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Pissed and Proud

Justine Sharrock | October 29, 2014 | Story Politics

As the 2014 political circus nears its grand finale, San Francisco magazine peers under the big top. Here, a series of insider stories about issues, candidates, and races both important and absurd. Check back between now and November 4, as more stories go online.

Monday, Oct. 20: Consultants for Chaos
Tuesday, Oct. 21: Yes We Ken
Wednesday, Oct. 22: Soda Makes You Fat & I'm Ok With That
Thursday, Oct. 23: Republicans for Ro
Friday, Oct. 24: Cars Are People Too
Monday, Oct. 27: Build, Berkeley, Build
Tuesday, Oct. 28: I'm With David. No, I'm With David
Wednesday, Oct. 29: Pissed & Proud

For a group of people who call themselves the Pissed Off Voters, the engaged citizens gathered
at the Mission district dive bar Bender’s at 10 p.m. one recent Friday sure don’t seem that pissed. Beer is flowing freely, attractive young people are chatting in leather booths, and onstage a pair of guys are engaged in a spirited Duran Duran karaoke cover. It looks more like a party than a political gathering, and, as a matter of fact, it’s both. This is the prerelease party for this year’s Pissed Off Voters’ Guide, a slang-infused, ’90s zine–style endorsement pamphlet, some 20,000 of which will be distributed at bars and BART stations throughout San Francisco.

As one might guess, the Pissed Off Voters present a left-of-left platform: pro–public transit, pro-union, pro-green, pro-tenant, and anti–money in politics. For many young, disillusioned liberals who are angry but not entirely sure why, the guide is a helping hand in the voting booth, allowing them to vote yes on Proposition G (the real estate transfer tax), while simultaneously working up a lather over the lack of teeth in the nonbinding Affordable Housing Policy Statement (Proposition K). The guide is compiled by an eight-member Political Education and Action Committee, which sends all candidates a long survey replete with questions about larger issues like gentrification and the environment, as well as hypothetical queries about how they would have voted on past issues. It’s a measure of the Pissed Off Voters’ growing influence that most candidates now send back thoughtful responses—many used to ignore the questionnaire entirely.

“If you are a supervisor who runs in an older, more conservative-to-moderate district, you might not take them seriously, but if you are a progressive candidate, it is a coveted endorsement,” says former San Francisco supervisor Aaron Peskin. “Their grassroots fieldwork during elections isn’t matched by anyone else, at least not consistently over time.” Tonight’s party has attracted at least a few politicians: District 2 supervisor hopeful Juan-Antonio Carballo (a relative unknown going up against incumbent Mark Farrell) is taking selfies at the bar, while Tony Kelly, who’s hoping to unseat Supervisor Malia Cohen in District 10, enthusiastically greets old friends.

“At first people pooh-poohed us,” says Julian Mocine-McQueen, a peppy 34-year-old environmental advocate who seems more celebratory than pissed. “But at this point, a lot of people are using the guide. It’s undeniable that it has struck a chord.”

That’s not to say that the group has gained mainstream bona fides. “In the main political establishment, they are not that important,” says campaign consultant David Latterman, whose current client, David Chiu, did not receive a Pissed Off Voter endorsement. “It is more self- aggrandizement than trying to turn an election. They are just another of the dozens of these groups in the city that make noise, serve their own narrow constituency, and think they are doing great work.”

But at a moment when a whole lot of San Franciscans are fairly pissed off—about evictions, affordability, homelessness, tech buses, gentrification, housing shortages, Muni failures, ride-sharing companies, Astroturf, sports arenas, and even humble breakfast toast—the group is particularly optimistic. “In the Bush era, San Francisco had a collective enemy,” explains Pissed Off ’s Jeremy Pollock. “But now there is a weird, angsty civil war happening here. The housing crisis creates a visceral fear and a fight-or-flight response.”

“People feel physically threatened by evictions,” Mocine-McQueen adds over the karaoke noise. “They are pissed on a deeply human and primal level.” Although the group’s national chapter, which is loosely connected to the other regional leagues, has largely traded in “Pissed Off” for “Young” because television reporters refused to say the words, here in Pissed Central, voters embrace the term. Member Cynthia Crews says that when she hands out guides, people of all ages and stripes, even little old ladies, respond, “That is me. I definitely identify with that.”

Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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