January 28, 2016: Two years later almost to the day, I’m highlighting piece this in honor of and admiration for those rebels in the Bay Area who are about to be battling another sports giant, Super Bowl 50.
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Today, January 30, 2014, in the aftermath of the Giants win in the World Series and the “sports riot” in the streets of San Francisco last night, one sees much evidence of tidying up. People are trying to pull themselves together after an evening of drunken (and sometimes not) celebration, sleepily heading back to work. The broken glass from their beer and champagne bottles has largely been swept off sidewalks and streets. And news media is falling over itself to sanitize what took place in the reclaimed public spaces of this city after the win, “cleaning up” the facts so as to erase what’s already is so coldly erased on a daily basis: displacement and its discontents.
One such story touches on my neighborhood, SF’s beleaguered Mission, and the purported lesson of last night, as captured in its headline: “The Giants Won and the Mission Lost” (http://www.thebolditalic.com/articles/6185-the-giants-won-and-the-mission-lost). This same online news outlet boldly seems to miss the reality of what’s routinely getting lost in the Mission: people along with their histories, social fabric, cultures, homes, and often lives. Or rather, what’s getting intentionally disappeared, including even the memory of those people, via the sharp precision instrument of capitalism and those who have its back.
Actually, between about 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. yesterday, it seemed that for a brief time, the Mission won — at least in a cathartic way. That the Mission got its own minor victory, if only as a piece of the profound grieving process that needs room and space to be heard for all that is being vanished. The real World Series, as most of us know in the Mission in particular, is the rigged game of private property ownership — land “rights” — that seems to inevitably put the best-funded team squarely in the winner’s seat.
San Francisco, like other great cities, has seen its fair share of losses in the past, whether under the name “urban renewal” or “dot-com” or “gentrification.” That fact shouldn’t be minimized. It’s the ground on which the present-day, perhaps most final grand slam is made possible.
What is remarkable now is the speed at which it’s happening. No seven-game series anymore for SF’s Mission. Displacement happens in microseconds, with no time for instant replay to even see or remember the play. It’s a sort of collective, societal attention-deficient disorder blended with constant-traumatic-stress syndrome and cancerous deaths of all kinds; it’s crazy and sickness making.
All to say, something different is going on this time, as evidenced in my two, far different experiences of being in the riotous Mission and Valencia streets for the Giants World Series wins in 2010 and now 2014.
In 2010 when the Giants won, the enormous street party rather ugly when folks got super drunk. Some friends of mine, for instance, had their heads beaten bloody with bicycle U-locks in a homophobic attack. In another incident, a fan drove his car into a crowd of partying people on Mission Street; people surrounded his vehicle, dragged him out, and well, it’s questionable whether he survived. I never found out. There was little “political” consciousness. It was, in other words, half fun and half frightening.
Now, after the dizzying acceleration of an eviction epidemic in SF’s Mission, with rampant displacement of peoples, businesses, lives, homes, cultures — so much so that the Mission is increasingly almost unrecognizable unless you look at it through Google glasses — there’s a lot of anger and sorrow here, and few avenues for processing those emotions of grief. The city seems stuck in denial.
Last night, for a brief window of time, we won back some space, albeit temporarily, to communally and spontaneously engage in the work of healing.
Capitalism will not offer us a cure for displacement, nor will politicians, police officers, or anti-depressants. Even us anti-eviction organizers (ranging from progressives to radicals) ultimately won’t be able to fix it, either. We may get a few little victories — “reforms” that keep a few more people in their homes than if we’d tossed up our hands and given up completely. That is a good thing, of course. Individual lives matter.
Knowing that we can’t cure capitalism any time soon is not only truthful. It’s liberatory. It frees us up to create quality space and qualitative lives in the here and now, collectively. It frees us up to name names — capitalism! — and work “backward” from there to strategize, organize, and struggle. Admitting we are doing not the work of curing but rather the work of healing moves us from relations of domination to ones of nondominance, where together we try to offer up empathy, mutual aid, and care, and we can resist and rebuild, even if that rebuilding starts by grieving well what we are losing, in life-affirming ways.
Much of what I saw on the streets last night was joy, which as someone commented, is extremely needed here right about now. I saw that joy in particular on the faces of poor, homeless, and other marginalized folks, especially big groups of Latino families. Parents brought lots of smiling kids dressed in orange and black out to savor a bit of victory with multigenerational relatives, chosen family, friends, and neighbors.
The other thing I saw were tons and tons of police, in foreboding riot gear, even before the Giants won, already set up to shut down people’s joy. I heard the menacing wings of the helicopter circling ever lower overhead, shining its preying spotlight eyes on our merriment. I also saw the cops swinging batons, pushing against and arresting people, and shooting beanbag/rubber bullets at folks — and hitting them (and I saw a friend medic bandage up a teen who got hit by one of these bullets, just one of many touching acts of neighborly aid).
But the other key thing that I witnessed was an abundance of what could be called “class consciousness” and a focused political sensibility — and in large part, practiced by people who aren’t what are depicted as “the usual suspects.” The streets were marked by what two friends of mine in the Unceded Coast Salish Territories label “joyful militancy.”
The property damage that, today, is being finger-wagged at by mainstream media and others wasn’t the property damage of stealing homes or small businesses or neighborhood parks — the property damage that displacements day after day after . . . with little peep from the same newspapers. It involved tagging, burning garbage for bonfires on concrete pavement, displacing construction materials from “exclusive” new condo projects. It was by and large directed, in short, at targets related to what’s displacing folks, especially the poor, working class, homeless or precariously housed, queers, bohemians, kids with skateboards, families, those on social security and/or with disabilities, people of color, those for home English isn’t a first language, people without papers, folks without other options, and those many who aren’t choosing to get kicked out.
I repeatedly heard chants of “RIP Alex Nieto” and “RIP Mike Brown.” I saw lots of graffiti related to Alex Nieto’s recent murder by the SF police (for being a Latino in an upscaling and increasingly young-rich-white-males neighborhood) as well as slogans decrying gentrification. Fencing was pulled away from a super-luxury and super-egregious (racist, even; this particular complex is turning the “New Mission” cinema into “the Alamo” within this soon-to-be-former Latino area) development called Vida. An empty cop car parked on a side street was smashed up and covered in spray-painted words like “fuck the police,” and all the passersby who watched were gleeful, perfectly understanding the resentment toward cops in this neighborhood.
Giants fans at least twice took smaller traffic-cop vehicles for short joy rides; police here are increasingly ticketing and criminalizing certain types of people in an effort to “clean up” the Mission for development, including targeting vehicles that homeless folks sleep in by ticketing them. A pink mustache was torn off a “sharing economy” car and burned in a harmless bonfire on Valencia Street. One of the biggest and worst property developer/realtors, Vanguard, had its big office building (a fascist-looking place, and I don’t say that lightly) heavily tagged. This is a sampler of the “losses.”
We can debate all night if this property destruction is a good or bad thing, or strategically useful in any way to stop what’s going on here in San Francisco, perhaps the richest and most heartless of cities at this historical moment.
But what’s far more interesting to debate — and often rarely gets addressed, and indeed should be the subject of rigorous contemplation — is the seemingly sacred right to property, the ability of property owners and their wealthy accomplices to sell off whole cities, including the lives and homes and dreams of too many people within them. Every time I see street art proclaiming “This city is not for sale,” it feels at best wishful thinking and at worst a cruel joke.
Yes, there’s a lot of anger here in San Francisco and even more sorrow, and if that comes out in various ways — tears and depression, electoral and direct action tactics, shaming landlords and just screaming into the wind at times — that should be completely understandable. Sadly, of course, none of it is working.
We, so many of us, are being displaced, the refugees of a war that is being made invisible by the powers-that-be and those many upstarts aspiring to follow in their greedy footsteps.
Last night, the Giants won and class warriors in the Mission won, too, if only for a healing moment. We took to our streets — or what used to be our streets — and created our own triumphant visibility, seeing each others’ joy and pain. We who are experiencing the abandonment that is San Francisco shared a bit of joy and healing.
The crime, without rhetorical flourish here, is capitalism. It’s stealing homes and lives. That’s the real loss.
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This piece was originally published online, with my gratitude, in Fireworks, a Bay Area anarchist news magazine, at http://fireworksbayarea.com/featured/the-giants-won-and-capitalism-is-the-loss/.
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(Photographer unknown, police car between Mission and Capp streets, around 21st Street, in SF’s Mission; bus stop memorial for Alex Nieto and Mike Brown, somewhere in SF’s Mission. Photo by Cindy Milstein of World Series street art, “Win or Lose, Fuck the Police. RIP Alex Nieto” sticker, 16th Street, SF’s Mission. All pictures from October 28, 2014.)