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Commentary: Resist: Vigil shows SF's broken policy

by Christina A. DiEdoardo

Attendees at the annual Interfaith Homeless Persons Memorial gathered December 21 for a vigil at United Nations Plaza in San Francisco. Photo credit: Christina A. DiEdoardo
Attendees at the annual Interfaith Homeless Persons Memorial gathered December 21 for a vigil at United Nations Plaza in San Francisco. Photo credit: Christina A. DiEdoardo  

On the longest night of the year, about 400 people gathered at United Nations Plaza in Civic Center to remember the names and honor the lives of some of the most forgotten people in San Francisco — the homeless who die each year on the city's cold streets.

"Pray for the people forced to sleep on the street," Kelley Cutler, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, said at the December 21 vigil. "Pray harder for us to have the courage to examine our own complicity in perpetuating homelessness."

As a full Solstice moon shone down on the gathering, speaker after speaker read the names of the fallen, who ranged in age from their early 20s to older people in their 60s and 70s.

The event was non-political and focused on the spiritual dimension of the city's housing crisis — and on the lives of those who paid the ultimate price for our community's collective failure to address it.

Still, it's not hard to see the signs of that broken policy all around us. A San Francisco Police Department mobile command center (cop-speak for a weaponized RV) was parked steps away from where I stood with the other vigil attendees. It has sat there in U.N. Plaza for months as part of the city's campaign of harassment against the homeless in Civic Center and the Tenderloin, where police and San Francisco Public Works employees continually roust encampments and sleepers despite there being over 1,000 names on the wait list for city shelters. A fountain in U.N. Plaza that homeless in the area used as a common area for at least a decade has been fenced off by city workers.

That's why it's hard for me and many other activists to cheer recent statements by Mayor London Breed that she intends to spend the city's unexpected windfall on the homeless. Given that her signature policy has been to make the already-miserable lives of those who lack shelter even more so by sending police to smash their encampments and cart away their belongings, it's difficult to believe she intends anything other than more of the same.

Maybe that will change in 2019. If it doesn't, it sadly seems certain we'll have an even longer list of names to read at next year's vigil.

Days of Auld Lang Syne
Since this is the last Resist column for 2018, it seems the appropriate time to review some of the events discussed in its pages this year — and what happened to some of the protagonists.
In two actions in January, Refuse Fascism, Occupy SF, and Code Pink occupied the sally port of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters in San Francisco, disrupting operations and setting the stage for Occupy ICE SF, which reportedly forced the agency to suspend operations there for a week in July.

The February 14 massacre of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida galvanized gun control advocates in San Francisco and across the country. This column (and the Bay Area Reporter) joined activists in demanding an end to the gun shows at the Cow Palace arena, which is owned by the state, in Daly City. While efforts to end the arms trafficking at the Cow Palace go back a decade or more, for the first time queer youth from Bay Area high schools took a leadership role at actions at the arena and at City Hall.

Their efforts did not go unnoticed by area politicos. On May 21, gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 221, which would have banned the sale of guns and ammunition at the Cow Palace. While both the Senate and the Assembly approved the bill, it was ultimately vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown, who claimed that the board of the Cow Palace was in a better position to make decisions on this issue than the popularly-elected Legislature. Of course, since the Cow Palace's board serves at the pleasure of the governor, all that meant was that the governor was substituting his own judgment for that of the people. Then again, Brown will be out of office as of January 7, when Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco, succeeds him as governor. Wiener has promised to file the bill again in 2019.

In March, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to California to incite sedition among the state's law enforcement officers by declaring our sanctuary laws "unconstitutional." While he was here, his minions filed suit against the state. Alas for the Keebler Elf, U.S. District Judge John Mendez upheld the state's statutory scheme except the portion that penalized private employers who cooperated with immigration officers. In November, President Donald Trump forced out Sessions.

That June, sex workers and their allies gathered in Oakland to march against the Fight Online Sex Trafficking and the Stop Online Sex Trafficking Acts (FOSTA/SESTA) and efforts by federal, state, and local prosecutors to shut down websites used by sex workers to mitigate the risks in their jobs. Three cars tried to ram the march, two of which were stopped by attendees putting their bodies (and in one case, a knife into a back tire) of the vehicles, but one got through and struck several bike riders, apparently intentionally.

In early August, Rebeccalyn Mir Bilodeau, the owner of Wicked Grounds (a leather and kink-friendly coffeehouse in the South of Market neighborhood), together with a horde of local kinksters, faced down a $6 billion corporation and made it blink, forcing Starbucks to abandon its plans for an outlet at 1222 Harrison Street after a contentious public meeting.

Later that month, the Proud Boys — nobody's favorite band of white supremacist fascists — had their asses collectively handed to them by Cat Brooks, Tur-Ha Ak, and several thousand people in Oakland after the group made the spectacularly ill-advised decision to hold a meet-up at Make Westing, a bar in Oakland, where they were told they weren't welcome.

Shortly thereafter, Jason Van Dyke — who claimed to be the attorney for the Proud Boys despite being listed on the website of the State Bar of Texas as "retired" — threatened to sue your columnist and the B.A.R. unless we retracted the column and promised to no longer refer to the Proud Boys as white supremacists or fascists.

We declined to do either, but the promised lawsuit has yet to arrive, perhaps because Van Dyke has since had problems of his own. After Proud Boy founder Gavin McInnes stepped away from the group following a fracas on the streets of New York City, Van Dyke briefly took over as leader, only to be mocked on Twitter when Proud Boy documents, which supposedly had been redacted before they were released on his watch, turned out to bear the names of the organization's top lieutenants. He stepped down from leadership of the group shortly thereafter and on Friday, December 21, Texas media reported that Van Dyke was currently a fugitive from justice after failing to appear in court in a misdemeanor case where he is a defendant.

On a happier note, two decades of work for local indigenous activists reached fruition in mid-September as the city finally removed the controversial "Early Days" statue, which previously stood next to the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library in Civic Center.

In December, Trump's cabinet continued to hemorrhage loyalists, as Defense Secretary James Mattis, who previously opposed allowing transgender troops to serve openly, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who set the stage for the administration's abusive immigration policies when he was secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, among others, fled Washington. After the administration refused to sign off on any spending deal that didn't include funding for a border wall, a deal-killer for Democrats and many Republicans, the federal government partially shut down on December 21.

Got a tip? Email me at christina@diedoardolaw.com.


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