It is a very precise place. No plastic bags, no empty bottles, not even in the corners or under the bench. The red plastic edging seems to fence the monument in, to protect it from stranger things. The four bronzes inside are placed symmetrically on two sites framed by a gallery of little busts, bronzed and brushed. Global humanitarians next to local champions: Marcus Foster, Carmen Flores, Oleta Abrams, Fred Korematsu, Rosa Parks, Oskar Schindler, Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela. Proudly, the sculptures honor people in Oakland and around the world who fought for peace, freedom and human rights over the past 150 years.
On this Monday morning, there is not a single cloud in the sky. The bronzes shine weakly under a layer of dust fine enough to allow them to catch some rays. Where the sun hits them, they glow—cold as ice in the shadows. Drills bore monotonously at the uncountable construction sites in downtown Oakland in the distance. Every now and then, a plane overflies the city. The most dominant sound is the chirping of a bird and the squeaking electric garage door from the apartment building at Rashida Muhammad Street.
It is a quiet Monday, and the monument placed inside the Henry J. Kaiser Memorial Park has no visitors. Occasionally, a dog passes by, dragging their owner in their desperate search for an open green. Most of the time, they find a satisfying space in the nearby park. But a big Rhodesian Ridgeback isn’t that lucky. He has to relieve itself on the edge of the monument, his slightly embarrassed owner trying to make him move a bit further.
The monument is not a place people stop by. They cross it just to cut the corner, barely giving the champions a quick look in their rush.
It is half past 11 when a man wearing a too-big shirt with a hemp leaf on it heads towards the sculptures. At the foot of a bronze firefighter, a memorial to 9/11, the man pulls a grinder out of his pocket, starting to roll a joint. As long as it takes to smoke it, he wanders around the monument, reading each champion’s inscription, enjoying the sun and the silence.
A few minutes after he leaves, the silence breaks: lunch time. People from nearby offices stop by, sitting in the sun in the park, observing the champions from a certain distance, chatting.