About Us

Contact Us


Organization Men (and Women)

Starring Gavin Newsom, Ross Mirkarimi, Martin Luther King, the Gray Panthers, and a Cast of Thousands

By Betsey Culp

While the national Democrats sit around howling discordantly, trying to get their act together, San Francisco progressives are making some very pretty music. There’s a whole lotta singing going on in San Francisco these days. And it’s all to the same tune:

The organized will inherit the city.

— Supervisor Jake McGoldrick

I can’t do my job in City Hall unless [the people of District 5] are organized…. I want to test a pilot program that Marc Tognotti, a District 5 resident, has been promoting. He watched and studied the version of Community Congress in the L.A. city government. It is a concept worth trying in District 5 with merchants and neighborhood groups and people coming together.

— Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi

As a [Los Angeles] City Council member, [Jackie] Goldberg hired a staff of community organizers — led by the chief of staff, Sharon Delugach — to help to mobilize constituents in her economically and ethnically diverse, and politically contentious, district…. She and her staff helped to organize residents and property owners to demand stronger police protection, graffiti removal, housing expansion, improved lighting, and revitalization of the business district.

— Robert Gottlieb, Mark Vallianatos, Regina M. Freer, and Peter Dreier, “The Next Los Angeles” (reviewed in the Chronicle on January 9)

Forget about the Year of the Rooster. If the opening weeks are any indication, the year 2005 is the Year of the Activist. During the past few days, San Francisco has been the scene of — among othersa march for justice on January 15 in the Western Addition, followed by an anti-violence meeting that evening at Martin Luther King/Marcus Garvey Square Housing Coop.


On January 18 the Gray Panthers marched to protect Social Security.


On January 19 people on both sides of the bay demonstrated against Schwarzenegger’s proposed cuts in injured workers compensation. (The photo, by Ina Clausen, shows some of the folks who turned out in Oakland.) 

On January 22 pro-lifers and pro-choicers faced off, and on January 23 a number of residents got together to show their opposition to widening MLK Drive at the entrance to Golden Gate Park (sorry, no pix). In addition, there were the usual descents on City Hall by groups seeking action.

On the evening of January 22, about a hundred happy people came to The Canvas, in the Inner Sunset, to celebrate local progressive victories in the last election. There were a lot of familiar faces, particularly if you had managed to drop by one of the month’s other gatherings. But despite a few pleas for increased diversity — and a few nods toward the organizing efforts of unions like SEIU and HERE — most of these faces were white. Perhaps the most articulate argument for a better mix was made by Renee Saucedo, a Latina who received more than 22% of the first-place votes for District 9 supervisor last November; Saucedo attributed her strong second-place showing, in the face of well-known incumbent Tom Ammiano, to the mobilization low-wage workers and immigrants. But I didn’t see many of them at The Canvas.


Before the parade of successful candidates appeared to offer their individual takes on the city’s past, present, and future, a smiling, bearded man in an appropriately green Hawaiian shirt buttonholed members of the audience and asked if he could recite a “little speech” to them. Tian Harter is a member of the Santa Clara County Green Central Committee, but many of the San Franciscans he addressed seemed to share his sentiments:

The reason I work with the Green Party is to give the following little speech "political credibility."

I think as a country our problems are so big and so deep that the only way we're ever going to solve them is for each and every one of us to take a personal responsibility for being part of the solution.

To show you what I mean, just consider the way we use oil. Every year we import more of it from other countries. Every year it's a bigger part of our trade deficit. Don't get me started on things like climate change and oil wars.

So, finally I had to do something. What I did was I made up this bumper sticker.



I put it on my own machine, and I started learning how to drive less.

One of the things that I learned is that there are structural problems with our economy, and the only way to fix them is for each and every one of us to do their part. So, I'm doing what I can, and I'm asking other people to do what they can. So please, do what you can.


During the past few weeks, the voices of the progressive glee club have indeed been loud & clear. But they don’t have the theater all to themselves. Another chorus has entered stage right and is marching straight up to the footlights.

Some of the singers are carrying the banner of SFSOS. In accord with the motto blazoned across the top of its electronic action alert — “Democracy Works Best When Citizens Are Actively Involved”— the organization dispatches actively involved citizens to meetings where their voices might influence public policy. They turned out on January 6 for the City Services Committee hearing on slacker Rec & Park gardeners, and they are being urged to attend tonight’s School Board meeting so that decisions “come from a dialogue rather than one-sided presentations of special-interest ideology.”

But the loudest singing recently came from Bill Graham Auditorium, during the festivities marking Martin Luther King’s birthday celebration. And it wasn’t all gospel music.


Because most of the speakers and honored guests were African Americans, the non-Aframs stood out. I may have missed the others, but the only supervisor I saw was Sophie Maxwell. The ubiquitous State Senator Mark Leno was there. And Mayor Gavin Newsom, playing Bobby Kennedy with a California accent. Tim Paulson spoke; he recently replaced Walter Johnson as head of the San Francisco Labor Council. Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante reminded the audience that no one ethnic group is in the majority in California. In a call for unity, he said, “Let’s make this state one big tent.”

“One big tent.” Now that’s a catchy phrase!

Lee Atwater coined it in 1989, they say, to describe the Republican Party’s tolerance for differing opinions. Jesse Jackson valiantly tried to reframe it for more progressive purposes in his addresses to the Democratic National Conventions of 1996 and 2000.

It’s a phrase that’s got to go.

In bad weather, nobody wants to be in a tent. If progressives want to succeed, then they’d better start constructing a real house, one that provides equal space for everyone. It may be that the District 5’s Community Congress will be able to lay a foundation. And perhaps the newly organized SF People — or some other citywide group — will be able to bring traditional progressive organizations under the same roof with labor, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and all the other elements of San Francisco’s famed diverse population.

If they can’t, they’ll have no choice but to continue singing counter-harmonies to the moderates’ tunes.