the check’s memo line
Follow us on Instagram for updates and on-the-ground reporting.
Have an idea or suggestion to help with our efforts? Reach out to us to volunteer and collaborate! Tell your friends and community! Share our posts on social media!
Again, none of this would be possible without the support of each and every one of you. Whether you have supported us financially, participated in our events, donated to our vendors, or are visiting our work for the first time, it’s the collective power of our community that has kept this project alive for 28 years and counting. A better future is possible, a better future is now, and as I learned in my youth sharing issues of Street Spirit out of a guitar case on Telegraph Avenue, the paths we forge together are the paths that lead us forward.
In solidarity, and with so much love and care. We will be back. Until then, we’ll see you in the streets.
Bradley Penner is the Co-Editor in Chief of Street Spirit.