San Francisco progressives don’t win elections and it’s our own damn fault. Our vision could be relevant to a majority, so we should act accordingly.
Our big yurt includes unions and other organizations accountable to an imperfect membership, nonprofits accountable both to constituents and New York foundations, and freewheeling activists accountable only to the tiny Audre Lorde in their heart. There’s no reason bicycle separatists and hotel workers should be allies, but they are. At best, we end up yelling in the same direction.
Everywhere else, San Francisco equals radical, kinky, idealistic freakshows. Who will inspire wide-eyed rebels in backwaters like San Jose to introduce a farkakte policy that will be common sense eventually if we can’t pass laws from the future here? We should win elections—but don’t because we’re stupid and annoying and no one likes us. “But,” you object, “people do like us.” Yes they do, if you only hang out at the Sad Documentary Film Festival.
We’re stupid because we never learn. Every time we lose, it’s the same debrief: we can’t win only with white progressives; we have to win more votes and increase turnout among communities of color; absentee voters; massively outspent; lower turnout in off years; maybe we should be cool to women.
We believe our own hype. Bill O’Reilly’s caricatures of us also suit us. For a long time, San Francisco boasted a high enough density of us that we could flimflam to victory. The activism where we only ever talk to other activists about activism in an infinite feedback loop Mobius strip of self-referential activism has fostered awful ideas about Power. Our sweep of supervisorial races in the aughts let us procrastinate reckoning with long-term problems.
We call a protest and 50 other activists might turn up who happened to bike by, and we think we did something, even if we never talk to a regular person. It’s as if we don’t really want to win, while the other side is quietly privatizing everything. Did I say, “privatizing?” I meant, “sharing.”
San Francisco progressivism can degenerate into a left-wing cronyism that’s about whom we drink with, not the work we do. That’s why people don’t like us. We’re like an exclusive clique no one wants to join. We bum people out. We want everyone to know how miserable things are, and how superior we are for knowing it. We pretend the Fingerpainting Pansexual TIC-Owners of Eastern Hayes Valley Democratic Club is a credible coalition partner.
We burn bridges over obscure beefs. We include people whose only activism is calling people whores on Facebook. Some of us need a hug, not to be anointed the voice of the community.
San Francisco is not now and never has been majority progressive. Although our patron saint is Harvey Milk, Dan White was from here. Which means that since David Campos is the intellectual descendent of Harvey Milk, then tech mogul Ron Conway is the intellectual descendent of Dan White. Because having a billion dollars makes you more likely to be a sociopath, because both Conway and White embody backlash politics against uppity minorities, and because bullets and evictions both effectively dispose of us riffraff.
Winning elections requires finally learning the lessons we don’t learn every year. For starters, we may have to wake up before 10 a.m. We’ll need to do something truly subversive, like schlep to Visitacion Valley to ask people what they think. We may need to shoehorn engaging those voters for whom Harvey Milk is just a Humphry Slocombe flavor into our busy schedule of Burning Man decompression parties, Yelping and building puppets.
Surely by now my comrades are poised to denounce me. Here’s an out-of-the-box notion, though it may go against our mission: how about we try winning for once instead?
We could achieve the leftist Holy Grail: high-rise affordable housing on Billionaire’s Row. It’s on my bucket list. Who’s in?
Nato Green is a standup comedian, San Francisco native, and union activist. He perform standup every Friday with The Business at Hemlock Tavern and hosts a podcast called The Nato Sessions.