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Sunday, April 14, 2024

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HousingHomelessnessThe destruction of a community in Oakland

The destruction of a community in Oakland

Police, bulldozers evict longtime residents of Wood Street Commons.


We had dreams, we had love

We had comeUnity called 

Wood Street Com-mons 

The couch got stuck on the stroller as it dribbled out of the teeth of the giant crusher. The sound of wood and plastic crunching became a terrifying melody.

“This is only week one and they have already destroyed so much,” John Janosko, one of the warrior leaders of Wood Street Commons, a beautiful example of homeless peoples’ self-determination in occupied Huchuin (West Oakland). We had to scream above the endless drone of garbage trucks, police vehicles and the mouth of the omnipresent bulldozer lurching backwards and forewords in a violent dance.

I watched, shouted, stomped, and paced back and forth on that weary stretch of Wood street, a former industrial zone, train station and freeway overpass that seemed to stretch for miles until it didn’t, butted up against an encroaching pale gray-green, off-white, pseudo redwood and glass slathered condominium complex with signs announcing New Units Starting at $800,000. 

Supporters try to protect the community

This PovertySkola had barely survived 22 poverty-based evictions and three sweeps when mama and me lived outside, not to mention incarceration in county jail for tickets for living without a roof. Suffice it to say, there are no words to describe the bulldozing of everything you own, nothing.

Wood Street Commons and Cob on Wood, two poor-people-led autonomous land projects, have been building, loving, supporting and creating an inter-dependent safe space for fellow houseless people in Oakland for several years. Each project, next to each other on that empty pre-gentrifucked stretch of West Oakland, created free stores, a community kitchen, healing space, barbeque pit, tons of murals, a garden, and so much more.

The heavy equipment crushed people’s belongings

Each of them was strategically destroyed by the settler colonial state and city government. 

“Your sweeps take away people’s homes, people’s belongings, people’s lives, every scrap of them trying to take care of their families and their survival,”  said Jaz, one of the other long-time resident leaders, artists, visionaries of Wood Street who has worked for years to help their fellow residents live and thrive with love. He stood in the middle of a pile of chairs, tables, blankets and a lamp while the DPW workers paced unmoved around them and the jaws of the crusher continued to crush. 

Nowhere to go

“Why are you sweeping us? We have nowhere to go?”

Lamonte Ford, a longtime resident of Wood Street Commons, peacefully stood at the barricade the police already put up on Day one of this violent eviction while Rupa Marya from Doctors without Borders made the argument that these evictions are a public health crisis. 

By Day Two the cops were roaming around the land with bolt cutters while the people tried to resist. One of the residents ending up injured and arrested for just trying to keep his home, and James Burch of the Anti-Police Terror Project’s hand was injured by the bolt cutters. 

Police protected the bulldozers

On Day Three of the Wood Street Destruction after a grueling day of more belongings theft, bulldozing and police terrorizing, at 6pm when people had already retreated for the night and theoretically that day’s destruction was over, a rogue bulldozer came careening down the street and into a fence, barely missing running into residents.  

Lies about houseless people 

It began with the lies about houseless peoples and the fires at Cob on Wood, who although they built a beautiful circle of natural homes and bathrooms, were relegated to being talked about as though they were criminal for the sole act of being houseless.

“They blamed all of us for the mysterious fires that happened at Cob on Wood and yet every time there was a fire, CalTrans was oddly and magically nearby, ready with red tags, citations and false accusations,” said Lydia, longtime houseless resident and single mama co-founder of Cob on Wood. “They used the fires as the excuse to evict us,” concluded Lydia. 

As Lydia said, the fires were suspicious, as was their proximity to eviction notices being given to residents by Caltrans. Some of the fires were also seemingly set by residents that no-one knew and who disappeared soon after they were set, causing more suspicion. Some may have been caused by folks who were struggling with mental health issues and the violence of homelessness and survival outside.

The fires, the evictions, the harassment, and the endless and constant sweeps have rolled on at Wood Street incessantly. Last year after a series of lies by the city, radical interventions by council person Carroll fife and endless speakouts, actions and organizing moves by the residents and their large community of supporters, the residents were violently pushed onto the last much smaller stretch of Mama Earth at 1707 Wood Street. 

And true to liberation form, they built up their community space. They increased the capacity of their community kitchen and they held a series of beautiful parties, speakouts, and poetry readings (including a series of poormagazine street writing workshops, which produced badass work). 

And then this day came. Following multiple temporary restraining orders to block the sick inevitability of the looming jaws of settler lies of private property the final eviction notice was served and executed last week. 

These aren’t tiny homes – these are tiny Tombs…

6×10 boxes cuz lives like ours aren’t listened to …

Day after day the crushing continues

It has been truly deadly and exhausting. Day after day of crushing, removing, policing and harassing, all this so-called progressive city offered has offered is what I called in a recent poemSong I wrote for Wood Street “Tiny tombs, I mean tiny homes.” 

“We have no place to store out belongings, these aren’t homes,” said one resident as she was marched over to “see her new home” by the on-site case mangler present at the evictions.

The myth of tiny homes is just that, a myth, low-key jails, like SRO’s with untenable rules like no visitor policies and no cooking.

“We are resisting. We will not give up,” said Xochitl Bernadette Moreno at a danza prayer circle we brought last week. Xochitl is an artist, media producer and one of the many powerful solidarity supporters, prayer bringers, advocates and co-founders of Essential Food and Medicine who has been supporting and standing alongside Wood Street Commons and Cob on Wood from the beginning. 

In addition to EFAM, Love and Justice in the Streets, Anti Police Terror Project, POOR Magazine/Homefulness  and so many more movements, there are warriors like Xochitl and Delphine and Veronica Ramirez from PLACE who will be here and will not stop fighting for liberated self-governed land instead of more hygienic metaphors about our houseless bodies and never-ending removal.

The heavily policed city evictions continue, and the community still needs support. Follow @WoodStreetCommons on IG. Go down to 1707 Wood Street to help move, document or redistribute

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram


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