Catch this. Mayor Ed Lee's mayoral victory had nothing to do with millions of dollars in campaign contributions from private interests, a sophisticated get-out-the vote effort targeting Lee supporters, the advantage of incumbency, some funny business, or a calculated campaign strategy concentrating efforts on absentee ballots.
Instead, the fact that Lee triumphed over voters’ second pick, the significantly less well-funded progressive candidate Sup. John Avalos, is proof that the left in San Francisco has plummeted into a dark abyss. In fact, the progressive movement has descended so far into disarray and become so irrelevant that its condition warrants front page news.
That's essentially the narrative that Benjamin Wachs and Joe Eskenazi of the San Francisco Weekly offer in their cover article, "Progressively Worse: The Tumultuous Rise and Acrimonious Fall of the City's Left," in which they refer to the Guardian as "the movement's cajoling ward boss, kingmaker, and sounding board." Gosh, I feel so goddamn important right now.
Once the blood pressure returned to normal, my initial reaction to this piece was that Wachs and Eskenazi seem to misunderstand who and what progressives actually are. They portray the city's left as a caricature, a brash bunch of power mongers now on the losing end that can be easily summed up with pithy video game references, Happy Meal toy bans, and bikes.
Witness the contrast between the Weekly's portrayal of progressives (helped along by former Newsomite Eric Jaye), and the portrait of the left the Guardian offers this week with an Op-Ed written by NTanya Lee -- an actual progressive who volunteered for the Avalos for Mayor campaign.
Here's the Weekly on the left:
"This is an eclectic group, one often bound not by mutual interests as much as mutual enmity — toward Brown, his successors, and the corporate interests of 'downtown.' As a result, progressive principles are often wildly inconsistent. Progressives favor more government control over people's lives for their own good, as when they effectively banned McDonald's Happy Meals. But sometimes progressives say the government needs to let people make their own choices ... Progressives believe government should subsidize homeless people who choose to drink themselves to death, while forbidding parents from buying McNuggets because fast food is bad for us. ... Without consistent principles, it's easy to associate progressives with the craziest ideas to come out of City Hall, and the movement's bad ideas are memorable. ... Daly's pledge to say 'Fuck' at every public meeting makes a killer Internet meme. Hey, let's legalize prostitution and outlaw plastic bags!"
Here's Lee on the left:
"The Avalos coalition was largely community forces: SF Rising's base in working class Black, Latino, Filipino and Chinese communities; the Bike Coalition's growing base of mostly white bike riders; affinity groups like Filipinos, Queers, Latinos and Arabs for Avalos; progressive Democrats; social networks of creative, young progressive activists affiliated with the League of Young Voters; and loyal families and neighborhood leaders from John's own District 11. The campaign prioritized communicating to voters in four languages, and according to the Chinese press, John Avalos was the only non-Chinese candidate with a significant Chinese outreach program. There were stalwarts from progressive labor unions (most notably SEIU 1021 and USWW) who threw down — but overall, labor played it safe and invested resources in other guys. And then, in the great surprise development of the race, supporters of the new national occupy movement came to be a strong part of the Team Avalos base because the campaign was so well positioned to resonate with the call to take on the one percent."
When it comes to takeaways from the November election, the Weekly's conclusion is essentially opposite that of progressives. While many on the left see themselves as regaining momentum and building the power to rise even in the face of defeat by the established powers-that-be, the Weekly casts San Francisco's left as deflated and out-of-touch.
Speaking of out-of-touch, the SF Weekly refers to San Francisco's "increasingly imaginary working class." But in reality, 61 percent of students attending public schools in S.F. Unified School District qualify for free or reduced lunch, and a majority of San Franciscans cannot afford market-rate housing.
However, the Weekly is correct in pointing out that shifting demographics have dealt a blow to the progressive base.
"Between 2000 and 2010, the city grew older (every age group over 50 increased), wealthier (there are now 58 percent more households earning $125,000 or more), and more heavily Asian (up from around 30 to nearly 35 percent of the city's population): exactly the groups progressives don't win with. These voters don't respond well to campaigns against developments or for city services, because they're often living in those developments and don't need city services."
I take issue with the Asian part of that statement as a sweeping generalization, however, having witnessed the solid organizing work of the Chinese Progressive Association, for example.
The Weekly article implies that progressives got trounced by moderates because jobs are priority No. 1 for voters, and the left has no feasible economic plan -- but at the same time, the article completely dismisses ideas that the Guardian has put forth, like creating a municipal bank, implementing Avalos' Local Hire legislation, or taxing the rich.
Taxing the rich is precisely the kind of economic solution the international Occupy movement is clamoring for, and the concept has even attracted a few unlikely supporters, like billionaires Warren Buffet and Sean Parker, who is not some conservative a*hole by the way.
"The Guardian ... stays on the progressive agenda because they put it there, along with taxing the rich, tapping downtown to subsidize Muni, and other measures ... Proposing the same old solutions to every new problem turns policies into punch lines."
Speaking of predictable, no profile authored by the Weekly mentioning the Guardian would be complete without some dig about public power. "The Guardian has been flogging public power since Tesla invented the alternating-current generator," the S.F. Weekly squawks. Those clever reporters, turning policies into punch lines.
But wait, I thought the problem was that progressives couldn't get it together on the job creation thing. Consider the CleanPower SF program, which has been strongly advocated for by progressive Sup. and Sheriff-elect Ross Mirkarimi (who it turns out is "not toxic," according to the Weekly, since he was elected citywide and all). According to an analysis by the Local Clean Energy Alliance, CleanPowerSF will create 983 jobs -- 4,357 jobs when indirect job creation is factored in -- over the course of three years, assuming the 51 percent renewable energy target is met. Presented with this kind of information, the Weekly will only yawn and say, "Are we on that again?"
That being said, our friends' article might actually have a pearl of wisdom or two buried somewhere in that nauseating sea of sarcasm. Everyone needs to engage in self-reflection. So right after you're done throwing up, think about how to take advantage of the opportunity this article presents for a citywide dialogue about progressivism in San Francisco.