10+ Days of Creative Activist Mayhem Coming to San Francisco
The media’s buzzing with the old news of artists’ displacement in San Francisco. Every month the remaining members of the city’s arts community mourn the loss of yet another place where creative people lived or worked together for years. The cause celebre of artist David Brenkus ‘s eviction from his Duboce Triangle home of 34 years—by the husband of a curator of the de Young Museum— galvanized a consortium of stakeholders to take action.
Pivotal in this campaign is the Cultural Action Network (CAN), Eviction Free San Francisco and Brenkus himself, for 10-plus days of creative activist mayhem. The group wants participants to take to the streets in engaging ways—and during the Super Bowl, when the media’s collective eye is focused on us.
While the displacement of artists is central to CAN’s call to action, they are clear that the arts are only part of our urban culture. We also have the cultures of ethnicity, like the Latino community in the Mission or the Chinese community of Chinatown—the places that have made this city feel like a microcosm of the world—at severe risk for further displacement.
We have seen what redevelopment can do, or undo, in this town. The city gutted the Fillmore and Western Addition, the fabulous Harlem of the West, tore down thousands of old Victorians, and closed all the jazz clubs where every great musician in the jazz world played for decades. On my street, now lined with chic boutiques and expensive restaurants, Billie Holiday, B.B. King, Dizzy Gillespie, Big Mama Thornton, Miles Davis, and others played the small Divisadero clubs. Redevelopment was an intentional cultural murder, as David Talbot describes in his excellent book about the city’s cultural history, Season of the Witch.
The atrocity in the Fillmore, in a single sweep, wiped out the culture of the black community, a globally famous music scene, and thousands of architecturally notable buildings. It was a trifecta of odious planning. What happened to the Japanese community here is equally heartbreaking, but at least the redevelopment wasn’t too hideous.
It’s happening once again, in this city, everywhere. The city gets snatched, a bit at a time, from the people who made it what it was— and even being a homeowner doesn’t insure your piece of the rock. Your house might just be on a block that the city wants to tear down and replace with luxury condos. No one is particularly safe any more, and we have two choices. We can wait for something to happen to us personally, or we can rise up off our sofas and join the Cultural Action Network’s SOS San Francisco for days of inspired cultural activism.
The events on the SOS calendar bring attention to the huge gamut of issues facing the city, which I don’t even have to list, because we all know what they are, and CAN is encouraging people to add their own events to the SOS San Francisco list online, as well as showing up for ones organized by members. CAN ringleader Peter Papadopoulos says this is “an autonomous umbrella action,” and David Brenkus calls it a “roll your own kind of event.” Make up your own protest—your creative input is enthusiastically encouraged.
Displacement is an issue that everyone in this city should worry about, not just those who actually live in the ongoing fear of a 3-day Notice to Quit. We live, after all, in a service economy, and we just saw the 93-year old restaurant, Roosevelt’s Tamale Parlor, close because there wasn’t a big enough pool of restaurant workers in the city to keep them staffed. If you work in the service economy, you want to be able to stay here, and if you are a patron of services, you want to keep people here to provide them. The more luxury condos we have, the more services we need, and the greater need we have to keep the people who provide them in their homes. Every single person in this city has an equal stake in stopping displacement. So let’s all meet in the front lines.