'Dancing is part of the resistance:' Oakland's 510 Day celebrates culture, fights gentrification

Oakland is poised to party on Friday to celebrate The Town’s history and culture, and true to form, the festivities will be peppered with political activism and a whole lot dancing.  

“We have a long history of political activism,” said Nicole Lee, the executive director of Urban Peace Movement, one of the organizers of 510 Day at Lake Merritt, which starts with a march at 4:30 p.m. and a potluck and dance party at 5:30 p.m. “Dancing and music are part of the resistance.” 

This year’s theme is “We Still Here,” and the message is pretty much the same as when the event began four years ago: Celebrating Oakland and its culture while standing up to gentrification and displacement. 

Oaklanders fight racism with rally, party

As Lee explained the history of the event, she and other longtime Oakland residents decided to hold a party at the lake four years ago, just about when the housing crisis was coming to a head. They were thankful they were still able to live in Oakland, but nervous and upset many of their friends were moving away to Antioch, Stockton, Tracy and other more affordable cities.

Then, last year, about 10 days before 510 Day (Yes, they chose May 10 on purpose) BBQ Becky happened. A white woman calling 911 because two African-American men were grilling at the lake in a non-designated spot went viral, after Michelle Snider captured some of the aftermath on video.

Many people in Oakland, and beyond, were more than angry. 

Those intense emotions made last year’s 510 Day at the lake its biggest success ever. 

“It really became a response to BBQ Becky,” Lee said. “We used to get 100 or so folks. But last year, we had 700 or 800. People were really indignant about what happened. They wanted the opportunity to stand up for their hometown and speak out against racism and gentrification.”

Snider, the woman who took the viral video, said she's watched Oakland change so quickly and she wants people to understand that Oakland has many layers, mostly divided by neighborhood. West Oaklanders live different lives than those in the hills, for example, and strangers should try to understand each other better. 

Lee isn’t sure how many people will show up for this year’s event. But she’s hoping the spirit can live on and the energy will be just as electric.

“Last year was really poetic justice,” she said. “It really sent a message across the country. 510 Day shows people that Oakland is a special place. You can’t erase our history.” 

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED: Details about 510 Day are here and here.  There will also be a BBQ at the Lake on Sunday at 10 a.m. hosted by Onsayo Abrams and Kenzie Smith, who have started a nonprofit called  2 Brothers at the Lake. They were the men who were grilling in April 2018 when police came.