Amidst the holidays, I sit in my living room, back at home in my parents’ house, surrounded by loved ones – siblings, parents, grandparents, friends – and take a moment to appreciate the moment I’m in. I don’t get to visit home often, but when I do, I’m grateful. Being surrounded by people that mean the world to you is a truly wonderful feeling – and also leaves you to consider those who are not able to do the same this holiday.
On December 2, 2016, a fire broke out in a warehouse in the Fruitvale district of Oakland, California at approximately 11:20pm PST. 36 lives were lost in what the news outlets across the globe has deemed “The Ghost Ship Fire” or “The Oakland Fire.” They were lost that night in an unfair, unprecedented and unexpected circumstance. These lives were artists, friends, lovers, musicians, thinkers, doers, and, above all, truly exceptional creative minds. They were loved. They were important to someone – to many people. They had goals and aspirations, and they were doing amazing things. They were beautiful individuals.
I live in San Francisco, and I am part of that larger community that was so heavily rocked by the fire. Let me rephrase: I am proud to be part of this community. The morning after the disaster – at which point I learned about it happening – I opened my Facebook feed to an outpouring of emotions. Love, sadness, gratefulness and checking in with everyone we could – it was one of the most beautiful moments to fall into in wake of such a heartbreaking event. The music community that exists in that city is tight-knit and one of the biggest, most reliable families I have ever had the privilege of being a part of. We celebrate art, music, passion and friends. We watch out for each other and we create together. We’re a family in so many different ways. This is our community and we thrive together.
As I’ve watched the news come out about the victims, the warehouse, the blame games being played and more artists being removed from their warehouses across the Bay Area and the country as a whole, it saddens me. More than anything, there is one point I want to make. For outsiders that have watched the fire on the news, they see it being called a “rave” or an “EDM show” where something went wrong and lives were lost. They tie the fire to the concept of a “rave”, which already has a strongly negative stereotype tied to it. But here it is: this was not a “rave.” This was a gathering of alike minds, with the same love for music, a family gathering of sorts that brought friends together to do what they enjoyed. This is, arguably, what bothers me the most about this label the fire has been given, and how it has been portrayed across media. In a sense, labeling it a “rave” almost acts as a scapegoat. It’s not fair to blame the “EDM culture” or the “raves” for such a disaster – the music that was played had no relationship to the fire that occurred. And it’s not a fair connection for people to believe so. This was a disaster that could have taken place at any point in time in that warehouse. There could have been a band playing, a vocalist singing open mic, anything – don’t make the assumption that electronic music had anything to do with it. This was a room filled with love and good vibes. Please do not connect the two.
Beyond that, this brings up a larger topic that should be addressed: housing in cities like San Francisco and Oakland, where finding anything affordable means taking risks and making sacrifices like moving into a building that did not have the necessary safety standards. Residents of Ghost Ship paid roughly $600 a piece for a spot to live there – which any San Francisco resident can tell you is an honest steal. It’s appealing, because we’re forced to live in places that are way too expensive for way too minimal space. Many of us spend the maximum our budgets allow to be able to find a place to lay our heads in one of the best cities in the world. We scrounge together rent money every month. Rental site RadPad published a study with quite a scary statistic: “With a median monthly rent of $3,500/month, and median entry-level salary of $53,000/year, recent college grads are expected to pay 79%… of their yearly pre-tax income on rent – a number that is essentially impossible to accommodate.” But we stay here because we love it. So we resort to warehouses, to cheap spaces, and to small spots we can squish into, because living in San Francisco is an adventure none of us want to give up. To the landlords, the building owners, the management out there – please, take note. Maybe this is a sign that the creative, hardworking, exploring minds of individuals who are so drawn to San Francisco should not be forced to live in such unsafe places. Maybe it’s time to readdress how you are maintaining your live/work spaces – and maybe it’s time to consider making safe housing more affordable.
Warehouses are a dime a dozen in Oakland and its surrounding areas. The Bay Area is a beautiful playground of spaces like this that we all appreciate. Our community uses them for our art, for our gatherings, for our living spaces and for an array of activities like music shows and parties. I myself was at a warehouse party in a different location that night. The art cars that I work on both live in warehouses. It could have been any of us there that night, any of our friends. Though I did not have direct relationships with individuals who were lost that night, I knew them via second degree, or had met them in passing. They were familiar faces. And I have so much love for those people that did lose someone close to them. They were all part of our larger Bay Area music family. And we have celebrated them with vigils, with benefits concerts and with memories. They will never be lost.
So, for the sake of our friends, our loved ones, and the people in our community that we interact with so much, I ask that we all keep safety in mind. To the Oakland city agencies that are now cracking down on existing warehouses, removing people from their live and/or work spaces and examining the safety of the structures in Oakland, I ask that you find a way to keep our spaces safe – but also keep in mind these are places people live, create, build and gather. To the city of San Francisco, the landlords and the building owners, with your high rent standards – take this as a note of how much struggle the housing and rental crisis has created. And to our friends – I love you, and let’s keep each others backs, as we always do. Whether you were affected directly or indirectly by the fire, we’re all one big family one way or another. This is our community.