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Oakland’s First First Friday Since the Pandemic was Exactly What I Needed

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Crowd at First Friday in Downtown Oakland.

Oakland is a city of contrast and creativity. The beauty of Oakland is found within this conflict. The struggle of the flat lands juxtaposed against the prosperity in the hills, the pothole-laden streets where homes sell for upwards of a million dollars, the way your windows shake when a car drives by blaring music with an unreal amount of bass — it’s all part of the experience.

Oakland is a city that can make you smile, it can also make you cry, but even when ‘the Town’ has you shedding tears, at least you’re feeling something and something is better than nothing. And nothing captures the beauty and the blight of everyday existence in Oakland better than the art that it inspires. For many, First Friday is the main point of access to Oakland’s, and by proxy, much of Northern California’s vast art scene. 

But unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, First Friday, along with pretty much every other aspect of normal life, was placed on indefinite hiatus. However, with the increased availability of the COVID-19 vaccine, slowing but surely, life is returning to normalcy. And for Oakland, First Friday is part of that normalcy. Luckily for me, I was there to document the first First Friday since the beginning of the Pandemic, and while this in no way points to an end of the traumas associated with the virus, it is a sign that we’re heading in the right direction. 

Woman walking on Telegraph.

First Friday is more than an art walk, it is so ingrained in the Oakland experience now that it can be considered as a tourist attraction. I suppose it’s fitting that Oakland’s equivalent to San Francisco’s pristine MOMA is a graffiti-filled party with art created mostly by locals. While initially rejected, First First is now completely embraced by city hall and can be described as an entry-level Oakland experience.

Vendor at First Friday.

Nearly everyone has heard of First Friday, at least in the Bay, but despite it growing beyond a ‘locals only’ event, it provided a lucrative space for artists from Oakland and the greater Bay Area to showcase their unique talents. It also allowed several street vendors, selling everything from food to beer, to pretty much anything else you can think of, a place to set up shop.

People wearing BLM shirts at First Friday.

First Friday isn’t just a big party for people to get a taste of Oakland’s art scene; the event is also deeply political, as nothing in Oakland is too far away from the fight for racial equality and class struggle. The modern Black Panther Party regularly has a booth set up on First Friday to recruit and pass out literature, it isn’t uncommon to be approached by activists from any number of leftist groups, ready to educate you on a myriad of topics covering local issues like tenants’ rights, and broader national discussions regarding police accountability, universal healthcare, student debt, and access to abortion.

Woman with sunglasses.

If you go to First Friday without an urge to burn down the system, don’t worry, by the end of the night, you’ll surely leave with one. Hating capitalism is a Bay Area tradition. We’ve been doing it before social media. The rest of you are just catching up on the Bay’s old shit with your edgy politigram posts. Which is typical since the Bay has always been ahead, but that’s a different article.

Camera-shy cops.

The best part of attending First Friday after such a long lockdown, was just being able to be around people. It felt surreal to be at an event of this magnitude. It was beautiful.

Busy liquor store.

I almost forgot what First Friday or even a crowded street in Downtown Oakland was like. The smell of the food, the sound of live music, the art and the artists, not to mention actually having conversations with strangers offline, it almost felt retro. I had to ask myself if I took a time machine to the summer of 2019 because, despite the masks, nothing changed.

Neon Cross

That’s not to say we should all celebrate or act like the pandemic is over, it’s clearly far from over. People still refuse to get vaccinated, and, as a result, people are still getting sick and dying of COVID, but little things like First Friday can make you feel better. Being able to even have first Friday in 2021 made me feel like things will be okay. Maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow, but we’re getting there and a step in the right direction, no matter how small it may appear, is still a step.

Mistah Fab and I

Plus I got to hang out with Mistah Fab for a second, so there’s that. 

It may be a bit premature to say “nature is healing,” but Oakland definitely is, and that’s good enough for me, at least for now. See you next First Friday…

Hopefully.

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Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

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