On December 2, the deadliest fire in Oakland’s history took the lives of 36 people in our community, when an underground warehouse space we knew well went up in flames. The next morning, we woke up and saw the writing on the wall.
We knew the city government, fire departments, and landlords were going to react, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. Inspectors would get more aggressive, revisiting the spaces they may have overlooked. City administrators would be under a national microscope, facing demands to take action. Landlords would get either nervous or opportunistic, evicting tenants from whom they’d otherwise been happy to collect rent.
We also realized that with its history of passionate activism, the Bay Area would abound with groups and individuals eager to mount efforts to solve the problem — often working at cross-purposes, duplicating efforts and risking doing a disservice to the cause. And it would all be accelerated by the same urgency we felt, as the evictions started happening as we’d feared.
Working quickly, we came up with a noble-sounding name worthy of a ragtag group of artists defending the ramparts against the hordes: We the Artists of the Bay Area (we would regret this later, but more on that to come). We quickly fired up a Facebook group to gather our community. Then we started a Slack account and started inviting friends from our extensive networks, tapping subject matter experts who’d bring the skills, connections and resources needed to address the problem.
And the Next Thing We Knew …
Next thing we knew, in a matter of three whirlwind weeks, we were playing air traffic control to an incredible team of 75 volunteers working across a dozen working groups, with the expressed support from 12,000 people in our community, and fiscally sponsored by the 501(c)3 nonprofit Intersection for the Arts.
What Problem Are We Solving?
When we created WABA, our goals were simple:
- Create a coalition of individuals and organizations looking to help, in an effort to eliminate duplicated efforts, and to maximize everybody’s effectiveness, whether they were working on our team or independently.
- Build lines of communication and coordination that would enable everybody fighting this fight to speak with one voice.
- Provide immediate help to solve the short-term crisis (evictions), and start work on long-term solutions (policy) to this intractable problem.
Underground and entrepreneurial creative culture has long been instrumental to the Bay Area’s history and cultural identity — these spaces are, after all, the modern version of what was once our famed garage start-up culture. Unfortunately, the current support system (permitting, zoning, inspections, insurance, etc.) has not kept up with economic and social reality, driving this culture deeper underground, putting people and property at risk. These problems will only be solved through a courageous collaboration between city officials, landlords and tenants, working together to rewrite the playbook.
Who Do You Think You Are?
One of the complaints we’ve heard was that we were a black box. While that’s a fair criticism, it certainly wasn’t by design, but rather a byproduct of our moving quickly and staying focused in a time of crisis — especially when we all have day jobs. Now that the urgency has eased a bit, we’re focusing on getting our ducks in a row, honing our organizational structure to allow for full transparency and bringing new people onto the team, whether they have 10 hours or 10 months to offer.
The other criticism we heard was that we don’t represent all artists, nor the different groups out there, which we by no means intend to — we are an advocacy group, not an umbrella organization. Unfortunately, publicity happened before we realized our name was problematic in that regard. We decided not to compound the issue by rushing to change our name, and we’re instead focusing on making connections and collaborating to get things done, with the thought that we may change our name if the right occasion and name presents itself.
- First Circle (13 members): Leadership, steering, strategy, administration, air traffic control
- Second Circle (11 team leads + core functional team members): Specialty teams, right-sized for efficiency, effectiveness and redundancy
- Third Circle (Unlimited membership): Extended volunteer pool plugged directly into teams, or ad hoc actors
Anybody wishing to participate in WABA is welcome in the Third Circle, contributing to one or more functional teams. The Second Circle is largely made up of subject matter experts and functionaries that add specific, needed value to their team’s mission. The First Circle’s membership is based on skills, experience, judgment and availability, with term limits, renewable if no viable replacement is available. Anybody is able to move between circles, in any direction and at any time, depending on skills, interest and availability.
Current Leadership Team (alphabetical order)
- Alicia Soliz
- Alix Rosenthal
- Andie Grace
- Colin Fahrion
- Jon Sarriugarte
- Joshua Goldbard
- Lara Edge
- Liana Sananda
- Mischa Steiner
- Pascal Pincosy
- Ray Boyle
- Ron Vidal
- Steve Guilliams
- Tyler Hanson
- Will Chase
- Air Traffic Control / Strategy
- Website / Design
- Government Relations
- Construction & Permitting
- Event Safety
- Knowledge Base
- Community Outreach
- Fundraising & Finance
- Care Taking
- Volunteer Coordination
We absolutely welcome and strongly encourage all who wish to join us in this effort, because there’s a lot to do, it isn’t easy, it’ll take time, and we can’t afford to lose.