Features, It's Complicated

Let This Be Your Safe Space: Reflecting On Oakland, Orlando, and Where to Exist Now


In June of 2016, I found myself in a small venue in San Francisco. The DJ booth was positioned in the center of a tiny white room, just one foot off the ground. There was no separation between the ‘talent’ and the party-goers. We all crowded around the small booth creating a sort of orbit, in a room with walls we had adorned earlier that day with red vinyl stickers, t-shirts, small frames, and an installation of light projections. I had just entered a new community. About three hours into the party, I was standing at the back of the venue, so excited about everything I was encountering (I literally called my Mom the next day to say that I was making it, beaming with joy in every way). I stood at the back bopping my head, panning the room full of POC hipsters and young artists, dancing like a fool next to my new friends, and then this really special moment happened. As the beat dropped to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” everyone in the room, jumped up, one hand in the air and hit it–feet touching the ground as they spit out, “We going be alright” in unison. It was magic. My boss turned to me and said, ‘this is pretty sick’. That shit stuck with me. That was a safe space. For once in a long time, I was so so sure it was going to be alright. We could all feel it.

That’s what safe spaces did for me. Us kids who never fit in found spaces in them. I spent a large portion of my summer making and occupying these safe spaces. And they gave me home in a way I didn’t know I’d spent all of my life searching for.

I work in Oakland, the place where the tragic fire happened at a warehouse in December 2016. GhostShip is in many ways just like the art collective I work with–full of young, budding, often struggling artists full of a special kind of brilliance. We created safe spaces, full of underground hip-hop, car art installations, and non-judgmental, cool people.

In the response to the fire, the media has made art collectives out to be the bad guy. Yes, we weren’t always up to code. But it wasn’t about that. It was about this need to preserve communities, connect, give breathing room, giving room to mob out and go stupid (regardless of if the floors weren’t even, and the sprinklers weren’t working). Oakland, where the fire took place, is arguably the most gentrified city in America–facing sky-high rent prices that have displaced communities of marginalized people in an unprecedented way. There’s a need for what we create, no matter what anybody said. Those spaces save lives. They are the reason so many of us are here and exist in important ways. So many of us make art to share in these places, and that art– finding a space to express ourselves – keeps us alive. It makes us feel alive. They lack judgment and exude love from their fraying edges and cracked walls.  

Unfortunately, Oakland is the second safe space we have lost this year, with the horrific mass shooting of Orlando’s Pulse gay nightclub earlier this year being the first.  Not only was the sheer number of people we lost in these two incidents insane – the number of POC, queer, trans and otherwise marginalized people we lost is fucking terrifying.

In light of losing physical safe spaces, I want to create this safe space for you. Music has been saving people for decades. Let it save you. When nothing feels safe, come here and find something that feels good. If there are no venues and homes for you to feel liberated and yourself in, there is music that is. In light of Orlando, in light of Oakland, it can be scary to believe in the sacred safe space. It exists. And if for a while, not in a way that you can put your body in, it can manifest in your mind. Don’t abandon the safe space. Just move it. Change it. The safe space is important. The safe space remains important, even if you feel like it doesn’t to anyone else. Even if you feel like the holy ground has been snatched from under your feet too many times. There is mourning to be had, grief to feel and live through, and healing to come. When it feels like safety has been ripped from your hands, find it somewhere else. It exists. The internet, just like GhostShip and Pulse, has saved lives. And it has unlimited space. When venues have capacities on heads/bodies they can fill, this place does not. Everyone is welcome.

I have been finding safe spaces in some music (no surprise there). It sucks that this feels like the millionth piece I have had to write about healing, about getting better, about believing in a better time. I really do believe in it, even when right now it really feels like it might not be there. I published a piece on healing already. But below, I’ve outlined a few more tracks to add to the list. The healing keeps coming. It needs to. It’s been a hard few months.

Jessie Reyez, “Figures”

A lovesick and slightly angry track, Reyez explores how good it would feel to give a boy who hurt him a bit of his own medicine, how he doesn’t know how she really feels. Mourning the loss of this community has made me angry at so many moments. Like, no one gets how I feel. Like, no one gets how bad this is. I spent hours the day I found out scrolling through social media posts about what felt like utter bullshit so frustrated that the fire wasn’t the only thing people we’re talking about. Jessie is upset, saying “I wish I could hurt you back”. I don’t really have anyone I want to hurt back, but in people being unknowingly insensitive to this loss, I definitely get a little bitter in moments–it’s part of grieving. This song lets you live that out.  

Alicia Keys, “Hallelujah”

In times like these, sometimes you just have to be thankful for the fact that you are alive at all. Alicia Keys, struggling in so many ways, finally fully lets the pain in when she sings this track. I don’t always know about religion, but this song feels as close to a safe, holy space as I can find right now. “I’ve been strong for so long,” she sings. We all have. We don’t have to be. The hurt is there. The hurt is bad. It might make you want to cry, or scream, or punch some shit. I’m letting it in, like Alicia. All of it. And I’m trying to just be thankful to have the chance to.


December 13, 2016

About Author

Siya Bahal Siya Bahal is a writer, hustler, and full-time consumer of tea. You can find her finessing and doing other things on the internet at https://twitter.com/siyalaterrr

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