EDITORS NOTES I know you’re getting a lot of shit these days, and it’s not entirely fair. You’re not the ones making a killing in overpriced real estate. You came here looking for a job, and the jobs you get pay well enough that landlords and speculators can extract wealth that you ought to be able to save or spend in town, creating more jobs for everyone. I can’t blame you for wanting to live in one of the world’s greatest cities; I came here too, from the East Coast, in 1981, looking for work as a writer but mostly looking to live in San Francisco. So did waves of immigrants before me.
But we all have to remember something: There were people living here when we arrived. It was their city before it was ours. And they had, and have, the right to live here, too.
In fact, the people who have been here for 20 or 30 years, who have worked to build this community, have — in a karmic sense — even more right to be here than you. Trite as it sounds, they were here first.
Americans have a bad record when it comes to moving into established populations. Ask any American Indian. Ask the Mexicans about the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
The hippies who arrived in San Francisco in the 1960s — attracted, among other things, by really cheap rent in the Haight Asbury — weren’t always terribly polite to, or concerned about, the natives who lived there, and had fun teasing the straights and fouling their parks. But they didn’t force anyone else to leave; there was lots of empty space in San Francisco. The city wasn’t kind to them, either — official San Francisco may celebrate the Summer of Love now, but back then, the cops went after the hippies with gusto.
Gay people who arrived in the 1970s — attracted, among other things, by cheap rent in Eureka Valley — faced harassment, discrimination, and brutality.
You, on the other hand, are officially welcomed — the mayor thinks you’re the city’s future. You face no barriers to renting or buying a home, no police crackdowns. The only people unhappy about your presence are the ones who are getting forced out of town to make room for you.
It’s not your fault that the city lacks eviction protections or effective rent control — but it is your fault if you act as if it doesn’t matter. Building community means more than spending money. It means getting involved.
Many of you are tenants. You may be richer than the people who you displaced, but your landlord will cheat you just the same. The Tenants Union needs support. You can be a part of making it stronger. Some of you will have kids at some point; there are great public schools in San Francisco, and I hope you support them.
Meanwhile, you can help keep longtime residents from being forced out. Jeremy Mykaels, a former web designer disabled by AIDS, has set up a site listing all the properties that have been cleared through the eviction of a senior or disabled person (ellishurtsseniors.com). Check it out. Don’t buy those units. If that means you have to live with lesser housing for a while, you can deal. For generations, the rest of us did.
Yeah, we were here first. Show a little humility and a little respect, and perhaps we’ll all get along fine.