A MESSAGE ON SAFE(R) SPACES

“The world hasn’t been a very kind place lately”. These are the words of Cash Askew’s stepfather, Haire. Cash was one of the humans whose life was lost in the recent Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, and was a musician and a friend to several of our friends in the Portland community.

It’s true. The world hasn’t been a very kind place lately, especially to those who face a tougher experience already - people of color, queer and trans communities, victims of assault, Indigenous folks… sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether we’re actually moving forward or if we’re on some surreal Westworld narrative loop.

If nothing else, the past six months have proven that when we’re talking about alternative spaces, “safe” has to mean two things. It has to mean that the space is actively fighting against systems of oppression and creating an environment that is inclusive and intersectional - and it also has to mean that it is physically safe.

This issue of safety - both physical and mental, was the reason we put programming on pause in late July and started looking for a new location. Marrow’s old building wasn’t unsafe, but to be honest it wasn’t entirely up to code either. And not having windows or a proper door could be unnerving sometimes, too - allowing anyone to walk in, regardless of their agenda or what programming we were running inside.

Our members actually loved our old building. As a product of volunteer repairs, donated materials, and furniture from Craigslist, it had a decidedly DIY feel to it. It’s a familiarity that anyone who has deviated (willingly or not) from the “norm” understands. It’s a learned affection that we have for these spaces - because the other spaces are never truly ours. They belong to people with money, people with power, people who belong to the 1%. They belong to adults.

This is why we moved out of a converted garage and into a more “traditional” space (a former office building). The new space is a stretch on our budget, for sure. We can’t do it alone. But it will belong to our teens, just as our last space did. They set the tone. They decide what goes on our walls, what our values are, what programming we offer, what we fight for.

And the space doesn’t have to be unsafe to be theirs. It doesn’t have to be cold, poorly lit, without bathrooms, lacking a proper door or windows. It doesn’t have to be a fire hazard. It can be bright, and warm, and safe. It can be expensive. And in a traditional building. And THEIRS.

And it will be. The people behind Marrow, and behind these teens - myself, my fellow staff, our volunteers, our donors - they get it. One experience we ALL share is that we were all teenagers once. 

Inclusive, all ages music venues don’t have to be unsafe. Alternative education programs don’t have to be in converted garages. We have the power to stop relegating vulnerable communities to crappy spaces. It isn’t on these communities alone, but on the community at large. We can occupy these spaces that would belong to the majority otherwise. Together we ARE the majority. These spaces can be ours.

“The world hasn’t been a very kind place lately”, but I’ve seen the teens in our community hold one another up. On election night I drove one member to another member’s house so she wouldn’t have to be alone as our country took an unsteady step into a precarious future. They deserve this space, where they can learn, study, rest, create, plan, grow, relax, breathe, vent, exist, and come together - and be safe doing it.

- daylynn lambi, program director/founder