A Testament to Street Spirit’s Justice Journalism

The game was rigged against the poor, but I will always relish the fact that Street Spirit took on the Oakland mayor and city council for their perverse assault on homeless recyclers. For me, that was hallowed ground. I will never regret the fact that we did not surrender that ground.

by Amir Soltani

Note to friends: Terry Messman, the editor of Street Spirit, the East Bay’s newspaper for the homeless and vulnerable, just announced his plans to retire. Terry was our closest ally and partner in what became the fight to protect Oakland’s recyclers. This is a note to Terry on behalf of all of us at Dogtown Redemption.

Dear Terry,

I can’t begin to put in words the impact you have had on my life, spirit and work. It is beyond words.

Your passion as Street Spirit’s editor was the great wave that allowed our film, Dogtown Redemption, allowed our subjects, allowed me and Zach and others, to have a voice, to act on our love, to stand in solidarity with a world whose vulnerability and beauty, love and light was held in the mirror of your heart, even while it was being extinguished in the streets before us.

Street Spirit is a monumental, even prophetic, testament to what journalism grounded in justice can be and do. And what is justice without joy?

One of my happiest moments ever was having your network of homeless vendors sell our film alongside Street Spirit. It did not change the world, but, at least for me, it proved that we can imagine and even create our own ideas of economy and community.

And what is justice without a fight?

Even though the game was rigged against the poor, I will always relish the fact that Street Spirit took on the Oakland mayor and city council for their perverse assault on the recycling center.

For me, that was hallowed ground, and I will never regret the fact that we did not surrender that ground. It gave so much life to so many people.

Thank you Terry, thanks for believing in our film and work, thanks for seeing and reflecting the dignity in the lives of Oakland’s recyclers at a time when persecuting the poor has become a reflex, if not an ideology.

Your life, work and paper fill me with joy. And what is faith if not joy?

I am deeply touched and moved that your newspaper will continue to serve the poor in the Bay Area and beyond. I thank Sally Hindman for believing in what you have created and connecting your legacy back to our youth.

You kept us all human Terry, you really did, and did so while your health and that of your family was deteriorating, did so after AFSC closed your program in a way that none of us ever understood.

Amir Soltani (at right) joins with recycler Ohio Smith (left) to protest the closure of Alliance Recycling by the City of Oakland.

 

No matter what the crisis, issue after issue, you kept the newspaper and the website alive, you connected and curated and affirmed and protected a community that could never be extinguished, not while you stood guard.

You absorbed all that stress and strain, but without you, I hate to imagine what would have happened to the hundreds of homeless vendors bound to Street Spirit.

Terry, you taught us all the true meaning of faith — refusing to give up on your fellow human beings when you had every reason to do so. To me, the face of every faith flowered through the pages of Street Spirit.

Because of your strength and faith, Street Spirit lives on, and a new generation steps forward into a space that secured the life of thousands of homeless and poor Americans.

On behalf of the entire Dogtown Redemption team, I salute you. I wish you a happy retirement, and look forward to the brilliance, the music, that you and your lovely family will summon next.

Beautiful man, beautiful life. Give us more, always more.

And of course, our very best to Alastair and Alejandro. We stand by them as we stood by you.

Love,

Amir

Amir Soltani is the co-author of Zahra’s Paradise, a graphic novel about human rights violations in Iran, and the director of Dogtown Redemption, a film documentary about the lives of homeless recyclers in West Oakland.

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