Erin Poppler: Oakland's Resilience

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Oakland’s problems are easy to spot, and Erin Poppler is asked why she stays. Here’s her answer.

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 six shootings in three 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.

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Violence does not always beget violence. A shooting in broad daylight at the Lake. The police spread across 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 every Friday night, welcomes everyone to celebrate music and art (for free) on blankets spread across concrete steps and grass.

Yes, Willie is gone, but the every-day acknowledgments and acts of kindness that swelled around him are the indomitable spirit that survives and honors him.

The fish, and bat rays too, are dead, it’s true. The algae did it, so 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, they say.

Because it is Oakland, that is whispered often: Be Careful (!).

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

Why do I stay?

Pride in my roots, extending here 20+ years. Because loving a city is an imperfect proposition. Because the secret of Oakland is in plain sight. It never makes headlines though. Resilience.

With a Perspective, I’m Erin Poppler.

Erin Poppler is an environmental litigator who discovered Lake Merritt on a bus tour of Bay Area neighborhoods for a UC Berkeley sociology class.