Look outside. Did you see the bombs drop this morning? Did you hear the bullets sizzle? Did you cover your ears to protect yourself from the screams of chaos and desperation? Did you smell the smoke? San Francisco is at war right now. Literally, no, but I wouldn’t reduce it down to hyperbole either. Evictions are not peaceful, they are aggressive with clear intention. Businesses being threatened. Cultures and long established neighborhoods and communities being erased, reduced and replaced. This is nothing casual. The people leaving with their bags, memories and broken hearts are not smiling through their evacuation – this exodus at gunpoint. But, what I love so much about San Francisco, historically, is the spirit of justice and the spirit of the fight. Right now the citizenry of San Francisco is in the fight of its life.
Every day I read an article about a protest, rally or serious encounter and I smile to myself. “You fight San Francisco…” I’ve seen an elderly woman stare down a Google bus like it was a tank in Tiananmen Square, I’ve read about rallies for bookstores and bars and protests about evictions. San Francisco – you are fighting! And I love seeing people come together, talk, argue, organize and figure out. The love expressed through your balled fists and breaking voices is beautiful, but as I observe the landscape there is a question that sours my stomach to even ask, but I must. What happens if they stop all the Ellis Act evictions and the hyper-gentrification? What then? What happens if you win?
The question of what everyone is fighting for seems simple enough. “We’re fighting for justice. These evictions are unfair and predatory.” “We’re are fighting for our communities, culture and the soul of San Francisco” “We’re are fighting for our rights to live here in this beautiful city, our home” Yes, but alongside that there is the parallel of “This city isn’t San Francisco anymore”. I’ve read just as many articles and had just as many conversations about evictions, Google Buses and the new Tech wave, as I have had about book/music/art stores and bars closing. Or the music and art scene disappearing. Or personalities of different communities changing and diversity being nonexistent. Or the culture of neighborhoods being disrupted by Air BnB tenants who care nothing about the area. Or neighborhood vibes changing because music venues/bars are being shut down early because of new families that’ve moved in. People have felt naturally disconnected and I’ve wondered what keeps them there?
Talk to people, read the stories and study the climate and you will feel the visceral and pervasive attitude of “we don’t want you here” by both sides. I always wonder how, with all the evictions and attacks on livelihood, people even feel safe in SF. It feels obvious that the ominous ‘they’ want you out and will do whatever possible to do so. I read about businesses being harassed by purchased police and inspectors to close or sell and I feel that even if Ellis Act evictions stopped that they would do something to get people out. Rent checks will mysteriously ‘bounce’ or someone would get evicted due to some other fraudulent loop hole. Even if the people fighting do triumph – I have a strange feeling that many would eventually move voluntarily because they simultaneously feel SF isn’t the city they fell in love with anymore and isn’t worth it’s impossible price of admission.
I must echo that I love and support this fight. The fight for establishments to remain open, the fight for the arts to survive, the fight to stay ‘weird’, and character of SF to remain, but if this is the direction San Francisco is going, those efforts will become nothing more than the food court and entertainment for the monied population. I’m no proponent of quitting, but if, by the admission of many, San Francisco is truly lost and not San Francisco, then what do you gain if you win?
What are your thoughts? Leave them in the comments below.
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photo from SF Gate