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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Arts + Action | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism | Health, Housing, and Public Services | Police State and Prisons | Womyn
Avenge The Ghost Ship: Remembering Denalda
A brief statement and film in memory of our beloved Denalda
I met Denalda on accident. She happened to be living in a squat called the Stay Away when my friend was crashing there. I stayed there one night in late 2012, everyone slept in the same room, and in the morning I left. After months of travel, I arrived back in Oakland to find the Stay Away was still there. Denalda was in the kitchen when I arrived at the door. She told me to come in and much to my surprise there were three people living in the squat whom I had met previously in my travels. One of them had stayed in my house four years earlier, and it was agreed I could stay until I found another squat.
During my time at the Stay Away, I got to know Denalda. She told me stories of coming home drunk in the middle of the night, painting symbols on the ground, and accidentally cutting herself on glass. She said she sometimes would lose control, although in her day to day life she was very calm and precise. She was a psycho queer telepathic witch from hell. And she knew it. There was a large metal pot she used to boil water for a bath. She loved this pot, but when Food Not Bombs came by the squat, she reluctantly gave it back. As much as she hated to do it, Denalda knew that food was more important than her bath. Denalda knew how to share, she gave freely, she held down her room at the Stay Away until the bitter end when the whole building was barricaded and under siege.
The SWAT team raided the Stay Away, the property was flipped, but by then Denalda had found a new place across the valley. She squatted this apartment for a month until the landlord and the police began their eviction attempt. First they sent uniformed police to no avail. Then the landlord was allowed to send in his muscle to try and force everyone out. Denalda withstood this barricade with a few friends, they held out against another police encirclement, but in the end she decided to leave. It wasn't long until she found her way to another squat in West Oakland.
All the while she was working at the Grand Lake Theater selling tickets. She would bike home sweaty after work, she would let her friends see free movies, and eventually she became the manager. Squatting allowed her some freedom as a service worker. She could work less, she could pursue her music, and she didn't have to pay rent. Every squat in Oakland became even more precious as the waves of gentrification continued to pound the East Bay. The army of house flippers was held back by those crafty squatters who prevented them from being turned into commodities. Denalda lived in four squats between 2012 and 2015. All of them are gone now.
When I knew her, multiple waves of protest hit the Bay Area. First there was the Trayvon Martin demos and riots. Then came the “anti-tech” movement, the movement against gentrification, and the Google Bus blockades. Then there was the Ferguson uprising. On the one hand, people of color were being displaced at an increasing rate. On the other, more white people with high salaries were invading Oakland. In the middle were white people like Denalda who managed to get by working service jobs and sharing a rented house. It was hard to know what to do, but one thing was clear to everyone: it was necessary to pick a side. So then, one night, Denalda made a decision.
She came to a squat party and played music one night in April, 2016. A movie was projected, Denalda sang to everyone, people stood around a fire, people painted banners. Denalda helped plan a home demo against a Google employee named Kevin Rose, a millionaire who joked on his show that it was okay to “snip snip” women's breasts off. When people were deciding what to put on one of the banners, Vera suggested it say “I'ma Snip Snip Yer Ballz.” Denalda agreed, the banners were made, and the next morning everyone went to San Francisco. Denalda wore a black wig and a purple skirt. She stood in front of Kevin Rose's house, she filmed him when he appeared, and she helped deliver a message to the ruling class in the Bay Area. They were no longer allowed to believe that all of their slaves were happy. Some of them were very angry. Some of them wanted to fight back.
After the action, Denalda was relieved she wore a wig. No one imagined such publicity would follow the action. There were offers for reality-television shows, newspaper interviews, and talks with foreign authors. Some of these offers were accepted, but Denalda was also up to something different. I didn't know this at the time, but before the action against Kevin Rose, Denalda and Vera decided to walk around Oakland disabling surveillance cameras with pink paint. They wrote communiques on the internet and claimed their actions under the name TWAT (the Technophobic Women's Action Team). All of this came at a time of Google Bus windows getting smashed, bourgeois luxury apartments were being vandalized, and the ruling tech-elite was being challenged at every opportunity. Denalda was part of this. She hid her role while she was alive but now that she is gone, I wish to reveal this to the public. Vera told me it was okay.
Denalda was a rebel who took a clear stand against the forces aligning against the people around her. She did what she could in a time of scarcity, precarity, and hyper-gentrification. If everyone who moved to Oakland between 2012 and 2016 had done what she did, the city might be in a different situation. At a time when outsiders were being asked to do something other than passively invade, Denalda silently played her role in a movement against gentrification. She remained in the squatting movement until the last of her houses was evicted and flipped by the capitalists. After that I lost touch with Denalda. The last I talked with her was in the spring of 2015. She told me she had to start renting, she told me she was focusing on her music, she told me she was tired of fighting for a place to live. After that I never saw her again.
I was given permission to tell you these stories by her friend Vera. I wish to honor her fierceness, her rebellion, her artistry, and her passion for a different world. She was a rebel who knew how to act. Many of you knew her as someone else, but this was the person I knew. I will remember her the rest of my life and I will never forget what she did. I loved her in the brief time we had together. She meant more to me than I can possible convey to you now. Her death should not only be remembered, it should be avenged. The Ghost Ship fire was meant to make us all feel expendable and our lives meaningless. Let us transform our rage and confusion into action against those who are committed to ruining our lives. Never forget anyone who was lost or the worlds they fought for. Never forget Denalda. Never forget each other.