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Preparing for the worst under Trump presidency, SF neighborhood finds solidarity

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Dan Pucillo stands on the porch of his Noe Valley home in San Francisco on Monday, November 21, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Fear. Despondence. Isolation. Disbelief.

Theses are just some of the feelings that 74-year-old San Francisco resident Dan Pucillo Jr., has experienced since the election of Donald Trump.

“I’m a Pollyanna,” said the former school teacher, who tends to believe everything works out in the end. “It may not be OK, and I’ve got to be ready.”

Rather than moping around, the lifelong San Franciscan said Monday that he needed to take action. Pucillo didn’t know exactly what that looked like until he ran into a neighbor and started commiserating about the election. Until that point, the pair had only waved at one another in passing.

That brief interaction was the catalyst for Pucillo, who describes himself as nonpolitical. He started knocking on doors up and down his southern Noe Valley block, collecting email addresses and inviting people to come to his house to meet about the election.

Ever since, the 1700 block of Sanchez Street has been organizing in the face of what many of them have called the unprecedented election of a man who represents hate and racism. The group’s two meetings have been mostly to vent and build solidarity, but there appears to be a sense of real purpose below the surface.

“To me, this was more devastating than 9/11,” said Alan Vitolo, 65, a former New Yorker who lives across the street from Pucillo. “I’m scared.”

As anti-Trump student protesters have walked out of schools across the Bay Area and filled city streets in recent weeks, this neighborhood group of mostly baby boomers represents a different version of resistance.

The first small meeting was held at Pucillo’s house after he sent an email to his neighbors on Nov. 13.

“This year’s election results have left me confused, shaken, and depressed,” he wrote. “After speaking with over 18 nearby neighbors, I discovered that all of us share these emotions to varying degrees.”

He continued, “It was very uplifting to find that all of you were interested in meeting at our house to discuss your feelings, concerns, and how we might plan to move forward during the upcoming four years.”

The gathering brought together 15 people, which was what Pucillo wanted, so everyone could have their say.

There has been a range of emotions at the meetings, according to Pucillo, including fear. At first, those in attendance simply spoke about how they were feeling; then, they brainstormed about what can be done.

Gerry Garber, a 61-year-old speech pathologist and neighbor of Pucillo, is one of the people who has embraced the neighborhood meetings.

“I’ve really been traumatized by it,” she said of the election. “I am very fearful about how our country is going to evolve.” Garber also noted that she is having a difficult time relating to the people she knows who voted for Trump. “They voted for racism, they voted for hate and that’s not who I want in my life.”

What the gatherings will accomplish remains unclear at this point, and Pucillo acknowledged as much. The group has circulated phone numbers to call if anyone witnesses someone being victimized and has talked about how to handle those situations. They have also distributed a list of organizations that combat discrimination, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The next meeting is scheduled for today.

“There’s a solidarity,” Pucillo said. “I don’t think people who do not have these feelings understand how strong these feelings are.”

Attorney Anthony Grumbach, 56, who has also attended the meetings, said that fear has motivated the meetings but that they delve deeper into possible solutions.

“It was not just a bunch of liberals sitting around fretting,” Grumback said. “It’s a bunch of concerned citizens thinking about what we can do and what can we do beyond our block.”

Vitolo, meanwhile, said that the neighborhood’s concerns are not unique. He said his 35 clients have all voiced these concerns to him in his psychology practice in San Francisco and Oakland. He even received similar reactions at his dentist in Oceanview. The dental hygienist, who lives in Danville, listed off to him incidents of outright racism she’s heard about in the East Bay.

“This was my dentist,” Vitolo said. “Everybody has a story.”

But for now, Pucillo said he’ll focus on his own neighborhood and hopes others will follow.

“I don’t think this block is unique,” he said.

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