Organization Men (and Women)
Starring Gavin Newsom, Ross Mirkarimi, Martin Luther
King, the Gray Panthers, and a Cast of Thousands
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
— Supervisor Ross
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
— 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 others — a 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
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
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
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.