By Tim Redmond
NOVEMBER 17, 2014 – It felt as if the whole San Francisco Left was at Mission High School Sunday for Ted Gullicksen’s memorial. The auditorium was packed. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of people coming out to honor the life of a tenant hero.
I ran into former Sup. Harry Britt, a hero himself, in the lobby afterward. He’d gotten there a little late and missed some of the speakers, and like any good atheist, he asked me with disdain if there had been “any prayers.”
Well, no – but Rev. Norman Fong did offer a community blessing. He told us that he remembered a day when he and Ted were about to get arrested at some demonstration or other, and Ted, every practical, told Norman: “Put on your collar.” Maybe the cops would be less likely to beat up a man of the cloth.
“So I put on this collar now for memorials, and for when I am about to get arrested,” he said.
Don’t worry, Harry: His blessing was a reminder that the two most important things in life are compassion and justice. Oh, and he added in joy. That would have made Ted, who loved a good time, happy.
My favorite speaker, I think, was Mara Raider, who described the early days of Homes Not Jails, when Ted helped launch a group that used civil disobedience – and the takeover of vacant spaces – to make the point that a rich city with empty buildings shouldn’t have homeless people on the streets.
The altar outside was full of bolt-cutters, Ted’s weapon of choice to get into locked buildings. She talked about the time when Ted showed her how to use Super Glue to jam a lock and keep the police from closing doors at the Transbay Terminal when the authorities were trying to throw out homeless people.
At the same time, of course, Ted was working his day job at the Tenants Union drafting legislation to address the problem.
“We were,” Mara said, “the only organization to write the laws during the day and them break them at night.”
Sara Shortt, who knew Ted as well as anyone, remembered him (as I did) as both “the calm during the storm” – the voice of reason in a crazy political world – and as someone who could laugh at himself and everything around him.
“He was the solemn movement leader – and the kid cracking jokes in the back of the classroom,” she said.
He was, of course, also very effective: As Randy Shaw pointed out, TRed in 1992 led a campaign to cut annual rent increases that was “probably the biggest transfer of wealth from landlords to tenants in the history of San Francisco.” His list of accomplishments filled the whole back of the event program.
But the people in the room, particularly the younger people, are his greatest legacy. He trained so many tenant activists; he was, as former Tenants Union staffer Rebecca Gourevitch noted, the dean, the professor, and the chief counselor of his own Left University.
And that will live on as long as there is a tenant struggle in San Francisco.