view of city street

The Soul of San Francisco: Who are YOU?

I had to go out to buy some gluten free teabags. The only place that sells them is the dreaded and mostly overpriced Whole Foods, more commonly known as “Whole Pay Check”. Sometimes celiac disease amounts to a tax on the sick, especially with needed items like tea bags and bread. As I was standing there in the endless line, staring at the front cover of some gossip mag, two smart young things walked past me, one wrinkling her neat little nose that was poking above her fabric mask, like a fin above water. The other, with the dejected look of a friend that is regretting agreeing to spend the day with her companion, wearily trudged ahead towards the fresh fruit. Cute Nose, expeller of potentially deadly droplets, pulled her mask down slightly and sneering in abject horror: “UGH! I THOUGHT THIS WAS SAN FRANCISCO! GROSS!”

Half the line shook their heads. The other half looked at her as if I say, “I know, right!” I do not know for sure what she was so disgusted at. She seemed to be sneering towards an unwashed looking older man, who may not have had anywhere to go get clean or sleep the night. I could not give a damn if he was stealing a sandwich, or an entire ham. It is none of my business. People have to eat. I have stolen food before when I was absolutely desperate. Cans of tuna. Apples. Potatoes in my pocket. No one should be derided for survival. I used to care what people thought of me. I seriously could not care less nowadays.

Survival is everything, and survival is what half of my beloved city is struggling to do on a daily basis. In fact that is a little too optimistic. Survival when you are on the streets is a moment by moment issue. A struggle of hours, of minutes. A place to stop for a few hours and rest without being rolled by the cops is treasure. Being moved on, threatened with losing your camping gear, woken up and told you are not allowed to sleep is not a one off incident, it is a daily struggle.

While the rest of San Francisco is bitching about having to look at suffering, those doing the suffering are trying to survive their distaste. It is a ridiculous situation. Being derided and judged for suffering, for having nowhere to live because of society’s failures, having no money, no credit and no way of getting inside is soul destroying. Being judged and criticized for being a human being that has to defecate when public bathrooms shut at night and don’t want you in there in the daytime is insulting. No one wants to shit on the street, trust me. Every time a layer of dignity was stripped away I became more feral. Don’t want me to pay to sleep in the campground, moving me on after two weeks? I will play Social Distortion full blast as I am forced to leave, I will throw my trash around to make sure the camp hosts have to clean it up, and I wont be careful dumping my waste either. When people are denied even sleep, a shower and peace to simply live, it is utterly reasonable to get pissed off.

We are in a battle for the soul of San Francisco. Who are we? We used to be a center for artistic endeavor. Everyone who was anyone who wanted to write came to San Francisco. Kerouac. Hunter S Thompson. Ginsburg. Ferlinghetti. The entire City Lights crowd of the Beat Generation. This was a place that was always out of the ordinary, left of center, a haven. The hippy summer of love psychedelic experimenters, led by Leary, with The Grateful Dead as the city house band, preached tolerance, free love, acceptance, anti-materialism. Unfortunately those hippies grew up to be boomers.

With the tech bros turning up in droves, turning San Francisco into the cutting edge of the virtual everything world, San Francisco lost it’s way. A lot of people moved into the city from more traditional less accepting parts of the union and brought their values with them. The old San Francisco is in a battle against the invading tide of nimbys, tech types, cyber allies, and their new money. The old San Francisco is not as white, not as rich, and not obsessed with huge luxury and capitalist gains with multimillion dollar tech start ups. The old San Francisco made a hugely creative, valuable, desirable city full of the avant guard, the new and the interesting. It forged a city that everyone wanted to move to. In short, it almost destroyed itself.

A few signs of the old SF remain. Walking past Haight Ashbury I saw a stall set out with a sign saying ‘free BOOKS!’. The exhortations to take entertainment and knowledge for free was so reassuringly San Franciscan I started to believe that the city might survive in it’s old incarnation as a haven for the weird, the alternative, the compassionate and the creative.

Unfortunately, then I realize that the rot is real. That beautiful rainbow neon soul of the city has been under attack. It’s own democratic mayor declared a war on the unhoused. Who is next? The undocumented? Anyone who makes less than 100k a year? The users of drugs are already suffering from lack of a safe supply program and increased criminalization.

The tents in the Embarcadero do not prompt San Franciscan twittertwats to campaign for a reopen of the Sip hotel system, instead they induce rage and laments as if the ones doing the real suffering were those who walk the sidewalks instead of live on them! How dare they be so self centered, selfish and blind? How dare they be so privileged? How dare they have such a total lack of empathy! Oh, they dare alright!

We are under attack from the new within, the invading tech bro uber capitalist-supremacist culture of survival of the fittest. They want everything, and that everything that these locusts want is at the expense of those of us at the bottom of the pile. For there to be winners, there also has to be losers. The pool of ‘losers’ is getting bigger and bigger. Those at the top want more and more, they frame themselves as the victims, not even able to leave that status for those who are in a battle to survive.

This City needs to start to reject the rot, to vomit out the uber rich and unempathic invaders from places less enlightened and without a culture of peace, love understanding and care for others, to purge itself of the disease of contempt, conceit and capitalist devotion to survival of the fittest. Every rich invader that runs to Florida is a symptom of the purge, yet the purge has yet to go far enough. You see those in power like money. Money tastes like success. Everyone who is anyone wants a piece of that unfair pie. Trouble is in baking that success story they are ruining everything that was special about this city in the first place.

I find myself saying the same words as the Cute Nosed woman: “Urg! I thought this was San Francisco!” I just hope the old San Francisco wins and pushes out the new, that rental prices fall, and that people can get inside again, rebuild lives, make their art and do more than survive minute to minute. That is perhaps selfish of me. It would appear to be the only way I am going to get to survive all this too.

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