Spectator to the Spectacle
I’ve been spending this election season as a spectator on the sidelines, perhaps for the first time in my adult life. Normally I’m covering politics as a journalist, writing about the races in the run-up to the election and racing from party to party on Election Night, posting all the way.
That 24-year streak ended last year when the San Francisco Bay Guardian was shuttered a couple weeks before the election and shortly after we issued our endorsements. So now, I’m just Joe Citizen, content to limit my participation in San Francisco “democracy” to just casting a ballot.
Well, almost. There are a few things that I can say from sidelines, shouted out by a fan of politics who has studied San Francisco’s carefully for the last decade. But honestly, I’m fine not being in the game this time, because I am disappointed by what I see on the field, particularly in the opposing players and fans.
Let’s start with the good, positive stuff. Aaron Peskin is a smart, passionate leader who cares about the people of this city, all the people, and his return to the Board of Supervisors will help expand the city’s political dialogue. Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has done a great job as the top cop at a time when police everywhere having been coming under long overdue public scrutiny, boldly championing humane treatment of the accused in the face of tough obstacles. And I’m happy to see Tom Temprano running such a strong race for the City College board and I hope he wins because the city needs him in public life. I’ve known all three men for many years and they’re good, honest people with progressive values, strategic in their thinking but totally inclusive in their approach.
They’re running against appointees of a Mayor’s Office that has set a terrible tone for this city. It’s divisive, duplicitous, mean-spirited, and overly enamored with rich capitalists, particularly from the tech world. It triggered a wave of hyper-gentrification and evictions with its simplistic “jobs, jobs, jobs” policy focus, which it is now trying to address with the equally facile “housing, housing, housing” monomania. It cynically uses identify politics to push its neoliberal agenda, trying to make the conversation about anything but how the rich are exploiting the people and the planet.
For example, if there were reasonable, public-spirited people calling the shots in the Mayor’s Office, Propositions F and I wouldn’t be on the ballot. The only reason that either measure is there is because of the unwillingness of those in power to engage in a good-faith discussion with the rest of San Francisco about the biggest issue facing this city: who gets to live here, and who gets forced out.
I was the first local journalist to start regularly reporting on Airbnb, its defiance of our laws and refusal to pay its taxes, and the impact that it was having on the city’s housing market, starting with a Bay Guardian cover story in May 2012. Mayor Ed Lee sheltered this scofflaw company for the next year and half, refusing to enforce the law and helping ensure the regulations that did get finally adopted were weak and toothless. They snubbed groups representing tenants, landlords, labor, hotels, and neighborhoods who were all calling for just a few tougher provisions.That’s how we got Prop. F.
Capital is rampaging through San Francisco like Godzilla these days, rapidly changing the landscape and destroying cherished cultural institutions. I live in the Mission and feel the visceral impact of what’s being wiped out and hear the anxiety my neighbors and local small business owners express about whether they’ll be crushed next. It’s sad, and because the Mayor Office wouldn’t help slow the destruction down just a little bit, or offer any kind of response, that’s why we have Prop. I. It’s like a pause button.
We progressives find ourselves in defensive, reactive mode right now, mostly because the capitalists and the Mayor’s Office have been so unrelenting, so scornful of anyone who gets in the way of this latest gold rush, so eager to deliver that final death blow to what’s left of San Francisco’s left. And we don’t even have the Guardian on the beat anymore (although I was happy to see my old colleagues Tim Redmond and Marke B finally get ahold of the name and issue endorsements).
So, yes, here I am, sitting in the cheap seats, watching the action on the field. It’s a pretty good game so far, and I think all of the contests that I’ve referred to could come down the final minutes, to a test of will or some fancy footwork at the goal line. But I’ll be rooting for my teams, as if the soul of the city was at stake, which it might very well be.