How do you feel?

The mayor has passed. The city is passing. How is one supposed to feel?

I deliver to you
Not solutions
Torments people go through
Trying to solve problems
Clashing voices
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. 

Street art by Romanowski

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?


  1. The big difference is that people in the 1950s were not forced out of the city. Nobody “owns” a city, but people who live in cities, and have lived and built communities there for decades, deserve the right to stay. That’s what this is about.

  2. A valid point on the surface – however historically people mostly moved “up”, as to a better place, or stayed in the same neighborhood as it changed around them, or in some small cases “down”, to a worse neighborhood: the difference being there was a place to move to. Today people are “removed” with no place to go… They’ve been moving to Antioch or Manteca, which has also had housing going up on real estate speculation faster than wages… or just as likely, people who have never been homeless now face the prospect in their 7th decade or older – this is not some idle socialogic comparison of generations, but a new and very dire problem

  3. While I genuinely feel bad for his family and friends, I am not sorry that Lee no longer mayor.

    Cities are constantly changing. Sometimes proactively, sometimes not. Sometimes for the benefit of their citizens, sometimes not.

    San Francisco has not been proactive for a few decades and most benefits of recent changes have gone into the pockets of developers, commercial real estate investors, companies that own rental units, social media companies and middle-man app companies that provide a platform and little else of value.

    We accept that we have to make wealthy people more wealthy in order to have more housing. We accept that we have to make wealthy people more wealthy in order to have more jobs. We accept that we have to make wealthy people more wealthy to donate money (via crowdfunding) to help a single mom whose home burned to the ground.

    What we don’t have to accept is the lopsidedness of wealth distribution, and this can change via taxes, permit conditions and fees and other limits.

    Lee embraced the investor class, app companies and developers at the expense of San Francisco’s middle class and poor, and I will never forgive him for that.

    His legacy is shit.

  4. The city feels lost to me. Lost spirit and lost policies and goals, but that has nothing to do with the Mayor and his passing. That is the city he left us with, a lost society looking for answers to questions that we did not have five years ago.

  5. Humans are a tragedy. We never learn from our mistakes and are doomed to repeat history. We see the pain and torment that has affected people and yet we still pursue the desires of the self. And then pursue the desires of groups/class we believe we fit into. Its shameful to see past problems never dealt with and then simply reinvigorated by repetition of old mistakes.

    People say, “Who can live in San Francisco?”, “Who owns X street, who owns X city”… *Facepalm*… I mean, honestly, we are just visitors. Instead of trying to protect this home we are allowed to call so we just pillage and plunder while stepping on one another. Its gross.

    It takes some serious soul searching and compassion for humanity and earths creatures to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself are you taking from others/earth or are you providing/protecting it and your fellow man?

  6. Imagine the people who lived in Oakland and San Francisco in the 1950s, and what they saw happening to “their” city a couple decades later. Who owns a city?
    I don’t think I’m criticizing the article. It’s just one of those issues that every generation thinks is uniquely their own, like saying “what’s wrong with the kids today?”

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