The Oakland Diaspora

We all talk about it all the time: leaving the Bay Area. It’s fucking expensive here, and the thought of staying here long term is daunting. Fighting evictions, always paying more for housing and food, barely finding better jobs or getting raises.

It’s something me and my friends face daily. Some of us have already given up and gone elsewhere. The rest of us stay here and weight our options.

As someone who has decided to stay, the Oakland Diaspora has given me cause to mourn the rapid loss of culture in my hometown. The artists, the musicians, the activists, the queers, the lovers, the weirdos – the population in the East Bay is thinning out. And where are they going? I’ve had friends invite me to live with them in multiple places: Portland, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Tucson, Sacramento. All towns that echo the economic viability that we all associated with Oakland ten years ago.

In an effort to be an optimist, I try see my friends leaving for greener pastures as more than just a net loss for me. The thing about having lived in Oakland is: this is a beautiful fucking place. Not just from an aesthetic perspective, but also socially. It’s one of the most diverse, gay, political places to live in the country. To have lived in Oakland in the last decade meant that you were here for Occupy Oakland, Black Lives Matter, the harms of gentrification, police scandals, art walks, warehouse parties, successful social justice campaigns, all sorts of fun gay shit, and the constant undercurrent of radical thought. The Bay Area has always been on the forefront of radical thought, and even if you don’t consider yourself radical, living here will definitely expose you to those ideas.

As my friends leave the Bay Area, I’d like to think they take those ideas with them wherever they go. Especially in these turbulent political times, bringing a seed of radicalism to a red state to plant and grow – well, if that’s not an act of sedition, then what is?

So this is what I want for all my friends who can’t stay in the Bay Area anymore: I hope you create another micro-Bay Area in whatever new city you’re going to. I hope you bring radical politics and weirdo art culture to your new home. I hope you preach the gospel of sex work is real work and trans visibility. I hope you foster a new cultural climate of racial equity and anti-sexual harassment. If you’re leaving here, take the tools of radical change with you. Build something better. Infect and infiltrate. It’s your responsibility to take everything you experienced and everything you learned in Oakland and give it to your new neighbors. Because Oakland used to be a mecca for people like us, the outsiders, the outcasts, the weirdos. And now the only people who can afford to live here are the rich, white people we weirdos were trying to escape in the first place. So, if our kin can’t come to us, we’ll go to them.

If you have to leave Oakland, I hope you build New Oakland wherever you go. I’ll come visit.

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