Opinion

People protested peacefully — and things got worse

Protester in San Francisco, May 31, 2020. Photo by David Schnur

Look these damn people tearing up their community…burning shit… what does all this rioting accomplish?

I’m not sure — but when people were kicking up dust in places like Hong Kong they were hailed as heroes. People swooned over them and showed signs of solidarity and encouraged them to keep fighting oppression. In fact, Time Magazine had a photo of protestors fighting a cop and they were deemed “Persons of the Year.” The protestors were called the “Resistance.”

Protesters confronting cops in Hong Kong are portrayed as heroes, winning the public poll for ‘Person of the Year’ in 2019

In Venezuela, people turned up and folks were invited to the State of the Union … Nobody said, “gee guys, you’re tearing up your community and preventing people from working.” There was none of that stupid talk. People were hailed as freedom fighters who were doing whatever it took to end what they deemed as oppressive conditions.

Wanna know where folks were told not to kick up dust, but instead be calm? In South Africa when folks were fighting Apartheid. Yep, that’s right.

Folks who are old enough recall that Nelson Mandela and his crew from the African National Congress were deemed Terrorists. President Reagan said violence was not cool and we should have what he called “Constructive Engagement” to end Apartheid.

Let’s go back to 1976, when the Soweto Uprising took place. Check out the local newspaper coverage from an event where anywhere from 176 to 700 kids/students were killed by the Apartheid government. Words like “plunder,” “death riot” and “mob” were used to describe these kids fighting Apartheid. There was no redeeming value to their action at all.

Black people fighting Apartheid in South Africa were dismissed as a ‘mob”

Compare those headlines and news coverage to the coverage given to other unrests that took place in 1976.Thailand and in Poland are two newsworthy ones that come to mind. These two uprising took place within weeks and months of Soweto. In Thailand the news headlines referred to the students as “folks who were massacred.” They estimate 100 students were killed by the Thailand government, but we were sympathetic. They weren’t called a mob. We didn’t see that with the students in Soweto.

Same thing in Poland, where there was several days of unrest, the news coverage talked about these valiant people as folks fighting to stop unfair price hikes in food.

Seems like every single uprising done by lack folks is widely condemned from South Africa to here. From the Black soldiers fighting racist cops in Houston during Jim Crow in the early 1900s after being terrorized up to last night in Minneapolis. From Harlem to Watts to Ferguson to Oakland… It’s the same song, same outrage and righteousness directed at Black folks for expressing rage.

In 1979 in Miami there was a police killing of motorcyclist Arthur McDuffie. The officers involved were acquitted in 1980, and Miami exploded. The same condemnation we are leveling on folks in Minneapolis today is what was levied on Blacks folks in Miami 40 years ago. They were deemed a mob, thugs, hooligans uncouth and hurting the cause.

Folks in Miami to this day are still being scolded by salty individuals over what took place in the aftermath of Arthur McDuffie. They were never, ever seen as folks who were betrayed by the system. Just thugs who set back Black progress.

So all this outrage about what’s going on Minneapolis after folks witnessed a public lynching by smirking cops is troubling. Folks seem to forget that Minneapolis did everything by the book after Philando Castille was killed on FB live by a cop who was acquitted.

Protester in San Francisco, May 31, 2020. Photo by David Schnur

Folks peacefully protested, marched, sat in at police stations, boycotted businesses like the Great Mall of America, voted, kicked off a project to bring about changes in the police department and what’s happened? Things have gotten worse — and here we have folks getting all haughty and doing the most with Respectability Politics while cheering everyone else on.

I gotta be honest the worst looting I’ve ever seen take place happened a few weeks ago when corporations collected over $500 billion dollars in stimulus money while everyone else was left with a $1,200 dollar check and having to decide if they pay for food or rent.

Keep in mind it was mean spirited leader of the senate Mitch McConnell who had to be dragged to even allow that much to be given. The same folks who gave corporations $500 billion fought to not extend unemployment benefits as folks are still sheltered in. Over 40 million people are out of work.

And again: Imagine if they had simply arrested and charged those four cops for murder. Think of where we would be at this time.

We’re all outside agitators at this point

Police line up to keep protesters off the freeway in San Francisco. Photo by Garrett Leahy

We all knew America was a powder keg and, we all knew it had to blow up. Endless police or vigilante violence against Black and Brown people – executed while jogging, choked to death while selling cigarettes, shot while walking home from the corner store, while making a phone call in a grandmother’s backyard, while relaxing in bed, while eating ice cream on the living room couch… and on and on, until George Floyd’s final gasping breath.

It’s been going on throughout American history – our country was founded on stolen land with slave labor. But with a crude, stupid white nationalist in the White House, the fuse was lit, and it was only a matter of time before it blew.

Police line up to keep protesters off the freeway in San Francisco. Photo by Garrett Leahy

On Saturday night I was flipping between CNN and MSNBC and watching America in flames from coast to coast. The news anchors are appalled by the looting – I’m sure CNN’s Don Lemon frequents many of the luxury stores in New York and Los Angeles. But as H. Rap Brown once reminded us, violence is as American as cherry pie. Nothing significant changes in this country without violent protest.

Thank god for a few brave, honest TV journalists like MSNBC’s Ali Velshi, who was gassed and struck by a rubber bullet in the streets of Minneapolis tonight. As he reported, protesters were marching peacefully when they – and he – were attacked by Minnesota state police without warning. “We’re the media!” shouted Velshi and his crew to the heavily-armed cops. “We don’t care!” they shouted back. Former prosecutor Paul Butler called it what it was tonight in Minneapolis: a police riot.

And was that Minnesota Governor Tim Walz – who tried hard at first to be reasonable and measured – or his National Guard commander who suddenly showed up at a Saturday press conference in military camouflage gear while filling the skies above the Twin Cities with Blackhawk military helicopters? Was Walz declaring war on the people of his own state?

Meanwhile reporters in the streets were very upset by the language and vehemence of the protesters. MSNBC’s Richard Lui in New York was offended by some of the street chants, but when his crew turned their microphone on the crowd, they were simply shouting, “George Floyd! Say his name!” Shocking. Likewise, CNN’s Brian Todd was very put off by the vandalism of a statue of Philadelphia’s late mayor Frank Rizzo. Todd failed to mention that Rizzo, an ex-police chief, was a notorious racist whose attitude toward Black citizens was akin to that of Trump. WTF is Philadelphia’s civic center even doing with a statue of this pig?

But MSNBC also featured anchor Joshua Johnson, a young African American journalist who called on a variety of smart commentators to explain why the United States is now facing this terrible reckoning. Rashad Robinson, for instance, talked about why Black people – and many other exploited Americans – have hit their boiling points. Disappeared into the bowels of the prison system or forced into low-paying service jobs – both fates that carry higher risks of infection and death during the coronavirus crisis – many of these expendable Americans have been forced to work before it was safe.

And then they witness yet another unarmed, helpless African American brutally murdered by police in broad daylight on an American city street.

The raging pandemic, our broken healthcare system, the ruined economy, the political corruption, the corporate greed, the militarized violence, the voter suppression, the dog-whistle presidential racism… it all just became too much.

The ex-FBI meatheads and wimpy public officials on TV tonight kept complaining about “outside agitators” — as if protesters from the suburbs who feel compelled to drive into the city to join a march are some kind of sinister conspirators. We’re ALL outside agitators at this point -– locked out of the justice system, the political system, the economic board game, all of which are rigged for the one percent.

It’s a system that has its knee pressed heavily on our necks. And we’re finally standing up with fists clenched.

Which side of the ‘house divided’ are you on?

A rally for Alex Nieto, killed by SFPD.

This morning I made the dire mistake of reading twitter comments on a San Francisco Chronicle report of protesters at SF Mayor London Breed’s house. The tenor was “These aren’t protests!” and condemnations of anything that deviated from the commenters idea of protesting, which seems to be politely chanting “Please change,” while passively accepting brutality rained upon them by the police.

Then there is the rush by some that all violence against property had to be committed by “out of towners.” Certainly, there is truth in that, just as there is truth in reports that far right militants and white supremacists are taking advantage of protests to escalate violence for their own ends. However, to deny that any violence comes from locals is not only absurd, it’s an insulting dodge.

A rally for Alex Nieto, killed by SFPD.

Underneath the condemnation of anything other some fairy-tale version of protesting is the American worship of power and the persistent denial of what this country is and has become. We talk about the red state/blue state divide or the one between liberals and conservative or urban and rural or even Black and white and wonder why we can’t “work across the aisle” or “all get along.”

Rarely, have I heard discussion in the mainstream about the much more fundamental divide of how Americans experience and view power or how they system rarely responds to peaceful calls to redress the power imbalance.

Those out in the street protesting peacefully or taking their anger out on a window or a wall experience power as a bludgeon used against them and their friends. If they aren’t a George Floyd or know a George Floyd, they certainly have seen and read accounts of many George Floyds and fear suffering the fate of George Floyd. Here’s an incomplete run through of San Francisco’s George Floyds:

December 7, 2019: Jamaica Hampton is stopped by police. Police say that Hampton attacked them with a bottle. Others say that Hampton was doing nothing when police approached him and his only crime was running. When Hampton take off, the police shoot at him, bring him down. Hampton falls to the ground and as he is laying there an officer shots him again. Hampton survives but one of his legs is amputated as a result of his injuries. Hampton is Black.

Oct 6, 2019: Dacrau Spiers is in a parked car making out with his girlfriend. Police roll up, accuse him of beating his girlfriend. They dragged Spiers out of the car, cuff and beat him, breaking his hand and leg. Spiers is Black.

June 9, 2018: Oliver Barcenas is celebrating a Golden State Warriors championship, drinking with friends. The police roll up. Barcenas takes off running. The police chase him. An officer shoots Barcenas in the back.  SFPD claims that Barcenas had a gun and pointed it at them. The DA says otherwise. Barcenas is Latinx.

May 19, 2016: Jessica Williams drives off in a stolen car. Police fire at the moving car, hitting Williams. One bullet and she is dead. Williams was Black.

April 7, 2016: Luis Gongora Pat is at a homeless encampment. The police pull up and, within 30 seconds, start shooting. Gongora Pat is killed by six bullets. Police say that Gongora Pat had a knife. Witnesses say that he didn’t. Gongora Pat was Latinx.

December 2, 2015: Mario Woods has a mental break. Drugged out, he carries on in the street in front of his home. Police roll up. There is a confrontation that ends with five officers open-firing on Woods. The autopsy shows that Woods took 20 bullets. Colin Kaepernick responds to Woods’ killing by kneeling. Woods was Black.

February 26, 2015: Amilcar Perez-Lopez is reported to be “swinging a knife.” Police arrive and shoot him six times. Officers report that Perez-Lopez was advancing on them. The Medical Examiner reports that six bullets entered him through the back. Perez-Lopez was Latinx.

March 4, 2014: Alex Nieto is walking home through Bernal Heights Park and is accosted by a white man who taunts Nieto. The man walks off. Nieto unholsters the taser he carries for his job as a security guard. Another white man calls the police on Nieto. Police roll up and empty their guns into Nieto. They claim that Nieto pointed his taser at them. Nieto was Latinx.

No police officer involved in these shooting has been fired for his action. Many have been officially cleared of all wrong-doing. No officer faced criminal penalties, even though the city paid out substantial money in civil cases that resulted from these shootings. Many of the officers involved are still working the streets.

During this time period, San Francisco police officers were involved in racist text chain, arrested a deputy public defender who defended the rights of her client, lost a $700,000whistleblower civil suit, and were found guilty of drug dealing and extortion. SFPD illegally searched a journalist’s home while trying to cover up the unauthorized release of the top public defender’s death report. The department refused to sign on to a $2 million grant that would clear up a rape kit backlog. And on May 30, video surfaced of a SFPD officer laying her knee across the neck of Black man.

In 2016, the Police Chief Greg Suhr asked the U.S. Department of Justice to do a review of SFPD. SF Examiner reported that, “Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services Office returned months later with 94 finding and 272 recommendations for the SFPD that dealt with five areas needing improvement including use of force, bias and community policing.”

The Examiner adds, “The federal government was working on its first report documenting the progress of the SFPD reforms in September 2017 when the Trump Administration abruptly ended federal oversight of the Police Department.” Despite no federal accounting, an independent consulting firm is monitoring progress. As of October 2019, only 10 percent of the recommendations had been instituted.

In January, the FBI arrested Mohammed Nuru, the head of San Francisco’s Public Works department. Nuru had been a deep fixture in city politics, with a lot of influence and friends. He built his power by using Public Works to service the city’s mayor and favored public officials. The mayor would call Nuru and tell him to clean a mess on the block they lived on or an area they were visiting and Nuru would hop to, diverting resources from needed and neglected areas to wherever power dictated.

Former Mayor Ed Lee was big on using Public Works to trash homeless encampments, a practice expanded by Mayor London Breed, one of Nuru’s former girlfriends and the recent recipient of a Nuru “gift” of $5,600, a sum never reported to city officials.  Last week, a public records request turned up text messages from London Breed to SF Police Chief Bill Scott. In the texts, Breed ordered Scott to send police units to break up specific homeless encampments that she saw on her drive through the city or in places that she was expected to visit, either for an official event or private diner.

Every time there is a police shooting in San Francisco, liberals lecture those who are pissed off about Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi, refusing to acknowledge that initial public response to police abuse is typically peaceful. Citizens write their elected officials, they attend public forums, they meet with the police, they protest, they go on hunger strikes, they show up to candidate events and push the issue, they work on political campaigns. Last year, people working on police shootings and reform were the back bone of radical public defender Chesa Boudin election to District Attorney.  San Franciscans are walking civics textbooks.

San Francisco activists not only do what they need to do at every level of engagement, they do it in the order which the power-that-be subscribe to them. They write letters, vote and everything else before they hit the streets.

What good has it done? Where is the change? Yes, Boudin is slowly implementing reform on the legal end of criminal justice. Yes, Police Chief Scott says that there has been a decline in police shootings since 2016, and that might be true. However, no one trusts that SFPD won’t backslide. SFPD killings, shootings, abuse and corruption are part of a culture that cemented itself in the system a century ago. Citizens, especially Black and Latinx men, fear becoming the next George Floyd.

So, people hit the street and when the police show up, they are taunted. Buildings are graffitied. On rare occasion, a bottle gets thrown and a window shatters. The media amplifies what is a relatively rare occurrence a hundred more times and a hundred times louder than they do 200 people cram themselves into a community meeting to question SFPD over a police killing.

And, when someone fires off bottle rockets in front of the mayor’s house during a protest against the police killing of 7,666 George Floyds in Minneapolis, San Francisco, New York, Ferguson, and other American towns, a dozen clueless assholes quote Abraham Lincoln’s “A house divided against itself cannot stand” as if Lincoln is calling for “civility.” Hey, I am all for quoting Lincoln “House Divided” speech, but let’s not play pull-quote. This is what Lincoln said,

A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved— I do not expect the house to fall— but I do expect it will cease to be divided.  It will become all one thing or all the other.  

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as newNorth as well as South.

Have we no tendency to the latter condition?

Lincoln, who was speaking at the 1858 Illinois Republican State Convention, follows those words with the recent history of the fight against slavery, the fight through official channels, and how the abolitionists had been thwarted by institutional rigidity and bad faith. The system, Lincoln concludes, has betrayed those who fight slavery. He ends his speech with words that, today, would be condemned as “violent” and “not helpful” and were deemed “too radical” by his peers:

Our cause, then, must be intrusted to, and conducted by its own undoubted friends — those whose hands are free, whose hearts are in the work — who do care for the result.

Two years ago the Republicans of the nation mustered over thirteen hundred thousand strong. We did this under the single impulse of resistance to a common danger, with every external circumstance against us.

Of strange, discordant, and even, hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud, and pampered enemy.

Did we brave all thento falter now? — now — when that same enemy is wavering, dissevered and belligerent? 

The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail — if we stand firm, we shall not fail. 

Wise councils may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but, sooner or later the victory is sure to come.

Lincoln was calling to the people on the street, to those gathered in front of police stations, reading the names of the dead, demanding that there be no more George Floyds, knowing that a house divided between authorities with the will to kill and the rest of us, particular those who are Black and Latinx, will not stand. Lincoln promises today’s protesters that if they stand firm, they shall not fail and that, no matter how fast or slow change comes, victory is sure to come. The question is, on which side of the divide to you stand? With Lincoln who stood against the abuse of state power or with those who murdered George Floyd?

Scott Soriano is a regular contributor to Capitol Weekly, writing on California policy and politics. He can be read at www.sorianoscomment.com; follow him on Twitter @_ScottSoriano or on Facebook

The next chancellor: An open letter to the City College trustees

Editor’s note: City College will be hiring and interim chancellor to serve for the next year while a permanent chancellor his hired. It’s a critical job at a critical time; the applicaiton process closes May 25.

As you approach the hiring of a year-long interim chancellor at the College, please take this opportunity to return City College of San Francisco to the successful and beloved community college it once was and can be again.

We are troubled by the past eight years when a series of short-term interim chancellors and two permanent chancellors have tried to reduce City College to a junior college. Though we are proud of the college’s record in awarding certificates, AA degrees, and transfer paths to four year universities, we urge you to appoint a chancellor also committed to other aspects of the college’s mission: cultural enrichment, civic engagement, and lifelong learning.

We urge you to appoint a chancellor with leadership experience in urban comprehensive community colleges. Generally, the chancellors over the last eight years worked at smaller junior colleges in exurban or suburban communities where the local K-12 district provided adult education, unlike at City College where we have a robust adult education program. Hire a leader committed to non-credit instruction including English as a Second Language and older adult education.

Hire someone who will work tirelessly for upcoming local (Workforce Education and Recovery Fund, formerly known as CHEF) and state (Schools and Communities First) initiatives, which will bring money to City College. We appreciate that your president and the president of the faculty union have joined other voices across the country in calling for community colleges to serve as recovery centers. Laid off workers will enroll at City College as they seek skills in the new economy. The interim chancellor must have the kind of creative vision that can enable the college to meet the needs of those students.

The college needs a truth teller, especially when the truth is bad, and a problem solver who actively solicits advice from the campus community but is up to making the final decision and being accountable. The college needs a leader with the humility of a follower and the wisdom to know that seeking input is the best way to arrive at good decisions and actions. The college needs a leader who shows a demonstrated commitment to working with faculty and staff. The college needs a healer who will not pit constituencies against each other but will work toward resolving differences and promoting deep respect for all employees. Our students deserve that kind of mature, engaged collaboration among faculty, staff, and administrators.

The interim chancellor should consider looking to senior faculty in a reinvigorated administration. A rebuilt administrative team must restore the confidence of department chairs in administration’s ability to listen and work collaboratively. The interim chancellor must build a responsive, ethical Facilities team to manage the bond passed by the city’s voters this March, once again putting their confidence in City College of San Francisco.

The ideal interim chancellor should be a strategic thinker, keeping sight of ongoing challenges, such as accreditation, while promoting positive and productive relationships in Sacramento where the new state funding formula, unfriendly to large urban districts, must be reformed.

The ideal interim needs to be responsive to your leadership, your working committees, and your focus on the general health of the college.

Lastly, the person you hire must be committed to preparing the college to attract well-qualified applicants for the permanent chancellor position. The table the interim sets should be the kind of feast City College of San Francisco regularly offered its prospective leaders in the past and will again.                                                                                        

Retired City College of San Francisco faculty Anita Martinez and Leslie Simon served respectively as an administrator and a department chair. Martinez taught English as a Second Language, and Simon taught Women’s and Gender Studies.

Opinion: Action desperately needed for COVID-ravaged Latino community

Jon Jacobo, the Latino Task Force for COVID-19, and UCSF members at Garfield Square, April 25. Photo by Mike Kai Chen.

Numbers matter.

Inequity, by definition, means a lack of fairness or justice. Inequity in practice means 84% of the hospital beds in San Francisco General Hospital for COVID-19 are taken by Latinos, despite making up only 15% of San Francisco’s population.

The research study done through our work with the Latino Task Force on COVID-19, in partnership with UCSF and powered 100% by community-led volunteering, further compounds this inequity: Seven weeks after shelter in place, 95% of those who recently tested positive in last week’s massive testing of nearly 3000 residents within a one-mile radius of the Mission District were Latino. It proves the point that we knew to be true, sheltering in place works for some, but not all, as 90% of those who tested positive said they could not afford to stay at home due to their work.

The higher number of infections could seem like an abnormality to some if almost identical trends weren’t afflicting Latinos across the country. We see the same trends surface in the Bronx NY, and countless other urban areas. I must also state that these disproportional outcomes with COVID-19 mirror starkly in our Black, API and Indigenous neighboring communities across America.

When we look closer, we better understand the connection to higher rates of infection and higher rates of mortality to COVID-19 because we see that our collective communities are the remanence of subjugation through slavery, colonization, exclusion, segregation, redlining, and gentrification. The structures of power intentionally, and unintentionally, have ensured a legacy that survives off of a disproportionate lack of investment, attention, care, and representation for all things within our communities persisting, with the exception of policing.

The results of this history are in the numbers above. We are economically insecure and have some of the lowest amounts of accumulated wealth compared to our white counterparts. The lack of economic power and persistence of economic inequality contributes, by and large, to the type of essential work our families do. It contributes to the pulling from multiple resources to secure housing, which as we see, amounts to crowded multigenerational homes. And thus contributing directly to the linkage between our communities and their unfortunate connection to COVID-19.

The circumstances we inherited lend themselves to the unequal outcomes we witness.

What the numbers behind these results should do is adjust the lens by which we view the problem. We should understand that the disproportionate impact on communities of color, and for this study the Latino community, only magnifies deeply ingrained issues that have long existed. We should realize that to fix them we must strike at the heart of the issue: Inequity.

What this must also do is ensure that all of our elected leaders take this information and shift policy and resources to help disrupt the transmission of the virus, and the transmission of the inequities that enhance our problems to begin with. Action is desperately needed, the numbers don’t lie.

Jon Jacobo with the Latino Task Force on Covid-19 serves as the Chair of the UCSF Study Committee, and is the elected Vice President for the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District.

Letter to the Editor: ‘Ceci n’est pas une guillotine’

Mercury Cafe, before the shutdown.

I guess I’ll have to sell something in order to pay rent to our corporate landlords this month. I’ve been holding out, trying bide time while my husband applies for small business loans for our café. But we haven’t received a cent yet, even though we applied immediately after the aid was announced. We haven’t even received the measly $1200 checks. Last night my husband had one of his recurring nightmares in which he sees our rent-controlled apartment being emptied out and repainted for new tenants. I was lying awake, staring at the ceiling and worrying, when he started moaning and I had to rescue him from his dream.

You see, we’ve lived in the same one-bedroom apartment in the Inner Sunset District for over twenty years now. Our teenage son may not have his own room, but we love our home and the mere thought of losing it is enough to send the three of us into a state of sheer animal terror. Especially since, as my husband pointed out the other day, “What the hell would we do if we lost our apartment? We’d be thrown in the goddamn street!” Besides each other and our health, all we have in the world is our little rent-controlled apartment and our café. That’s it. No savings. No inheritance. No stocks or bonds. Just a rental apartment and a small business.

I guess we’re part of the ever-growing urban peasant class, that socially complex demographic composed of retail and restaurant workers, artists, writers, students, immigrants, struggling single parents, panhandlers, and the un-housed. Members of our neo-liberal Ayn Randian elite would probably argue that our poor economic condition is the result of all the bad decisions we’ve made in our lives, as if the infinite nature of matters of fate could be reduced to limited moments of detached conscious reflection. But it’s silly to even bring up matters of consciousness, when what we’re dealing with is an incomprehensible level of thoughtlessness and insensitivity among members our political and business leadership.

Besides, it’s not as if people like my husband and I haven’t been working our asses off. It’s just that the recent shutdown restrictions have caused sales in our café to plummet 80%. We have no remaining staff because we can’t afford to pay them, which leaves my husband doing practically everything himself—baking, making drinks, washing dishes, shopping for supplies, placing orders—all the while trying desperately to communicate with his bank in order to access the PPP loans everyone’s been hearing about. Meanwhile, the initial aid money is already gone, devoured by large corporations and the wealthy. I believe less than 5% of it went to genuine small businesses like ours.

Last week I was so angry about our situation, I emailed Mayor Breed, Governor Newsom, and Congresswoman Pelosi to complain about the brazen unfairness of being forced to shut down our business and go into debt with our landlords, while not receiving any sort of compensation. This is especially painful since, even though our café was very busy prior to the shutdown, we were barely making ends meet. It seems the only kinds of businesses able to survive in San Francisco these days are places like Sightglass Café (owned by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey) that are cross-subsidized by high tech capital or other Wall Street investors. Independent entities like us simply can’t make the numbers work, the costs involved are too great.

Before this current crisis, we were implementing every imaginable creative strategy to try and spin things in our favor. We even applied for a costly entertainment permit with the city so we could host live music and community events. In March things were actually beginning to look up. We had bands and other events scheduled well into the year, and the café was bustling every day with groups of people working on their laptops or chatting in small groups. Then this whole Covid thing happened, and overnight we were left with a large empty space, and practically no income at all.

Of course we understand the current restrictions are necessary in order to protect public health. What we don’t understand is why we’ve received no compensation at all for our losses, and yet are simultaneously sadistically being shaken down for our rent money. Is rent extraction really an essential service? Shouldn’t these businesses be shut down and forced to lose money as well?

Meanwhile businesses such as Sightglass Cafe can afford to simply close their doors and ride out the storm, because they have a magical and seemingly endless supply of cash from billionaire Jack Dorsey. Again, I understand the need to protect public health by imposing restrictions. I just don’t get why the resulting economic burden is being shouldered by those least able to bear it. Can’t some of our numerous local billionaires ante up? Can’t the rent extractors be asked to make some sacrifices?

Instead it seems as if this epidemic is providing the tech industry with what they’ve long desired; an opportunity to wipe out any alternative to their alienated culture of screen zombies and delivery slaves. As they say in disaster capitalism, never let a good crisis go to waste. And no doubt the real estate industry (which is intimately related to the tech industry) will come in at the end and clear us all out for non-payment on massive amounts of back rent.

I was so angry, I closed my letter to Breed, Newsom, and Pelosi with a reference to the French Revolution and the guillotine. “Oh my God,” my husband said, when I told him. “You shouldn’t have done that. They might take it as a real threat!”

I suppose he’s right. But perhaps politicians and the billionaires need a little reminder of the danger of failing to represent the Third (and Fourth) Estates. There’s an old saying that says it’s dangerous to wake a sleeping lion. Usually the lion is viewed as symbolizing government, and the message is that one should refrain from provoking it.

However, in supposedly democratic societies like ours the sleeping lion can also be seen as representing the spirit of the people, specifically the ever-increasing numbers of completely unrepresented segments of the population under our two party political system. (Why are there only two parties anyway? Aren’t political bodies composed of at least three social classes?)

Under normal conditions it’s certainly unwise to wake the sleeping governmental lion. But these are not normal conditions, and the highly individualized act of voting is not going to change our dysfunctional political system anytime soon. We may be forced into going into debt to cover rent this month so my husband and I can finally get some sleep, but we’re not doing it again. Asses are not lions, and this is not a pipe.

Mira Martin-Parker earned a BA at The New School for Social Research, and an MA in philosophy and an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State. Her work has appeared in various publications, including the Istanbul Literary Review, North Dakota Quarterly, great weather for MEDIA, and Zyzzyva. Her collection of short stories, The Carpet Merchant’s Daughter, won the 2013 Five [Quarterly] e-chapbook competition.

Social distancing is the wrong term

I am very tired of hearing about “social distancing.” We do not need social distancing. We need physical distancing. What we need is social solidarity.

I am not the first one to say that “social distancing” is a misnomer. The idea seems to be catching on in certain circles, except of course in the corporate and mass media.

I was listening the other day to a webinar concerning the World Happiness Report of 2020. Don’t laugh. It says right in the Declaration of Independence that “the pursuit of happiness” is an “inalienable right.” Back in the 18thCentury happiness was not viewed as merely the private pursuit of pleasure, but an economic, social, moral and even religious concept that embodied the pursuit of the public good.

So it was not much of a surprise when one of the chief editors of the World Happiness Report, Professor John Helliwell from the Vancouver School of Economics at the University of British Columbia, questioned the need for “social distancing.” What we need in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, said Professor Helliwell, is “physical distancing and social closeness.”

Professor Helliwell’s concept struck me as right on. We need as much as possible to keep our six feet from other people in order to contain the infection. But we also need to stick together as a society – “social closeness” –for civilization as we know it to survive this pandemic.

It appears that “physical distancing” is replacing “social distancing” in British Columbia, where Professor Helliwell resides. Look at the mandates of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, led by their Provincial Health OfficercDr. Bonnie Henry.

A few days ago a good friend emailed me an article about the government of Kerala, a state in the southwest of India. That government has reportedly gotten somewhat ahead of the curve, especially compared to the fascist government of India led by Narendra Modi. The government in Kerala has organized a vigorous, people-based campaign against coronavirus. According to the chief minister of the Kerala government, Pinarayi Vijayan, “Physical distance, social unity – that should be our slogan at this time.”

Virayan, by the way, is a politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and heads a government that is a coalition of left parties.

Just last Thursday, the Bay Area Reporter ran an excellent guest opinion titled, Why the Words Social Distancing are Wrong. This article was written by Jesus Guillen, chair of the San Francisco HIV and Aging workgroup.

If one listens closely to Governor Gavin Newsom’s press conferences, you mostly hear him talk about “physical distancing.” But when the media does its stories about Newsom’s pronouncements, they almost always revert to talking about “social distancing.”

We can each try to wall ourselves off from the rest of the world and try to avoid getting sick – and we should to the extent possible – but the fact remains that we all live in an interdependent world. We are dependent on each other for food, water, housing, medical care. The rapid spread of coronavirus all around the world itself demonstrates how interdependent we all are.

If we don’t learn that lesson, and learn it fast, everything is going to come crashing down all around us, and no amount of distancing of any kind is going to provide shelter from the storm. Maybe a few off-the-grid hermits will tough it out, but there is not enough room on the planet for eight billion hermits.

We can call this social closeness, or social unity, but I like social solidarity, as I think solidarity embodies both concepts, and the need to hold each other accountable to the public good.

I went for a walk recently to deposit a check in my bank, as I still need to pay my bills. I am lucky to live in one of those proverbially safe neighborhoods. But all this “social distancing” has some people acting like any person they encounter is their sworn enemy, or a zombie from World War Z. Too many people practically ran to the other side of the street without so much as a “Hello,” much less a “How are you?”

I am not the enemy. It is the virus that is the enemy. Please keep your distance, but let’s fight this pandemic together.

It would be stating the obvious to say that the leadership we need is not emerging from Washington DC, either from the White House or from the loyal Democratic opposition. Various governors and mayors and other politicians are reacting with various degrees of intelligence, but this is a planetary emergency, and our survival depends on a plan focused on the entire world population. That is not just political rhetoric. That is the truth.

The nativist urge that is sweeping the world is the opposite of what we need. You can’t wall off an entire country, a state or a city. Viruses don’t understand borders. Viruses don’t understand nationality, race, gender or age. They just go where they can go.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Carl Nolte recently wrote:

Back in the old days – say three weeks ago – we used to dream of what it would be like to be cast away. Alone, on a tropical island, snow-bound in a Sierra cabin. Well, maybe not alone… You’d have to have a companion. And enough food to last awhile of course. You’d be warm, safe and comfortable. Very romantic. A dream come true. 

Well, we are all living that dream, sheltering in place, keeping social distance… But that dream is not what it’s cracked up to be… We have all the comforts of modern life, too. The internet, television, radio, newspapers delivered to your door, books, magazines, the whole world at your fingertips.

Some of us are living that “dream.” But not many people in the Tenderloin, the Mission or Chinatown. Not people living in crowded apartments, housing projects, SROs, homeless shelters or on the street. Not in jail or prison or ICE detention facilities. Not in nursing homes or in Laguna Honda. Not by health care workers, not by grocery store clerks and stockers, not by bus drivers, not by intrepid mail persons.

Not by those of us wondering how to pay the rent or the mortgage. Not by soldiers on duty and sailors at sea. Not by many in the immigrant slums of Europe or those in refugee camps. Not by many in Africa, Latin America or much of Asia. Not by the billions on the planet who at this very moment do not even have access to running water with which to wash their hands.

Need I go on?

In those places, and many others, the dream is about to turn into a nightmare of disease, which may very well lead to a worldwide nightmare of malnutrition and starvation that we haven’t seen since the Black Plague.

And do you not think that this immense wellspring of disease will come back to haunt those of us in more sheltered and privileged environments? It is perhaps worthwhile to remember that the 1918 flu epidemic (in which my sons’ great grandmother died) swept across the planet in several successive waves – not like some sharp or flattened curve, but more like a deadly roller coaster ride.

As more than one observer has noted, this pandemic is exposing the deep inequality and injustice that exists in our twenty-first century world, and how necessary it has become to eradicate that inequality and injustice, once and for all.

I watched The War of the Worlds a couple of nights ago, the 1953 version starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson. In the end, the invading Martians are defeated, in the words of H. G. Wells, by “the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared… slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.” This seems the reverse of the current coronavirus pandemic, in which humanity is being imperiled – not saved – by “the humblest things.” But is it really the reverse?

What if in reality it is a certain class of humanity that has invaded and – unlike the Martians of The War of the Worlds– conquered Planet Earth, and through their greed and profiteering have constructed a society that is incapable of responding with solidarityto the threat of the coronavirus?

What happens if we let that class of humanity convince us to keep our “social” distance and hide behind borders and walls and hope for the best? There has to be a better way. We need a better way.

Marc Norton’s new website is under construction at www.MarcNortonOnline.WordPress.com.

OPINION: Save the soul of San Francisco

How do you shelter at home, when you don’t have a home?

As our city leaders have moved rapidly and wisely to minimize the risks of the COVID pandemic, one important segment of our community has been left behind – the most vulnerable segment: our un-housed neighbors.  They tend to be older, often have high risk health conditions, and are unable to practice the sanitary and social distancing guidelines needed to save lives.

Now, more than ever, it is clear that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable among us. It is imperative that city leaders act swiftly to house our neighbors currently living on the streets and in crowded shelters or SROs. As faith leaders, we are calling on Mayor Breed and the Board of Supervisors to quickly implement the current proposal, already adopted in New Orleans, to make use of the vacant hotel rooms in our city to safely shelter our un-housed community members.

Before the crisis hit, our City of St. Francis was home to at least 8,000 people living on the streets, plus many more thousands packed into crowded shelters or in SRO rooms with shared kitchens and bathrooms. This situation is the result of a socio-economic system that has abandoned the most vulnerable among us. It now exacerbates a dangerous public health crisis where group living facilities put people at extreme risk.

The city has reached out to some of our congregations to host additional shelters. While we are always ready to contribute, we feel it is irresponsible to create new living facilities that would endanger residents and staff. At the same time, there are approximately 30,000 empty hotel rooms in San Francisco that could easily house all in need of shelter. It is madness to leave them empty while the epidemic rages–and in fact is being fueled by the lack of safe spaces.

Our faith traditions have much to say about our moral obligation to care for the vulnerable and the need for societal change. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that religious observance without social justice is meaningless:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly.”

As faith leaders, we urge our city’s leaders not only to keep everyone safe during this crisis, but also to ensure that we don’t go back to business as usual. Let this crisis be a turning point for the good. We know that an economic system that allows for people to be discarded on the streets will be the death of everyone. We must turn toward a new world that is founded on the understanding that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable people among us. We must start immediately by housing our fellow San Franciscans living on the streets and in crowded SROs in the vacant hotel rooms in our city.

Every day this situation goes unaddressed, more of us will die. Please heed the words of the Torah: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

The Rev. John Kirkley and the Rev. Joanna Lawrence Shenk are Faith in Action Bay Area Clergy leaders

Where’s the money for health care and saving the planet? Well, we clearly have it

Remember hearing at the debates that we can't afford health care or saving the planet?

With an unprecedented $2 trillion economic stabilization package at last finalized, and a flood of cash and credit emanating from the government to stem the dual crises of pandemic and economic meltdown—now more than $3.5 trillion and counting—America’s priorities and vast resources are being unmasked for all to see.

As the human and financial toll spread out of control, the Federal Reserve injected an unprecedented $1.5 trillion in emergency loans into flailing markets—what one economist termed a “fiscal bazooka.” Now, the White House and Congress have at last agreed on a $2.2 trillion economic stabilization package for a mix of industries, medical supplies, and checks of up to $1,200 for millions of Americans.

Remember hearing at the debates that we can’t afford health care or saving the planet?

The massive aid package retains profound economic and policy inequities: $500 billion in bailout aid and loans for corporations, half that amount to middle- and lower-income Americans, and a meager $130 billion to hard-pressed hospitals. Republican senators were doggedly trying to strip worker protections from the deal; even in this moment of severe and intensifying crisis, Republicans are doing their damnedest to preserve and expand corporate power.

The Trump administration’s criminally belated and brutally inadequate response has revealed a deeper perilous negligence, and an opportunity for change—the immense resources that can be expended to address a crisis once it is deemed urgent and life-threatening. Amazing what’s suddenly possible when everyone recognizes the necessity for swift action.

Nobody can argue against the critical need to vastly expand medical capacity and to help stabilize working people’s lives amid this health crisis which may go on for many months. Unemployment claims have already spiked as mass layoffs loom. The need for medical and financial assistance will likely grow in coming months, as experts warn of an onrushing economic recession or depression.

But this suddenly available torrent of funds raises the question: where were all these supposedly unattainable, unaffordable dollars for the healthcare and climate crises that have been taking lives for years? Remember those distant days just a couple of months ago, when millions of us sat next to each other watching Democratic debates, held in packed auditoriums, when moderators peppered Senator Bernie Sanders about how he’d pay for Medicare for All and a Green New Deal?

No moderator in any debate ever asked how candidates would pay for military expansions, wars, and interventions—not once. Nobody ever asked how the candidates would pay for today’s vastly unequal economy and taxation system, wherein mega-billionaires like Jeff Bezos don’t have to pay their fair share (or much of anything at all in some cases);what about all that lost money, which belongs to the public pie?

Where have all the politicians and dollars been for all these decades of deadly climate havoc, which poses a far graver mass existential threat than the current horrifying moment? Where have all the politicians and dollars been for all these years when many thousands of Americans have died due to lack of healthcare? Where have those fiscal questions and humanitarian concerns been when it came to preventing this massive loss of life stemming from our privatized for-profit healthcare system?

The answer, of course, is that the dollars and resources have been here all along—but the political will and urgency have been missing in what can only be considered a form of mass homicide.

The parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare, and the climate crisis are inescapably real and direct. As author Mike Davis explains, America’s systemic disinvestment and privatization of healthcare and hospitals since the Reagan era has left us horribly  unprepared for this public health disaster: “According to the American Hospital Association, the number of in-patient hospital beds declined by an extraordinary 39 percent between 1981 and 1999,” Davis reports. “The purpose was to raise profits by increasing ‘census’ (the number of occupied beds). But management’s goal of 90 percent occupancy meant that hospitals no longer had the capacity to absorb patient influx during epidemics and medical emergencies.”

Healthcare and hospitals for profit have severely undermined our nation’s readiness for a pandemic—exacerbating the extent of illness and death. Answering this nightmare requires more than quarantines. To stem this pandemic and minimize harm from the next one, we need dramatic overhaul of our healthcare system.

Dr. Michele Barry, an infectious disease expert at Stanford University, explains that human climate-wrecking activities such as deforestation may have contributed to previous viral pandemics such as the Zika outbreak in Brazil. “There’s been a lot of interesting discussion how deforestation may have played a role in that, and higher temperatures may have played a role in changing vectors, mosquito vectors in that role,” Barry said on Democracy Now, while assuring that mosquitos are not contributing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The global climate crisis is killing people, right now, due to willful political negligence and a larger systemic madness also known as capitalism. The World Health Organization predicts that between 2030 and 2050, “climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.”

Where is the urgency and investment to prevent that human-propelled pandemic? Can you imagine the funds and response that would be immediately available if a new virus were killing that many people in the US? Why not the same urgency and action for a climate meltdown that is already killing people around the world and only growing more ferocious as we ignore, deny, and delay?

Many groups are in fact highlighting how a Green New Deal could help address many of the challenges we are now facing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Whenever we emerge from this viral nightmare, we will need to create millions of new jobs for people to rebuild their lives—and those jobs must involve climate-healing, community repairing work rather than digging our deadly climate hole yet deeper.

Crises like this are a time for compassionate action as well as reflection and change. Now is the time to create a healthcare system and economy that will help prevent and minimize the next pandemic. That means universal single-payer healthcare that provides testing and treatment for all, and a Green New Deal that creates millions of living-wage jobs to stabilize our now-teetering and soon-cratering economy while repairing climate harm that contributes to death and pandemics.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, we have more-than-ample resources to create these vital changes now. We can and must address the present nightmare by laying the economic, ecological, and public-health groundwork to prevent the next one.

Some surprising political analysis from the local election results

This map shows that Jackie Fielder, who ran against state Sen. Scott Wiener, got support not just in the more progressive parts of town.

The voter turnout is up to 55 percent in San Francisco now, and will exceed 60 percent once the last 54,000 ballots are counted. That’s what today’s results show – and there are only a few changes from yesterday.

But a close analysis of winners and losers shows some fascinating political trends.

This map shows that Jackie Fielder, who ran against state Sen. Scott Wiener, got support not just in the more progressive parts of town.

The progressive slate is not only dominating the Democratic Party Central Committee voting; its looking possible that Mary Jung, the former party chair who is a lobbyist for the real-estate industry and has been on the panel for years, might not retain her seat.

Jung is in tenth place for ten seats, only 541 votes ahead of School Board member Faauuga Moliga, who has been picking up votes as the count continues.

The vacancy-tax measure is passing by an even-larger margin as the final votes come in, and the limits on office development is far enough ahead that it’s safe to say that one is over.

One judicial race remains close; the latest total puts former prosecutor Rani Singh 75 votes ahead of tenant lawyer Carolyn Gold – a gap of 0.03 percent. Gold was ahead in the last count, so the votes seem to be breaking for Singh – but it’s still way too tight to make any predictions.

So the progressive movement as a whole is a big winner – nearly every candidate and ballot measure that had strong progressive support did well. Some of this may be due to the Sanders-Warren bump – between the two presidential candidates, they got 55 percent of the local vote, so progressives showed up in significant numbers to support them. Biden narrowly edged Warren; the mayor’s candidate, Mike Bloomberg, got only 12 percent of the vote, and that from the richest areas in town.

Still, the DCCC results are interesting.

Joe Fitz at the Examiner points out that two of the leading moderate Dems – Sup. Ahsha Safai and former Sup. Vallie Brown – lost badly in a race that is typically defined by name recognition:

Supervisor Ahsha Safai and former supervisor Vallie Brown both ran for this tiny Democratic Party board, and both are getting their clocks cleaned by newcomers with little-to-no name recognition, and by future potential opponents as well.

Safai, in particular, netted incredibly low results compared to his rumored rival, former supervisor John Avalos, in the upcoming 2020 November election to defend his District 11 seat.

As of Wednesday’s newest Department of Elections count, Avalos had received 27,586 votes, while Safai earned just 10,200. If the vote pattern holds, Safai will lose this tiny little election where ten seats were up for grabs.

That’s absolutely bonkers for a sitting member of the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco.

Let’s look a little deeper.

It’s no surprise that the top five candidates in Assembly District 17 are widely known politicians with deep roots: Jane Kim, David Campos, John Avalos, Hillary Ronen, and Matt Haney were well ahead of everyone else.

But next on the list are Frances Hsieh, Honey Mahogany, and Annabel Ibanez. Hsieh is a DCCC incumbent, but Mahogany and Ibanez are newcomers who have never held or run for local office before.

Then comes Shanell Williams, a City College trustee who was elected in a citywide race, and Peter Gallotta.

In 11thplace? Sup. Rafael Mandelman. Sup. Shamann Walton is even further down the list, in 20thplace, just two slots ahead of Brown, who had less than half the votes of Kim, Campos, Ronen and Haney.

On the west side of town, where ten DCCC members will be elected, Safai was in 14thplace.

The Social Justice Democrats, who will now dominate the party panel, had money and a solid slate, and since a lot of voters don’t know most of the candidates, the organized slate made a huge difference.

But if this race is a glance at the popularity of elected officials and their allies, it appears that Safai, at least, is potentially in political trouble.

The D11 votes show the incumbent supervisor got 2,536 votes and Avalos got 1,561. But that’s misleading since D11 is split between two Assembly districts, and most of the vote is in D19, where Safai ran.

This map shows the split in D11 between two Assembly districts.

There are 33 D11 precincts in AD 19, and 12 in AD 17. So if we adjust for that difference (Avalos was running in just 25 percent of the district), Avalos actually beat Safai in the district by more than 2-1. (Kind of geeky math, but multiply the Avalos vote by four and the Safai vote by 1.33, and you get Avalos 6,244 and Safai 3,062.)

That’s not a great sign for the incumbent.

For Brown, who is talking about running against Sup. Dean Preston for her old seat, the outcome can’t be encouraging either. Brown got 4,148 votes in her home district; Hillary Ronen, a big Preston supporter, got 5,518 votes in D5. David Campos, also a Preston supporter, got 5,861 votes in D5.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, of course, is well ahead, as we all expected; he’s got 56 percent of the vote. But that’s low for a powerful well-funded incumbent running against a person who has never held or run for office before.

And it’s interesting to look at where Jackie Fielder, his opponent, won votes. She clearly was popular in the most progressive districts – but also ran strongly in some parts of the west and southwest, suggesting that Wiener’s housing proposals (and that’s what this race was and will be about) are unpopular in more than just the liberal precincts.

The other message that came out of this election is that the endorsement of Mayor London Breed is not terribly helpful right now. Breed backed Bloomberg, who tanked, and that may have nothing to do with the mayor; he was going to tank in San Francisco anyway.

But the candidates aligned with the mayor overall did badly.

That’s not unusual – San Francisco mayors traditionally have limited coattails. But to the extent that this election was a plebiscite on how the current administration and the people who are part of its political agenda are seen by the voters, Breed is in trouble.