Oakland fair connects locals with activism and advocacy groups

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Helen and Donald Lau-Cheney stood in front of the Oakland Peace Centre (OPC) entrance, watching a line of people waiting to collect their freshly screen-printed “Don’t Mourn, Organize” posters. The sun bounced off Helen’s rose gold glasses and reflected the buzzing crowd that had turned out to attend the Activism and Advocacy Resource Fair in Oakland on Sunday.

“I wanted to find out more about how to help, especially with all the stuff in the news. It affects me personally,” she said.

“I know a lot about national organizations, but I want to find out how to help out locally, both with body power and financially,” her husband added.

The event included advocacy workshops on issues such as animal welfare, immigration and climate change, plus a chance for visitors to meet staff and volunteers from local and regional social justice organizations and for people learn how to be more involved in activism.

“We’re organizing people to get organized,” said event organizer and OPC intern Virginia White.

This was the second resource fair held by the group; the first was organized in four days following the November election. “We thought it was kind of an emergency response to the election results—and not even emergency in the reactive sense, but really a time to say ‘We don’t want to be hopeless right now,’” White said.

“What we wanted to do was create a space where people could say ‘Here we are, we’re a powerful community, we’re going to stand up and do something about this,’” she continued.

After the first fair was such a success on such short notice, White was inundated with calls, emails and messages to hold another.

At the first fair, over 400 people attended, with 33 organizations providing information and resources. At this weekend’s event, 49 organizations tabled, and a wide variety of groups, from Animals against Extinction to East Bay Forward, held 13 workshops. Some 750 people registered for the OPC mailing list and event organizers estimate that 1,200 to 1,500 attendees came through the doors.

Since 2011, the Oakland Peace Centre, located in the First Christian Church in downtown Oakland, has provided an affordable space for community members, local activists, artists, educators and non-profits to use either for free or at very low cost, and as a space for events and workshops.

“Oakland Peace Centre is both a collective and a physical space. … It’s 40 different organizations who have a shared vision of equity access and dignity for all people, creatures and creation in the Bay Area, as the means of creating peace. Twelve of those organizations have office space in our building and a number of them use our space,” said Sandhya Jha, the center’s director.

The center staffers are currently in the process of transferring the ownership of the building from the church to themselves, which will allow them more decision-making flexibility and the opportunity to renovate the building, making it more accessible for all.

The Facebook page for Sunday’s event, titled “Together We Can: Post-inauguration Resource Fair,” received over 8,000 “interested” RSVP’s, which Jha believes spiked after the success of the Women’s March. Oakland’s branch of the march drew an estimated 84,000 participants.

“What we didn’t realize when we planned this was what a galvanizing thing the Women’s March was going to be,” she said. “Our numbers were good before, but as the Oakland Women’s March wound down, we posted a little message saying ‘Wasn’t this an inspiring event? Do you want to figure out what to do now? Come to the resource fair.’… I think we saw a pretty significant spike in numbers at that point.”

Members of organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Speak Out Now, an East Bay revolutionary socialist group; the Oakland Public Library; Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ),  a national network organizing white people for racial justice; and Narika set up information tables to speak to attendees about registering as volunteers, signing petitions, or how to donate or get involved in local activism.

Narika is Bay Area-based domestic violence helpline and support group for South Asian women, including refugees. “We came here today to connect with potential volunteers and people who are interested in our work,” said Sridevi Prasad, outreach volunteer for Narika. “We are here to make sure people get the information they need.”

The Oakland Public Library were also tabling and providing information. “The library is a place for everyone,” said Mana Tominaga, a supervising librarian. “We provide a welcoming space for everyone, with reading lists and resources, including ‘fake news’ workshops.”

Within the “fake news” workshops, attendees are directed towards reputable library resources and have the opportunity to learn skills in order to recognize fake news reports.

Volunteers also held workshops such as “Islamophobia and its Impact,” offered by the Islamic Networks Group; “The Romance of Housing Policy” led by East Bay Forward and “Know Your Rights: Interacting with Law Enforcement” by CAIR, the Council on American–Islamic Relations.

Saba Maher, a CAIR civil rights coordinator, led the workshop, which discussed the rights of citizens, visa holders and undocumented immigrants. Touching on the recent heightened airport screenings and President Donald Trump’s January 25 immigration ban executive order, Maher said, “For civil rights organizations and attorneys, the executive order has been a nightmare. …This ban puts a pause on people’s lives and depending on where that is, it could be a death sentence.”

Francesca Cappelini, who works for the East Bay Community Law Center, came to the fair because she was interested in learning about the different resources available. “I want to be more aware about what resources are on offer in the community, particularly about immigrant housing,” she said. “The more knowledge and information I have of the different resources, I can refer my clients to ones which would be useful to them.”

Teara Stoop and her two young children were playing in the corner of the main tabling room, while the buzzing crowd moved from table to table collecting colorful flyers. “I wanted to check out what’s going on, what activism there is in the area,” Stoop said.

“I attended a SURJ meeting last month. That’s something I’ll definitely stay involved in. There are so many important issues right now.”

Ariel Deardoff and her boyfriend Brandon Holt heard about the event via a Sierra Club newsletter. Living in San Francisco, Deardoff said she hadn’t found any similar fairs being held in the city, but wanted to get involved in some local activism. “After the election, I wanted to get involved in something. I wanted to find a way to make a difference,” she said.

Despite the title of the event, White was hesitant to say the fair was held only in response to Trump’s inauguration. “I want to emphasize the work we’ve been doing —and of the organizations who attended—has been ongoing for years. There’s been a need to get involved in activism and solidarity for a long time,” she said.

“But in another sense, it is in response to the inauguration and the urgency of all of this work is intensified right now and more people are aware of it,” she continued. “As news comes out day-by-day, there’s a growing desire and recognition that we really do need each other right now. We need to educate ourselves and connect with people in different communities, whether that’s in communities of color, class or immigration status.”

Jha said she was overwhelmed by the interest and support the event received. “This gives me hope,” she said. “I have been doing social justice activism for 20 years, and a lot of the people here have never done it before. So many people are interested—people want to be part of the solution.”

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