There’s a noticeable and necessary sea change in “solidarity not charity” eviction defense in San Francisco, as evidenced by the November 18, 2014, rally outside yet another endangered home, this time in Hayes Valley at 194 Gough Street. That shift isn’t accidental; it’s due, in particular, to the tenants themselves, who carefully curated their own “Save Our Homes” public plea.
So a big shout-out to those Ellis-Acted tenants — jazz vocalist Jacqui Naylor, pianist Art Khu, executive director of the Domestic Violence Consortium Beverly Upton, and Public Library employee Dave Hill — for acting against their menacing eviction by building owner Ken Hirsh of Brownstone Investments in a personal and communal way.
On the one hand, as Jacqui literally sang of her twenty-year-long home, “Oh how I want to stay . . . in my city by the bay.”
On the other hand, to her and the other tenants’ credit, they used the noontime gathering in front of their threatened home to talk about our collective power to stay in all our homes and neighborhoods, to keep San Francisco a place of people not profit, greed, and money. They helped facilitate a more proactive narrative. Or as Jacqui also asserted, “Community comes from people coming together.”
One of those shifts is something that’s happened before, mind you, at other eviction defense actions, but it was especially highlighted here: displacement happens to neighbors and communities, not merely lone individuals. The corollary to that, as a Twitter post coincidentally noted on the same day as this rally, is: “Love requires a neighborhood.”
The second, more significant shift, though, was that their convergence offered up a prefigurative ask of the owner, the city, and its residents. It suggested a way to qualitatively begin to pull housing out of the market logic that is bludgeoning the heart of San Francisco and stop the eviction of this home in particular.
Outside this historic building, constructed after the 1906 earthquake by inventor Rube Goldberg, and still containing original wallpaper and fixtures, an innovative solution was demanded: land trust this home; land trust many other homes. Again, the land trust has been mentioned before, but as afterthought, as background once a fight is partly won. Here, it was held up as the cornerstone of what will and should stop this eviction, for good.
Because as one of the speakers at this rally explained, after her own fight for a year to stop her Ellis Act eviction at another building, another longtime home, her reprieve didn’t last long. Maybe two months. Her landlord is appealing her court victory, wanting her and her housemate out at all costs.
So the corollary here to the land trust solution, or perhaps the third of the sea changes in motion, was the loud and clear emphasis at this rally on our own desire and power to stay. To stay solid. To stay in this home, in our homes, in ways that also give us the power to make the decision to stay for the long haul, and then, when we’re ready to go, hand our home over to someone else at a reasonable cost that lets them have the power to stay too.
The four tenants at the Rube Goldberg building shared their own stories, but they also made the choice to ask other Ellis-Acted tenants from other homes to join them at this rally and center all the stories on our collective power. As one of those people noted, “is not about me. It’s about us all.”
As this rally underscored, too much of San Francisco is potentially and actually facing eviction. Such displacement touches too many homes, but it also vanishes the surrounding support systems for people. A woman with grayish-white hair and a homemade sign that read “trying to stay mellow on a fixed income” explained at the rally that her church as well as her home are at risk of eviction.
So besides this public speak-out at a busy intersection during lunch, the tenants also hung banners from the windows of their building, including one big, bold orange one declaring “RESISTANCE = HOME.” I’m proud to say that I spent nearly a week of evenings painting that banner on my kitchen table for the “housing for all” contingent in this past June’s Pride parade, where it joined another long banner marking “EVICTION = DEATH.” I long had wondered what became the one I made, and why it hadn’t been used again. Now, as I biked up to join in this eviction defense, here it was, proudly hanging on the side of this home.
Apparently, among many others, the banner also caught the attention of a group of schoolchildren walking by, and soon a bunch of kids joined in the rally, standing across the street from us, raising their fists and waving their arms in support.
There are too many of these eviction defense rallies in San Francisco these days, because there are too many evictions. Such direct actions outside vanishing homes, vicious real estate and developers’ offices, greedy landlords’ houses, and the like are the necessary stuff of resistance. In many instances, they have made the difference in staying the execution of losing one’s home — at least for another few months, another year. Temporary victories, but victories nonetheless. Such is the life in a war zone.
So it’s often difficult to make them all, much as one wants to, and many of these eviction defenses bring together a few dozen people. At this Tuesday’s show of strength, though, there were some hundred of us rallying by the building, and many, like the schoolchildren and many other passersby, standing for several minutes in solidarity with us. Or honking in support, as many a car’s or motorcycle’s or truck’s driver did when they stopped at the intersection’s light, and saw the banners and signs and crowd.
Maybe our numbers and the clearly larger sense of support was due to the sunny-perfect day or extra good outreach. Perhaps it was because those of us left are increasingly aware of what we are losing and so want to bear witness — before we, too, are forced out. But this also seemed to capture a sea change of sorts, in the way that the recent “riot” after the Giants’ World Series win created space for people to express their anger at the class war swirling around them (see my https://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2014/10/30/the-giants-won-and-capitalism-is-the-loss/) or the recent Day of the Dead created space for people to express their grief at being dispossessed of their neighborhood (see my https://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/time-travel/).
More people seem to be acting up, fighting back, asking for more: the power to stay.
So many joined in the Rube Goldberg rally, beyond the typical numbers and types. Librarians against displacement and SEIU members, Tenderloin Housing Clinic and Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco lawyers and tenants rights organizers, Eviction Free San Francisco and Plaza 16 Coalition / La Plaza 16 Coalición direct actionistas, others being evicted in ways outside the Ellis Act, poets and musicians and artists, currently homeless and former Homes Not Jails folks, anarchists and queers, the young and old, people of color, Food Not Bombs organizers, teachers and students, plumbers and construction workers, those who fought prior housing battles in San Francisco or whose parents fought them in battles like the I-Hotel, people with disabilities, people who grew up in this city, and on and on.
This morning, before I came to this rally, I walked outside my own door near 16th and Mission streets, and saw the Hotel Eula, a formerly bedraggled SRO for the down-and-out across the street and about two-doors down from my home. It is now emptied of its tenants. They, too, have been evicted. Scaffolding and other tools of upscale development now clothe the building, transforming it for far-different future tenants.
A badly hand-written sign on yellow-lined paper is taped to the front door, which has metal bars locked tight in front of it. The sign reads, “Closed for 3 months Remodeling. No rooms for rent + no visitors! Will not rent to no one!” No doubt, when the construction materials are gone along with the “Hotel Eula” signs (or maybe they’ll keep them, for kitsch effect), some newly arrived tech youths will rent each fancy “SRO” room for $500 or $750 a week, or $2,000 or $3,000 a month, as their bridge until they find their longer-leased abode for $4,000, $5,000, or more per month. No doubt such pricey “new” homes will have been built on the souls of the evicted, with cold granite kitchen counters as the only proof of the cold-heartedness that made such displacement possible.
Yes, “EVICTION = DEATH,” as that other big banner used a lot in SF demonstrations declares, too accurately.
Yet also, “RESISTANCE = HOME.” It has to, for sure. But it also, in the most poignant and beautiful of ways, creates home through the act of resisting communally. We’ve no other choice, those of us who want to stay put in our homes, within our lives and communities.
Still, we also do have a choice. Some give up; others, like those at the “Save Our Home” rally outside the Rube Goldberg building, stand their ground, act up, and fight back.
One of the Gough Street residents spoke of how if evicted, she’ll likely not find housing that she can remotely afford anywhere remotely near San Francisco. She talked about what it would mean to be a two-hour commute, say, from her job, which is about helping folks who are having an especially hard, brutal time due to domestic violence.
She didn’t say that she, too, is having an especially hard, brutal time, although that’s implicit.
What was explicit at this rally was that, on the one side of the equations going on in San Francisco, “GREED RULES IN SF,” as one placard read, and on the other side, our side, “this fight is empowering,” as an evicted tenant proclaimed.
“RESISTANCE = HOME.” Yet equally, asserting and staying put in one’s home, the ordinary act of living one’s life on the battlefield called San Francisco, equals resistance.
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(Photo by Marko Muir, Oak Street at Gough, San Francisco, November 18, 2014. For a relatively good news story about this rally, see http://www.beyondchron.org/community-protests-ellis-eviction-historic-rube-goldberg-building/.)