An open letter to the mayor on free speech, evictions — and why only the rich seem to get access to Room 200
by Tommi Avicolli Mecca
MAY 14, 2015 — Dear Mayor Ed Lee:
What happens when 1,000 San Franciscans come to City Hall, as they did on May 8, to see their so-called representatives and to demand that their government declare a state of housing emergency during one of the city’s worst housing crises ever?
They are met with barricades, locked doors, and sheriffs who confiscate their banners and tell them they can’t distribute leaflets in City Hall, the seat of their government. Republican Ron Conway, your Silicon Valley investor friend, wouldn’t be treated the way we the people were. Your door is always open to him and his buddies with the big bucks. I’m sure if he dropped in on you unexpectedly, the red carpet would be rolled out for him.
It’s one of the reasons so many people in this city are pissed off at you. We are losing the very heart and soul of our city, and you can’t even make an effort to speak to us about our concerns. You must have known we were coming. Certainly the police and the sheriff did. They were out in full force to limit our freedom of assembly, speech, and expression.
At least one member of the coalition organizing the action was told by a sheriff that he couldn’t bring leaflets into City Hall. Our banners were taken from us after we hung them over the railings above the stairs. We weren’t destroying property. We didn’t attach them in any way. We were holding them.
A sheriff told me it was against building policy to have banners in City Hall. Yet that same afternoon, as I was leaving, I saw a banner displaying the names of corporate sponsors hung on the wall for an event that was being set up in the same space we had occupied. One policy for activists, another for corporations?
Don’t you get that we the people are hurting? More than 8,000 Latino families have been displaced from the Mission since 2000. African Americans are barely 7% of the city now. LGBT youth make up about 40% of homeless youth. More than 3,000 children are living in vans and in church basements with their families. Almost 7,000 people are homeless. Evictions are at the highest they’ve been in years. Neighborhoods that once were home to working-class immigrants, artists and queers, such as Valencia Street, feature $4 slices of toast and apartments for $4,000 or more.
We are fighting for our families, our friends, our artists, our communities of color, our LGBT community, our working-class communities, ourselves. We are fighting so that San Francisco remains the city we’ve all come to love. For many of us, it’s a city of refuge, a place where immigrants and queers and those who don’t fit in anywhere else can live in relative safety.
We will not let you rest, Mayor Lee. We will give you no peace until you give us what we want: an end to the evictions, the displacement, the gentrification. Enough affordable housing for all those who need it, including the homeless. And no more luxury pied-à-terres for the rich.
If you can’t deliver these things, then step down and let someone else occupy room 200.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a longtime housing activist