‘The lady doth protest too much’

Larry Bush wrote a sloppy op-ed ostensibly about Proposition C. Although it does not affect us at the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation (SFBARF), Larry tripped all over himself on his way to mentioning us, confusing Yelp with Airbnb, and not knowing that the Renters PAC isn’t a 501(c)(3). That’s pretty embarrassing.

This is the second op-ed he’s written where he superfluously dragged us into his story. Why is SFBARF keeping Larry up at night?

Here’s our guess: SFBARF is the housing obstructionist’s worst nightmare.

Underbuilding is not sustainable. Population growth must be accommodated by housing growth. It’s not just a matter of economics, it’s a matter of trying to fit too many objects into too few containers. Suppressing housing didn’t suppress job creation. S.F. created 100,000 jobs since 2010, but only 8,000 homes. The people who would have lived in the housing we failed to build didn’t fail to arrive. We’re here now, fighting with each other for scraps of housing, and we’re pissed.

When I started going to the planning commission, I had no idea that it would strike a chord with so many people. I don’t have to spend money convincing people of anything. The experience of shortage conditions is convincing enough. Renters show up to see apartments only to find they are competing with dozens of others. Lived experience is radicalizing. They see that we don’t have enough housing to go around, and the only way out is more housing.

It’s not surprising that amateurs emerged to say, “No more denials, let’s get housing built.”

Lived experience is a hard thing to argue against. The obstructionists have a difficult task: How do you convince victims of a shortage that the shortage is good?

Larry’s piece is an example of their desperation. In the absence of a compelling argument, they’re trying to “poison the well.” This is a rhetorical move that makes it impossible for your opponent to participate in the debate.

Imagine you have a community of people, and you face a political question, “A or B?”

A political operative polls the community on the question. If someone picks “B,” she’s told this reveals her to be an outsider. The operative announces that all community members prefer A and that he has discovered there are many infiltrators in their midst.

This is the housing conversation. As soon as someone reveals that she believes S.F. needs to build housing, she is cast as an infiltrator. It’s a neat trick, but we aren’t idiots; we see through it.

This poisons the well because “the well” is a shared resource — the space of political debate — and the poisoner is willing to destroy the space by refusing to recognize the other participants as community members.

By accusing sincere political participants of being paid actors, S.F.’s conservatives are driving us away.

They spin conspiracy theories
about “dark money” because they can’t come to grips with the real reason they’re losing influence: Their message ignores the lived experiences of thousands. Instead of trying to
engage, the conservatives tell us we are infiltrators. They can’t figure out why their message is unpopular because they’ve poisoned the well. They really don’t believe there are ordinary people who want to see more housing built.

It’s bad for us to feel disenfranchised by this trick, but in the long run, it’ll be worse for the conservatives. We get our feelings hurt, but the conservatives are on the path to irrelevance. They poisoned the well, and now it’s all they have to drink from.

Sonja Trauss is the founder of the SFBA Renters Federation and SFBA Renters PAC. Armand Domalewski is the Co-Chair of the Progress Democratic Club of San Francisco.

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