Oakland “Ghost Ship” Fire… The End of Artists’ Space in America
Absolutely horrible. Last Friday night, December 2nd 2016, at the d Satya Yuga Art Collective in Oakland, AKA: The Ghost Ship; 36 people gave up the ghost, dying in a massive blaze that has also set the internet on fire. News Orgs, and the authorities are looking for someone to blame. The man who created, and leased the collective art space, Derick Ion Almena is the #1 target. But there is much more to the story…
Via the NYT:
The first complaint came in 2014. Piles of trash were reported next to the building. Later that year, construction materials blocking the sidewalk drew another complaint. Last month, another was lodged, leading to an investigation of illegal construction inside.
The warehouse that was engulfed in flames on Friday night, leaving at least 36 people dead, was well known to people who spent time there for being filled with illegal residences and potentially hazardous construction. Known as the Ghost Ship, it had become an artists’ colony, a refuge from the Bay Area’s rocketing rents, and a space for performances like the concert that was underway when the fire erupted.
The tragedy prompted questions about what officials should have done to shut down the motley tenement. It also brought attention to the boom in illegal housing across the region, where many people have resorted to makeshift living arrangements because they have been priced out of the regular market. The questions were many: How did the fire start? Was it accidental or deliberate? Will anyone be punished for the carnage?
The building did not have a permit for residences, or one for performances. Its landlord had a history of owning properties with building violations. People who had lived in the warehouse or visited described a place rife with fire hazards — a boarded-up upstairs exit, a cobbled-together stairway made partly of wooden pallets, propane tanks used to heat water, and piles of flammable debris.
Regulatory Payola, and Gentrification rides again
“Never let a good crisis go to waste”, a phrase made most popular by Chicago Mayor, former Obama Chief of Staff Rham “Rhambo” Emanuel. Rham’s dad Benjamin was in the Israeli terrorist group Irgun…(Irgun Zvai Leumi targeted British forces, UN officials, and Palestinian Arabs in the lead up to Israeli independence in 1948.) But Rham likely learned this phrase from various professors of Neo Hegelianism. Its basis is rooted in the essence of a philosophy by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s provenance, and dialectic: “the rational alone is real,”
Rham’s full quote, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” (Its worth noting that Churchill and others have used this method for millennia. Yet we never seem to learn.)
The region has it’s history. In the 1970’s and 80’s the move on the Bay Area artists by real estate moguls, represented by then Mayor (now Senator) Diane Feinstein, is legendary. The response to that assault on underground punk rock clubs, and squatting local artists, who along with Police reform groups, lead riots against the SF City Hall in the aftermath of the Dan White trial… Unforgettable. See White Night Riots.
*Credit to Jello Biafra and the “Dead Kennedys” for putting it all into perspective, with their music, specifically “Lynch the Landlord“.
Even today the homeless mismanagement by San Francisco is well documented. Same as in your city I’d imagine.
So when I saw the news reports of this tragic incident, my first thoughts after grieving, were wrapped up in the consequences, and to the question I ask myself no matter what happens…. CUI BONO, or who benefits?
THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF THE GODS – GO I
We mostly take for granted what Artists mean to a community. That is what makes this disaster all the worse. The people lost in this were integral to the city. Poor yes, but loved and needed all the same. I can only imagine what my city would be feeling if 36+ of our people died in one night. It may help some of you to re-brand this into a what if: Say the entire Golden State Warrior basketball team died in a horrific plane crash. Sorry for the imagery, but for those us tied to the cultural community… This is how we see it. We are only used to losing our people one at a time.
But I do not have to “imagine”….
In 1987 I lived in a converted Baptist church in Ballard, a northern suburb of Seattle, and the town I grew up in. Stain Glass, Church pews, Alter… The Church was home to around 10 artists, and also functioned as a recording studio for local bands. We threw the occasional party / happening / gallery opening. It was founded by record producer, and artist Gordon Rafael. Gordon was a well known Seattle musician, but ultimately made his bones, and got his universal Cred. playing in the band “Sky Cries Mary”, and by producing the first Strokes record. I was fortunate to record with him many times… He is one of the purest spirits Ive ever met. He christened the studio “Ars Divina” (divine art) and it became a movement.
I bring this up because that church / artist colony burned to the ground.
We were sound asleep when it began, it a room with no windows or escape. Thankfully we weren’t so out of it that we didn’t smell the smoke. If not, I wouldn’t be here typing this, my Daughter (who is an artist), and my son wouldn’t exist, and… For what it’s worth, If I may be presumptuous… The rEVOLution might not be what it is today.
The fire started from a faulty wire in an outlet we had plugged the studio lamp into. It rapidly turned into a full on 5 alarm blaze. We had heard that the neighbors, whom were interviewed by the countless news reporters on the scene to exploit our bad luck, literally watched and quietly cheered while the building went up. They might as well have been roasting hot dogs and marshmallows as they did so. Didn’t matter that real people were inside, they didn’t bother calling the SFD. To quote Austin Police when a troublesome club caught fire…. “Burn Baby Burn”. Of course the neighbors of Ghost Ship were similarly antagonistic towards the occupants in Oakland.
I lost everything. I had invested all my ill gained fortune into recording equipment: 4 track, several sets of various drums, Amps, guitars, PA… Of course I had no insurance. And everything I owned was in the place… Pictures, childhood artifacts, clothing etc etc etc…. I ran into the fire repeatedly to retrieve what I could, and I vividly remember a fireman outside saying, “whatever is in there it isn’t worth your life”. It was my life. Now my life was caked with smoke and water damage. All was lost. But I was alive. I moved on. Got a new place to live, but never truly recovered from it. I would do it all over again though. So this is a circumstance I can totally relate to.
I have no real data to show that general artist space in Ballard, or for that matter Seattle was compromised by our fire, but one can assume that it, and incidences like it, didn’t help. Our family has just moved back to Seattle as of last year. As we were looking around for space to live in and work in; we found that it doesn’t exist. As with any town or city… There are countless unused buildings, miles of commercial space… NONE of it to be used creatively, and most of it soon to be new, poorly made Amazon condos.
THIS IS OUR FUTURE
Back in the 1980’s / turn of the century Europe, before the EU consolidation; and the yuppie takeovers, before universal over regulation… Artists, and squatters could insinuate themselves into abandoned buildings, and re-purpose them. The state even subsidized it. If the un-leased tenants used the space to create a better situation for the citizenry, either by having exhibitions, concerts, or by helping the poor and homeless… They could receive government grants. (A much better plan than section 8, or the NEA grants to the selected few idle rich) Many an alternative, non mainstream art or rave show was put on at these “Unstitutions”. (I coined that word, use with credit please) Entire tours were planned to play these buildings by musicians. One or two incidents later, greed crept in, and the buildings were emptied and disconnected from the DIY chain. Are we better for it?
How many “cool” new neighborhoods in the USA were cleared, and created by starving artists who made these areas safe for Wholefoods? (the kiss of death for any artist community, and a foreshadowing of things to come) We give, but never seem to get back.
Freedom can be messy. It can be dangerous. I know that this concept does not go over well with the upwardly mobile, big government liberals, or the aged… But suffice to say, “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS UTOPIA” – Security is just another consumable illusion, and simply another word for CONTROL. EG: Homeland Control Dept., Social Control numbers, The Control Industrial Complex….
Obviously the questions will now be asked and answered. How can the Oakland fire be prevented from happening again? The question is answered before the tongue finishes the words. Regulation! No future landlord or property owner will have anything to do with artists in CA. In fact, I was a bit surprised that this particular warehouse was allowed to exist to begin with. Credit Oakland’s economy maybe… No neighborhood will want a place like this next door to them, and no city will allow a congregation of forces to create one again. Too dramatic? Too pessimistic? One bad apple spoils the juice?
At what point do the players in this heart breaking tragedy owe responsibility to the victims? How can the city demand accountability, and from whom should they demand it?
Should the guy who managed the property, and collected payments from residents… Derick Almena be tried as the lone scapegoat? Should the slumlord who owned the building be brought to justice? How about the extortion racket known as Code Enforcement… Because I believe they may have been the catalyst here by making public safety so GD expensive, and impossible!
Should the residents themselves be held responsible for willingly living in a potential “death trap”? Having been in these shoes myself I DO have empathy, but if it was me living at Ghost Ship, I would sacrifice any potential danger for the opportunity to work and live in an affordable space. A space where I could even showcase my work… So much so, that I would even have signed a waiver to do it.
I hate the word solution, as in, “Problem – Reaction – Solution” / Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis… So let me use the word ANSWER.
The answer to this issue is education NOT regulation!
What if instead of barricading one’s self into a building, and hiding any potentially dangerous problem; such as wiring, heat source, cooking source, bathroom source, sprinkler systems, or fire exit availability…. What if instead of fear from regulators, or permit police; the tenants were encouraged to open the doors and get help from city authorities and the community, without fear or cost or removal. What if? Would 36, and counting people still be alive? Or do we just have to chalk it all up to: Shit happens and always will?
NO! I am not “Trumpeting”, shilling for the GOP, the Koch Bros, Soros, Neo Anarchists, or the Libertarian Party (… wait… I already mentioned Kochs…) A platform for GlobalCorp deregulation.
If you think that I am anti regulation or anti laws… I guess you got me. Not because I am a government hating “anarchist” just for the sake of it. While its true that a “voluntaryist” society is massively preferable… Its also true that ALL laws, regulations are, and always have been selectively enforced… According to who you know, who you blow, and the name of your law firm. This theoretically helps elimination the competition for the monopolists.
Yeah yeah… the water, the food, the air….. what about the poor kids that lost their lives in this fire!!!!! Something must be done! Count on THAT. Stick a fork in us….
How is the EPA doing on the lead in the water crisis, not just in Flint MI… but everywhere our decrepit war weary infrastructure exists? How is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission doing on the issue of “Nuclear turds” or leaks? Do you feel “protected” by the pre-programmed “pigs” that are geared to NOT find leaks in our national oil pipelines? What about cell phone dangers, or wifi health issues? How bout the food and drugs regulated by the bought and paid for Monstanto (Bayer), Conag. FDA? How about the chemically induced air, or furniture for that matter…. clean?
You FEEL safe, but you are not. So I ask you…. Why give up your liberty for the illusion of Security AKA CONTROL?
How does this end?
The lord of land will get reimbursed “Lucky Larry style” for the building, which will be leveled and turned into multi-use shopping condos. Politicians will grandstand, and go hunting for new offenders; and the people of Oakland will mourn their dead.
While the loss of life is sad, fires will continue to happen… Art however, taken over by the powers that be at conglomerates are us… May not.
So before you shake you fist and demand that “something must be done” (Reaction), consider all sides of the solutions. Come together as communities to preserve your culture, and stave off the landlords, and the Wholefoods’ Condo encroachments. You would do well to volunteer your energy to help your local eccentric artists, and not stand by while they are eliminated and legislated out of existence. Face it…. These are the people that make life interesting, and in the end, make both urban and country life safe for free thought.
I leave it in your hands.
Jack Blood is a Seasoned geopolitical analyst, Former radio Talk show host, Musician. Former Activist, and Culture Jammer. *Archives, and further info can be found at Deadlinelive.info / www.facebook.com/JackBloodNews / www.facebook.com/deadoncue/
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