I deliver to you
Torments people go through
Trying to solve problems
Morbid moral tortures
–Benjamin Bac Sierra, State of Grace
The passing of Mayor Ed Lee brought on a tide of emotions occupying spaces of deference to indifference and all shades in between. What was to become a “JFK—where were you when…” moment for the city hit me at about 4 am. I woke and checked my phone. I saw the words, “Mayor Ed Lee dead.” My first thought was hoax.
I scrolled the reactions of digital acquaintances. The responses were surprising. There were heartfelt condolences and sympathy from those whose responses I thought would be the opposite. I reflected on the mayor’s death and thought about the death of Mayor Moscone, and how, as a student at Mission High School, I had sat in history class in silence, as the announcement of his death—and the death of Supervisor Milk—was being made.
I remember meeting Moscone when I was a young kid. He was campaigning, passing out literature in my neighborhood. He looked down at me as I approached, smiling, and said, “And how are you today young man?”
Remembrances of Mayor Lee poured in: young attorney fighting for tenant’s rights and for opening the ranks of a historically exclusionist and racist fire department to African Americans — and not least, the first Chinese American to serve as the city’s mayor. How could one not appreciate these achievements? I walked to City Hall where a memorial had taken hold, growing, spreading by the hour with flowers, notes, pictures, mementos—one that read: Mayor of the Mission.
Amid the outpouring of emotions from the public, I ask myself, how do I feel? How is one supposed to feel? How do I feel walking the streets of the city? The broken minds, bodies, and spirits are scattered about, limbs attached to torsos that drag across a canvas bearing the traces of evictions, forgotten people, forgotten history, disrespect—indifference. Politics is confusing, it is convoluted—the talk, the statistics gleaned from committees and commissions presented in chambers that, for the most part, resemble a bad church. The bureaucracy and its processes seep through, care cloaked in indifference. Straight answers are a series of questions that don’t quite get answered. How do I feel? How is one supposed to feel?
I remember Iris Canada, the 100-year-old woman evicted from her home. I remember the tragedy of that situation and the indifference shown towards it. The betrayal of Iris was a wound that is still felt in a city that continues to carve its streets and sever its connections in the blink of an eye, the bat of a bureaucratic eyelash. And there’s the image of Neil Taylor’s metal walker in the back of a DPW truck while out-of-towner’s reveled in the Super Bowl festivities.
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To me, that image sums up the state of our city, what is has been, and what it continues to be.
How does one feel? How does a city feel when its capacity to feel is desiccating? How do you feel when you see your city die, little by little? How do you feel? How does it feel to watch your city blow it and not be able to do a damn thing about it?
The mayor has passed. The city is passing. How do you feel? How is one supposed to feel?