Saturday, July 10, 2004

Wonderful party.

Point Richmond is a very interesting little community. Its residents live on the Bay shore edge and literally in the shadow of the Chevron/Texaco refinery. It is separated only by the Interstate that forms the gateway to the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. It's a little village of historic Victorians on tiny lots, combined with an occasional modern architectural gem. This is where the arts community has settled, with many well-known architects, engineers (oil related), photographers, designers, chemists, and actors -- creating a vibrant place to work and play. There are former city council members, retired state legislators, and at least one former mayor of the city, a resident for 40 years. It's a stable community with some of the most dramatic scenic views in the entire Bay Area. Unlike many cities along the waterfront that have squandered their shorelines to industrialization, Richmond has retained much of its bayfront for future development. The reasons have less to do with wise planning than with the fact that much of the shoreline consists of brown-fields -- ground so heavily contaminated during the war years that -- only over the past few decades has the technology existed to return the land to safe redevelopment. We're in the beginnings of the upsurge of that development now, and it's an exciting place to be. Being in a position to help to shape of the changes is exciting to ponder.

It's also true that Point Richmond is largely white-owned, with a significant percentage of its residents being petroleum industry retirees.

Not more than two miles away, in the Iron Triangle section, exists the poorest section of the city. That area is composed of 90% of the 40% African American portion of the population. It has the highest crime rates in the city plus an (unsurprising) 40% unemployment rate. The contrasts are staggering. Nowhere are the social and economic differences more stark than here. However, I'm fascinated by the fact that the same demographics one finds in the welfare and food stamp lines are present on the country club golf course. This city, though racially separated residentially due to economic factors, it has reached a level of successful social and racial integration that is rarely seen elsewhere in my country.

The Summer Music Festival I attended last night (and fundraiser for Eddrick) featured the Dave Matthews Blues Band. The attendees as well as the performers were a blend of the African American, Euro-Americans, and Latinos that make up the lion's share of the city's population. However, there was a noticeable absence of the large Asian (Laotian) refugee folks who haven't yet acculturated into the mix. These are the boat people who arrived here about 25 years, and are still dazed by western culture, I believe. Their numbers are substantial, but their presence is rarely seen except in those instances where they've been specifically sought out. The language barrier is still too strong to allow for easy access into that world. Translators are still necessary for even the most elementary kinds of cross-cultural activities. I'm sure that this will change over the next 5 years as their young people now graduating from our educational institutions, begin to take their places in the larger world.

This is a fascinating city, but one that is a study in contradictions. Though less than four miles (by interstate) from Berkeley and within plain view of San Francisco, little of the political sophistication of those cities has reached Richmond. I've found here a unique and distinctive Richmond culture, stubbornly provincial on the one hand, and a repository for national history found nowhere else in California. The provincialism forms a kind of coating around the political life and is not easily whisked away, despite all efforts to the contrary.

Except for Point Richmond and the exclusive nearby Brickyard Cove (similar to Tiburon and Belvedere across the Bay), most of those who spend their days in the office parks and laboratories here actually live elsewhere. After five o'clock, the city is returned to the locals, with even the public safety personnel leaving to spend their money and time in surrounding cities and towns. I suspect that the same might be said for Oakland, which appears void of all life in the downtown areas after dark.

The inner core of many major cities may boast majority-minority representation in their civic governments, while being actually controlled by regional and corporate power beyond their city limits. There is the illusion of power, always. Those who work in this city but live beyond the borders don't have to live with the effects of policies influenced into place by outside players. It's a Catch 22, and a political anomaly that has thus far defied solution. To try to debate this openly could topple what fragile political structure there is, and might seriously threaten the stability of the institutions that govern our daily lives.

Nonetheless, I see opportunity everywhere I look, and innumerable chances to alter the dynamics in one way or another. I'm not nearly smart or powerful enough to actually effect such changes, but the mere possibility keeps me trying. So long as I continue to feel the "seduction of the possible," I will surely remain in the game.

The fact that I've progressed to the point where I can be satisfied to mentor potential new leadership and to see that as an important contribution, may prove that I'm still evolving. The next step will come when I'm willing to accept the possibility that others can be trusted with the 'changing of the world' -- as I step off the stage and into the wings of the next one... .

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