Dear Oakland: An Imperfect Love Letter – September 2022 by Erin Poppler

by Vanessa

It’s a losing proposition, he told me. What? I asked. Oakland.

The fish are all dead in the Lake. Willie, the Ambassador of the Lake, died and left only a bench adorned with flowers. There have been 6 shootings in 3 days. Children died. The A’s are rumored to be leaving, taking a cue from the Raiders and Warriors, who left town too. The stadium is overrun by bats, feral cats and lewd acts. 

Why do you stay?

What you read, what is rumored, what becomes a cautionary tale, is not Oakland’s story. 

Violence does not always beget violence. A shooting in broad daylight at the Lake. I saw it. The police blanketed the park with guns drawn. Tonight, the same park reclaimed for a community play lit up by applause and cheers; the audience seated on blankets. 

Just blocks away, the museum is remodeled. And Friday nights, welcomes Everyone to celebrate music and art (for free!).

Yes, Willie is gone. The everyday acknowledgments and acts of kindness that swelled around him are the indomitable spirit that survives and honors him.

The fish are dead, and bat rays too. It’s true. The algae did it, the scientists say. As locals stand on the lakeshore and pull out fish, they warn those inclined to eat them, it might not be safe. Be careful. Because it is Oakland, that is whispered often: Be Careful.

Those A’s, despite all odds and unfair comparisons, keep the bats swinging (the wooden, not winged ones) and heads held high while they remain rooted in Oakland.  

I stay because of pride in my roots, extending over 20 years. Because loving a city is an imperfect proposition. Because the secret of Oakland is in plain sight even though it never makes headlines: Resilience.