Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. — William Shakespeare
In the last 14 months, we have lost two Asian American political trailblazers in San Francisco to sudden heart attacks (rest in power Mayor Ed Lee and Public Defender Jeff Adachi). According to the CDC, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death amongst Asian Americans (and the number one cause of death in the United States) which gives us pause as three Asian-American San Francisco politicos.
But really, what is a heart? Medically, it is one of the most essential organs in the body pumping oxygenated blood to the body and deoxygenated blood to the lungs. It allows us to do all our daily activities: beating more rapidly when we exercise or are nervous and slowing down so we can rest and meditate. Politically, it takes heart to support increasing the minimum wage to allow some economic stability for our city’s lowest wage workers and the building of Navigation Centers for those with housing instability (thank you, Mayor Lee). A heart is also critical to be a warrior for social justice, aggressively defending those who do not have a voice (thank you, Public Defender Adachi).
After nearly three decades in decline, the number of deaths from heart disease has increased in recent years. Cardiovascular disease now causes more deaths for Asian Americans than all forms of cancer combined, according to the American Heart Association. In 2009, President Obama signed an Executive Order calling for strategies to improve the health of Asian Americans and to seek data on the health disparities in Asian American subgroups; however we continue to suffer from sudden death. Is this because we are not recognizing the early signs?
There are the obvious risk factors for heart disease: obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking. But is involvement in San Francisco politics a unique risk factor for heart disease? There is no question that the demands are intense: long hours (remember that Mayor Lee was grocery shopping after a 14-hour day at the time of his heart attack), high degrees of tension and pressure (balancing the disparate needs and lives of nearly 1 million residents), and a sedentary lifestyle (Board of Supervisors meetings can go into the wee hours of the morning). Being able to survive San Francisco political fights also brings an incredible amount of stress, and rarely is this immense stress ever talked about or acknowledged.
Despite these challenges, there is no shortage of people interested in running for office in San Francisco (there were six candidates for BART Board when Janice ran in November 2018 and 39 candidates for the AD17 side of SF DCCC when Pratima and Frances ran in June 2016).
We know to sustain our movement is also to sustain ourselves. That taking care of our hearts means recognizing risk factors of heart disease and being intentional in eating healthier and getting more regular physical activity.… It also means taking care of our emotional health and being more intentional about how we treat others so that San Francisco politics isn’t a labor of love that claims our hearts in such tragic ways.
Pratima Gupta, MD (Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee), Frances Hsieh (Secretary of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee), Janice Li (BART Board of Directors)