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Things I Hate about San Francisco's Gentrification: A Love Poem
by Cindy Milstein
Friday Nov 22nd, 2013 10:02 PM
Please note: The original version of this piece includes many photos; if interested, see

For three weeks in August-September 2013, I returned to San Francisco for what was supposed to be an eight-week respite from caretaking my mom, whose rare form of cancer seemed to be relatively under control. My dad had died about three months earlier, on May 16, after nine months on "life" support, the ghastly outcome of a tiny mosquito bite that gave him a rare illness as well: severe West Nile, a by-product in large part of capitalist-generated climate catastrophe. The acceleration and proliferation of cancers and viruses is, in no small measure, another by-product of contemporary capitalism. We should then add in all the ways in which the medical-pharmaceutical complex, a phenomenally profitable growth industry today, manufactures all sorts of extra health woes once one is sick -- so-called side effects. It also "extends life" by producing near-lifeless bodies to warehouse in prison-like institutions even as it pays low, precarious wages to "care worker" bodies to deal, quite literally, with shit.

I'd been caretaking both my parents since late August 2012, mostly in mid-Michigan, their longtime home, where second-generation downward mobility seems to have ground people into quiet acquiesce concerning their own social suffering. San Francisco was meant to be a break, with a stay in my beloved collective home at 16th and Mission streets. In March 2013 when I briefly visited San Francisco over the anarchist bookfair weekend, I'd felt such unexpected relief from the crushing weight of being responsible for my parents' lives and deaths that I assumed spending more time in the Bay Area in late summer would offer the same sense of temporary lightness.

I hadn't counted on state and capital to be quite so fierce, though.

On my first day back in August, I walked the length of Mission Street from 16th and 24th, and could hardly comprehend the transformations that had taken place since my last stroll just shy of six months earlier. I swung back on Valencia, then through SOMA and alongside Mission Creek into China Basin, past the AT&T stadium and along the bay-front walkways, over to the Ferry Building, and then along Market Street, winding my way back to 16th and Mission streets, all the while experiencing vertigo from the amount of changes. Giant metal cranes had settled into menacing perches all around the city, aiding and abetting so-called developers to rip the remaining heart from San Francisco. Shiny, anonymous, lavishly expensive new buildings -- a mix of "work place live" structures -- had mushroomed up everywhere, including around the blocks that house (for now) the scrappy 16th Street BART plaza.

My mind could not take in the ability of wealth and power to distort a city so quickly, so completely, in such a short period. This structural adjustment had been taking place in bits and pieces over time, for sure, but capitalist destruction/construction backed up by policy and police was now operating at a speed matching the source of its underwriter: the social media machinery. Within a short span this year, for instance, the financial hurricane called evictions -- hard and soft, legal and illegal -- was able to swiftly uproot most of San Francisco's inhabitants, especially the "tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breath free" who had long called this city their home, and just as swiftly replaced them with an Autonomatronics-like, ultra-hip-rich populace -- trendy pop-up humans to match the trend toward pop-up stores.

The next day after my arrival and long walk, I went to a meeting of Eviction-Free Summer, composed of San Franciscans valiantly embracing a solidarity model to openly contest their displacement. While I'm partial to Don Quixote efforts to fight the windmills of commodification, it was obvious that using direct action tactics to try to mutually aid two or three households at a time from being evicted in the face of the mass de/repopulation of this city was plainly too little, too late. But how could resistance have been "earlier," given the warp speed of what gets called gentrification these days? And what would the strategic targets have been -- targets that would be immediately recognizable to and garner sympathy from large numbers of impacted people, and potentially then coalesce them into a social movement? Sitting down at the front of the Google bus? Throwing a wrench in, say, the new bike lanes and glitter-sprinkled sidewalks, or the decorative kale outside offices and indigenous-vegetation-filled green spaces, that civic and corporate elites systemically used, among other pretty tools, to rearrange the urban landscape as a clubhouse for themselves? Occupations of social media spaces such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? Gluten-free, vegan, locally sourced, organic bread riots?

After one too many poignant stories at the Eviction-Free Summer meeting, from people I knew would soon be without their homes, without their city -- people who needed their homes because of AIDS or permanently paralyzed bodies, for example -- I cried my way back to the one place that's ever really felt like home to me, with the nagging knowledge that it, too, will likely soon be only a memory. A couple days later, I went to Eviction-Free Summer's hastily called demonstration, which felt more like a wake, at the corner of Mission and 17th streets after the eviction of one of San Francisco's last autonomous collective spaces, and felt angry (even though I knew they weren't to blame) at all those anarchists who gave up without a fight and moved, a bit too gladly, to Oakland, the newest cutting-edge/edgy city for antiauthoritarians. The might of perhaps the greatest wealth consolidation in history is cornering us all into a series of bad, worse, and far worse "choices." I waved my powerless fist in the air with others, listened to multiple tales from English-as-a-second-language voices of their impending evictions from the Mission, and then couldn't take it anymore, walking away from this act of witnessing with, yet again, tears in my eyes.

My "break" quickly became the source of revealing my own brokenness, of adding further sorrow and loss to all the losses I was being battered by in mid-Michigan. Here, so clearly, was this new loss of a city I loved -- a city that represented, for me and so many others, a place of radical experimentation, countercultures and subcultures, refuge, and queerness, but also a place that was home to misfits and immigrants, the poor and working class, the undocumented and outlaw, because it was affordable and "progressive." It was able to be shaped by the social fabrics of strong Latino, black, Chinese, and Japanese communities, among others; it was able to be shaped by strong communities of anarchist and feminist spaces, to name two, and a long tradition of resistance and social movements to fight against all the ways in which poverty, displacement, and various forms of oppression also shaped this city. The land below San Francisco had certainly been stolen from peoples before -- first inhabitants and first nations, followed by waves of those who weren't wanted elsewhere, who were exploited as laborers, and/or were seen as undesirable and dangerous. Gentrification isn't new; it's gone by other names, like colonialism, and has erased other histories, harming, breaking, and killing a too-long list of other people. But it's usually been a slower process, over years or decades, able to be battled (even if lost) and grieved (even if never replaceable).

Now, it seemed, capitalism had won out before people even knew what hit them, with far-too-much self-satisfaction on the now far-too-homogeneous face of this flattened, upscaled landscape -- as if there had never been another San Francisco, and never will be. And San Francisco, in turn, now looked like too many other global cities, also abruptly expropriated and refashioned. If it weren't for the hills in the distance, one could just as easily walk through parts of Manhattan, for instance, and be confused about which hyper-privatized metropolis one was viewing (for surely, most of us cannot partake in any substantive way in the fruits of these places, even their "public" amenities, so we become more voyeurs than participants or inhabitants, assuming we can afford to return after being pushed out).

Yes, what's happening (or rather, has happened) to San Francisco isn't so different from the sorrow of what's happening to big cities on this continent, like Vancouver and Seattle, Montreal and Brooklyn, and even "livable" smaller cities like Madison, Wisconsin, not to mention metropoles around the globe. But there's also a way in which we fail to see the particularities of how state and capital impacts different places and different people in different, often vastly disproportionate ways, and how we fail to spotlight the structural forces that determine and implement what comes to be known as gentrification. Those particularities are crucial to highlight, even if they seem like minor details against the gargantuan homogeneity that destroys them. They are holders of the differentiation in each of these and other places -- their histories, struggles, memories, lives, accomplishments, pleasures and pains, festivals, foods, inventions and traditions, arts, and so on. They are markers of those things that make us recognize these cities and their inhabitants as distinct, unique, and loved -- as ours, but also as others from whom this same land was stolen in the past. And thus, they hold the key to how to both make this centuries-long theft visible and fight its systemic logic now, in ways -- I hope -- that are honest to the dilemmas embedded in any solidarity and resistance aimed at developing communities of care instead.

Several years ago, a variety of organizers -- indigenous, immigrant, anarchist, queer, feminist, people without homes, people with a variety of access needs, and others -- came together under the banner "No Olympics on Stolen Native Lands" in the Unceded Coast Salish Territories (so-called Vancouver) to contest the historical and current thief of these specific lands -- along with lives and cultures, bodies and minds -- under the subterfuge of the winter Olympic games. Besides forging social bonds and trust, however fragile, among peoples divided by decades and centuries of loss, the week of demonstrations and direct actions was an effort to begin to understand what it might mean to move toward a future that recognized all the ways in which urban spaces have been stolen, from nationalist colonialism and industrial capitalism to settler colonialism and hipster capitalism. The convergence attempted to find a different route -- dignified, ecological, holistic -- and forge different social relations among people/groups often pitted against each other by the murderous hierarchies and exploitation foisted on them. It was also structured around the particular history/present of the Unceded Coast Salish Territories, and illuminated it via the targets and symbols chosen that week, precisely because the Olympics was again stealing lands and spaces from indigenous peoples in particular, all the while engaging in cultural appropriation/co-optation of various indigenous bands to try to hide the economic appropriation that was handing the city over to the rich -- and nonindigenous -- through the building frenzy to showcase the Olympics.

Many tales could be told here for each of the cities and spaces being lost at this historical moment, but let me share just one more. It comes from Brooklyn, the new "New York" (or is it the new "Oakland," or is Oakland the new "Brooklyn"?), and Bed-Stuy in particular. A sixty-year-oldish black woman passed along this story during a panel on dreams/schemes to take land and housing in New York out of market relations, returning them to use value. The panel took place in a new anarchist(ic) social center in Bushwick, on lands stolen long ago from the Lenape peoples, across from the borough called Manhattan that, when first stolen by the Dutch from the Lenape, included upward of one-quarter African slaves among its initial "New World" population. Those slaves, once some of their stolen bodies were permitted some "freedom," were given land for farming and burial, but that too was eventually stolen, as described so movingly in the recently created museum at the recently "discovered" African burial grounds -- "lost to history due to landfill and development," as the official Web site notes -- near Wall Street. But back to my retelling, likely poorly, of this Bed-Stuy woman's story.

When she was a young girl, she used to walk through beautiful Bed-Stuy with her grandmother. They knew everyone, and everyone knew them, and the neighborhood was safe and clean. And mostly black. One day during their stroll, she tried to toss some garbage into one of the city-supplied trash containers on every corner, and realized they were suddenly all gone. The city has taken them all away, overnight. Neighbors soon organized to place their own garbage cans on each corner and then collect the trash weekly to mix in with their own trash at home for municipal pickup there. Soon, the city stopped emptying out the neighborly corner garbage bins. So neighbors organized again, this time to collect anyone's trash right front of their own houses and again mix it in with their weekly city garbage pickup. The city then stopped collecting garbage from the neighborhood altogether, turning the neighborhood, for all intents and purposes, into a dumping ground. The message, of course, was: we see you as garbage. That incident, to paraphrase this woman's tale, is how institutionalized racism mixes with structural transformation to first destroy communities -- treating black people and their neighborhoods as dirty and worthless -- and then later (as in now) sets about cleaning it up (public trash cans reappear and are emptied regularly, sidewalks and roads suddenly get fixed, bike paths and new street lighting are added, etc.), expropriating it, and reselling it to the highest bidder.

Most people, increasingly the majority of people, lose out in this process. Knowing the context and histories of these losses, though, not only honors them and perhaps permits us to learn from them but also might offer us better road maps to sharing, using, and enjoying land and housing, communities and cities, in ways that don't replicate the same colonialist and capitalist logics that are "socialized" into our minds and bodies from birth.

Ah, but I stray from my own route, so let's return to the streets of San Francisco.

To soothe the pain of this devastation, political and personal, I decided to play a perverse game with myself during my short and alas foreshortened August-September 2013 visit (I had to rush back to Michigan unexpectedly for what became the last three weeks of my mom's life; she died well and in her room, thanks to the care and dignity of hospice, on October 3). One has to walk toward and through grief; it doesn't merely go away on its own accord. So I continued to wander far and wide at random through San Francisco, but tried to pinpoint some of the specificity of the changes wrought (and for that matter, bought) by capitalism. Whenever I chanced on something that seemed to capture the high-tech-funded landgrab of San Francisco, I boiled it down to the 140 words or less of a tweet.

I rarely make use of Twitter, but in my sluggish depression, those 140 words or less were about all I could muster, and at first it felt like the equivalent of an angry outburst -- nearly pointless and likely unconvincing, but damned cathartic. I started off by numbering the tweets, with the notion of creating a top-ten list, then top-twenty or two-dozen list, then. . . . And then it struck me: Twitter the form was perfect as a means to mourn the loss of this city to Twitter the corporation and its now-billionaire compatriots, the new ruling class that's shaping and benefiting from the compulsion of contemporary capitalism. Twitter encapsulates the specific neo-enclosure taking place in San Francisco: at once seemingly opening up space for all and yet thoroughly closing off possibilities for most of humanity -- materially, politically, ecologically, and even linguistically.

What better poetic form to use, ironically of course (because irony, too, became almost a structural component in this new stage of displacement), for attempting to grasp all that I hate about San Francisco's gentrification, and make my little game ever more perverse? If I was going to bury my dead, killed off by this system, why not use the master's tools as one last painful stab into my own already-bludgeoned heart?

Tweets, after all, are the new poetry for our age -- an age in which the superpowerful global few are reducing the whole of the world and thus selling off the future, to the point where everyone and everything is threatened with mass destruction. They appear to do the poetic work of offering up emotional responses to the range of experiences, from joy and love to tragedy and suffering, that make us human. Yet by ultimately reducing our communication and dialogue to near-meaninglessness in that always-constrained 140 words or less, tweets reduce us and our humanity too. The tradition of rebellious poetry -- on paper and the streets -- that tagged San Francisco as a place of experimentation with communal and qualitative social relations is now being buffed over by "revolutionary" app developers and "creative" capitalists drunk on kimbucha and their own power to "change the world," with near-meaninglessness attached to their aspiration.

By imposing the 140x140 cage of this form on myself, at best I was attempting to see if I could be precise about this thing called gentrification and what we're up against; at worst, I was acknowledging and maybe exposing the damage done to us all, myself included, simply due to the mere fact of "living" in this social-media-mediated society. What words do we have left for all that's been take away from us, ranging from our ability to remember how to speak with each other in meaning-filled words all the way down the line to our very future? Or is there a way to make each and every word count, and for us to really reflect on, listen to, hear, comprehend, dialogue about, and then collectively contest the twenty-first-century's terrain of pleasure for a miniscule elite and pain for everyone else, and strive instead for ubiquitous, egalitarian social goodness?

So my new goal was to "pen" a Tweeter poem, with broad brushstrokes of irony:

* 140 lines of 140 words or less

* the lines were actually posts, with each one typed on my smartphone with one finger during my various dérives through San Francisco

* none of the lines were created in any coherent order, or with any coherent order in mind; they are chronological, following the order in which I stumbled across something that seemed tweet worthy -- or tweet possible

* all of the lines were the result of letting myself be drawn, willingly or not, into the shiny-nouveau-riche landscape of San Francisco or city news of the day, fleetingly here now and gone tomorrow from our memory banks and Tweeter feeds

* once written, each line was instantaneously whisked into the public cybersphere as a post to instantaneously appear on my Twitter and Facebook pages, all the while knowing that Instagram is where it's now "at" (or was, when I was creating my 140x140 poem), but I'm not good -- yet -- at thinking in squares

* I did, however, use my smartphone's camera, and so have sprinkled various photos throughout my 140x140 poem below, partially to add to the fractured, disorienting, ADD quality of navigating the world today, electronic and "real," thereby making it almost impossible for us to find solid ground from which to act

Grieving what's lost is part and parcel of the practice of loving. If death and dying, grief, and grieving, have been taken from us, hidden from view as commodity forms, it is not only because they are now immensely profitable. It is also because they are the stuff of life, illuminating the meaning within life for its own sake, lives and communities worth living in, including and especially the meaning of forms of love that haven't been privatized, commodified, and enclosed. Love and loving as commons. And that entails the bold, rebellious practice of stealing back and making visible not only life and love but also, concurrently and as part of our everyday lives, death and grief.

So here is the gift of my love poem -- straight from a heart that isn't sure it can weather much more loss, but knows it likely will have to -- for all that's been lost in San Francisco, "thanks" to forces that I hate.

Note: Like any good anarchist, I broke the rules when those rules didn’t make sense. In this case, while I tweeted 140 characters or less for each of these 140 reasons why I hate San Francisco’s gentrification, that meant leaving the period off the end of about a half-dozen reflections. In the interest of consistency and good grammar, I’ve added periods to all the sentences in my poem, thereby making some of them 141 characters. So I figured I could also squeeze in a rule-breaking reason #141 -- parenthetically, though, for those who want to ignore it in favor of the “purity” of the 140x140 poetic form.

* * *

Things I Hate about San Francisco's Gentrification: A Love Poem

1. You can now get poutine in the Mission, or, nothing becomes special to or about specific places.

2. So much new housing, from eco-sleek-hip-pricey condos to cart-cardboard "tiny homes" on streets.

3. Rehab of 24th St BART plaza, another infrastructure link in displacing, is dubbed "improvement."

4. A guy starts a friendly chat w/me in a cafe, only to ask my view of his new hi-tech product design.

5. I don't run into tons of people I know, because no one can afford to live here anymore.

6. A lot more folks are talking to themselves, electronically (if rich) & into the air (if poor).

7. Cranes of the animal kind appear to have been replaced by cranes of the metal kind.

8. Small-batch is beautiful -- and expensive.

9. Startups are the new upstarts.

10. The narcissism of the e-nouveau riche prefers huge glass windows, not mirrors.

11. The palette for street art is one's entrepreneurial body.

12. Plaques commemorating working-class history make great additions to new upscale constructions.

13. People begin despising buses because of Google (et al.) instead of Google (et al.).

14. The nostalgia it generates for the "kinder, gentler" gentrification of the dot-com days.

15. For many, collective living becomes a painful necessity not a political or pleasurable choice.

16. There seems to be a direct relation between the rise of "artisanal" food and a neo-feudalism.

17. The public parks are increasingly enclosed by playgrounds built for the rich kids.

18. Eviction as first-world structural adjustment program & lucrative business model.

19. Mutual aid is about savvy evictors freely sharing their newfound expertise with each other.

20. It's the avant-garde of gentrification-to-come elsewhere.

21. Someone hugged & kissed a friend good-bye on the street, then said, "Make lots of money today."

22. Cardboard is more often the stuff of homelessness (for signs or shelter) than protests.

23. Direct action doesn't seem to get the goods ("We are losing").

24. $8.95 burritos are replacing $5 ones; creme brûlée trucks are replacing taco trucks.

25. Unemployment is down 'cause the unemployed have to leave town to find work or cheap(er) homes.

26. It's both hyperbole and lived reality that Steve Jobs started a revolution.

27. The industry around supplying dogs with all the creature comforts, including gyms.

28. Beneath the paving stones installed with glitter & Mexican art motifs, lost & stolen cultures.

29. A Bay Area health clinic defines "low income" as someone making $88,000 or less.

30. Twitter's new headquarters seems less an office & more an anchor to flip another neighborhood.

31. Yoga at the airport.

32. Bikes' use value is transformed into bikes as accessories for a lean, green, costly lifestyle.

33. Social media as city planner & developer, arbiter of cool, news, social reality, insta-life.

34. The number of square blocks of "they'll never be able to clean up that area" gets less & less.

35. The self is both the means & product of production.

36. The enormous slogans on sleek high-rise housing construction projects, like "Life above All."

37. Longtime huge, grungy, $ thrift shops kicked out for ever-changing tiny, cutesy, $$$$ vintage.

38. The re-marketization of Market Street.

39. The dizzying, disorienting, ever-accelerating speed of it.

40. Creation of sweatshops for high-tech workers from low-wage countries for nearly no wages here.

41. "Soft evictions," ejecting the vulnerable under the radar of statistics so they don't count.

42. "Public" parklets (but don't sit or lie unless you buy).

43. One could nearly eat off the floors of the fancy auto repair shops filled with minis.

44. The back alleys are the new front doorsteps for the wealthy.

45. It isn't chic to wear radical T-shirts, even if only for the ironic effect.

46. The city is so ecological one could almost forget about Fukushima's radiation & climate change.

47. The boss must have gluten-free bread, but also single-origin espresso with hint of roses.

48. The de-Mexicification, as a friend put it, of architecture & public space.

49. The Eastern-tinged wellness infrastructure for selfie-actualization.

50. Poor & working-class people's grub, like grits, is grist for boutiquey new & newer restaurants.

51. The yawning gap between min-wage service workers & those hot commodities called baristas.

52. The museum-like quality of bohemia & the counterculture.

53. Accessible City College ed under attack; wide-open embrace for exclusive app conferences.

54. Vacant storefronts whose windows were used for edgy art are now storefronts.

55. White guys carrying around skateboards that look like they've never been used.

56. It's a punishable crime under municipal law not to recycle & compost.

57. Shit suddenly gets fixed up, like roads, bridges & sidewalks.

58. The steepest hill is barely a dramatic enough metaphor for the gap between the rich & poor.

59. Anything proudly declaring itself "local" looks suspiciously like it dropped from Mars.

60. What the abundance of scaffolding & plywood w/Post No Bills & bldg permit signs on them bodes.

61. That there is now a "tech class," and it has lots & lots of power.

62. Gay-friendly heteronormativity replacing queer mecca.

63. City ban on plastic checkout bags ushers in fee for "bio" checkout bags "with a conscience."

64. Diversity-friendly white supremacy replacing people of color, especially black people.

65. Pop-ups.

66. People are desirous of seeing the world through Google glasses.

67. Don't like going to the office? Lease a creative space!

68. Some rich parents are now so extra rich they can afford the time to stroll their own babies.

69. Tinier & tinier & higher-tech surveillance cameras in more & more places, including on bodies.

70. Critical Mass looks like a showroom for the latest, greatest, costliest in bikes & components.

71. The "Live! Work! Play!" (& be happy!) revamp of what's meant by a company town.

72. The use of the word "flexible" as means to mask the reality of "precarity."

73. The fetishization with trying to stay forever young, as via, say, fountains of kimbucha.

74. That new words are created to describe the new people created by the new city, like "glasshole."

75. The beauty (& price list) makeover for barber shops.

76. The only "trickle down" is the further displacement that gets increasingly shifted to Oakland.

77. That SF is likened to NYC & Oakland to Brooklyn, mostly because all are becoming unaffordable.

78. Lusty Lady, the world's only unionized worker-owned peep show co-op, gets screwed by eviction.

79. Adding value by making visible & aestheticizing sites of production.

80. Wealthy corps ask caterers to dress in their own clothes while serving so as to feign equality.

81. The beauty of unadorned expanses of wood is adornment for expensive urban interior design.

82. Whiskey not PBR, or says an SF distiller, "[Certain] people are drinking less, but better."

83. The "foreign" language I randomly overhear most often on the streets is British English.

84. The class divide between stores that still use cash registers & those that use tablets instead.

85. Using an entire city to beta test the privatization of abundant excess for a few.

86. Tech workers who bemoan loss of quinoa as subsistence crop in Bolivia & ignore hunger here.

87. Property developers/owners as part vanguard, part schoolyard bully.

88. Murals look more sanctioned & sanitized.

89. Transformation of cafes from social centers & political hotbeds to centers of cyber industry.

90. Farm markets with nary a farmworker in eyesight.

91. Shift from festival waterfronts, problematic as they were, to fitness waterfronts.

92. It pays to be progressive.

93. The masses only seem to rise up over professional sports team victories.

94. The conspicuous consumption of minimalism.

95. That it instills a perverse eagerness to visit the social media giants' campuses/headquarters.

96. Life imitates memes.

97. The history that is now shaping this place sounds too conspiracy-theory-like to be believed.

98. The big social media companies' private inter-social-media sites house today's old boys' club.

99. Updates are instantly outdated, fulfilling Levi's current ads, "The future is leaving."

100. Full-on, sanctimonious implementation of LSD-induced, hippie dream of cybernetics utopia.

101. Primitive accumulation by turning ex-offices bldgs into "physical social space" offices.

102. Glimpses of institutional mechanisms to make Chinatown too costly for Chinese to live there.

103. The blurred (erased?) line between tools & toys.

104. The glow on the street at nite of thousands of tiny, twinkling electronics like e-cigarettes.

105. As the "dual power" of private transit works its magic, BART becomes a scraggly underdog.

106. Tourists seem even more well-heeled & annoying than in the recent past.

107. Smugness among too many East Bay anticapitalists about not coming over to SF much anymore.

108. City & capital seem to triumphantly believe they need fewer (visible) cops & security guards.

109. Less evidence of generalized antagonism toward police, not to mention state & capital.

110. "Support 'heart' local business" signs gracing the latest interloper niche-shops on the block.

111. Use of "romantic" things of the past, like typewriters & books, as product display material.

112. The neocapitalists are lean, serene, and smile a bit too much.

113. Capitalism here has brought most of Starhawk's vision from "The Fifth Sacred Thing" to life.

114. Absurdly profitable pastiche of high & low eco-tech (& blind eye to its unsustainability).

115. Experiment in forging a whole city into a golden-gated community sans gates.

116. Publicly funded posters at bus stops turning social movement history into kaleiodoscopic mush.

117. That one can still see the contours of a refreshed capitalism from the heights of Twin Peaks.

118. Openness as the newest enclosure.

119. Organized religion, perhaps predictably, collaborates on evictions.

120. Folks are busily seeking tech to capture ever-smarter data, the better to social control us.

121. Calm spots to sit by the bay waters are disturbed by monetized spectacles like America's Cup.

122. Expensively yet understatedly attired, multitasking joggers appear to have won the rat race.

123. The painted-lady Victorian homes are a gaudy theme park for an era of clearer exploitation.

124. Distinct neighborhoods increasingly look indistinguishable.

125. Already-anachronistic anarchist bookstore can't find enough volunteers to even be open much.

126. The private accumulation generated from ensuring a lack of privacy or trying to protect it.

127. Junky "Made in China" dollar stores are reanimated as crisp-clean-cool Japanese $1.50.

128. Veneer of reharmonizing urban/rural via, say, inedible edible landscaping & barnboard facades.

129. The ultra-concentration of power & privilege facilitated by "democratic" technologies.

130. Systematic erasure of history, so that there's only the now, which is also already the future.

131. One sees few peace signs, even fewer circle-As & where oh where have all the unicorns gone?

132. Social prestige (& price tag) of trendy tiny stuff, from cars to itty-bitty grapes.

133. The big footprint of hardware/software innovations allowing for a lightweight lifestyle.

134. Much of the populace looks like lookalike "beautiful," "perfect-looking" 3-D versions of ads.

135. Hubris of social contract & social engineering (under)written & directed by high technologies.

136. Intentionally not-well-kept-secret secret spaces for with-it elites to meet, greet & consume.

137. In contrast to the film "Freaks," the monstrous, greedy "normal" people deform the deviates.

138. Ex-mom-&-pop shop signage is repurposed, w/no regard for meaning, to mark new "no logo" biz.

139. The bay is packed w/luxury boats, the loot of a piracy where the few rich rob the many poor.

140. The comforts of this remade city are, like the LED art install on the Bay Bridge, mesmerizing.

(141. Capitalism.)

* * *

Dedicated with unending love to Station 40 and my parents.

* * *

If you’ve run across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at Outside the Circle, Share, enjoy, and repost — as long as it’s free as in “free beer” and “freedom.”

(Photos by Cindy Milstein, San Francisco, August-September 2013)

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Mission District anti-gentrification person
Saturday Nov 23rd, 2013 7:50 PM
I tried over a period of several years -- got that, several years -- to get people at the subcultural identity space Station 40, located on 16th Street near Mission, to sponsor or get together some kind of public meeting regarding the current phase of rampant Mission District gentrification. Nothing happened.

And specifically I asked Cindy Milstein about this. Milstein was both smug and arrogant that Station 40 was never going to hold such an event.

And now we get to read a real long self-aggrandizing poem where Milstein calls attention to herself in a context where she soulfully laments a process that she and her buddies have never lifted a finger to oppose.

This really stinks.
by lordy lou
Sunday Nov 24th, 2013 12:58 AM
Jesus Christ Keating. It's not like people at station 40 didn't want to work with you at first. People really tried to bite their tounges and try and put something together with you on the subject of gentrification in the neighborhood, but in the end, you were to big a dick to really get past. "GUILTY AS CHARGED!" as you said.

Being that you come to most Station 40 talks and events I fail to see how it's that bad.

Station 40 was also part of helping to put on the recent block party that happened in the Mission as well as being a space for a variety of projects to take part in.

Quit whining about other people. Look in the mirror for god sakes.
by ntuit
Sunday Nov 24th, 2013 1:38 AM
Does the fact that someone wanting to do something is a "stupid dick" prevent others from doing what is right and worthwhile? This is just another example of the immaturity which cripples so much of the anarchist movement. When the focus is on what needs to be done and not on personalities and power plays, then maybe something will get done.
Regarding Station 40: These people have a big space on 16th Street at Mission Street, across the street from the BART plaza, have held many a public event over a multiple year period ostensibly focused on resistance to the evils of capitalism, and are so near the veritable ground zero of the most obvious hardcore zone of neighborhood-ruining embourgeoisification that you could hop to the expensive restaurants and boutiques along nearby repulsive Valencia on one leg.

I related to these people over a period of several years -- got that, over a period of several years -- trying to get them to host some kind of public meeting on what was happening to the working class neighborhood outside their subcultural scenester door. Nothing happened. Zip, zilch, ningun, nada. These scenesters couldn't interrupt their busy schedule of consuming riot porn from safely faraway Athens.

At one point I specifically asked long-time Station 40 habitue Cindy Milstein about the possibility of having a public meeting about the gentrification of the neighborhood and possible strategies of resistance. The anarcho-liberal Milstein smugly and primly assured this person that the "anti-capitalist" social center Station 40 would never have time for it. Presumably it would get in the way of their energetic indulgence of their spiky fantasy lives and quality time on Facebook -- all of these scenesters are Best-Friends-Forever with Comrade Mark Zuckerburg.

This encounter with Cindy Milstein took place several years ago.

Oh, yeah, regarding their little May 1st event with the Google pinata; they got together a one-time only event, mostly for their own passive entertainment, with no sustained action or follow-up activity afterwards. This is what these guys do, again and again; get together one-time only events to keep themselves entertained and give themselves the illusion that they are rebelling against something. This is a crowd that engages in endless posturing and no ongoing, credible real-world activity outside of their comfort zone. The fundamentally juvenile and inane character of their scene is their endless canard that "we won't work (sic!) with Kevin Keating." This is fine as an explanation for not engaging in political activity with Kevin Keating, but it fails to explain why a fairly sizable group of people with plenty of time on their hands who bond over the endless passive consumption of radical imagery have an unbroken multiple year-long track record of doing absolutely nothing more subversive than socializing with each other. Their scene is a fraud.

As always, I am eager to be proven wrong -- so when's the "anti-capitalist" social center Station 40 going to host a meeting about the gentrification of the working class neighborhood in which they claim to be opposing capitalism?
by miles
Sunday Nov 24th, 2013 12:45 PM
ntuit, you're off course on this one. "Anti-Gentrification Guy" is not an anarchist, and never gets tired of denouncing anarchists who won't play nice with him. The fact that he's obnoxious, patronizing, and can't find anyone to agree with his self-marginalized/ing outlier Marxism, means that anarchists with no sense of history are his only potential sponsors for his public meetings with his specific agenda. I dislike Cindy and the Station 40 cult, but I also know that they are actually easy to work with on events - as long as you're not a total dick. "AGG" is much more than that, and it's to the credit of Cindy et al that they decided not to provide a platform for this divisive, authoritarian, and alienating windbag. There are real-world reasons why nobody will work with this dude.
by Nique Les Flics
Sunday Nov 24th, 2013 3:49 PM
Yeah, all of the above is true about Keating, but what Keating says about the "scene" is also true. But none of this is productive. Anti-gentrification activism has been largely symbolic and/or policy-oriented, and neither has worked. There is no movement and this kind of activism does not build one. Soon after the "block party" where activists denounced the google bus and simplistically blamed gentrification on white people who move to SF (I remember in particular the hatred of "Tiny" from Poor Magazine), a female google worker stepping off the google bus got punched in the head by an assailant who ran away. Some dipshits probably think of that as righteous. Meanwhile, policy wonks try to amend the eviction laws by getting initiatives on the ballot, where (everyone knows) whoever has the most money wins.

How to build a movement? There is no science to it, but direct action is always a good start. In the 1930s depression neighbors and radicals physically blocked people from being evicted (not the symbolic "eviction blockades" of some current groups, which are mainly media events) and then if that didn't work, they broke the locks on the door and put people back into their homes, sometimes doing this repeatedly until the sheriff just gave up. More recently, people have taken back foreclosed homes and defended them from the bankster repo men. This type of activity really gets the blood moving, and in my opinion this is what brings people in. Negotiations with capitalists and obeying the unjust laws almost never work. Somebody has to take a stand.
by Anti-gentrification guy
Sunday Nov 24th, 2013 5:43 PM
"There are real-world reasons why nobody will work with this dude..."

This canard of the passive, sluggish and disengaged has already been addressed; see post above. To type again more slowly now for Miles's benefit, this makes for an adequate reason to not "work" with Kevin Keating. It fails as an excuse for you and your fellows to never venture outside of your subcultural comfort zone --and we're talking over the thirty-year period that I pissed away trying to take some among Miles and Company at their word. In the specific case we're addressing here Kevin Keating's willingness to do something in the real world relevant to full-fledged grown-ups regarding Mission gentrification served as a sufficient excuse for Station 40 and Co. to not have any public events addressing the problem of gentrification over a multiple-year long period -- and now for Cindy Milstien to write a long poem proclaiming that its too late to do anything!

Measured by what gets called an anarchist in the contemporary United States, I am not an anarchist. I am a political being and a dedicated anti-capitalist subversive. What's Miles alternative?
by Anti-gen. guy
Sunday Nov 24th, 2013 5:49 PM
Lordy lou:
"People really tried to bite their tounges and try and put something together with you (Kevin Keating) on the subject of gentrification in the neighborhood.."

This is utter crap. I tried to get them to turn off their Ipods and plug into the social question at hand for the better part of two years -- nothing happened. And this was several years ago. And a one-time only subsequent pinata party doesn't count.
by Max
Sunday Nov 24th, 2013 11:34 PM
...From 'SFist:'

"A reported 30 to 40 people attended an anti-gentrification block party in the Mission on Sunday where, among other things, a Google Bus piñata was smashed to ribbons. "The scent of sage was strong, but the revolution was falling short," notes Kevin Montgomery of Uptown Almanac, who attended the rally. He adds: "[A]ll that could be found around 2:30 in the afternoon were roughly 30-40 people surrounding an open-mic, a dozen or so taking advantage of the free food situation, [and] about a million cops stationed around the neighborhood."

Google's company bus, if you recall, caused controversy last week after a Chronicle op-ed chided the private buses, and the tech people who ride them, for not being civic-minded or terribly polite.

In the end, the party wasn't much of a call to action..."

And this is the mighty Station 40's notion of resistance to Mission gentrification??? And it took them many years to it get together to even do this, huh.

by cp
Monday Nov 25th, 2013 5:49 PM
I like your list (sometimes events like 'Billionaires for Bush' use 1930s style status symbols, and we don't think about modern indicators of status).

It makes me think of David Graeber's economic-anthropological explanation of the prudishness of Victorian england, or strict rules requiring collection of a dowry before household formation. In contemporary life, it would be inappropriate to look at the harsh rules of public behavior in Saudi Arabia and to conclude that it is merely their culture - clearly their economic system with kings and princes holding all the power lead them to institutionalize these strict rules. I his 5000 years of Debt book, Graeber writes about how in roman or greek civilizations, or victorian england, - the expanding gap between rich and poor would result in young people needing to typically work for wealthy people well into their 20s until they could hope to get married and afford basic housing or to care for children. He gave examples of young people finally saying 'screw it' and just getting married and having kids in a state of poverty, despite the disapproval of society, as it became common to reach your 30s without having been able to save enough dowry money, and people just denied their own independent life in a lose-lose situation.

I'm writing from Oregon. In San Francisco, clearly the working class and unemployed required the greatest sympathy, but I don't think the tech crowd are all winners in this situation. Most workers at those companies aren't top level programmers and many are paying over 33% or over 50% of their income in rent, or inflated house costs. The property owners and landlords are the ultimate winners in the situation. I still wonder why so many have to crowd into the bay area when they could work remotely with their technology, but I imagine people are like the striving victorians, still working within the system, who want to feel like they're living the high life, so they want to live in the cool city and visit cool bars at night (the interesting book and music stores having been shut down already).
It is a similar economic phenomenon to when many women started to work for wages in the 60s and 70s. The first two earner households were able to buy luxury and status items, but when it became common to have two earners, prices for all the household needs such as rent, food, medical, transportation and so forth all adjusted upwards due to supply and demand, so soon single earner households became poor and almost need subsidies for their basic needs. If you think about how productive our economy could be with a 40 hr week, all analog pre-computer technology, and single earners back in the 50s, it is clear that now many jobs are really somewhat useless for providing real needs, but we haven't found a way to deescalate and reduce working hours to 20 hrs/week each for two spouses, and to reduce prices. The fact that people often marry within class can compound the problem because two people with high end incomes are often the ones who don't bat an eye at the $3000/month two bedroom apartments - even though this behavior makes everyone else suffer.
I don't like to engage in generational warfare, but there are examples of unfairness on both sides. Younger people have a proven advantage in being hired for the more lucrative tech jobs in medicine or programming/(or tech business), but older people often had an opportunity to buy property when it was cheaper, and young people are being told to study harder and harder and take on huge school debts just to get started. I am pretty sure the current state of affairs is unsustainable and will eventually dissolve itself (as a global phenomenon - this is happening in many cities). And if people earning high wages didn't sock away some property, they won't stay advantaged forever.
by A.L.
Tuesday Nov 26th, 2013 4:53 AM
In the case of Station 40, someday we'll probably being hearing that their landlord has decided to cash in on the process that the Station 40 crowd could not be bothered to help oppose, and then we'll hear a lot of self-important howling about how poor little Station 40 was such an important and special gift to the Mission community!
by meh
Tuesday Nov 26th, 2013 7:50 PM
A lot of stuff bothers me about this article. One of the main things is the way the author talks about gentrification as a seemingly overnight process. This is far from the reality and ignores the ongoing gentrification of the mission for 15+ years. Maybe you should have stayed in Michigan...
by Sam Francisco
Sunday Dec 8th, 2013 2:30 AM
Check out this graphics about the cost of living in San Francisco.
by Sam Francisco
Sunday Dec 8th, 2013 2:31 AM
Contrast those costs in San Francisco with the changes in prices of goods and services since 1983.