San Francisco is a literary town. We have a talent for metaphor. Where else could a system of private shuttles taking people to and from work become "the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us"? Where else could the Board of Supervisors turn into "a mistress you have to service"? And were else could the kind of low-stakes dispute over which team kicks a soccer ball around a public field become a chapter in the "colonization of the Mission"?
So it was that when a video of Dropbox employees and Mission locals fighting over access to a soccer field surfaced on Friday, it very quickly turned into a thing. Valleywag said it showed that "tech bros will stop at nothing to get what they perceive to be theirs." SFist detected an "overarching gentrification theme." 48 Hills claimed, "As Columbus Day descends upon us, there is a harsh likening to deeds granted by European royalty of old to the New World to the colonizers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries." This is the Mission—the neighborhood where everything is an issue, from random cheap Vietnamese places closing to graffiti artists who don't like other graffiti artists.
But when we saw the video, it looked like the kind of low-simmer disagreement that has taken place on every field ever, since the beginning of fields. One group of dudes had been using it. Another group thought they had registered to reserve it. They talked to each other briefly and worked it out. Aside from some fairly standard-issue dudely agression—on both sides—what's the issue?
This isn't to paper over issues of class, race, and power. Those are all real and getting realer every day in San Francisco—and they play out as micro-aggressions in urban spaces like this all time. Institutionalized racism and classim exist, and are worth considering when a group of mostly white guys get in an argument with a bunch of mostly nonwhite guys. But here's a question: Does making this about a larger political theory move the ball closer or further from the goal?
If you think the problem with the Google Buses is that they're a too-lightly regulated strain on the traffic system, you can regulate them. If you think the problem is neoliberalism, well, good luck. If the issue is naked dudes being a little too naked all the time, you can limit them to Folsom and Bay to Breakers. If the problem is that San Francisco is losing its soul, you'd better call a priest, because politics can't help you. This kind of thing worked beautifully for the opponents of 8 Washington, actually. The No Wall on the Waterfront idea is an extremely clear metaphor, even if you disagree with it: 8 Washington wasn't just a building, it was a symbol. That's probably part of why the opponents of development won. But not all disputes are a sign of the End Times.
So with that in mind, what about the soccer contretemps? From what we have been able to gather, the trouble is that two rule sets for who gets to use the field collided with each other. One group of people had been playing pickup games for years, but newly instituted regulations from the city's Rec and Park department allow anyone to book the field for a few hours a week, and neither group knew about the other's method for claiming the field. Nobody's wrong here—it's just a misunderstanding. Or if anybody is to blame, it's the city, for not publicizing the new reservation system. (And by the way, we're not so sure what was wrong with the old pick-up system in the first place that caused the city to change things.)
What does it all mean? Privatization of the commons? The community's struggle against the Man? Tech dudes being all privileged? Probably not—but maybe? But the Mission isn't always a metaphor. Every time a group of techies disagrees with a group of locals, it isn't necessarily fraught with capital-M Meaning. Sometimes a soccer ball is just a soccer ball. And if we have to solve the legacy of colonialism before anybody gets to play again, it'll get too dark before we can kick the ball around.