August 19, 2011

Cultivating Community in West Oakland

It was a Wednesday afternoon, with only a few hours left until our Summer of Solutions "Day of Action" in West Oakland. Multiple baking projects, a sweltering summer afternoon, and the pressure of time were combining forces to make the kitchen of our 13-person home an increasingly difficult place to be. Nevertheless, myself and others from the Food Justice track continued our studious chopping of vegetables because this food - soon to be offered for free as part of our community potluck to a large, unspecified number of West Oakland residents - was our gateway to hearing the dreams and visions of people living in the direct vicinity of our "vacant-lot-turned-community-garden-in-progress".

Building off the vision of an SoS participant living in West Oakland, we have been in the process of converting a vacant lot -- home to an accumilated seven years of weeds, syringes, ciggarette butts, broken glass, car parts, and varying forms of plastic -- into a beautiful space that is now brimming with potential to truly benefit this community. Great as that intention may be, a critical part of our work as solutionaries is taking steps to figure out exactly how we can use this space to "truly benefit the community". In an area that regularly struggles with violent crime, drug abuse, alcoholism - and in a larger sense, the systemic oppression that's perpetuated by a discriminatory criminal justice system - some may ask: can a community garden truly benefit this community?

Our potluck last Wednesday was essentially an opportunity to engage members of this community in answering that question. It was a tremendously productive evening, and -- judging from the feedback we received from community members that night -- I'm inclined to say that yes, so long as the project remains comminity-driven, community-run, and community-supported, it most certainly can.