What I’m about to write is likely to result in accusations of me being a communist. I fully support actions like the following:
The building unveiled today as the Victor Martinez Community Library was part of a Carnegie Foundation endowment of four libraries given to the city of Oakland between 1916 and 1918. Oakland’s librarian at the time, Charles S. Greene, believed that the city’s people would benefit most from libraries placed within their communities.
Despite this vision, the building was one of seven branch casualties of budget cuts in the late seventies, severing vital library life-lines in poor and working communities. Since then, the “Latin American Branch” library building located at the corner of Miller and 15th st. has mostly sat empty, despite the fact that the next nearest library is miles away, and increasingly difficult to access in a city like Oakland with an increasingly expensive transit system. With its eroding chain link fence and decaying, armored exterior, the building is much more than an eyesore; the unused, but inaccessible, space creates a life-draining dark vacuum of stability that serves at best as a convenient place for the unscrupulous to dump their old mattresses, couches and assorted garbage.
This morning, a group of activists opened this building again for use as a library. Inside is the modest seed for a library and community center—hundreds of books donated by people who envision the rebirth of local, community-owned libraries and social and political centers throughout Oakland. We’ve named the building after recently deceased author, Victor Martinez, who overcame a young life of hard agricultural work to become a successful writer in the Bay Area. His semi-autobiographical novel, Parrot in the Oven, has become a seminal work of the Latino experience. Martinez died last year at 56 of an illness caused by his work in the fields.
I know, I know, only a dirty communist would support a group of activists opening up an abandoned building for public use. Bear with me for a moment. The building that the activists opened was a sealed up public library. As I’ve stated before I don’t believe the state has any legitimate claim to property ownership and therefore I don’t believe they have a right to take a building paid for by tax victims and seal it up. Why let such a building lie vacant? Why not put it to use? Just because the state doesn’t want to use it doesn’t mean members of the community don’t want to use it.
Hopefully activists in Oakland will spend more time on actions like this and less time on bitching about the nebulous “one percent.”