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West Oakland: 53 liquor stores, 0 grocery stores, detour commuters, & street art activism
Posters that sarcastically read, "Welcome Thru West Oakland -- Enjoy Our 53 Liquor Stores," appeared along West Grand Avenue shortly after Eastbound 580 and 24 traffic was re-routed through West Oakland this week. While street art in its many forms often stirs controversy, especially amongst those who prefer their surroundings tidy, it is very often the voice of the disenfranchised struggling to make themselves and the concerns of their community be heard. West Oakland is not a tidy bedroom community, graffiti or not.
There is not one single grocery store in all of West Oakland. Not one. Most residents do not own cars in order to easily travel to Emeryville or Lake Merrit or Chinatown to shop at the closest supermarkets. Residents can bike or take a bus, but the only shops within walking distance are liquor stores. And there are lots and lots of them. Activists have been trying for years to "effect something real" in this regard to little avail. The Black Muslims got frustrated and resorted to bullying tactics that landed a couple of them in jail two years ago.
The following paragraphs are pulled from various media sources via simple web searches:
"We're tired of having a liquor store on every corner in our flatland areas," said Linnie Cobb, a member of Association of the Community Organizations for Reform Now. ACORN has struggled to tackle the problem in Oakland — with little success.
If it weren't for the great work of groups like the People's Grocery, and a local Catholic soup kitchen that offers one meal a day to hundreds of locals, fresh produce would be virtually extinct for the 30,000 residents of West Oakland. But these charitable groups simply cannot feed everyone.
Sure, residents could "make their neighborhoods look nicer" perhaps with graffiti removal or a few thousand gallons of paint if they could afford it, but West Oakland still would be a largely neglected area of people lacking the same resources that most of the Bay Area takes for granted.
It's an insult to area activists and residents to claim that any of them are lazy, even whomever placed this modest number of flyers on West Grand. Street art and messaging has a long and rich history. Social and political activism takes many forms, one of which is awareness campaigns. The storefront signs marking the area's 53 liquor stores, which every day serve to remind residents of their lack of healthy food options, are an infinitely bigger eyesore than a handful of posters by the disgruntled.
And that's not even getting into other issues in the neighborhood such as what the commuter detour means for area residents. It's become difficult and excedingly dangerous to even walk across West Grand now with cars speeding by at all hours of the day as if the streets of West Oakland were just another freeway.
More from web searches:
But it wasn't a bed of roses, especially on city streets around West Grand Avenue shortly before peak evening rush-hour time. Car after car stretched as far as the eye could see about 4:45 p.m. along West Grand, turning a lightly traveled truck route into a busy thoroughfare. Cars poured off the West Grand exit from Interstate 80 that is being used as a major detour for drivers trying to reach Highway 24 or eastbound Interstate 580.... Those in West Oakland say the detour along Grand Avenue represents a significant environmental injustice residents will bear the brunt of. The detour will funnel tens of thousands of commuters headed for high-dollar homes in the hills and suburbs through the streets of a struggling, low-income neighborhood already beset by heavy truck traffic and poor air quality, community activists said Monday. It will clog neighborhood streets with cars and trucks, fill the air with diesel and gasoline engine emissions, decrease the area's "walkability" and quality of life, activists said.... Community activists also expressed dismay West Grand became the designated detour seemingly without much thought to other alternatives.... "Commuters have options for how they get in and out of the city. West Oakland residents really don't have any other option for where they live," said Swati Prakash, project manager for Oakland's Pacific Institute.
Freeways have allowed too many people for too long to drive past poor neighborhoods oblivious to the concerns of the less fortunate. This detour, while detrimental to West Oakland's residents in a variety of ways, perhaps offers an opportunity to remind commuters about the people they have been ignoring as they zip to and fro. What West Oakland needs is more street art and messaging, not less. West Oakland demands to be heard.