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"My Glass Looks Half Empty"

Scott Lucas | April 28, 2014 | Story Politics

Gary Kamiya's essay "San Francisco Is Dead. Long Live San Francisco" in our May issue has provoked an outpouring of reactions, the vast majority of them positive. But reader Ron Winter, a 23-year Mission resident, had a different response to "The Change," to use Kamiya's phrase for the economic forces rocking the city. Winter, who works with an anti-eviction group and is working on a book on the subject, wrote a thoughtful response, which—with his permission—we're reprinting below:

During the dot-com boom in the late ‘90s, a friend of mine with AIDS was Ellis-evicted, wound up on the street, and died homeless. Being the private person he was, none of us knew before it was too late. He was just one hapless victim of the boom that identified San Francisco to the world as a “Sanctuary City for the Rich,” if you recall the sidewalk stencil around the Mission a few years ago.

Since then, we’ve watched the unrelenting displacement of thousands of San Franciscans who didn’t own property, like yours, Gary Kamiya, but whose roots here were at least as deep as yours. Dozens of my friends and chosen family have joined the diaspora, as they could no longer afford housing here. Those of us who are left often feel lonely, and live each day with the horror that we might be next.

Your article, while better written than most missives from tech-defenders, unfortunately rings with the same chiding tone. Our anger is misplaced. This is the new reality. Techies are people too. Get used to it. It also reads as though you’re merely airing a grudge against anti-eviction activists for daring to spray-stencil the sidewalk in front of your building. For those of us who have lost, are currently losing, or may soon lose our homes, your argument is reductive and profoundly offensive. If you’ve never faced these realties, it is not your place to attempt to shame us into silence.

Really, Mr. Kamiya: the only groaning we get from you is “real estate envy” when walking by new luxury developments? The only truly humanizing moment you afford us is sympathy for a tech worker who’s nervous about anti-tech sentiment? And what of the shooting of Alejandro Nieto in your formerly working-class neighborhood of Bernal Heights? By now, it should be clear that the etymology of that crime was grounded in brutal forces supporting the juggernaut of gentrification. It’s no wonder your article appears in same magazine as a similarly-toned piece about gentrification in the Mission by Lauren Smiley.

Those who organize and execute the Google bus blockades have always shouted out to the workers, “Get off the bus, join us.” This is nothing if not inclusive, and implies a challenge to the very capitalist engine you say we need not bother challenging. At the very least, these actions just might expand the consciousness of a worker on that bus who didn’t realize the impact their income clout and life choices are having on folks who are not one of them. If it weren’t for these blockades, the terms “Ellis Act,” “displacement,” or “gentrification,” would not be on everyone’s lips, nor would the needed attention have been garnered to make current and impending substantive changes to city and state law to keep people in their homes.

Yet unlike yours, Mr. Kamiya, my glass looks half empty. I believe that San Francisco has already become a “soulless simulacrum of Manhattan.” In other words, the jig is up. Wealth attracts wealth. And the absurd amounts of capital that are flooding the City from the tech sector have made it merely a magnet for speculators, venture capitalists, and anyone whose only concern is making, keeping, or investing money. The value placed on accruing wealth has flattened a cultural philosophy organic to San Francisco—that you could come here and be anything. Making money was nowhere near the top of the list, if on the list at all. You'll no doubt argue history to me: the gold rush, the silver barons, etc. But where else could you come with no ambition greater than being a misfit? What other time in history has this town not had room for a financially-challenged dreamer?

There is a polite reaction to The Change, as you call it, that's sweeping the City. The Castro, for instance, which is undergoing hyper-gentrification, will soon witness gay culture fossilized through the addition of rainbow crosswalks and sidewalk inscriptions, all the while being “straightened out” and made more appealing to non-gay newcomers. We’ve already seen this on Valencia Street as it relates to Mexican-American culture. I could not have enjoyed your book, Cool Gray City of Love, more. But it too already emits the aura of fossil.

I don’t believe in polite reactions—not when my choices, and those of my loved ones, are being dictated by folks who aren’t invested in community beyond what it can provide them in equity. This is still my home (until I get kicked out too). And the only thing resembling the San Francisco spirit I’ve known, in all my years of being here, is the revived tenant’s movement, fed by anger that is anything but misplaced. There is a distinctive spirituality inherent in resistance, even if it ultimately does nothing to stop inevitable change, even if it’s only in spite of it. This is the point you’ve failed to capture. And this to me is one of the few things left that continues to give a pulse to the San Francisco you love so dearly.

Thanks for your time.

Ron Winter

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