Tomorrow is my five-year anniversary of moving to San Francisco. I came from the Twin Cities because I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try and make it in San Francisco. As a trans woman, the City always had a certain draw, a beacon as the kind of place where I could be my best self and truly blossom. Even in 2013, I knew the economic reality, moving out for a job as a Financial Crimes Investigator which didn’t pay me much more than I made in Minnesota meant I’d likely be heading back to Minneapolis in a year. But I knew I would at least be able to say I tried to contribute to the fabric of San Francisco.
As it turns out, I got lucky. I happened to find a rent-controlled apartment at a good price, entirely by accident. I’ve have steadily progressed in my career in ways I was not predicting at the time. I have been able to build community, whether it’s with my fellow LGBTQ neighbors or other folks who bike all around the city like I do. Not everyone gets that chance, though. I’ve made so many friends just to watch them leave this city. The economic prosperity that was supposed to lift all boats has washed them away, left many others treading water, and deluged so many others. There is no denying times are hard in San Francisco, and environments like this are susceptible to populism.
I was not surprised when Supervisor Jane Kim and Senator Mark Leno declared with earnestness that it is time to “take back the city”. They have consistently spoke with an “us” versus “them” rhetoric which has left me cold, speaking about a “struggle for the soul of the City”. It’s a zero-sum view of our current, real struggles in San Francisco, and it’s no surprise it’s also an appealing message at present.
The narrative is familiar — after all, it can feel satisfying to be angry. This city has enemies, and they are trying to take it from us. After decades of rising housing costs and horrific levels of displacement, blaming the booming economy and those “outsiders” plays well. Real San Francisco is under siege, and a narrative centered around villains goes viral when people are under extreme economic pressure. These are the times when the populace is drawn to a juxtaposition of ‘the pure people’ against ‘the corrupt elite’.
It’s tech. It’s the techies. It’s the yuppies. It’s the corporate democrats. It’s Those People coming into Our City. Kill the Shuttles, Kill the condos, Kill the scooters, Kill the robots. We need to hold on to our City. They don’t understand Real San Francisco. They are what’s wrong with things these days. We need to go back.
It’s disappointing two candidates who moved to San Francisco for the same kinds of opportunity I moved here for are playing up this pull-up-the-ladder, ‘protect our city’ rhetoric. Quoted in San Francisco Magazine, Leno asks us to “Imagine if instead of bringing all these new folks from out of town — ” before catching himself, adding “They are welcome to come, of course.”
To be honest I’m scared of the rhetoric of who the City is for, of taking it back. For whom? Do I count as a real San Franciscan? I am just as valid for being here for 5 years as someone who has been here 45 years. As a trans woman, I have heard plenty of rhetoric throughout my life of whether I am real or valid and I reject it. Each of us here right now is a real San Franciscan. We all deserve the opportunity to be our best selves and contribute to the story of our city.
In this election, it’s a native San Franciscan who’s taking that tack and pushing a powerful message of inclusivity. President of the Board of Supervisors London Breed is a candidate who says over and over she will be a “Mayor for all of us.” I’ve heard folks claim it’s not possible to be a mayor for all, that there will always be winners and losers, but I find myself drawn to the radical idea that perhaps we can make this city a better place for everyone. I find myself drawn to the message we should try to do that.
London doesn’t care where you’re from or what you do, she wants to work together. As the San Francisco Chronicle notes, “Her solution-aimed approach is, in a word, mayoral.” But I worry we are too angry to hear how much we need this hopeful message of inclusion.
After a power play at City Hall to remove her as interim Mayor, London Breed did not insult the people who had portrayed her as a woman incapable of making her own decisions. Instead, standing on the steps outside that night, she rose above:
“…what I am trying to do as a leader in this city is bring out the best in people…it’s not about progressive or moderate…all of the people who live in this city are San Franciscans and deserve the right to be treated with respect.
They deserve to have a mayor that respects them…they deserve to have a mayor that represents them. As I’ve said before time and time again, if you don’t belong in one of the cliques that they’re talking about, then I’ll be your mayor too.”
This message of inclusivity radiated from her powerful personal essay on our housing crisis. London has overcome challenges in her life which I’ve never had to deal with. She grew up in public housing and had to work twice as hard for everything she’s earned. She’s fought for every scrap of success she’s had, and always tried to bring people up along with her. Now she wants to bring us all along with her.
She rightly points to structural problems in our policies. She rightly points out that “[f]rom 2010 to 2015, San Francisco created eight jobs for every home we built” in her aptly titled essay on how to address the housing crisis, “An Affordable City for All of Us.” She goes on to add “[t]hat’s illogical, unsustainable policy, and rents have skyrocketed as a result.” She looks at our policies with clear eyes and asks us to change.
The contrast is most evident in the place where the least content is often found: Candidate Statements in the Ballot Book.
The first words of Jane Kim’s statement read: “This is our city. Let’s take it back.” Meanwhile, Mark Leno promises he’ll “work to protect the character of our neighborhoods.”
London, meanwhile, leads with what she considered her most important task, “uniting us in difficult times,” as Acting Mayor. She addresses this same issue of inequality with a message of hope:
“While our city is experiencing incredible economic success, too many have been left out. I’m running for Mayor because I believe in a San Francisco where we ALL succeed.”
I do too, London. This is why I’m voting for her. Thank you for including me.