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From the Outside Looking In


By Alexa Llewellyn




An Open Letter to Supevisor Tony Hall

April 18, 2003

Dear Supervisor Hall:

I owe you a favor. During the last election season, I managed a campaign. Because everyone was so busy, I wasn't able to find people to give me answers to my burning questions on how best to get your candidate to win.

One evening at a social gathering, I was standing next to H. Brown. As you may recall, H was running for supervisor. Ignoring me, you gave H several key pieces of advice on his campaign. H didn't pay much attention to your sage advice. But I wrote them down and used them over and over again. One of my candidates won. Thank you for your help.

Thus I want to repay my debt to you with this piece of advice. Drop the legislation that would fine demonstrators, for these reasons:

1. Tourism. As we all know, tourism is what drives San Francisco. It gets people into the theaters, eating at our restaurants, viewing and sometimes buying the artwork on the gallery walls, and occupying our many hotels. As the saying goes, tourism has been very good to us.

One of the reasons that tourists come to San Francisco is (dare I say it?) our quirkiness. Our eccentricity. Our ability to be loud and out in front.

I think of San Francisco as an eccentric, quirky aunt. The aunt who figures out how to buy you a bass guitar when your heart is set on joining the band. The aunt whom you can persuade to buy you tickets to a professional karate exposition so you can learn the latest moves for your own amateur exposition. The aunt who knows all of your failings and faults -- but still loves you because you are her nephew or niece.

San Francisco is like that. We are not Orange County, where everyone dresses and sounds alike. We are not Detroit, where good artwork is detailing on a car. We are not Omaha, where an act of rebellion is rooting for whoever is playing against the Cornhuskers.

We are Emperor Norton's San Francisco. Lillian Coit's tower is a monument to all those rich and eccentric people whom San Francisco has always embraced with an open heart. More than one tourist has gone to North Beach in search of the 1950s and Jack Kerouac's wild ride (and yes, had a delicious meal along Columbus). Many have toured the exotic atmosphere of Chinatown and bought several souvenirs for the loved ones left at home. Many tourists have relived the Summer of Love at the corner of Haight and Ashbury (and in many of our comfortable hotels).

2. Freedom of Acceptance. Refugees throughout the world have made a beeline for San Francisco. Not Atlanta, Georgia -- with its wide streets and great freeway system. Not Dallas, Texas - where they know how to grill a steak. Not Baltimore -- even though it passed a living wage ordinance in the late 1990s.

No, Supervisor Hall, they come to San Francisco. Refugees from China, Hong Kong, Latin America, Central America, Europe, Africa, and small islands off Ireland. We even have refugees from Mineola, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; and New Jersey.

Why do they come to San Francisco? Because they have seen and heard about our openness to free speech and our willingness to let dissenting voices to be heard in the city's streets, parks, and sidewalks. With this vision of San Francisco in their mind, they decide that this was the city that they wanted to be part of.

Do we benefit from this stream of refugees? This stream of talent, imagination, courage, and genius? These people burning for a chance to prove themselves? Hell, yes!! That's what has time after time created San Francisco's destiny -- the leadership of women and men who were dismissed in less-imaginative places, whose genius was heard and blossomed in the warm waters of the City by the Bay.

Stiff fines against demonstrators are all right for cities with little imagination. It's okay for cities that are willing to adhere to the status quo and never make bold changes for the greater good. It's perfectly acceptable for cities that don't want to listen to their poets, their writers, their artists, and their visionaries.

But is that you really want for San Francisco?