The practice of politics

It isn't just about issues and ideology; it's about the way we fight

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Supporters of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi sometimes cross an important line during his Oct. 9 removal proceedings.
PHOTO BY LUKE THOMAS

steve@sfbg.com

ESSAY San Francisco's progressive movement needs restoration and renewal. Our focus on immediate fights and indignities has blurred our perspective on the larger, longer struggle for a more just, sustainable, and inclusive society. It's time to regain that vision by taking a new path and practicing a different kind of politics.

Back-to-back local scandals involving progressive male politicians treating women badly have spawned waves of ugly reactions and recriminations on all sides. Those frustrations have bubbled up against an overwhelming tidal wave of money from wealthy individuals and corporations used to deceive and divide the voting public on the local and national levels.

Real concerns about domestic violence have been reduced to an election-year weapon, cheapening an important issue. Stubborn injustices like lack of gender equity in pay and promotions and access to contraception have been countered with mythical "binders full of women," a new take on the old dodge of personal responsibility. Unacceptable groping or grabbing is alternatively denied, dismissed, or blamed on the women. Little has changed except the modern polish on our dated pronouncements.

The turbulence of this political year has tested our tolerance and we've lost our balance, if not our minds from time to time. But we can learn from our mistakes. San Franciscans should be leading the way forward, not just with our gadgets and technological innovations, but with the example we set in how we practice our politics.

Perhaps I'm not the best one to call out my comrades and propose our next steps. I'm a single, straight man, and I've fought as fiercely as anyone on behalf of the Guardian's progressive values and worldview, sometimes resorting to the same nastiness that we've seen bubbling over this year.

But as I've covered this year's high-profile political scandals involving Ross Mirkarimi and Julian Davis for the Guardian — and read the vitriolic comments reacting to my stories and expressed in public forums — it has caused me to rethink my own approach and that of the progressive movement. So I want to offer my insights, make amends, and contribute to the dialogue that our community desperately needs to have.

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Let me start by saying that I understand why people perceive political conspiracies against Mirkarimi, Davis, and other progressive politicians in San Francisco. Wealthy interests really do have a disproportionate influence over the decisions that are shaping this city's future, to the detriment of the working and creative classes.

A small group of powerful people installed Ed Lee as mayor using calculated deceptions, and he has largely been carrying out their agenda ever since, practicing dirty politics that have fractured and debilitated the progressive movement. In this election cycle, we saw the willingness of Lee's deep-pocketed benefactors, such as right-wing billionaire Ron Conway, to shatter previous spending records to achieve their unapologetically stated goal of destroying San Francisco's progressive movement.

But if we want to replace economic values with human values — emphasizing people's needs over property and profits, which is the heart of progressivism — we can't forget our humanity in that struggle. Choosing conflict and the politics of division plays into the hands of those who seek to divide and conquer us. We need to embody the change we want to see and build new systems to replace our ailing political and economic models.

When Mayor Lee decided in March to suspend Sheriff Mirkarimi without pay and without any investigation — and by the way, showing no interest in hearing from the alleged victim, Eliana Lopez — progressives had good reason to be outraged. Domestic violence advocates and the Chronicle's editorial writers may not see it this way, but I understand why it seemed politically motivated.

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