Oscar Grant and the Start of Oakland Local

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The impetus for starting Oakland Local
was the murder of Oscar Grant. I’d always thought many people in
Oakland lacked a media outlet–blog or news site–that reflected who they
were and what they cared about–but I’d always felt like starting one
myself was more than I wanted to take on.  Did I have the focus to get
it going? The commitment to social justice it would require to continue?

But
then, as the information about Oscar Grant’s death unfolded, and people
reacted to the killing of a hand-cuffed young man on a train platform,
and to the failure of BART to be immediately accountable, and to
conditions that made some people not want to acknowledge Grant’s death
as the outrageous event it truly was, it became clear, in those days
following the killing, that a lot of voices were being left out of the
media conversation.

Problem was, to my eyes, that the coverage
was unbalanced–there were accounts of merchants’ whose shop windows
were broken as a demonstration turned violent, but no accounts of
people of color whose voices went unheard by mainstream media, or whose
grief was treated as colorful and exotic. And then there was the
question of police accountability–and responsibility–in this death.

As the New Years’ week went on, and events unfolded, the coverage improved a bit–but not really enough.

Why
weren’t there more local people of color voices being heard? Why did so
much of the media degrade into us and them? And why weren’t more
perspectives on Oscar’s death, the BART police, and what passed for
justice able to be accessed?

“There has to be a way to have a
more diverse range of voices be heard in Oakland, ” I told my friends
and my partner. “This is just not balanced, not rounded in any way.”

Those feelings gelled into the idea of a new site for Oakland after I met Kwan Booth,
now our senior producer (and an OL principal), who simultaneously
corrected some of my misconceptions (“People are talking,” he said,
“But not on blogs and social media sites where you can see it,”) and
agreed with some of my arguments (“Yes, the blogosphere and the media
are pretty siloed here.”)

We started to talk about the idea of
building something for Oakland that would be more open than what we saw
in January 2009–a news & community hub that would be a platform for
multiple voices, a place where people with diverse experiences and
views could all share and be heard.

And here it is, a year later, and we’re into the third month of operating Oakland Local. 

Thanks to a grant from J-Lab’s New Voices program and
hard work by a lot of people, Oakland Local is up and running. Judging
by our growth over the past two months, jumping from 10,000 to 19,000
unique visitors a month, there seems to be a genuine need for a site
that is diverse, community-focused, and speaks to a wider audience. Our
blend of reported news and community voices also seems to have hit a
mark, with some member-written stories getting over 1,000 page views
apiece.

Interestingly, while the spark for Oakland Local started
with Oscar Grant’s death, a lot of what we have done to carry it
forward speaks to his life.

The OL coverage of this one-year anniversary of his death–with his killer not yet tried–honors the vibrancy and humanity of a life lost way too young.
It reflects our commitment to highlight the opinions and views of
people who too often feel pushed outside of the mainstream, made into
the Other, and our promise to ourselves to speak truth to power.

Oakland
is a city where moving forward to solve our problems means talking
clearly with one another, then making things happen, We can say “We are
all Oscar Grant,” but what makes the statement meaningful is how we
listen to one another, how we get out of our silos.