So after nearly two weeks of traveling for the holidays… semi-invasive security scans, crappy airport food at exorbitant prices, too much chocolate (I didn’t think it was possible!), and too little sleep on too small and seriously uncomfortable beds (sorry mom)… we touched down at Oakland airport after making a glorious low swoop over Berkeley, the Bay Bridge, and then San Francisco at dusk, to loop back around and hit the runway from the reverse-of-typical direction.
It was beautiful. The city twinkling amidst its blanket of deep blue. The strand of lights stringing the bridge that stretches from one city to another, hitched at a small island in the sea, and paralleled by the new bridge, slowly but stealthily nearing completion.
And I had the feeling I always have upon returning home after travels, whether they be to frequent destinations or distant exotic places. I’m so happy to be home. And I’m so happy my home is here.
It’s interesting to describe Oakland to people who aren’t from here. During the holidays with my family, my brother quoted the statistic that Oakland was the fifth most dangerous city in the country. Um… thanks Mike! And of course we do have our share of problems. Yes there is violent crime. And blight. And devastating poverty, among other things.
But we have so much more than the grim facts delivered by sensationalist seeking so-called “news”. Thanks to smart stewardship we have plentiful protected green spaces that provide habitat for wildlife and recreational opportunities for us humans. We have the best damn weather in the country (I do not miss the 6 month long New England winter!) We have a wealth of diversity of peoples and cultures that, frankly, exists in few other parts of this country. And this diversity promotes a rich & complex smorgasbord of art and music and food that truly enriches our lives. I really can’t imagine living anywhere else.
But times are tough these days, and I know our city is facing some serious challenges (as is our state, and our country at large),with the budgetary crises being pre-eminent. If you listen to the news these days you hear a lot about sacrifice. The impending “day of reckoning”. And I’m not speaking religiously here, but rather, fiscally. Funds will be cut from schools, from health and human services, and numerous other places, but mostly from those who need it most.
People get greedy in times of strife. The economist Benjamin Friedman identified this in his book “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth,” noting that in times of economic stagnation, voters become more concerned about protecting their own interests, more hostile towards outsiders, and less interested in social welfare. Everyone’s out to protect their own. But unfortunately, this mentality fails to recognize the obvious truth (and I wish I knew who to attribute this quote to but I don’t)… “we all do better when we all do better.”
Mayor Jean Quan, in her inaugural address, asked Oaklanders to dream. She said that Oakland is a city of dreams and asked each and every one of us to dream big and then take concrete steps towards seeing those dreams realized. She asked us to reject the individual protectionism rooted in fear, and rather reach beyond ourselves to promote growth and healing towards our extended Oakland “family.” She suggested the following actions:
- Organize our Blocks (whether through a clean up, and crime watch, or general neighborly assistance) – I went to my block’s annual Night Out party last year and it was a great way to meet my neighbors. It really does make a difference when you feel connected to your community.
- Volunteer for Oakland – she asked each of us to donate just 1 hour a week to a cause of our choosing, and there are many to choose from. Park cleanups, youth mentoring, neighborhood watch groups, school fundraisers, the list goes on and on… And with shrinking government dollars to pay for services, volunteers can really make a huge difference.
- Shop Oakland – this is a no brainer as dollars spent in local businesses stay in the community. She said if Oaklanders increased their spending locally by just 25% it would increase revenues by millions of dollars that could pay for more afterschool programs, more police, and more parks.
- Discover Oakland – she encouraged residents to step outside their comfort zones and discover new neighborhoods and new happenings in this city. In a way, that’s partly what this blog is all about, and though I’ve been remiss during the last hectic month of December, I’m looking forward to getting back on the Oaktown express. There’s much yet to be discovered.
What are your dreams for our city? And what will you do to help see them realized?