A new feminism for San Francisco

OPINION Accountability is one of the hardest things that we have to do. Being accountable stretches us to our very limits as human beings. Blame and deflection is a function of shame, and more often than not, when we make a mistake, it’s more common to point the finger at someone else than it is to acknowledge our mistake and work towards a different practice. The story time and time again is how it never happened — and then when the water gets too hot, there’s generally a soft acknowledgment that something did happen, but by then, the damage is done and trust is broken.

As feminists working in the progressive community for social justice, we are calling for a new type of accountability — one that’s not about demonization or polarization, but instead consists of checking ourselves, checking each other, supporting each other when we are brave, and having the courage and integrity to acknowledge our mistakes and work towards making whole what has been damaged.

Progressives need to take a look at ourselves and come together so that we can advance our vision for San Francisco. We aim to build a progressive movement in San Francisco that is rooted in compassion and love, that acknowledges our contradictions and works to create bridges across class, race, and gender that are so often the typical pitfalls that keep us from accomplishing what we really want and need. Checking ourselves is an act of love for ourselves and for our communities.

The last few weeks in San Francisco have not just been about men behaving badly; it’s also been about women treating each other badly. White feminists in San Francisco came together to “save” Eliana Lopez, an immigrant woman of color, but never actually included her in the conversation — and then treated her like she had Stockholm syndrome. Women who supported Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi were suddenly not feminists anymore. Survivors of domestic violence who supported Mirkarimi and supported redemption were shunned by a large portion of the domestic violence community.

We recognize that there are important reasons why domestic violence law allows charges to brought without the consent of the survivor; however, in this case, these laws were misused. How demoralizing to see a largely white, second-wave feminist advocate community come together around a woman they failed to include in the conversation about what she felt was best for herself and her family. Are we still in the 1950s?

The attempt to remove Mirkarimi from office was a political attack. It does a disservice to the cause of domestic violence to use it as a political tool to unseat a politician. At the same time, it was also regrettable that many progressives supporting the sheriff did not take the domestic violence charges against him seriously enough — both in the initial outcry that surrounded the charges and by being disrespectful towards the domestic violence advocates who testified at City Hall.

On the other hand, following close on the heels of the Mirkarimi situation, District 5 candidate Julian Davis was accused of a troubling history of inappropriate and nonconsensual groping by more than one woman. We have to take into account that there is an unacceptable cultural reality that people are likely to believe accusations against men of color by white women that are untrue, but that is not what has happened with the accusations brought forward about Davis.

In this scenario many in the progressive community knew about this history and were complicit in silencing any real conversation about it. It was only when Davis started intimidating one of the women that brought accusations against him with threats of legal action that a real conversation opened up.

Our goal is not to rehash Davis’s past behavior; everyone deserves redemption. However, it would make it easier for those of us who want to work with him going forward if he could take responsibility for his past instead seeking to silence his accusers.

Many have stood up to support the woman who came forward, but sadly others have not. For women and feminists in our movement it was exceedingly demoralizing to watch people who call themselves progressives attack a woman who came forward or dismiss her allegations because of political allegiances. One blog even went so far as to try and discredit her by alleging that she had been in a pornography film, as if somehow this would cast doubt on her allegations.

We seek a kind of feminism that supports and empowers women to make informed choices about their lives, not the type that falls into the same pattern of erasing the voices of women of color and immigrant women. We are calling for a cutting-edge feminist movement that includes men in our strategy of ending violence against women, and a feminist movement that walks away from this tired dualism between “victims and perpetrators,” when we all know that these so-called perpetrators are often victims of violence themselves.

We are calling for restorative justice that bridges the divides of class and race and gender and makes us stronger to achieve the lives that we want and need. We seek a feminist movement that sees housing and economic justice and racial justice and gender justice as all part of the same movement.

The truth of the matter is that in our progressive movement here in San Francisco, there is still a prominence of straight white men who continue to believe that they are the sole arbitrators of what is or is not progressive in this city, who go after women of color in leadership with a ferocity that they do not for our progressive male counterparts, and who continue to excuse problematic behavior in ways that undermine us all.

So much has happened so quickly that it has been hard to orient ourselves and keep fighting for our rights and our communities. After the election, we call for a public conversation around what it means to be a third- or even fourth-wave feminist progressive that we can build our work around — where men are feminist and women of color leaders can actually get some support from the progressive left. Gabriel Haaland is a queer, transgender Labor feminist and domestic violence survivor. Jane Martin and Alicia Garza are queer, feminist community organizers in San Francisco’s working-class communities of color