LGBT rights

Alerts: Sept. 24 – 30, 2014




The Free Speech Movement — 50 Years Later

First Unitarian Church, 1187 Franklin Street, SF. 7pm, free. Join three veterans of the Free Speech Movement — Lynne Hollander Savio, Mike Smith, and Jack Weinberg — as they discuss their participation in the monumental events that took place in Berkeley 50 years ago, with emphasis on how the movement retains its relevance in the 21st century. The event is sponsored by Progressive Democrats of America San Francisco in connection with the 50th Anniversary Free Speech Celebration in Berkeley, beginning Fri/26.



Women Walk for Campos

Dolores Park, Dolores and 19th, SF. 10am, free. Join in a walk in support for David Campos for California State Assembly, who is seeking to represent the 17th District in the upcoming election. Start the day with a little exercise and spread the word about Campos’s campaign for issues such as women’s health, LGBT rights, affordability, and public safety.


47th Birthday Beer Bust for Community Housing Partnership

SF Eagle, 398 12th St., SF. 3-6pm, $12. Enjoy beer, food and music at a fundraiser for the Community Housing Partnership. Featuring performances by Degentrified, a ukelele percussion band with Jason Smart (aka Frieda Laye) and Glendon Hyde (aka Anna Conda). DJ set by Dirty Knees of Charlie Horse and Hot Rod. San Francisco Black Leadership Forum Endorsement Meeting 5126 Third Street, SF. 10am-4pm, free. Join the San Francisco Black Leadership Forum, local candidates, and ballot measure representatives for a full day of interviews and discussion on how the issues will impact the black community in San Francisco and beyond. Eligible members will be asked to stay and vote on BLF Endorsements for the November election.

Pride and prejudice


As Pride celebrations across the country unfurl their rainbow flags this month, teacher tenure in California suffered a stunning blow from a Los Angeles Superior Court, undermining protections that have shielded the LGBT community from discrimination.

Although the decision will likely be appealed, Judge Rolf M. Treu’s ruling galvanized teachers unions and evoked memories of conservative attacks on gay teachers in the 1970s, including the unsuccessful Briggs Initiative that was a rallying point for then-Sup. Harvey Milk and a new generation of LGBT political leaders.

“To jeopardize any of the protections we have now, it’s a thinly veiled attempt to demoralize teachers, and it’s an attack on public education,” Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, the San Francisco Democrat who began his political career as an openly gay teacher campaigning against the Briggs Initiative, told the Guardian.

LGBT rights and teacher tenure may seem to have little in common, but a peek at the movers and shakers in the LGBT and teachers’ rights movements show an interconnected relationship of protections and the players who fight for them. Loss of tenure can threaten the protection of minority groups, academic freedom, and unpopular political speech, despite employment rights gained in recent years.

“We’ve beaten back that thinking,” Ammiano said, “but it’s still lurking.”

In California, K-12 teachers are shielded by legal protections often referred to commonly as tenure. Permanent status is the backbone of these protections, offering an arbitration process for teachers who administrators intend to fire. Also struck down by the judge was the First In, First Out law, which protects veteran teachers from layoffs by letting go of recent hires first.

In his ruling, Treu said these policies created an environment where students were burdened by ineffective teachers who were difficult to fire, disproportionately detracting from minority students’ education quality in the most troubled schools.

“The evidence is compelling,” the judge wrote in his ruling, “indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

Many education advocates vehemently disagreed with that ruling, and the veracity of the evidence will be further weighed in upcoming appeals. But along the way to pursuing equality for students, the equality of teachers may find itself eroded by an unlikely new hero of the LGBT movement: A conservative attorney who fought against marriage discrimination, but also litigated against the legacy of an LGBT legend.



The morning last year when the US Supreme Court ruled to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, San Franciscans gathered inside City Hall by the grand staircase. Men held men, women held women, and families held the their children tight.

When the court’s decision finally hit the news, the outcry of happiness and surprise at City Hall was deafening. The expressions on the faces of those there was that of joy with many understandably streaked by tears. Attorney Theodore Olson helped litigate against Prop. 8 and won, and as he fought for gay rights, his face was often streaked with tears as well, LGBT rights activist Cleve Jones told us.

“There was a part of that trial when the plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier described their love for each other,” Jones said. “I was sitting with their family in [US District Court Judge] Vaughn Walker’s court. When we broke, Ted Olson went to embrace them and there were tears on his face.”

But Olson is not a poster child for most politics considered the realm of liberals and Democrats. Olson and fellow Prop. 8 litigator Attorney David Boies were on opposing sides of the Bush v. Gore case that Olson won, handing George W. Bush the presidency in 2000. Olson was then appointed solicitor general of the United States, often leading conservative causes.


Olson and Boies will talk about their new book Redeeming the Dream: The Case for Marriage Equality at the LGBT center on June 25 (joined by Supervisor Scott Wiener), but Olson gave us a glimmer of those motivations.

Olson, a Los Altos native who attended UC Berkeley School of Law, told the Guardian in a phone interview that his stand on gay rights was based on conservative principles: “I think of conservatives as including people who are libertarians and respect individual liberty.”


A trailer for “The Case Against 8,” which features Ted Olson heavily.

He said the right to marry the person of one’s choosing should be an individual right that government has no business banning. That belief in individual liberty is at the core of his political principles. “It affects me in absolutely the deepest personal way,” he told us.

Whatever his ideological motivations, Olson became a hero in the LGBT community. But this year, he was one of the attorneys who convinced Judge Treu of the evils of teacher tenure. In the trial, Olson claimed one Oakland teacher was harming elementary students’ educational outcomes: “The principal couldn’t remove that teacher. These stories are so awful, sometimes you feel people are exaggerating.”

Yet the problems afflicting Oakland schools and its children, the unions argued, are not due to teacher tenure. In a city with high violence rates, students’ broken homes, low teacher pay, and difficult working conditions, critics say Olson oversimplified and misrepresented a complex problem.

“We all know there are problems in our schools,” Jones, who works with unions, told us. “But there’s never of course discussion about poverty, or students growing up in single families, or class sizes.”

These were all arguments the union made against Olson, unsuccessfully. The decision to remove protections for teachers may send ripples into other states and spur increased attacks on teacher protections.

And unlike California, which has strong anti-discrimination protections, that campaign may allow teachers of other states to be fired or dismissed for coming out of the closet, an issue that helped elevate Harvey Milk into such an iconic leader.



Jones and Ammiano fought alongside Milk against Proposition 6 in 1978, known as the Briggs Initiative, which would have made it illegal for openly gay people to teach. Then-Sen. John Briggs and his allies associated gay teachers with child molesters and frequently said they may influence children to become gay.

“I was born of heterosexual parents, taught by heterosexual teachers in a fiercely heterosexual society,” Milk said in a speech at the time. “Then why am I homosexual if I’m affected by role models? I should’ve been a heterosexual. And no offense meant, but if teachers are going to affect you as role models, there’d be a lot of nuns running around the streets today.”

This fight may be history, but Ammiano said such biases are still with us today, such as with how some see the transgender community. “We’re holding people at bay around LGB issues, but the T part now is the crossroads for the right wing [activists] who are rolling back protections,” he said.

Only 30 US states offer employment protections for sexual orientation, and some of those only cover government employees, according to a study by Center for American Progress. Only 23 states protect against firing for gender identity.

Vulnerable teachers lacking protections granted by tenure or equal employment laws are still being fired in California and across the country. In April, a transgender Texas substitute teacher was fired for making children “uncomfortable,” according to news reports. In Glendora, California, a teacher was fired from a religious private school after a photo of he and his husband kissing on their wedding day made the local newspaper.

This month, President Barack Obama announced an Executive Order mandating federal contractors enact policies protecting workers from dismissal due to sexual orientation or gender identity. Many speculate this was announced to press Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect private employees from discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.


“This is only round one,” stated Senator John Briggs to the press about the defeat of Proposition 6, Nov. 7, 1978, at a Costa Mesa hotel. Proposition 6, called the Briggs Initiative, prohibits gay teachers from working in California public schools. AP file photo by Doug Pizac

But ENDA has stalled for years, despite the best efforts of advocacy groups nationwide. And as the country awaits equality, many teachers’ last hope against unlawful dismissal is tenure. In fact, tenure laws were first drafted after the Red Scare and Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunt for communists, California Federation of Teachers spokesperson Fred Glass told us.

Yet Olson recoils at linking LGBT rights to teacher protections. “I support wholly protections for people for who they are, for heaven’s sakes,” he told us, mentioning that Milk “was very much an inspiration and very important to us.”

And Jones still thinks of Olson as a hero, saying that life and politics are complex.

“Irony abounds,” Jones said. “I don’t square it. You can’t square it. It’s there. But my respect for Ted Olson is based on his very genuine support for our community on the issue of marriage. For LGBT people to win equalit,y it’s important there’s a national consensus, it can’t just be from the left. Ted Olson was incredibly important with that effort and will be remembered generations for now. You don’t have to like everything about Ted Olson or President Obama to acknowledge they had a profound effect.”

Film Listings: April 9 – 15, 2014


Film listings are edited by Cheryl Eddy. Reviewers are Kimberly Chun, Dennis Harvey, Lynn Rapoport, and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo. For rep house showtimes, see Rep Clock.


Cuban Fury Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, and Chris O’Dowd star in this comedy about competitive salsa dancing. (1:37)

Dom Hemingway We first meet English safecracker Dom (Jude Law) as he delivers an extremely verbose and flowery ode to his penis, addressing no one in particular, while he’s getting blown in prison. Whether you find this opening a knockout or painfully faux will determine how you react to the rest of Richard Shepard’s new film, because it’s all in that same overwritten, pseudo-shocking, showoff vein, Sprung after 12 years, Dom is reunited with his former henchman Dickie (Richard E. Grant), and the two go to the South of France to collect the reward owed for not ratting out crime kingpin Mr. Fontaine (Demian Bichir). This detour into the high life goes awry, however, sending the duo back to London, where Dom — who admits having “anger issues,” which is putting it mildly — tries to woo a new employer (Jumayn Hunter) and, offsetting his general loutishness with mawkish interludes, to re-ingratiate himself with his long-estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke). Moving into Guy Ritchie terrain with none of the deftness the same writer-director had brought to debunking James Bond territory in 2006’s similarly black-comedic crime tale The Matador, Dom Hemingway might bludgeon some viewers into sharing its air of waggish, self conscious merriment. But like Law’s performance, it labors so effortfully hard after that affect that you’re just as likely to find the whole enterprise overbearing. (1:33) Elmwood. (Harvey)

Draft Day Kevin Costner stars in this comedy-drama set behind the scenes of the NFL. (2:00) Presidio.

Finding Vivian Maier Much like In the Realms of the Unreal, the 2004 doc about Henry Darger, Finding Vivian Maier explores the lonely life of a gifted artist whose talents were discovered posthumously. In this case, however, the filmmaker — John Maloof, who co-directs with Charlie Siskel — is responsible for Maier’s rise to fame. A practiced flea-market hunter, he picked up a carton of negatives at a 2007 auction; they turned out to be striking examples of early street photography. He was so taken with the work (snapped by a woman so obscure she was un-Google-able) that he began posting images online. Unexpectedly, they became a viral sensation, and Maloof became determined to learn more about the camerawoman. Turns out Vivian Maier was a career nanny in the Chicago area, with plenty of former employers to share their memories. She was an intensely private person who some remembered as delightfully adventurous and others remembered as eccentric, mentally unstable, or even cruel; she was a hoarder who was distrustful of men, and she spoke with a maybe-fake French accent. And she was obsessed with taking photographs that she never showed to anyone; the hundreds of thousands now in Maloof’s collection (along with 8mm and 16mm films) offer the only insight into her creative mind. “She had a great eye, a sense of humor, and a sense of tragedy,” remarks acclaimed photographer Mary Ellen Mark. “But there’s a piece of the puzzle missing.” The film’s central question — why was Maier so secretive about her hobby? — may never be answered. But as the film also suggests, that mystery adds another layer of fascination to her keenly observed photos. (1:23) Clay, Shattuck. (Eddy)

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden Extensive archival footage and home movies (plus one short, narrative film) enhance this absorbing doc from San Francisco-based Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (2005’s Ballets Russes). It tells the tale of a double murder that occurred in the early 1930s on Floreana — the most remote of the already scarcely-populated Galapagos Islands. A top-notch cast (Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, Connie Nielsen, Josh Radnour) gives voice to the letters and diary entries of the players in this stranger-than-fiction story, which involved an array of Europeans who’d moved away from civilization in search of utopian simplicity — most intriguingly, a maybe-fake Baroness and her two young lovers — and realized too late that paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Goldfine and Geller add further detail to the historic drama by visiting the present-day Galapagos, speaking with residents about the lingering mystery and offering a glimpse of what life on the isolated islands is like today. (2:00) Embarcadero, Shattuck. (Eddy)

Interior. Leather Bar. James Franco and Travis Mathews’ “docufilm” imagines and recreates footage cut from the 1980 film Cruising. (1:00) Roxie.

Joe “I know what keeps me alive is restraint,” says Nicolas Cage’s titular character, a hard-drinking, taciturn but honorable semi-loner who supervises a crew of laborers clearing undesirable trees in the Mississippi countryside. That aside, his business is mostly drinking, occasionally getting laid, and staying out of trouble — we glean he’s had more than enough of the latter in his past. Thus it’s against his better judgment that he helps out newly arrived transient teen Gary (the excellent Tye Sheridan, of 2012’s Mud and 2011’s The Tree of Life), who’s struggling to support his bedraggled mother and mute sister. Actually he takes a shine to the kid, and vice versa; the reason for caution is Gary’s father, whom he himself calls a “selfish old drunk.” And that’s a kind description of this vicious, violent, lazy, conscienceless boozehound, who has gotten his pitiful family thrown out of town many times before and no doubt will manage it once again in this new burg, where they’ve found an empty condemned house to squat in. David Gordon Green’s latest is based on a novel by the late Larry Brown, and like that writer’s prose, its considerable skill of execution manages to render serious and grimly palatable a steaming plate load of high white trash melodrama that might otherwise be undigestible. (Strip away the fine performances, staging and atmosphere, and there’s not much difference between Joe and the retro Southern grind house likes of 1969’s Shanty Tramp, 1974’s ‘Gator Bait or 1963’s Scum of the Earth.) Like Mud and 2011’s Killer Joe, this is a rural Gothic neither truly realistic or caricatured to the point of parody, but hanging between those two poles — to an effect that’s impressive and potent, though some may not enjoy wallowing in this particular depressing mire of grotesque nastiness en route to redemption. (1:57) (Harvey)

The New Black The Human Rights Watch Film Festival (April 10-27 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts) kicks off with Yoruba Richen’s look at uneasy tensions between African American Christians and marriage-equality activists. Though Richen is careful to give voice to both sides, The New Black‘s most charismatic figure is Sharon Lettman-Hicks of the National Black Justice Coalition, who’s straight and a churchgoer, but is tirelessly dedicated to LGBT rights both professionally and personally — as in a scene in which a backyard barbecue at her home turns into a friendly but assertive education session for her less open-minded relatives. Elsewhere, we meet an African American church leader who’s against same-sex marriage but isn’t portrayed as a one-note villain; a group of young LGBT political volunteers, many of whom are estranged from intolerant parents; an adorable two-mom family hoping to make their partnership legal; and the gospel singer formerly known as Tonéx, whose decision to come out greatly affected his burgeoning Christian music career. Maryland’s same-sex marriage referendum, decided during the 2012 election, is the film’s focal point, but it also boldly digs into deeper issues, exploring why a community that fought so hard for its own civil rights a generation ago has such trouble supporting the LGBT cause. (1:22) Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Eddy)

Oculus Tim (Brenton Thwaites) and Kaylie (Karen Gillan) are grown siblings with a horrible shared past: When they were children, their parents (Rory Cochrane, Katee Sankhoff) moved them all into a nice suburban house, decorating it with, among other things, a 300-year-old mirror. But that antique seemed to have an increasingly disturbing effect on dad, then mom too, to ultimately homicidal, offspring-orphaning effect. Over a decade later, Tim is released from a juvenile mental lockup, ready to live a normal life after years of therapy have cleaned him of the supernatural delusions he think landed him there in the first place. Imagine his dismay when Kaylie announces she has spent the meantime researching aforementioned “evil mirror” — which turns out to have had a very gruesome history of mysteriously connected deaths — and painstakingly re-acquiring it. She means to destroy it so it can never wreak havoc, and has set up an elaborate room of camcorders and other equipment in which to “prove” its malevolence first, with Tim her very reluctant helper. Needless to say, this experiment (which he initially goes along with only in order to debunk the whole thing for good) turns out to be a very, very bad idea. The mirror is clever — demonically clever. It can warp time and perspective so our protagonists don’t know whether what they’re experiencing is real or not. Expanding on his 2006 short film (which was made before his excellent, little-seen 2011 horror feature Absentia), Mike Flanagan’s tense, atmospheric movie isn’t quite as scary as you might wish, partly because the villain (the spirit behind the mirror) isn’t particularly well-imagined in generic look or murky motivation. But it is the rare new horror flick that is genuinely intricate and surprising plot-wise — no small thing in the current landscape of endless remakes and rehashes. (1:44) (Harvey)

Rio 2 More 3D tropical adventures with animated birds Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their menagerie of pals, with additional voices by Andy Garcia, Leslie Mann, Bruno Mars, Jamie Foxx, and more. (1:41) Four Star, Presidio.

Under the Skin See “The Hunger.” (1:47)


Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq Writer-director Nancy Buirski’s documentary follows the short, brilliant career of a young dancer named Tanaquil Le Clercq, who came up in the New York City ballet world of the 1940s and ’50s. Le Clercq was discovered by George Balanchine, married him (as three other dancers had done before her), sparked a paradigm shift in the ballet world regarding what was considered the quintessential dancer’s body, had numerous ballets set on her by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, and then, at the peak of her career, at age 27, was stricken by polio and left paralyzed in both legs. The film takes its time moving toward this catastrophe, recounting Le Clercq’s early adult life through interviews with her contemporaries and tracking her professional progress through gorgeous archival footage of her performances. Equally moving archival material are the letters from a longtime correspondence between Le Clercq and Robbins that documented two very different periods of her life: the first, when Robbins was choreographing ballets for her, including Afternoon of a Faun, and professing his love; the second, after her paralysis, when she wrote him a series of poignant communications describing her impressions of her illness and her new, circumscribed world. The film has some trouble holding on to its center — as in life, Balanchine proves a magnetic force, and Afternoon of a Faun feels inexorably drawn to his professional and personal details. We don’t get enough of Le Clercq, which you could say is the tragedy of her story — nobody did. But the letters do provide a sense of someone resourceful and responsive to life’s richness and joys, someone who would get past this crisis and find a way to reshape her life. (1:31) Opera Plaza. (Rapoport)

Bad Words Settling a grudge score whose precise origin remains unclear until late in the game, world-class misanthrope Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) is celebrating his 40th birthday by competing in a national spelling bee. Yes, spelling bees are generally for children, and so is this one. But Guy has found a legal loophole permitting his participation, and the general hate wending his way from contest staff (Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall) — let alone the tiger-mom-and-dad parents ready to form a lynch mob — is just icing on the cake where he’s concerned. What’s more, as some sort of majorly underachieving near-genius, he’s in fact well equipped to whup the bejesus out of overachieving eight-year-olds when it comes to saying the right letters out loud. The only people on his side, sorta, are the online journalist (Kathryn Hahn) reporting on his perverse quest, and the insidiously cute Indian American competitor (Rohan Chand) who wants to be besties, or perhaps just to psych him out. (Note: The tyke’s admitted favorite word is “subjugate.”) Written by Andrew Dodge, this comedy in the tradition (a little too obviously) of 2003’s Bad Santa and such provides the always enjoyable Bateman with not only a tailor-made lead role, but a directorial debut as well. He does just fine by both. Yet as nicely crafted and frequently-pretty-funny Bad Words is, at core it’s a rather petty movie — small, derivative, and cynically mean-spirited without the courage of genuine biliousness. It’s at once not-half-bad, and not half as badass as it pretends to be. (1:29) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Breathe In In Drake Doremus’s lyrical tale of a man in midlife crisis, Guy Pearce plays Keith Reynolds, a high school music teacher living in upstate New York with his wife, Megan (Amy Ryan), and teenage daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie David). Quietly harboring his discontent, Keith spends solitary moments wistfully sifting through glory-days photographs of his former band and memories of the undomesticated life he and Megan led two decades ago in New York City, which the two revisit in a low-toned call-and-response that doesn’t need to erupt into a blistering argument to clarify their incompatible positions. The melancholy calm is disrupted by the arrival of a British exchange student named Sophie (Felicity Jones, who also starred in Doremus’s 2011 film, Like Crazy). Evading a scene of loss and heartbreak at home, 18-year-old Sophie has come to spend a semester at Lauren’s high school, a juxtaposition that presents us with two wildly distinct species of teenager. Lauren is a brittle, popular party girl whom we watch making poor choices with a predatory classmate; Sophie is a soulful, reserved young woman whose prodigious talent at the piano first jars Keith out of his malaise into an uncomfortable awareness. A scene before Sophie’s arrival in which the family plays Jenga and Keith pulls out the wrong piece, toppling the tower, perhaps presses its ominous visual message too hard. Meanwhile, similarities to 2012’s Nobody Walks underscore the argument that this subject matter is an old, tired tale. But for the most part, the intimacy that develops between Keith and Sophie is constructed with delicate restraint, and Doremus and writing partner Ben York Jones have crafted a textured portrait of a man trying to repossess the past. (1:37) Metreon. (Rapoport)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Marvel’s most wholesome hero returns in this latest film in the Avengers series, and while it doesn’t deviate from the expected formula (it’s not a spoiler to say that yes, the world is saved yet again), it manages to incorporate a surprisingly timely plot about the dangers of government surveillance. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), hunkiest 95-year-old ever, is still figuring out his place in the 21st century after his post-World War II deep freeze. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has him running random rescue missions with the help of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), but SHIELD is working on a top-secret project that will allow it to predict crimes before they occur. It isn’t long before Cap’s distrust of the weapon — he may be old-fashioned, but he ain’t stupid — uncovers a sinister plot led by a familiar enemy, with Steve’s former BFF Bucky doing its bidding as the science-experiment-turned-assassin Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, and series regular Cobie Smulders are fine in supporting roles, and Johansson finally gets more to do than punch and pose, but the likable Evans ably carries the movie — he may not have the charisma of Robert Downey Jr., but he brings wit and depth to a role that would otherwise be defined mainly by biceps and CG-heavy fights. Oh, and you know the drill by now: superfans will want to stick around for two additional scenes tucked into the end credits. (2:16) Balboa, Marina, Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy)

Cesar Chavez “You always have a choice,” Cesar Chavez (Michael Peña) tells his bullied son when advising him to turn the other cheek. Likewise, actor-turned-director Diego Luna had a choice when it came to tackling his first English-language film; he could have selected a less complicated, sprawling story. So he gets props for that simple act — especially at a time when workers’ rights and union power have been so dramatically eroded — and for his attempts to impact some complicated nuance to Chavez’s fully evident heroism. Painting his moving pictures in dusty earth tones and burnt sunlight with the help of cinematographer Enrique Chediak, Luna vaults straight into Chavez’s work with the grape pickers that would come to join the United Farm Workers — with just a brief voiceover about Chavez’s roots as the native-born son of a farm owner turned worker, post-Depression. Uprooting wife Helen (America Ferrera) and his family and moving to Delano as a sign of activist commitment, Chavez is seemingly quickly drawn into the 1965 strike by the Mexican workers’ sometime rivals: Filipino pickers (see the recent CAAMFest short documentary Delano Manongs for some of their side of the story). From there, the focus hones in on Chavez, speaking out against violence and “chicken shit macho ideals,” hunger striking, and activating unions overseas, though Luna does give voice to cohorts like Dolores Huerta (Rosario Dawson), growers like Bogdanovitch (John Malkovich), and the many nameless strikers — some of whom lost their lives during the astonishingly lengthy, taxing five-year strike. Luna’s win would be a blue-collar epic on par with 1979’s Norma Rae, and on some levels, he succeeds; scanning the faces of the weathered, hopeful extras in crowd scenes, you can’t help but feel the solidarity. The people have the power, as a poet once put it, and tellingly, his choice of Peña, stolidly opaque when charismatic warmth is called for, might be the key weakness here. One suspects the director or his frequent costar Gael García Bernal would make a more riveting Chavez. (1:38) Elmwood, Metreon. (Chun)

Divergent Based on the blockbuster dystopian-future YA novel by Veronica Roth (the first in a trilogy), Divergent is set in a future city-state version of Chicago in which society is divided into five character-based, color-coded factions: Erudite, Amity, Candor, Abnegation, and Dauntless. Like her peers, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley), the film’s Abnegation-born teenage heroine, must choose a permanent faction — with the help of a standardized aptitude test that forgoes penciling in bubbles in favor of virtual reality psychic manipulation. When the test fails to triangulate her sole innate personality trait, she learns that she belongs to a secret, endangered sixth category: Divergent, an astonishing set of people who are not only capable of, say, acts of selflessness but can also produce intelligent thought, or manifest bravery in the face of danger. Forced to hide her aberrant nature in a society whose leaders (Kate Winslet) are prone to statements like “The future belongs to those who know where they belong,” and seemingly bored among Abnegation’s hive of gray cardigan-wearing worker bees, Beatrice chooses Dauntless, a dashing gang of black-clad, alterna-rock music video extras who jump on and off moving trains and live in a warehouse-chic compound whose dining hall recalls the patio at Zeitgeist. Fittingly, a surly, tattooed young man named Four (Theo James) leads Beatrice, now Tris, and her fellow initiates through a harsh proving regimen that, if they fail, will cast them into an impoverished underclass. Director Neil Burger (2006’s The Illusionist, 2011’s Limitless) and the behemoth marketing force behind Divergent are clearly hoping to stir up the kind of madness stoked by the Twilight and Hunger Games series, but while there are bones a-plenty to pick with those franchises, Divergent may have them beat for pure daffiness of premise and diameter of plot holes — and that’s after screenwriters Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor’s major suturing of the source material’s lacunae. The daffiness doesn’t translate into imaginative world-building, and while a couple of scenes convey the visceral thrills of life in Dauntless, the tension between Tris and Four is awkwardly ratcheted up, and the film’s shift into a mode of crisis is equally jolting without generating much heat. (2:20) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness, Sundance Kabuki. (Rapoport)

Ernest & Celestine Belgian animators Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier are best known for the stop-motion shorts series (and priceless 2009 subsequent feature) A Town Called Panic, an anarchic, absurdist, and hilarious creation suitable for all ages. Their latest (co-directed with Benjamin Renner) is … not like that at all. Instead, it’s a sweet, generally guileless children’s cartoon that takes its gentle, watercolor-type visual style from late writer-illustrator Gabrielle Vincent’s same-named books. Celestine (voiced by Pauline Brunner) is an orphaned girl mouse that befriends gruff bear Ernest (the excellent Lambert Wilson), though their improbable kinship invites social disapproval and scrapes with the law. There are some clever satirical touches, but mostly this is a softhearted charmer that will primarily appeal to younger kids. Adults will find it pleasant enough — but don’t expect any Panic-style craziness. (1:20) Elmwood, Opera Plaza. (Harvey)

Non-Stop You don’t want to get between Liam Neeson and his human shield duties. The Taken franchise has restyled the once-gentle acting giant into the type of weather-beaten, all-business action hero that Harrison Ford once had a lock on. Throw in a bit of the flying-while-addled antihero high jinks last seen in Flight (2012) and that pressured, packed-sardine anxiety that we all suffer during long-distance air travel, and we have a somewhat ludicrous but nonetheless entertaining hybrid that may have you believing that those salty snacks and the seat-kicking kids are the least of your troubles. Neeson’s Bill Marks signals the level of his freestyle alcoholism by giving his booze a stir with a toothbrush shortly before putting on his big-boy air marshal pants and boarding his fateful flight. Marks is soon contacted by a psycho who promises, via text, to kill one person at a time on the flight unless $150 million is deposited into a bank account that — surprise — is under the bad-good air marshal’s name. The twists and turns — and questions of who to trust, whether it’s Marks’ vaguely likeable seatmate (Julianne Moore) or his business class flight attendant (Michelle Dockery) — keep the audience on edge and busily guessing, though director Jaume Collet-Serra doesn’t quite dispel all the questions that arise as the diabolical scheme plays out and ultimately taxes believability. The fun is all in the getting there, even if the denouement on the tarmac deflates. (1:50) Four Star. (Chun)

The Grand Budapest Hotel Is this the first Wes Anderson movie to feature a shootout? It’s definitely the first Anderson flick to include a severed head. That’s not to say The Grand Budapest Hotel, “inspired by” the works of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, represents too much of a shift for the director — his intricate approach to art direction is still very much in place, as are the deadpan line deliveries and a cast stuffed with Anderson regulars. But there’s a slightly more serious vibe here, a welcome change from 2012’s tooth-achingly twee Moonrise Kingdom. Thank Ralph Fiennes’ performance as liberally perfumed concierge extraordinaire M. Gustave, which mixes a shot of melancholy into the whimsy, and newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero, his loyal lobby boy, who provides gravitas despite only being a teenager. (Being played by F. Murray Abraham as an older adult probably helps in that department.) Hotel‘s early 20th century Europe setting proves an ideal canvas for Anderson’s love of detail — the titular creation rivals Stanley Kubrick’s rendering of the Overlook Hotel — and his supporting cast, as always, looks to be enjoying the hell out of being a part of Anderson’s universe, with Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Adrien Brody having particularly oversized fun. Is this the best Wes Anderson movie since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums? Yes. (1:40) Balboa, 1000 Van Ness, Presidio, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki, Vogue. (Eddy)

Gravity “Life in space is impossible,” begins Gravity, the latest from Alfonso Cuarón (2006’s Children of Men). Egghead Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is well aware of her precarious situation after a mangled satellite slams into her ship, then proceeds to demolition-derby everything (including the International Space Station) in its path. It’s not long before she’s utterly, terrifyingly alone, and forced to unearth near-superhuman reserves of physical and mental strength to survive. Bullock’s performance would be enough to recommend Gravity, but there’s more to praise, like the film’s tense pacing, spare-yet-layered script (Cuarón co-wrote with his son, Jonás), and spectacular 3D photography — not to mention George Clooney’s warm supporting turn as a career astronaut who loves country music almost as much as he loves telling stories about his misadventures. (1:31) Metreon. (Eddy)

The Great Beauty The latest from Paolo Sorrentino (2008’s Il Divo) arrives as a high-profile contender for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, already annointed a masterpiece in some quarters, and duly announcing itself as such in nearly every grandiose, aesthetically engorged moment. Yes, it seems to say, you are in the presence of this auteur’s masterpiece. But it’s somebody else’s, too. The problem isn’t just that Fellini got there first, but that there’s room for doubt whether Sorrentino’s homage actually builds on or simply imitates its model. La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 1/2 (1963) are themselves swaying, jerry-built monuments, exhileratingly messy and debatably profound. But nothing quite like them had been seen before, and they did define a time of cultural upheaval — when traditional ways of life were being plowed under by a loud, moneyed, heedless modernity that for a while chose Rome as its global capital. Sorrentino announces his intention to out-Fellini Fellini in an opening sequence so strenuously flamboyant it’s like a never-ending pirouette performed by a prima dancer with a hernia. There’s statuary, a women’s choral ensemble, an on-screen audience applauding the director’s baffled muse Toni Servillo, standing in for Marcello Mastroianni — all this and more in manic tracking shots and frantic intercutting, as if sheer speed alone could supply contemporary relevancy. Eventually The Great Beauty calms down a bit, but still its reason for being remains vague behind the heavy curtain of “style.” (2:22) Opera Plaza. (Harvey)

It Felt Like Love Set on the outer edges of Brooklyn and Queens, writer-director Eliza Hittman’s debut feature tracks the summertime wanderings and missteps of 14-year-old Lila (Gina Piersanti), whose days mainly consist of trailing in the wake of her more sexually experienced and perpetually coupled-off best friend, Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni). The camera repeatedly finds Lila in voyeur mode, as Chiara and her boyfriend, Patrick (Jesse Cordasco), negotiate their physical relationship and redefine the limits of PDA, unfazed by Lila’s silent, watchful presence. It’s clear she wants some part of this, though her motivations are a murky compound of envy, loneliness, and longing for a sense of place among her peers. A brief encounter with an older boy, Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein), whom Chiara knows — more of a sighting, really — provides the tiniest of openings, and Lila forces her way through it with an awkward insistence that is uncomfortable and sometimes painful to witness. Lila lacks Chiara’s fluid verbal and physical vernacular, and her attempts at mimicry in the cause of attracting Sammy’s attention only underline how unready and out of her depth she is. As Lila pushes into his seedy, sleazy world — a typical night is spent getting wasted and watching porn with his friends — their encounters don’t look like they feel like love, though Piersanti poignantly signals her character’s physical desire in the face of Sammy’s bemused ambivalence. Hittman unflinchingly leads her hapless protagonist through scenes that hover uneasily between dark comedy and menace without ever quite landing, and this uncertainty generates an emotional force that isn’t dispelled by the drifting, episodic plot. (1:22) Roxie. (Rapoport)

Jinn (1:37) Metreon.

Jodorowsky’s Dune A Chilean émigré to Paris, Alejandro Jodorowsky had avant-garde interests that led him from theater and comic book art to film, making his feature debut with 1968’s Fando y Lis. Undaunted by its poor reception, he created El Topo (1970), a blood-soaked mix of spaghetti western, mysticism, and Buñuellian parabolic grotesquerie that became the very first “midnight movie.” After that success, he was given nearly a million dollars to “do what he wanted” with 1973’s similarly out-there The Holy Mountain, which became a big hit in Europe. French producer Michel Seydoux asked Jodorowsky what he’d like to do next. Dune, he said. In many ways it seemed a perfect match of director and material. Yet Dune would be an enormous undertaking in terms of scale, expense, and technical challenges. What moneymen in their right mind would entrust this flamboyant genius/nut job with it? They wouldn’t, as it turned out. So doc Jodorowsky’s Dune is the story of “the greatest film never made,” one that’s brain-exploding enough in description alone. But there’s more than description to go on here, since in 1975 the director and his collaborators created a beautifully detailed volume of storyboards and other preproduction minutiae they hoped would lure Hollywood studios aboard this space phantasmagoria. From this goldmine of material, as well as input from the surviving participants, Pavich is able to reconstruct not just the film’s making and unmaking, but to an extent the film itself — there are animated storyboard sequences here that offer just a partial yet still breathtaking glimpse of what might have been. (1:30) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

The Lego Movie (1:41) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness.

The Lunchbox Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a self-possessed housewife and a great cook, whose husband confuses her for another piece of furniture. She tries to arouse his affections with elaborate lunches she makes and sends through the city’s lunchbox delivery service. Like marriage in India, lunchbox delivery has a failure rate of zero, which is what makes aberrations seem like magical occurrences. So when widow Saajan (Irrfan Khan) receives her adoring food, he humbly receives the magical lunches like a revival of the senses. Once Ila realizes her lunchbox is feeding the wrong man she writes a note and Saajan replies — tersely, like a man who hasn’t held a conversation in a decade — and the impossible circumstances lend their exchanges a romance that challenges her emotional fidelity and his retreat from society. She confides her husband is cheating. He confides his sympathy for men of lower castes. It’s a May/December affair if it’s an affair at all — but the chemistry we expect the actors to have in the same room is what fuels our urge to see it; that’s a rare and haunting dynamic. Newcomer Kaur is perfect as Ila, a beauty unmarked by her rigorous distaff; her soft features and exhausted expression lend a richness to the troubles she can’t share with her similarly stoic mother (Lillete Dubey). Everyone is sacrificing something and poverty seeps into every crack, every life, without exception — their inner lives are their richness. (1:44) Embarcadero. (Vizcarrondo)

Mistaken for Strangers Tom Berninger, brother to the National vocalist Matt Berninger, is the maker of this doc — ostensibly about the band but a really about brotherly love, competition, and creation. It spins off a somewhat genius conceit of brother vs. brother, since the combo is composed of two sets of siblings: twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner on guitars and Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and drums respectively. The obvious question — what of singer Matt and his missing broheim? Turns out little bro Tom is one of those rock fans — of metal and not, it seems, the National — more interested in living the life and drinking the brewskis than making the music. So when Matt reaches out to Tom, adrift in their hometown of Cincinnati, to work as a roadie for the outfit, it’s a handout, sure, but also a way for the two to spend time together and bond. A not-quite-realized moviemaker who’s tried to make his own Z-budget scary flicks but never seems to finish much, Tom decides to document, and in the process gently poke fun at, the band (aka his authority-figures-slash-employers), which turns out to be much more interesting than gathering their deli platters and Toblerone. The National’s aesthetic isn’t quite his cup of tea: they prefer to wrap themselves in slinky black suits like Nick Cave’s pickup band, and the soft-spoken Matt tends to perpetually stroll about with a glass of white wine or bubbly in hand when he isn’t bursting into fourth-wall-busting high jinks on stage. Proud of his sib yet also intimidated by the National’s fame and not a little envious of the photo shoots, the Obama meetings, and the like, Tom is all about having fun. But it’s not a case of us vs. them, Tom vs. Matt, he discovers; it’s a matter of connecting with family and oneself. In a Michael Moore-ian sense, the sweet-tempered Mistaken for Strangers is as much, if not more so, about the filmmaker and the journey to make the movie than the supposed subject. (1:15) Roxie. (Chun)

The Monuments Men The phrase “never judge a book by its cover” goes both ways. On paper, The Monuments Men — inspired by the men who recovered art stolen by the Nazis during World War II, and directed by George Clooney, who co-wrote and stars alongside a sparkling ensemble cast (Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh “Earl of Grantham” Bonneville, and Bill Fucking Murray) — rules. Onscreen, not so much. After they’re recruited to join the cause, the characters fan out across France and Germany following various leads, a structural choice that results in the film’s number one problem: it can’t settle on a tone. Men can’t decide if it wants to be a sentimental war movie (as in an overlong sequence in which Murray’s character weeps at the sound of his daughter’s recorded voice singing “White Christmas”); a tragic war movie (some of those marquee names die, y’all); a suspenseful war movie (as the men sneak into dangerous territory with Michelangelo on their minds); or a slapstick war comedy (look out for that land mine!) The only consistent element is that the villains are all one-note — and didn’t Inglourious Basterds (2009) teach us that nothing elevates a 21st century-made World War II flick like an eccentric bad guy? There’s one perfectly executed scene, when reluctant partners Balaban and Murray discover a trove of priceless paintings hidden in plain sight. One scene, out of a two-hour movie, that really works. The rest is a stitched-together pile of earnest intentions that suggests a complete lack of coherent vision. Still love you, Clooney, but you can do better — and this incredible true story deserved way better. (1:58) Four Star. (Eddy)

Mr. Peabody and Sherman Mr. P. (voiced by Ty Burrell) is a Nobel Prize-winning genius dog, Sherman (Max Charles) his adopted human son. When the latter attends his first day of school, his extremely precocious knowledge of history attracts jealous interest from bratty classmate Penny (Ariel Winter), with the eventual result that all three end up being transported in Peabody’s WABAC time machine to various fabled moments — involving Marie Antoinette, King Tut, the Trojan Horse, etc. — where Penny invariably gets them in deep trouble. Rob Minkoff’s first all-animation feature since The Lion King 20 years ago is spun off from the same-named segments in Jay Ward’s TV Rocky and Bullwinkle Show some decades earlier. It’s a very busy (sometimes to the brink of clutter), often witty, imaginatively constructed, visually impressive, and for the most part highly enjoyable comic adventure. The only minuses are some perfunctory “It’s about family”-type sentimentality — and scenarist Craig Wright’s determination to draw from history the “lesson” that nearly all women are pains in the ass who create problems they must then be rescued from. (1:30) 1000 Van Ness. (Harvey)

Muppets Most Wanted Building on the success of The Muppets, Jim Henson’s beloved creations return to capitalize on their revitalized (and Disney-owned) fame. This follow-up from Muppets director James Tobin — technically, it’s the seventh sequel to the original 1979 Muppet Movie, as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew points out in one of the film’s many meta moments — improves upon the 2011 film, which had its charms but suffered by concentrating too much on the Jason Segal-Amy Adams romance, not to mention annoying new kid Walter. Here, human co-stars Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and others (there are more cameos than you can count) are relegated to supporting roles, with the central conflict revolving around the Muppets’ inability to notice that Constantine, “the world’s most dangerous frog,” has infiltrated their group, sending Kermit to Siberian prison in his place. Constantine and his accomplice (Gervais, whose character’s last name is “Badguy”) use the Muppets’ world tour as a front for their jewel-heist operation; meanwhile, his infatuated warden (Fey) forces Kermit to direct the annual gulag musical. Not helping matters are a bumbling Interpol agent (Ty Burrell) and his CIA counterpart (Sam the American Eagle, natch). Really, all that’s needed is a simple plot, catchy songs, and plenty of room to let the Muppets do their thing — Miss Piggy and Animal are particularly enjoyable here; Walter’s still around, but he’s way more tolerable now that he’s gotten past his “man or muppet” angst — and the film delivers. All the knowing winks to the grown-up fans in the audience are just an appreciated bonus. (1:46) 1000 Van Ness, SF Center. (Eddy)

Need for Speed Speed kills, in quite a different way than it might in Breaking Bad, in Aaron Paul’s big-screen Need for Speed. “Big” nonetheless signals “B” here, in this stunt-filled challenge to the Fast and the Furious franchise, though there’s no shame in that — the drive-in is paved with standouts and stinkers alike. Tobey (Paul) is an ace driver who’s in danger of losing his auto shop, also the hangout for his pals (Scott Mescudi, Rami Malek, Ramon Rodriguez) and young sidekick Pete (Harrison Gilbertson), when archrival Dino (Dominic Cooper) arrives with a historic Mustang in need of restoration. Tragedy strikes, and Tobey must hook up with that fateful auto once more to win a mysterious winner-takes-all race, staged by eccentric, rich racing-fiend Monarch (Michael Keaton). Along for the ride are the (big) eyes and ears for the Mustang’s new owner — gearhead Julia (Imogen Poots). All beside the point, since the racing stunts, including a showy helicopter canyon save, are the real stars of Speed, while the touchstone for stuntman-turned-director Scott Waugh — considering the car and the final SF and Northern California race settings — is, of course, Bullitt (1968), which is given an overt nod in the opening drive-in scene. The overall larky effect, however, tends toward Smokey and the Bandit (1977), especially with Keaton’s camp efforts at Wolfman Jack verbiage-slanging roaring in the background. And despite the efforts of the multicultural gallery of wisecracking side guys, this script-challenged popcorn-er tends to blur what little chemistry these characters have with each other, skip the residual car culture insights of the more specific, more urban Fast series, and leave character development, in particular Tobey’s, in the dust in its haste to get from point A to B. (2:10) Metreon. (Chun)

Noah Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic begins with a brief recap of prior Genesis events — creation is detailed a bit more in clever fashion later on — leading up to mankind’s messing up such that God wants to wipe the slate clean and start over. That means getting Noah (Russell Crowe), wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and their three sons and one adopted daughter (Emma Watson) to build an ark that can save them and two of every animal species from the imminent slate-wiping Great Flood. (The rest of humanity, having sinned too much, can just feed the fishes.) They get some help from fallen angels turned into Ray Harryhausen-type giant rock creatures voiced by Nick Nolte and others. There’s an admirable brute force and some startling imagery to this uneven, somber, Iceland-shot tale “inspired” by the Good Book (which, needless to say, has endured more than its share of revisions over the centuries). Purists may quibble over some choices, including the device of turning minor Biblical figure Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) into a royal-stowaway villain, and political conservatives have already squawked a bit over Aronofsky’s not-so-subtle message of eco-consciousness, with Noah being bade to “replenish the Earth” that man has hitherto rendered barren. But for the most part this is a respectable, forceful interpretation that should stir useful discussion amongst believers and non believers alike. Its biggest problem is that after the impressively harrowing flood itself, we’re trapped on the ark dealing with the lesser crises of a pregnancy, a discontented middle son (Logan Lerman), and that stowaway’s plotting — ponderous intrigues that might have been leavened if the director had allowed us to hang out with the animals a little, rather than sedating the whole menagerie for the entire voyage. (2:07) Marina, 1000 Van Ness, SF Center, Sundance Kabuki. (Harvey)

Nymphomaniac: Volume I Found battered and unconscious in a back alley, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is taken in by good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgaard), to whom she explains “It’s all my fault — I’m just a bad human being.” But he doesn’t believe there are such things. She seeks to enlighten him by narrating the story of her life so far, from carnally curious childhood to sexually voracious adulthood. Stacy Martin plays her younger self through a guided tour of excesses variously involving Christian Slater and Connie Nielsen as her parents; a buncha guys fucked on a train, on a teenage dare; Uma Thurman as one histrionically scorned woman; and Shai LaBeouf as a first love who’s a cipher either because he’s written that way, or because this particular actor can’t make sense out of him. For all its intended provocation, including some graphic but unsurprisingly (coming from this director) unerotic XXX action, von Trier’s latest is actually less offensive than much of his prior output: He’s regained his sense of humor here, and annoying as its “Look at me, I’m an unpredictable artist” crap can be (notably all the stuff about fly-fishing, cake forks, numerology, etc. that seems randomly drawn from some Great Big Book of Useless Trivia), the film’s episodic progress is divertingly colorful enough. But is Joe going to turn out to be more than a two-dimensional authorial device from a director who’s never exactly sussed women (or liked people in general)? Will Nymphomaniac arrive at some pointed whole greater than the sum of its naughty bits? The answer to both is probably “Nah.” But we won’t know for sure until the two-hour second half arrives (see review below) of a movie that, in fairness, was never really intended to be split up like this. (1:50) Opera Plaza, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

Nymphomaniac, Volume II The second half of Lars von Trier’s anecdotal epic begins with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recalling the quasi-religious experience of her spontaneous first orgasm at age 12. Then she continues to tell bookish good Samaritan Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) — who reveals he’s an asexual 60-something virgin — the story of her sexually compulsive life to date. Despite finding domestic stability at last with Jerome (Shia LeBeouf), she proves to have no talent for motherhood, and hits a tormenting period of frigidity eventually relieved only by the brutal ministrations of sadist K (Jamie Bell, burying Billy Elliott for good). She finds a suitable professional outlet for her peculiarly antisocial personality, working as a sometimes ruthless debt collector under the tutelage of L (Willem Dafoe), and he in turn encourages her to develop her own protégé in the form of needy teenager P (Mia Goth). If Vol. I raised the question “Will all this have a point?,” Vol. II provides the answer, and it’s (as expected) “Not really.” Still, there’s no room for boredom in the filmmaker’s most playfully arbitrary, entertaining, and least misanthropic (very relatively speaking) effort since his last four-hour-plus project 20 years ago, TV miniseries The Kingdom. Never mind that von Trier (in one of many moments when he uses Joe or Seligman as his mouthpiece) protests against the tyranny of political correctitude that renders a word like “Negro” unsayable — you’re still free to feel offended when his camera spends more time ogling two African men’s variably erect dicks in one brief scene that it does all the white actors’ cocks combined. But then there’s considerably more graphic content all around in this windup, which ends on a predictable note of cheap, melodramatic irony. But that’s part of the charm of the whole enterprise: Reeling heedlessly from the pedantic to the shocking to the trivial, like a spoiled child it manages to be kinda cute even when it’s deliberately pissing you off. (2:10) Embarcadero, Smith Rafael. (Harvey)

On My Way Not for nothing too does the title On My Way evoke Going Places (1974): director Emmanuelle Bercot is less interested in exploring Catherine Deneuve’s at-times-chilled hauteur than roughing up, grounding, and blowing fresh country air through that still intimidatingly gorgeous image. Deneuve’s Bettie lost her way long ago — the former beauty queen, who never rose beyond her Miss Brittany status, is in a state of stagnation, working at her seafood restaurant, having affairs with married men, living with her mother, and still sleeping in her girlhood room. One workday mid-lunch hour, she gets in her car and drives, ignoring all her ordinary responsibilities and disappearing down the wormhole of dive bars and back roads. She seems destined to drift until her enraged, equally lost daughter Muriel (Camille) calls in a favor: give her son Charly (Nemo Schiffman) a ride to his paternal grandfather’s. It’s chance to reconnect and correct course, even after Bettie’s money is spent, her restaurant appears doomed, and the adorable, infuriating Charly acts out. The way is clear, however: what could have been a musty, predictable affair, in the style of so many boomer tales in the movie houses these days, is given a crucial infusion of humanity and life, as Bercot keeps an affectionate eye trained on the unglamorous everyday attractions of a French backwater and Deneuve works that ineffable charm that draws all eyes to her onscreen. Her Bettie may have kicked her cigarette habit long ago, but she’s still smokin’ — in every way. (1:53) Embarcadero. (Chun)

Particle Fever “We are hearing nature talk to us,” a physicist remarks in awe near the end of Particle Fever, Mark Levinson’s intriguing doc about the 2012 discovery of the Higgs boson particle. Earlier, another scientist says, “I’ve never heard of a moment like this in [science] history, where an entire field is hinging on a single event.” The event, of course, is the launch of the Large Hardon Collider, the enormous machine that enabled the discovery. Though some interest in physics is probably necessary to enjoy Particle Fever, extensive knowledge of quarks and such is not, since the film uses elegant animation to refresh the basics for anyone whose eyes glazed over during high-school science. But though he offers plenty of context, Levinson wisely focuses his film on a handful of genial eggheads who are involved in the project, either hands-on at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), or watching from afar as the mighty LHC comes to life. Their excitement brings a welcome warmth to the proceedings — and their “fever” becomes contagious. (1:39) Opera Plaza. (Eddy)

The Raid 2 One need not have seen 2011’s The Raid: Redemption to appreciate this latest collaboration between Welsh director Gareth Evans and Indonesian actor, martial artist, and fight choreographer Iko Uwais — it’s recommended, of course, but the sequel stands alone on its own merits. Overstuffed with gloriously brutal, cleverly choreographed fight scenes, The Raid 2 — sometimes written with the subtitle “Berendal,” which means “thugs” — picks up immediately after the events of the first film. Quick recap of part one: a special-forces team invades an apartment tower controlled by gangsters. Among the cops is idealistic Rama (Uwais). Seemingly bulletproof and fleet of fists and feet, Rama battles his way floor-by-floor, encountering machete-toting heavies and wild-eyed maniacs; he also soon realizes he’s working for a police department that’s as corrupt as the gangster crew. The Raid‘s gritty, unadorned approach resonated with thrillseeking audiences weary of CG overload. A second Raid film was inevitable, especially since Evans — who became interested in Indonesian martial arts, or pencak silat, while working on 2007 doc The Mystic Art of Indonesia — already had its story in mind: Rama goes undercover within a criminal organization, a ploy that necessitates he do a prison stint to gain the trust of a local kingpin. Naturally, not much goes according to plan, and much blood is shed along the way, as multiple power-crazed villains set their sinister plans into motion. With expanded locations and ever-more daring (yet bone-breakingly realistic) fight scenes aplenty — including a brawl inside a moving vehicle, and a muddy, bloody prison-yard riot — The Raid 2 more than delivers. Easily the action film of the year so far, with no contenders likely to topple it in the coming months. (2:19) Metreon. (Eddy)

Rob the Mob Based on a stranger-than-fiction actual case, this rambunctious crime comedy stars Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda as Tommy and Rosie, a coupla crazy kids in early 1990s Queens — crazy in love, both before and after their strung-out robbery antics win them both a stint in the pen. When Tommy gets out 18 months later, he finds Rosie has managed to stay clean, even getting a legit job as a debt collector for positive-thinking nut and regular employer of strays Dave (a delightful Griffin Dunne). She wants Tommy to do likewise, but the high visibility trial of mob kingpin John Gotti gives him an idea: With the mafia trying to keep an especially low profile at present, why not go around sticking up the neighborhood “social clubs” where wise guys hang out, laden with gold chains and greenbacks but (it’s a rule) unarmed? Whatta they gonna do, call the police? This plan is so reckless it just might work, and indeed it does, for a while. But these endearingly stupid lovebirds can’t be counted on to stay under the radar, magnetizing attention from the press (Ray Romano as a newspaper columnist), the FBI, and of course the “organization” — particularly one “family” led by Big Al (Andy Garcia). Written by Jonathan Fernandez, this first narrative feature from director Raymond DeFitta since his terrific 2009 sleeper hit City Island is less like that screwball fare and more like a scaled down, economically downscaled American Hustle (2013), another brashly comedic period piece inspired by tabloid-worthy fact. Inspiration doesn’t fully hold up to the end, but the film has verve and style to spare, and the performances (also including notable turns from Cathy Moriarty, Frank Whaley, Burt Young, Michael Rispoli, Yul Vazquez and others) are sterling. (1:42) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

Sabotage Puzzle over the bad Photoshop job on the Sabotage poster. The hard-to-make-out Arnold Schwarzenegger in the foreground could be just about any weathered, sinewy body — telling, in gory action effort that wears its grit like a big black sleeve tattoo on its bicep and reads like an attempt at governator reinvention. Yet this blood-drenched twister, front-loaded with acting talent and directed by David Ayer (2012’s End of Watch), can’t quite make up its mind where it stands. Is it a truth-to-life cop drama about a particularly thuggy DEA team, an old-fashioned murder mystery-meets-heist-exercise, or just another crowd-pleasing Pumping Arnie flick? Schwarzenegger is Breacher, the leader of a team of undercover DEA agents who like to caper on the far reaches of bad lieutenant behavior: wild-eyed coke snorting (a scene-chomping Mireille Enos); sorry facial hair (Sam Worthington, as out of his element as the bead at the end of his goatee); unfortunate cornrows (Joe Manganiello); trash-talking (Josh Holloway); and acting like a suspiciously colorless man of color (Terrence Howard). We know these are bad apples from the start — the question is just how bad they are. Also, how fast can the vanilla homicide cops (Olivia Williams, Harold Perrineau) lock them down, as team members are handily, eh, dismembered and begin to turn on each other and Schwarzenegger gets in at least one semi-zinger concerning an opponent with 48 percent body fat? Still, the sutured-on archetypal-Arnie climax comes as a bit of a shock in its broad-stroke comic-book violence, as the superstar pulls rank, sabotages any residual pretense to realism, and dons a cowboy hat to tell his legions of shooting victims, “I’m different!” Get to the choppers, indeed. (1:49) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

300: Rise of An Empire We pick up the 300 franchise right where director Zack Snyder left off in 2006, with this prequel-sequel, which spins off an as-yet-unreleased Frank Miller graphic novel. In the hands of director Noam Murro, with Snyder still in the house as writer, 300: Rise of an Empire contorts itself, flipping back and forth in time, in an attempt to explain the making of Persian evil prince stereotype Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) —all purring androgyny, fashionable piercings, and Iran-baiting, Bush-era malevolence — before following through on avenging 300‘s romantically outnumbered, chesty Spartans. As told by the angry, mourning Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey of Game of Thrones), the whole mess apparently began during the Battle of Marathon, when Athenian General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) killed Xerxes’s royal father with a well-aimed miracle arrow. That act ushers in Xerxes’s transformation into a “God King” bent on vengeance, aided and encouraged by his equally vengeful, elegantly mega-goth naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green), a Greek-hating Greek who likes to up the perversity quotient by making out with decapitated heads. In case you didn’t get it: know that vengeance is a prime mover for almost all the parties (except perhaps high-minded hottie Themistokles). Very loosely tethered to history and supplied with plenty of shirtless Greeks, taut thighs, wildly splintering ships, and even proto-suicide bombers, Rise skews toward a more naturalistic, less digitally waxy look than 300, as dust motes and fire sparks perpetually telegraph depth of field, shrieking, “See your 3D dollars hard at work!” Also working hard and making all that wrath look diabolically effortless is Green, who as the pitch-black counterpart to Gorga, turns out to be the real hero of the franchise, saving it from being yet another by-the-book sword-and-sandal war-game exercise populated by wholesome-looking, buff, blond jock-soldiers. Green’s feline line readings and languid camp attitude have a way of cutting through the sausage fest of the Greek pec-ing order, even during the Battle of, seriously, Salamis. (1:43) Metreon, 1000 Van Ness. (Chun)

The Unknown Known After winning an Oscar for 2003’s The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamera, Errol Morris revisits the extended-interview documentary format with another Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. The film delves into Rumsfeld’s lengthy political career — from Congress to the Nixon, Ford, and George W. Bush administrations — drawing insights from the man himself and his extensive archive of memos (“there have to be millions”) on Vietnam, 9/11, Osama bin Laden, the “chain of command,” torture, the Iraq War, etc., as well as archival footage that suggests the glib Rumsfeld’s preferred spin on certain events is not always factually accurate (see: Saddam Hussein and WMDs). Morris participates from behind the camera, lobbing questions that we can hear and therefore gauge Rumsfeld’s immediate reaction to them. (The man is 100 percent unafraid of prolonging an awkward pause.) A gorgeous Danny Elfman score soothes some of the anger you’ll feel digesting Rumsfeld’s rhetoric, but you still may find yourself wanting to shriek at the screen. In other words, another Morris success. (1:42) Elmwood, Presidio. (Eddy)

Le Week-End Director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi first collaborated two decades ago on The Buddha of Suburbia, when the latter was still in the business of being Britain’s brashest multiculti hipster voice. But in the last 10 years they’ve made a habit of slowing down to sketching portraits of older lives — and providing great roles for the nation’s bottomless well of remarkable veteran actors. Here Lindsay Duncan and Jim Broadbent play a pair of English academics trying to re-create their long-ago honeymoon’s magic on an anniversary weekend in Paris. They love each other, but their relationship is thorny and complicated in ways that time has done nothing to smooth over. This beautifully observed duet goes way beyond the usual adorable-old-coot terrain of such stories on screen; it has charm and humor, but these are unpredictable, fully rounded characters, not comforting caricatures. Briefly turning this into a seriocomedy three-way is Most Valuable Berserker Jeff Goldblum as an old friend encountered by chance. It’s not his story, but damned if he doesn’t just about steal the movie anyway. (1:33) Embarcadero. (Harvey)

The Wind Rises Hayao Miyazaki announced that Oscar nominee The Wind Rises would be his final film before retiring — though he later amended that declaration, as he’s fond of doing, so who knows. At any rate, it’d be a shame if this was the Japanese animation master’s final film before retirement; not only does it lack the whimsy of his signature efforts (2001’s Spirited Away, 1997’s Princess Mononoke), it’s been overshadowed by controversy — not entirely surprising, since it’s about the life of Jiro Horikoshi, who designed war planes (built by slave labor) in World War II-era Japan. Surprisingly, a pacifist message is established early on; as a young boy, his mother tells him, “Fighting is never justified,” and in a dream, Italian engineer Giovanni Caproni assures him “Airplanes are not tools for war.” But that statement doesn’t last long; Caproni visits Jiro in his dreams as his career takes him from Japan to Germany, where he warns the owlish young designer that “aircraft are destined to become tools for slaughter and destruction.” You don’t say. A melodramatic romantic subplot injects itself into all the plane-talk on occasion, but — despite all that political hullabaloo — The Wind Rises is more tedious than anything else. (2:06) Sundance Kabuki. (Eddy) *


On pins and needles


[UPDATE: The Supreme Court has overturned DOMA and dismissed the Prop 8 case. Read our full coverage here.]

As San Francisco’s LGBT community and its supporters prepared for Pride Weekend, the whole city was anxiously awaiting the imminent US Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. That case began here more than nine years ago when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to let gay men and lesbians marry and the City Attorney’s Office launched a long and torturous legal battle.

The synchronous timing of the two events couldn’t be better. (Well, it could have been better for the Bay Guardian‘s deadline if the ruling has come out June 25, instead of when this issue will be hitting the streets on June 26, but you can read our full, live coverage here at tomorrow.)

LGBT activists are planning a massive rally at Castro and Market streets starting at 6:30pm on June 26, along with another performance stage at Market and 19th streets featuring Donna Sachet emceeing performances ranging from DJs to drag and other live performances, like an early start to an already packed Pride Weekend. (For more info, see

Of course, at press time it was still unclear whether we’ll see a joyous springboard for a raucous Pride that many are hoping for, with total victory and marriage equality becoming the law of the land; a bitter repudiation of LGBT rights reminiscent of Nov. 4, 2008, when the street celebrations over President Barack Obama’s election victory were tempered by frustration over voters approving Prop. 8 and banning same-sex marriage; or something in between.

The ruling will cap a see-sawing legal and political battle for which the City Attorney’s Office calculates it has written more than a half-million pages of legal briefings for more than 50 judges at various levels, including four trips before the California Supreme Court in four separate but related cases before making arguments to the US Supreme Court in March.

If the ruling doesn’t legalize same-sex marriage in California, activists say they’ll immediately return the struggle back into the political arena and use the momentum of the ruling (and the three states that legalized same-sex marriage this year, bringing the total to 12) to win at the ballot box (it would take a popular vote to undo Prop. 8).

If that happens, look for our own Sen. Mark Leno — who got the California Legislature to approve his legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, twice, only to have it vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — to play a lead role.

“The only option is to re-amend the constitution to eliminate the discriminatory Prop. 8,” Leno told us. That measure could be placed on the 2014 ballot by either the Legislature or an initiative, which Leno said will be decision for the coalition of same-sex marriage supporters.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both options. Gathering signatures for an initiative is expensive, but that effort would also help launch the campaign to win over California voters. In the Legislature, four supportive Democrats will likely move to other offices this year, including a Senator and Assemblymember who are each joining the Los Angeles City Council, but Leno is still confident.

“We stand prepared with legislation already drafted to move forward with a bill if that’s what the coalition decides,” Leno said. “And we are confident we have the 27 votes we need [in the Senate], maybe even 28.”

City Attorney’s Office Press Secretary Matt Dorsey has been doing regular email briefings for journalists who are here from around the world, ready to report from the place where it all began as soon as the ruling comes down.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Chief Deputy City Attorney Terry Stewart, and their team are prepared to analyze the ruling as soon as it is released just after 7am (Pacific time) and to deliver the first press briefing on the steps of City Hall at 7:30-8am. Mayor Ed Lee, Newsom, and other officials will host a live viewing of the ruling at 7am in City Hall, following by their own press conference.

Dissecting the ruling could be a tricky task given that there at least four major scenarios that the ruling could trigger, each of those with lots of sub-scenarios that depend on the scope and details of the ruling. Everything for legalizing same-sex marriage across the country to a technical ruling that kicks it all back to a lower court are possible.

“In 10 years [working for the City Attorney’s Office], I’m never seen an outcome that could go in so many different directions,” Dorsey told us.

If the ruling invalidates Prop. 8, that decision would be formalized in about a month, then returning jurisdiction over the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, which will then issue a formal notice of decision that gives it the force of law, according to a June 11 memo the City Attorney’s Office wrote for other city officials.

It notes, “Depending on how the Supreme Court decides the case, marriages could resume as soon as mid-to-late July.”

SCOTUS talks same sex marriage: San Francisco responds

LGBT rights activists held a vigil outside the California Supreme Court building in San Francisco March 26 as part of several events launched in response to yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court hearing on Proposition 8. Today, the court is considering the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that restricts federal marriage benefits for same-sex couples.

The slideshow features interviews with  (in order of appearance) Justin Taylor, who said he was there to stand up for the rights of his mothers, who have been together for 16 years; Jackie Jolly, who said that for her the issue is about the underlying principle of equality; Thomas Coy, who teared up as he addressed the crowd and shared a memory of his husband, who passed away three years ago; and Trey Allen, who helped organize a rally and march on Monday and expressed hope that the Supreme Court would reach a favorable outcome at the end of June.

Photos, audio and slideshow by Rebecca Bowe

This evening, LGBT activists will return to 350 McAllister Street in San Francisco to hold a second vigil from 4 to 8 p.m.

LGBT youth law, ignored

Thirteen years ago, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors enacted an ordinance designed to make city services more accessible to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. Under Chapter 12N of the San Francisco Administrative Code, city departments must provide LGBT sensitivity training “to any employee or volunteer who has direct contact with youth.” It also applies to any collaborative youth service providers who receive $50,000 or more in city funding.

Fueled with great intentions, 12N is the letter of the law in a city known for its tolerance and forward-thinking, progressive values. “San Francisco is committed to ensuring that LGBTQ youth receive the same level of dignity and respect as granted to all residents when encountering city services and programs,” a statement on the Human Rights Commission website reads.

There’s only one problem. With the exception of one department, 12N has never actually been implemented.

Last week, Paul Monge-Rodriguez, a 23-year-old appointee to the San Francisco Youth Commission, approached the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club to point out that 12N has never been put into practice.

“To this day, there’s only one city department in compliance, and that’s the Department of Public Health,” Monge-Rodriguez explained in an interview with the Guardian. Other major service providers include the Human Services Agency, the Department of Children Youth & their Families, and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

An effort to push implementation, led by the Youth Commission, the Human Rights Commission and LYRIC — a nonprofit organization addressing issues facing LGBT youth — is gaining traction. Sup. John Avalos called for a hearing; following Monge-Rodriguez’s presentation, the Milk Club voted to formally support the effort.

“We pass these laws, but then when it comes to putting it in action, we don’t always live up to the legislation,” Avalos told the Guardian. “Basically, the city hasn’t implemented the program in terms of providing training for city staff.”

Jodi Schwartz, executive director of LYRIC, argues that 12N implementation should involve collection of sexual orientation and transgender identity data so as to better inform agencies about the populations they serve. The San Francisco Unified School District is the only district nationwide that collects sexual orientation and gender identity data when studying risk behavior for middle and high school students — and the results of a 2011 SFUSD anonymous survey revealed an alarming number of suicide attempts reported among queer youth.

According to SFUSD’s suicide indicators analysis, more than a third of high school students and nearly half of middle school students who self-identified as transgender reported having attempted suicide at some point; meanwhile, about a third of middle school students and about 17 percent of high school students who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual also reported having attempted suicide.

The data is based on extrapolations and assumes no overlap between transgender and LGB populations, and concrete data in this realm is generally difficult to obtain. But based on the SFUSD data, LYRIC estimated that more than 1,000 LGBT students in middle and high school had reported attempting suicide. It’s a disturbing figure to say the least. If other agencies begin collecting such data, Schwartz argues, “they’ll use it to inform their priorities as an institution.”

Youth Commissioner Mia Tu Mutch, 22, helped create a training video that was shown to city staff at the Department of Public Health as part of a pilot program to initiate the sensitivity training mandated under 12N.

“Some of the stories talked about trans people feeling unsafe or unwelcome by service providers,” she explained when asked about the video, which was not made publicly available. “One featured a gender-queer young person who felt more comfortable using gender-neutral terms, but the intake person went out of their way to use the wrong pronoun.”

Tu Mutch worked with LYRIC to create a Tumblr site, entitled 12N Now or Never, featuring photographs of queer youth holding up signs asking for immediate 12N implementation. Her own sign reads, “I need 12N because youth shouldn’t have to educate adults.” Another message, posted by a young person named Vincent, reads, “I need 12N because I don’t want my kids to be judged like I was.”

“I think it just speaks to the bureaucratic process,” David Miree, spokesperson for the Human Rights Commission, responded when asked about the long delay. “The great intentions were there to put it into an ordinance. But what had to happen was, there had to be someone, or some community, or some agency” to step in and make it happen.

Schwartz takes a different view on why so little has been done. “There’s a lack of political will,” she says, “to invest the resources to do the transformation that’s necessary.”

Rally and vigils for marriage equality in S.F. this week

The U.S. Supreme Court will hold back-to-back hearings this week as justices consider Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), setting the stage for historic discussions concerning LGBT civil rights. Tonight, hundreds are expected to gather at Castro and Market streets for a 6:30 p.m. rally, followed by a march to City Hall. Prop 8, a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, passed in California with 52 percent of the vote in November of 2008. Challenges to the discriminatory law have been working through the court system ever since.

LGBT activists also plan to mark Tuesday and Wednesday evenings with vigils outside the California Supreme Court building. The vigils will coincide with about 150 events scheduled throughout the country, organized to demonstrate support for marriage equality.

Shortly after longtime gay rights activists Cleve Jones and David Mixner put out the call to local activists that the Supreme Court would be hearing arguments on Prop 8 and DOMA, Patrick Connors started helping to organize the rally, march and vigils in tandem with activists Greg Chasin, Billy Bradford, Aaron Baldwin and others, Connors said. Over the past several weeks, they’ve been posting fliers, Tweeting to get the word out and urging support for marriage equality as the historic twin hearings get underway in D.C. 

“We’re cautiously optimistic that there will be hundreds of people in the Castro” for the Monday night rally, Connors told the Guardian. About 200 have also signalled interest in attending the vigils March 26 and 27.

San Francisco has been at the epicenter in the battle for marriage equality. Just after Prop 8 passed, it was immediately challenged in parallel court proceedings by same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco, with City Attorney Dennis Herrera leading the charge with support from other California municipalities.

Connors and his husband, Robert Dekoch, were initially married in February of 2004, but their marriage was invalidated after the California Supreme Court held that city officials lacked the authority to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Following a subsequent court victory that opened the gates for same-sex couples to be married in San Francisco City Hall once again, Connors and Dekoch returned and were re-married in August of 2008.

Although Prop. 8 passed the following November, banning same-sex marriage, “our marriage, along with 18,000 others, is recognized by the state of California,” Connors explained. Yet their marriage still isn’t recognized at the federal level, so “there’s the potential of what could happen” during out-of-state travel, he said.

In May of 2009, Connors was arrested along with some 200 protesters who took to the streets following a California Supreme Court decision upholding Prop 8. “A whole bunch of us sat in the middle of Van Ness,” he recounted, “And blocked traffic for hours until the paddy wagons came.”    

San Francisco female priest and gay Catholics react to selection of Pope Francis

Victoria Rue, a female Roman Catholic Priest, leads a small community of renegade Catholic worshipers in San Francisco. Ordained by a trio of female Bishops on a boat on the St. Lawrence Seaway in 2005, she’s part of a growing international movement to dismantle the longstanding ban on female clergy and push the Catholic Church in a more liberal direction. Although Rue was excommunicated shortly after her ordination, she continues to consider herself a Catholic.

Contacted by the Guardian shortly after Pope Benedict stepped down last month, Rue said, “It’s just as much my church as [former Pope Benedict] Cardinal Ratzinger’s church.” She regarded his resignation as a welcome, if limited, opportunity to push the church in the direction of inclusivity.

But that’s a tall order to say the least; the Pope selection process is fundamentally flawed, Rue says, since “women are left out completely from the process.”

And while Rue said the selection of Pope Francis showed some sensitivity to the church’s changing constituency — “The fact that he is Argentinian is definitely a positive sign” — the newly chosen pope also pushed for legislation to ban gay marriage and gay adoption in Argentina. The church’s conservative values are entrenched: When it comes to LGBT rights, female priests, and contraception, the incoming Pope isn’t likely to budge.

“There is extremely limited hope for a new direction in the Church,” said Tom Piazza, a member of Sophia in Trinity, a San Francisco Roman Catholic church.

Piazza, who is in his 70s, says he grew up Catholic but felt alienated by the Church’s conservative tone — and local Catholics like him are increasingly at odds with the Roman Catholic Church. While it continues to champion conservative social mores, the majority of local Catholics now support gay marriage, according to a recent Field Poll.

The San Francisco Archdiocese is currently headed by Salvatore Cordileone, a major proponent of Prop 8. Cordileone served as the chairman of The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ subcommittee for the defense of marriage, and his appointment to the San Francisco Archdiocese was widely understood as an effort to rein in the city’s diverse Catholic community.

The  ideological rift between parishioners and the hierarchy is most apparent at Most Holy Redeemer Church, in the Castro — home to San Francisco’s active gay-Catholic community. The parishioners at Most Holy Redeemer routinely clash with conservative church leadership. Bishop Cordileone has even suggested that the Church’s gay couples refrain from taking communion.  

Father Brian Costello, the priest at Most Holy Redeemer, recently removed a picture of former Pope Benedict XVI from the Church after parishioners raised concerns about the Pope’s homophobic leanings. In a letter to the community, Costello expressed hope that with the selection of a new Pope, gay Catholics could work to “embrace the Pope and the Church, even when they don’t accept us.”

Jesuit Priest Donal Godfrey, author of Gays and Grays, a history of the gay Catholic community at Most Holy Redeemer, sees the ascension of Francis as a welcome opportunity to change the relationship between San Francisco’s Catholics and the church leadership.

“I want to get away from the dynamic of always getting put in our place. Instead of being smacked on the head and being told we are not good Catholics, we should create a space where we aren’t frightened to share our truths,” he told the Guardian.

At Sophia in Trinity, Rue echoes Godfrey’s concerns and hopes that the new Pope Francis will allow local Catholics to collaborate more closely in her community. “In the future, if a parish wants to work with a woman priest, maybe they won’t get their hand slapped by the Church hierarchy.”

Nite Trax: DJ Sprinkles lays it out


The phenomenal house DJ and experimental musicmaker on mainstream visibility, transgender globalism, Bay Area queer culture, and the “shopping mall diversity” of the current dance music scene.

Techno has always had room for theorists and intellectuals, from Derrick May to the Mille Plateaux label roster, and social activists, like Moodymann and Underground Resistance. Most of that discourse usually takes place musically, however, with concepts emerging from the vinyl itself. The celebrated DJ Sprinkles, a.k.a. Terre Thaemlitz, the American head of Japan-based label Comatonse, tops all that by making intellectually grounded music glimmering with poetic touches and expounding in interviews and writing on such heady, heated topics as essentialism, gender idenitity, surveillance, and authenticity. She leads workshops, goes on speaking engagements, and isn’t afraid to let loose in interviews. (For example — see below — rather than “born this way” platitudes, she considers her queer identity “beat this way.”) 

It’s a beautiful thing, especially in the rare context of controversial truth and radical opinion pouring from the mouth and keyboard of an outspoken transgender major player on the stubbornly homogenous global house-techno DJ scene. Of course, it all comes down to the music — we’ll get a treat when Sprinkles (who chose the name because he wanted something that sounded “totally pussy” in opposition to macho DJ culture, to buck the testosteronal scene) performs Sun/24 at Honey Soundsystem — and Sprinkles certainly has the goods. He’s released umpteen pieces in an astoundng breadth of genres under multiple pseudonyms over the past 20 years. Masterpiece deep house album “Midtown 120 Blues” siezed the top of several best of 2009 charts and was, typically, followed by Soulnessless, a 30-hour “mp3 album” of music and video. Because why the hell not?

I got a chance to exchange emails with Sprinkles before her appearance here. It’ll be an interesting return to the Bay Area, where she lived for several years before decamping to Japan. Here’s all she had to say.

SFBG It’s been 13 years since you lived in Oakland, is that correct? Can you tell me why you decided to leave and what it was like to live here then, with regards to the music, political, and queer scene?

DJ SPRINKLES Yes, it’s been a long time. I used to live across the street from a hotel where the Unabomber once stayed. Honestly, I can’t say I miss California. I never really connected with any queer or transgendered communities in SF or Oakland. Whenever I tried, they seemed immersed in West Coast spiritualism and zodiac bullshit, which I found completely alienating. Most of the transgendered people I met there were prone to metaphysics — by which I mean they were ideologically (and economically and medically) invested in defining their transgenderism in relation to a perceived split between their “physical bodies” and their “true inner selves.” I’m an anti-essentialist, non-op, materialist, anti-spiritualist… so that clearly wasn’t a match with my own transgendered identity.

There was also a weird conservatism in SF’s queer scenes that I associated with the fact a lot of people in SF had been raised in conservative Midwestern towns, so they were in SF to “live the life.” I felt there was a lot of unacknowledged parody and role play going on — people trying to overcome a life of repression and closets by wrapping themselves in rainbow flag culture. Yet, when going to buy groceries or such, I still found myself being harassed as a “fag” on the street like in any other town in the US. I felt my four years there was all quite standard. I don’t really think of the Bay Area as a “special place” for being queer and transgendered.

US identity politics have a particularly inextricable link to the concept of the ghetto — not only as a place of economic strife and forced communal ostracization from a “white middle-class mainstream,” but also as a self-invested “safe space” for non-mainstream social movements. This is part of migrant culture. For example, after my grandparents passed through Ellis Island, they immediately moved to a place where people spoke the same language as their homeland, etc. The Castro, New York’s West Village, Little Italy, China Town… these are all migrant-based communities formed by people seeking safety in numbers in the face of not being welcome elsewhere — these two dynamics of “safety” and “alienation” are inseparable to most US identity politics. So these communal zones all display the problems and contradictions of cultural identification that plague mainstream US culture as an “immigrant nation” that is simultaneously “anti-immigrant” – because the “immigrant” is a brutal reminder that there are no “real Americans” beyond Native Americans, which the majority are not. And of course, the fact that recent generations of immigrants are primarily people of color does not jibe with conventional black/white US race discourse, which continues to be largely devoid of other browns, as well as the concept of the person of color as a willing immigrant (as opposed to the descendant of a slave). This history and context is peculiar to the US social landscape, and it creates a lot of weird identity essentialisms and hostilities around gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class…

Not to say other countries don’t have their own fucked up ways of causing and dealing with social problems, but moving to Japan and realizing that pretty much the entirety of Western identity politics did not function here was a big life experience. It was like leaving the Earth’s gravitational pull — it didn’t mean gravity no longer existed, but almost everything I had internalized and believed I understood about my relationship to gravity was no longer helpful in understanding the dynamics of dominations at work in this other context. I wasn’t freed of gravity, but lost in weightlessness. I had to learn to feel weight in a completely different way. This is why so many of my projects dealing with my own immigration and cultural issues consistently invoke the rather limited and problematic US language of black/white race relations. It is a critical gesture intended to highlight the limitations of my having been raised amidst that US language and social conditioning, yet now living within a non-US context with few tools to work with.

Because music’s value is so often tied to an essentialist concept of racial authenticity, it becomes difficult and risky to ask an audience to question their relationships to the very value systems through which they likely purchased the album – but that is also why I choose to work with audio. Not because of its possibilities, but its all-too-clear limitations. Since I am unable to believe in the authenticity or purity of identities of any kind, when I invoke “identifiable” sounds (a “queer” sound, a “black” sound, etc.) I am doing so to question the social relationships around their construction, proliferation, and distribution. The moment we become lazy about our use of those “identifiable” sounds — the minute we take it for granted that the essentialist associations they have come to carry are unquestionable and real reflections of material social experiences — everything becomes one-dimensional and shallow. This is why almost all music is one-dimensional and shallow! [Laughs.] For example, if I can beat a dead horse, my problem with Madonna’s “Vogue” is not that it was “inauthentic,” but that its terms of discourse misrepresented its relationship to vogueing by actively erasing the very contexts of Latina and African-American transgendered culture that inspired it (via lyrics about “It makes no difference if you’re black or white, a boy or a girl”… it TOTALLY made a difference, and THAT SOCIAL REALITY is where any real discussion on vogueing BEGINS.). So I’m interested in these other directions of audio discourse that cannot even occur if one is preoccupied with conflated essentializations of identity and sound. There is never a true point of origin for anything. It’s all referential and contextual. In my opinion, there is no point in discussions focussing on identifying the source of a sound or style — that is a hopelessly futile exercise, although it is the dominant exercise! It’s a distraction from the real discussions needing to be held, and those are discussions on relations of domination.

As a DJ in the late ’80s and early ’90s, there were a lot of drag queens asking me to play Madonna’s “Vogue” when it first came out. I refused, but I could understand their requests. We all have very complicit and complex relationships to dominations, and a perverse desire to celebrate our visibility within the dominant mainstream, no matter how unfamiliar or distorted that reflection may be… often because we are conditioned to feel so unhappy with what we see in the mirror to begin with. Mainstream visibility is like getting approval of the Father. It’s a mental and abusive process. It is also totally standard. So I get it… But there is also that which remains unrepresented and invisible to most. That which existed, and may have already been lost, but did so without seeking approval of the Father. And again, this is generally not a freed or liberated space, but a space of intense hatred for the Father. These are difficult things to speak of and represent, because any act of representation has the potential to be a violation of the cultural site it wishes to speak of. So to speak of them requires obfuscating or complicating the usual functions of language – not through vague poetry, but unexpected flashes of clarity coming from unexpected vectors.

SFBG You left during the first Internet boom I believe, and now SF is in the middle of a second one (although a bit different than the first —  the first wave seemed to have much more geeks and freaks in it, while this one seems much more regimented and Ivy League, even while many longtime residents are still feeling the results of “global recession”). When was the last time you were back here? And what are some of your recent thoughts on how house music is being affected by economic circumstances?

DJ SPRINKLES I was only back once about 10 years ago, visiting friends for a few days. When I moved away at the end of 2000, internet and web development had already undergone a rigid formalization. Years earlier, a web designer did a bit of everything. By 2000, developers were already split into specific teams focussing on interface, coding, page flow, etc… all processes were specialized, departmentalized, corporatized. I hadn’t heard about the “second internet boom” there, but the way you describe it doesn’t surprise me since it would surely be an extension of that regimentation that took place in the first boom.

And in a way, the same can be said of this “second boom” (third?) around house music. In the same way almost all websites have taken on the same continuity and feel, so has electronic dance music. You buy an album, and all the tracks sound similar — as opposed to the old days when an electronic dance track like Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” was tacked on to the end of an otherwise standard soul-band album that didn’t sonically match it at all. Today’s music consumer experience is much more streamlined and organized, which affects how people produce an album as well. Younger generations — 20-somethings — grew up amidst this homogenization, so I am fairly sure they do not feel what I am speaking of… although they may recognize it as a historical process.

I try to play with discontinuity and mixing things up, like in my K-S.H.E album, “Routes not Roots,” which had monologues and ambient tracks interspersed between house cuts. But I once made the mistake of reading people’s blog comments, and they really seemed upset about this kind of thing. “Way to ruin the mix,” or “Why the fuck didn’t you put that monologue at the end of the album?” They have no patience for non-homogeneity. The same goes for my Comatonse Recordings website itself — people seem utterly confused and helpless. If one doesn’t do everything completely standard and at the same level, people get disoriented. It’s a kind of cultural compression going on, similar to audio compression, where everything has to be “punched up” to the same intensity or people feel lost. What the fuck is so wrong with being lost? Why would you expect — let alone insist — your interactions with non-mainstream media to be completely mainstream in process?

SFBG I’ve been hanging out recently with the new, young generation of ACT-UP activists who are transcending mere ’90s revival and undertaking a lot of energizing political discourse and action. Were you involved in the queer activist movement back then — or now? Would you characterize your musical project as a form of activism, especially in its more intellectual and challenging aspects?

DJ SPRINKLES That’s nice to hear. Although you use the term “action,” I assume the real interesting stuff has little to do with demos and “direct actions,” and more to do with communal education initiatives, etc.? My direct action days were mostly during the late ’80s and early ’90s, while living in New York. Most of those activities were in conjunction with various caucuses in ACT-UP, and WHAM! (Women’s Health Action & Mobilization).

I do consider my audio and other projects “political” — in theme, and also in their attempts to (dis)engage with standard industry practices. But clearly this is something different than direct action “activism” or community outreach, because my main social engagements are with people working for labels, distributors, music festivals, museums, and other culture industries. Maybe “culture jamming” is a better way to put this kind of political activity. Personally, I found myself distanced from direct action groups because the terms of identification they cultivated out of strategic necessity so often folded back into essentialisms that excluded me on a personal level. So I was always advocating for the recognition and acceptance of something other than myself (like the way “born this way” ideologies take over discussions of LGBT rights… I consider myself more “beat this way,” my queer identity being primarily informed by material ostracism and harassment than by some mythological self-actualization and pride). That, combined with the mid-’90s move away from direct action toward CBO’s (Community Based Organizations) — largely because the tactics of direct action had been so thoroughly coopted by mainstream media – was pretty much the end of my serious direct action involvements. Over the years, enunciating this process has become the core political act of my projects and activities. I do not do this to discourage people from forms of direct action, but as a simultaneous form of critical analysis that hopefully contributes in other ways to our various attempts to react to dominations.

SFBG Do you feel that, as the means of production and distribution have been more and more democratized in the past decade, house and techno music-making and DJing have been living up to their potential as a form of resistance to mainstream capitalism and culture, or do you feel they’ve become more homogenized and/or annexed by neoliberal, bourgeois culture?

DJ SPRINKLES I do not believe the means of production and distribution have become more democratized. I take issue with the way people always confuse “commercial accessibility” with “democratization.” The breadth and variation of today’s music production strategies is no more than a shopping mall diversity. We are all working with similar software on similar platforms. Mac, Windows, Unix… Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch, The Gap… Having said that, if these musics had a potential, I believe it was lost back in the ’90s when anti-sampling legislation (mostly focusing on hip-hop) laid the groundwork for today’s electronic music. It basically reinvigorated house with “musicianship,” “authorship,” and all that crap which used to play far less of a role in this genre’s early days. And the younger generation – basically, today’s 20-somethings who grew up after the whole sampling debates — really don’t seem to understand how record label legal departments work.

So they list up all the samples they recognize in a track in the comment fields of music websites, which is putting the producers they wish to support at risk. There is no sense of how we can cultivate — let alone protect — “underground” media and information in this online era. Everything is about “sharing,” when in fact we need to be developing a parallel discourse around meaningful information distribution patterns, including strategically withholding information from the web. The cliché idea of making “everything accessible for everyone” is not only naîve, but negates the social and cultural specificities that give certain forms of media their alternative values, in particular collage and sampling. Anyone who has used a random image taken from a Google image search on their blog page, and then gotten an email from Getty Images’ legal department asking for back royalties, knows what I’m talking about. Treating subcultural musics as though they are meant for “everyone” — whether this is being done by fans, or the labels and online distributors themselves — is the biggest sign of people not understanding the media they are dealing with. And since all of that is SOP these days, it’s pretty much a sign that the sample-based genres of house is dead. Is talking about house’s political potential in 2013 really all that different than the trend of talking about the radical politics of ’60s rock during the ’80s?

SFBG I feel like, with parties like Honey Soundsystem, there is a huge resurgence of interest in an underground queer dance music culture — a kind of new underground opposed to corporate or low-quality dance music (yet still taking place in corporate spaces). Is this phenomenon occurring in Japan as well? Do you feel there are specific possibilities with this, not just in terms of opportunity for queer DJs to travel but of transformation of queer discourse and politically actualizing a new generation?

DJ SPRINKLES Hey, low-quality is where it’s at. It’s what it’s all about. What was Chicago house if not low quality? It’s important to place value within the “low” in order to counter conventional associations between the terms “good,” “high quality” and “upper class.” I’m not talking about celebrating kitsch, or that kind of petit-bourgeois trivialization of the “low.” I’m talking about finding other values in the “low” that cannot find expression within a language developed to express everything in terms of “low vs. high.” This is ultimately about the identification of other values amidst class struggle.

I don’t think house resonates as a queer medium anymore. Those days are over. Today it is primarily a white, heterosexual, European phenomenon. That was the case early on. I mean, how many Americans became aware of house music in the ’80s by buying Chicago house sold back to us on UK compilations? The US has always treated its own history of electronic music like utter shit… The US is such a fucking rock’n’roll shithole. So I think for people to appreciate house music’s queer roots, and to actively invest in those themes today, requires people becoming deliberate and explicit about those interests. But whether that deliberate action would focus on “queer visibility” or not is another issue. It doesn’t have to focus on “visibility” — especially since visibility has become such an oppressive aspect of dominant LGBT movements. Explicitness can also be about closets. Not only the usual closets born of heterosexism, but less considered closets around sexuality and gender that have been formed by the actions of the “born this way” LGBT mainstream. Well, that’s the direction I try to take it… reflecting on, and constructing, queer and transgendered histories that are as skeptical of Pride[TM] as they are angry about violence. And I do believe, globally speaking, queer and transgendered experiences are much more informed by violence than pride. So this should be reflected in how and where we make noise. In my opinion, music that functions in completely standard ways – socially and economically – does not have much potential for reflecting queer or transgendered contexts in politically precise, helpful or meaningful ways. You end up with essentialist, humanist shit like Lady Gaga’s, “Born This Way.” She is not somebody I would consider an ally.

You know, American media is so fixated on the idea that sexuality and gender must either be biologically predetermined, or a personal choice. The “it’s not a choice” argument is a common theme in television shows, etc. Both of these options revolve around a fiction of free will. Like, if it’s not a choice, then the only other possibility must be some supra-social, biological reason that cannot be questioned. Both of these conclusions preserve the status quo brutality of how culture forces gender and sexual binaries upon us. The thought that our absence of choice might be rooted in social tyrannies – not biological predispositions – remains unthinkable. The mainstream has it half right when they say, “it’s not a choice,” but it’s a half-truth that has been twisted into a decoy from the real issues at hand – the inescapability of the hetero/homo and female/male paradigms. We are given no other choices through which to understand our genders and sexualities. Sexuality is far greater than two or three. The same goes for gender — and yes, I’m speaking biologically, human bodies are way more diverse than A or B. To argue that the reason you deserve rights under a humanist democratic system is because of genetics is a retreat into feudalist logic. It’s the same as an aristocrat arguing that their rights and privileges were deserved because of their family blood-line and DNA. “Born this way” is antithetical to any democratic argument for rights rooted in a social capacity for understanding and transformation. It is astounding that the majority of people cannot comprehend that any “born this way” argument is a complete obliteration of their social agency. “I can’t help it, so give me the same rights as you…” Fuck that. We shouldn’t be asking to participate in the rights and privileges of those who have oppressed us. We should be trying to divest those groups of privileges. That is the best way to help ourselves and minimize the violence we enact on others.

Humanist legislative practices are still rooted in feudal ideologies, and I am convinced the long-term repercussions of this is a cultural entrenchment that makes any democratic project (including US-brand democracy, socialism or communism) an impossibility. We can already see how the post-Cold War world is retreating into clan-based, privatized, anti-state organization structures. Capitalism is increasingly liberated of democratic agendas because — surprise! — capitalism works better with slavery. Capitalism is not about the distribution of wealth, and everyone’s equal chance to partake in a petit-bourgois lifestyle. It is about the isolation of wealth. There is no doubt in my mind that today’s moral insistence that all people must work at whatever job society throws them, and the accompanying presumption that all lower-class unemployed people are “lazy” (which is perpetuated by many lower-class peoples themselves), is an argument for slavery: forced labor in return for base subsistence at best. How is that not the reality of poverty under globalized capitalism?

…and that’s why I hate Lady Gaga. [Laughs.]

SFBG You have some fascinatingly poetic thoughts about the intersection of transgender issues and immigration, the idea of “living as a ghost” in politicized and police-monitored spaces. Do you have any current thoughts on how globalization continues to affect transgender issues?

DJ SPRINKLES I think the fact that the world’s two largest economies around gender transitioning are in Thailand and Iran, yet the aesthetics of those economies follow largely western models of beauty and body, says a lot about how globalization affects transgendered issues. Thailand’s dominant transgendered culture revolves around the “Ladyboy” — a very essentialist transgendered model that is rooted in heterosexism and the cultural/ideological necessity for some men to “unbecome-man” in order for “straight men” to have sex with other men. Western transgendered discourses love to fetishize the “Ladyboy” as some kind of locally celebrated and accepted third-world transgendered native other, but this is patent orientalism. It refuses to envision how the strict regimentation of social codes for those transgendered people can be oppressive, or how the mythical “transgendered native’s special place at the edge of the village, possibly as a shaman” is a form of segregation. People also never address how such cultures are invariably patriarchies, and their models for transgenderism almost exclusively revolve around the MTF paradigm. And far as I know, Thailand has still not lifted their government prohibition on homosexual government employees, which is relatively new legislation passed just a few years back. This is all part of that context of transgendered production.

Meanwhile, Iran is a country where Islamic law prohibits homosexuality by fatwah. Since the ’70s, gender transitioning has been promoted as a way for men who have sex with men to avoid the death penalty, although many transitioned people still face the possibility of being murdered by their families or local communities. The cost of their procedures is partially subsidized by the Iranian government itself. While some Westerners have attempted to portray that as “progressive,” clearly it is the opposite. Many post-op transsexuals find themselves ghettoized, unemployed and cut off from the family structures that play such important roles in Iran’s social structure.

In both Thailand and Iran one can see how the global growth of gender-transitioning economies is connected to heterosexism and homophobia — something current Western gender analyses attempt to separate from gender transitioning through clear ideological divisions between gender and sexuality. While I believe these divisions between gender and sexuality are important and do have social value in the West, it is clear that the West is not the world. And the West has surely not overcome its heterosexism and homophobia, either. I believe it is more than coincidence that the global proliferation of gender transitioning technologies is happening parallel to medical industries’ attempts to divest of their previously blatant attempts to cure homosexuality, due to such methods falling out of cultural favor in the West and elsewhere. I also believe it is more than coincidence that today’s inescapable “born this way” arguments serve and justify today’s medical agendas so well.

For sure, my stance on medical transitioning has always been that I support peoples’ abilities to transform their bodies as they see necessary. Considering how few options for gender identification are offered to us, I can understand how a person can become no longer able to live within one’s body as it has been defined and shaped by social gender constraints. But, for obvious reasons, I am unable to believe those medical systems which propagated today’s gender binary are capable or willing to offer us a way out of our gender crises. Those industries move us further and further away from cultural environments that enable transgendered people to build medically unmediated relationships to our bodies. I just can’t accept that the medical industry’s methods for mediating our suffering are the only way. It really angers me… particularly since so many transgendered people are impoverished and without health care…

Hmm, you’re probably getting an idea as to why I am never invited to perform my more thematic projects in the US — just to DJ some house and go back home to Japan. [Laughs.]

SFBG Speaking of essentialism, ha: Any food or restaurants you miss from living here?

DJ SPRINKLES Mexican food…! It’s shockingly absent in Japan… and when you do find some, you generally wish you hadn’t. But what a weak note upon which to end this interview. [Laughs.]

Roe v. Wade anniversary inspires flash mob, pro-choice rally, and pro-life march in SF

Remember when a dance revolution broke out in Justin Herman Plaza during Occupy San Francisco? This coming Saturday, the same choreographers behind that flash mob for economic justice plan to reignite the public square, this time with a flash mob organized in collaboration with the Silver Ribbon Campaign to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

“Roe v. Wade is an invitation to really celebrate women, women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights,” says Magalie Bonneau-Marcil, director of Oakland nonprofit Dancing without Borders, who will direct the Jan. 26 flash mob. She expects between 400 and 500 dancers to descend upon the plaza.

The performance is part of a larger event, Women Life & Liberty, organized to commemorate the landmark Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the United States. The Trust Women Silver Ribbon Campaign is organizing the free celebration in tandem with the National Organization for Women and a coalition of more than 20 local partners.

“Our sense was, it’s an opportunity to claim and reclaim, and revive our activism around the issues that this event is about,” Silver Ribbon Campaign Director Ellen Shaffer told the Guardian. The rally is part of a national effort that has also launched an “online march” for reproductive rights.

Birth control champion Sandra Fluke, who became the center of a firestorm after being lambasted by Rush Limbaugh for testifying before Congress on the need for access to birth control, will speak at the rally.  Other speakers will include filmmaker and Webby Awards Founder Tiffany Shlain, and San Francisco Supes Malia Cohen, David Campos, David Chiu and Eric Mar, who joined the board in adopting a December resolution commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Meanwhile, an international campaign to end violence against women will also play a role in this weekend’s events. Upon returning to the Bay Area after a dance festival in Europe, Bonneau-Marcil says she saw Eve Ensler’s music video promoting VDay’s 1 Billion Rising Campaign, created to spark a global movement to end violence against women. “I was so moved,” she says.

Inspired, she began making preparations for the Jan. 26 performance and an upcoming Feb. 14 flash mob, to be staged in front of San Francisco City Hall in league with VDay’s global movement.

With recent outrage fueled by the rape and fatal attack in India, the public performances are timely. Bonneau-Marcil describes the public dance gatherings as a way for participants to “share a prayer to create a world free of violence and sexual oppression.” 

But there’s likely to be drama, as the Women Life & Liberty celebration is one of two dueling events. Walk for Life West, essentially the polar opposite of the Trust Women Silver Ribbon Campaign, is being spearheaded by San Francisco pro-lifers Dolores Meehan and Eva Muntean. Now in its ninth year, the annual event will bring hordes of anti-abortion activists to San Francisco, wielding dead fetus photos. They’ll travel from as far away as Nevada, Canada and “all over the Midwest,” according to Muntean. “We have 200 buses coming from all over the West Coast,” she said.

The anti-abortion rally will feature speakers such as Rev. Clenard Childress, who has built a career out of telling right wing Christians that the pro-choice movement is racist. (Seems Childress also spends his spare time penning inflammatory columns suggesting that acceptance of LGBT rights is “a sign of the end times.”)

The pro-life rally will converge at Civic Center Plaza and progress to – where else? – Justin Herman Plaza. There, according to the event page, revelers from the transformative flash mob may still be celebrating. Expect an awkward buzz kill.

This being San Francisco, plans are already being hatched to counter-protest the anti-abortion event. (Muntean emphasized that Walk for Life West should not be interpreted as counter-protest to the Women Life & Liberty event, by the way.)

Stop Patriarchy, made of up activists who are pro-choice, anti-Democratic party, and even anti-pornography since they deem it to be part of the war on women, plans to stage “boisterous and confrontational political protests throughout the week, taking on the Pro-Lifers who will be in San Francisco,” according to a press release. They’ll be there counter-protesting the Walk for Life with banners and signs declaring, “Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!”

Bonneau-Marcil, the flash mob director, says she’s trying to stay out of any back-and-forth that may come from warring factions. “We’re not pointing fingers,” she says. Instead, she’s on a mission to help dancers move in harmony to “access a place where, it’s not about opinions. It’s just about remembering who we are as human beings.”

The Women, Life & Liberty rally will be held at Justin Herman Plaza from 10 a.m. to noon. The Dancing Without Borders flash mob performance will take place at 11:30. Anyone can join the flash mob after attending two rehearsals: more info here. The Walk for Life West rally will converge at 12:30 at Civic Center Plaza and begin the procession to Justin Herman at 1:30. More info here, here and here.

Takei wisdom at San Francisco’s ‘Star Trek’ convention


Bay Area Trekkers (don’t call them “Trekkies”!) set their coordinates for the city this past weekend as the official 2012 San Francisco Star Trek Convention took over the Westin St. Francis in Union Square, filling the hotel and the surrounding area with a galaxy’s worth of creative costumes, collectibles vendors, parties, and an impressive slate of stars from the franchise’s 46 year and counting history.

Several of the most esteemed names in the Trek universe made appearances over the course of the three day fete, including George Takei and Walter Koenig (Sulu and Chekov from the original series), along with Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, and Martina Sirtis (Data, Geordi, Worf, and Counselor Troi from The Next Generation).

Fans enthusiastically listened to behind the scenes stories and heard the actors share their thoughts on being part of the Star Trek universe, and also asked about some of their other projects and outside work.

Burton got the crowd going on Sunday morning, charging up the cheering throngs with stories about playing the blind engineer Geordi La Forge, along with reminiscing on the 35th anniversary of the TV mini-series Roots, which was his first starring role. He even elicited a spontaneous group sing-along when he asked if there were any Reading Rainbow fans in the audience, and started singing the theme song to the 1980s literacy-encouraging PBS program that he hosted in the 1980s.

Throughout the weekend’s talks, cast members of The Next Generation — who were celebrating that show’s 25th anniversary, and clearly are all still friends—would sneak up and tease one another during each other’s programs, with Spiner suddenly popping up at an audience microphone during Burton’s Q&A session and asking about the new “Reading Rainbow” iPad app and whether or not it featured a variety of made up of book titles in a nerdy voice.

Burton returned the favor when Spiner took the stage later in the afternoon, as did Sirtis, who proceeded to show off her still-limber body by doing the splits in front of man who played an emotionless robot on the show, but was visibly impressed by her heat, and was hilarious when answering questions from fans.

The keynote speaker for the convention however, was George Takei, who has become a figurehead in Hollywood for LGBT rights over the past several years, after coming out and marrying his long time partner in 2007. After receiving a standing ovation upon his introduction, the 75 year actor charmed the crowd with his signature smooth voice, and went on the emphasize the importance of the Star Trek fan community as a continuing inspiration for him in his current personal and professional endeavors.

“This longevity was created by you fans, of all generations, and I personally am so indebted to you, because my career has been a great blessing,” he said.

Echoing the original sentiments of creator Gene Roddenberry, who wove many of the pressing social issues of the 1960s into the fabric of the Star Trek ethos, Takei urged fans to take the spirit of unity and collaboration that forged the fictional “Federation of Planets” and put it into action in their own lives.

“I am very confident that Star Trek is going to continue to be strong base for making America a better nation, and building a better future for the world, working together.”

Healthy transitions


When the Human Rights Campaign, the national LGBT rights group, released its latest scorecard, rating companies by their support for LGBT issues, the healthcare giant Kaiser scored 100 percent. In June, the company’s float in the San Francisco Pride Parade was packed with happy employees.

But as the float passed through the streets, it was met by a group of protesters. Pride at Work complained, loudly, that Kaiser — for all its efforts to work with the community — excludes transgender care from its standard policies.

“We said, let’s push Kaiser,” said Sasha Wright, an organizer with Pride at Work. “They say they’re good for the community. Let’s show them that the queer community demands this.”

It was a perfect sign of the city’s struggle with trans health care. In many ways, San Francisco is exemplary — this is a long ways from Chattanooga, Texas, where state legislator Richard Floyd tried to pass a law instituting steep fines for people who can’t prove their genders match the designated genders of public bathrooms.

And with Healthy San Francisco officials’ recent decision to cover transgender and care, it’s likely this city is leading the nation in trans health.

But that’s a limited distinction — because trans people everywhere, even here, still face sometimes daunting obstacles in getting access even to basic care. And the struggle to change that is becoming a high-profile (and increasingly successful) political fight.


Kaiser’s insurance plans are typical of the industry. In its 2012-2013 “Traditional Plan,” Kaiser lists “transgender surgeries” among the services excluded from coverage, along with massage therapy and cosmetic surgery.

And Kaiser’s not alone.

Medicare, the federal health plan for low-income people, specifically excludes transgender health care. MediCal, the state version, is required to cover trans care — but will often deny individual applications. And many of the doctors and surgeons who accept MediCal (and many don’t) are unfamiliar with transition-related care.

Then there’s plain old discrimination. A troubling number of people report being denied healthcare — not just healthcare related to their gender identity — because the doctor they saw didn’t want to treat a transgender person.

The State of Transgender California, a 2008 survey by the Transgender Law Center, found that 30 percent of transgender people in California reported that they have “postponed care for illness or preventative care due to disrespect and discrimination from doctors or other healthcare providers. Over 40 percent did so because of economic barriers.”

The study also found that 35 percent of respondents “recount having to teach their doctor or care provider about transgender people in order to get appropriate care.”

To make things worse, American health insurance is overwhelmingly employer-based — and unemployment among trans people is epidemic. A 2011 study from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that trans unemployment was double the national rate and that 47 percent of trans people surveyed had been fired or overlooked for a job.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) sets the international standard for transgender health care. WPATH states that, for many transgender people, “sex reassignment surgery is effective and medically necessary.” Hormone therapy, voice and communication therapy, as well as non-discriminatory primary and preventative care are also necessary.

But with high rates of poverty and discrimination among transgender people, affording these medically necessary procedures can be nearly impossible. Even in San Francisco, where some politicians and powerful organizations advocate tirelessly for transgender rights, many people are forced to go outside the system altogether to take care of themselves.

“We see transgender folks either not being able to make a transition, or having to spend a lot of money,” said Wright. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a top surgery party, but they’re common in San Francisco.”

Mia Tu Mutch, a member of San Francisco’s Youth City Services Committee who advocates for LGBTQ rights inside and outside City Hall, recently started a group that supports and raises funds for people who are transitioning.

“Me and my partner have been shocked at trans incompetency in San Francisco,” said Tu Mutch. “We’ve had several really bad instances of doctors refusing to treat us when they found out that we were trans. There’s still education needed.”

Tu Mutch said that, even though she is covered by a high-quality, trans-inclusive insurance plan, she has spent at least $10,000 out of pocket on transition related expenses.

“People are usually told, ‘get a good job, save all your money,'” she said. “But I’ve been spending 80 percent of my money on transgender related care for the past couple of years. I don’t think the whole ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ thing works.”


But the situation is starting to change. In fact, trans organizers say that the medical, insurance and political establishments — particularly in California — are beginning to realize how backward the system is and are open to dramatic changes.

“It is an exciting time,” said Dr. Dawn Harbatkin, executive director or San Francisco’s Lyon Martin Health Center, which offers free and low-cost service to trans people “I didn’t think I would see this during my career.”

Nikki “Tita Aida” Calma, program supervisor at Trans: Thrive, echoed that sentiment. Said Calma, “I’m glad to see this in my lifetime.”

Thanks to groups like Pride at Work and the Transgender Law Center (TLC), city workers in San Francisco and Berkeley are now covered by the trans-inclusive version of Kaiser’s plan. The TLC, along with Lyon Martin and Equality California, came together to form Project Health in 2010, which convinced Healthy San Francisco to drop its transgender exclusions.

Tu Mutch has also worked this year to start FEATHER, or Fundraising Everywhere for All Transitions: a Health Empowerment Revolution.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Sacramento, and even nationally, are also chipping away at the transgender discrimination that plagues the healthcare system.

Harbatkin told us that there isn’t a specific set of services that make up transgender health care.

“Really good transgender medicine means that you are providing good primary care, that you’re treating a patient as a whole person and taking care of all of their health care needs,” she said.

Lyon Martin provides preventative care like pap smears, breast exams, and prostate exams, treatment for chronic issues like hypertension and diabetes, as well as transition-related care—services that assist transgender people in transitioning to a body that reflects their gender identity.

“The bigger part of providing good medicine is about being culturally competent, culturally sensitive,” Harbatkin said. “Knowing how to address people respectfully and with their appropriate name and pronoun. Knowing about their legal name versus preferred name, or gender markers in terms of billing issues.”

One obstacle transgender patients face is doctors who are unfamiliar with transition-related healthcare, such as hormone therapy and surgeries. But often, trans people are denied care that doctors know well and would perform on cisgender patients, simply because of their gender identity.

Then there’s the challenge low-income people face in finding doctors who accept MediCal.

Harbatkin cited the example of an orchiectomy — surgical removal of the testicles, a procedure done by urologists. Finding a urologist who takes MediCal is fairly routine.

“But finding a surgeon who would do a vaginoplasty who accepts MediCal, that is more challenging,” she said.

And some urologists might perform an orchiectomy for someone with testicular cancer — but refuse to do so for someone who is transitioning from male to female.

That type of discrimination has caught the attention of Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, and his office has been working for several years to change it.

Ammiano aide Wendy Hill has been focusing on eliminating transgender health barriers in California for years. Thanks in part to her efforts, the California Department of Insurance now interprets existing gender equity legislation to include transgender people.

“They’ve clarified a set of recommendations and essentially code sections that spell out that for the purpose of transgender, this law requires gender equity,” Hill said. “If you cover pap smears, you have to cover them for everybody. If you cover breast reconstruction or hysterectomy, you have to cover it for everybody, regardless of gender.”

Now Ammiano’s office is taking on the Department of Managed Health Care and has been documenting cases of discrimination.

“When a citizen calls the Department of Managed Health Care, their helpline, they tag the call so that they know what’s going on,” Hill explains.

“They just tagged the calls based on discrimination. But we got them to tag the calls based on gender discrimination, and then even more specifically, discrimination against transgender people.”

The sort of problem she sees: “A person goes in to be treated for what could potentially be pneumonia, but the physician is having trouble seeing this person because their papers say they’re male but they are trying to see a gynecologist.”

Hill said some of her most interesting moments have been outreach meetings with community members and local businesses.

“I’ve gone in to talk with folks and said, how many of you know someone who’s transgender?” Hill recalls. “And in Sacramento, not that many people raise their hands. And then I say, how many of you identity as transgender? And the transgender people raise their hands. A lot of people don’t know that they already knew transgender people.”

Ammiano, who created Healthy San Francisco, said he was thrilled about the program dropping its transgender exclusions. “This has been in the works for a while,” he said. “We always fully intended to make sure that everyone who needed it was covered.”

Nationally, he said, “I think it’s an uphill battle around eradicating the transphobia and getting services provided without any hassle, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”


San Francisco offers plenty of support. Lyon Martin is part of a network of organizations providing health-related services to transgender people.

Trans: Thrive, a project of API, serves as a drop-in center for transgender people, including many who show up there as one of their first stops after coming to San Francisco to escape discrimination and danger in their hometowns. Trans: Thrive provides counseling, computer labs, food, activities, and an all-important clothing closet to cut the extensive costs of a whole new wardrobe that better reflects a person’s gender identity.

Lyon Martin is “a federally qualified health center, so we take MediCal, MediCare, and many commercial insurances and Healthy San Francisco,” said Harbatkin. “And for patients who are uninsured, they are put on a sliding scale based on income and family size. And we continue to see people whether they can afford it or not.”

That means even people with little or no income can access transition-related surgery at Lyon Martin. This can be essential for people who otherwise would rely on MediCal.

The situation will actually be improved with the changes to Healthy San Francisco, as people who access healthcare through the program will have more options for surgeons and specialists.

In the 2008 State of Transgender California report, the TLC made a series of recommendations — and to the surprise of even the TLC staff, many have been adopted.

For example, the Affordable Care Act bars discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions — a term used to deny coverage to trans people. Most medical schools still don’t teach transgender healthcare, but on a local scale, Lyon Martin is working to train healthcare professionals and students to provide quality, culturally appropriate care to transgender patients with a residency program.

But one of the key recommendations — “Enact federal and state legislation prohibiting transgender- and gender-specific exclusions that limit access to comprehensive, quality care in public and private insurance plans” — is still a ways off.

As far as state legislation goes, said Hill, “Assemblymember Ammiano is definitely there. But the Legislature is not there yet. We don’t have enough support for that, to get a bill down to the governor.”

Kristina Wertz, director of Policy and Programs at the TLC, says that significant progress has been made on the recommendations that the 2008 report included.

“We’re really getting there,” said Wertz. “Things have changed. The world of transgender healthcare is very different than it was five. years ago.

“Right now there’s a lot of advocacy to build on the good laws that we already have and make sure they’re effectively implemented.”

Best of the Bay 2012: Local Heroes


2012 Local Heroes

Alex Tom and Shaw San Liu

Alex Tom and Shaw San Liu — the executive director and lead organizer for the Chinese Progressive Association, which celebrates its 40th anniversary on Aug. 4 — have laid the groundwork for a progressive resurgence in San Francisco by organizing Chinese immigrants and actively building close and mutually supportive relationships with working-class allies throughout the city.

The two have been involved in just about every recent effort to counter the pro-corporate neoliberalism that has come to dominate City Hall these days. They have seized space with Occupy San Francisco and they have supported labor unions and helped to create the Progressive Workers Alliance. They have fought foreclosures and pushed for affordable housing reforms, and they have protected vulnerable immigrant workers from wage theft by unscrupulous employers.

“Shaw San and Alex are incredibly talented organizers and movement builders who are managing to do the nearly impossible,” said N’Tanya Lee, who worked closely with the pair as the director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. “They have built an authentic base of working-class Chinese immigrants who are interested in fighting for change in their community, and are creating a grassroots organization at the forefront of building multi-racial alliances to combat the divide-and-conquer strategies that are confronting us.”

Liu, who joined CPA six years ago, said she’s always inspired to see the old photographs on the walls of CPA’s office, and to read the history of CPA’s organizing and advocacy on behalf of working people. She said the organization has always understood the need to forge alliances with labor unions and other progressive interests.

“The organization itself has been, since its inception, playing a critical role in bridging the needs of Chinese interests with other communities,” Liu said. “I’ve always seen my role as bridge building.”

Today — with stagnant real wages, a deteriorating social safety net, and growing power by corporations that enjoy unprecedented political clout thanks to Citizens United and other court rulings — the need to organize people across cultural lines is more important than ever, even if that begins by addressing the individual needs of each community.

“Always at our core, it’s about empowering our folks to be able to voice their own struggles and visions,” Liu said.

Working to build that capacity within the Chinese immigrant community is hard and important work, Liu said, but it’s equally important to connect with the struggles of working class people from other communities, uniting to effectively counter the political dominance of employers and property owners.

Lui framed the struggle as: “How do we build unity and not have that be lip service?”

Tom and Liu have demonstrated that they know how to do just that, despite the diversity of sometimes-conflicting interests on the left and in a working class squeezed by recession and feelings of economic uncertainty.

“The issue that will unify people is good jobs that are accessible to everyone,” Liu said.

Yet she also said that working class organizing is needed to counter the simplistic “jobs” rhetoric coming from City Hall, which politicians are using to advocate for tax cuts to big corporations.

“More and more, it exposes itself as a total lie,” Liu said of the argument that the city should be facilitating private sector job creation with business tax cuts. “So much points to the fact that the US economic system doesn’t benefit everyone … When we talk about jobs, we talk about what kinds of jobs we want and for whom.”


2012 Local Heroes

Stardust and Ross Rhodes

Ross Rhodes and Stardust, like all of the people involved in Occupy Bernal, are neighbors. But until Stardust helped found the group — a local take on Occupy focused on stopping unjust foreclosures and evictions — they didn’t know each other.

Now they do, and if it wasn’t for Occupy Bernal, Rhodes is sure he would no longer have the house that his parents bought in 1964.

A former college football star, Rhodes injured his knees and back playing. He lives on disability payments, volunteering at the 100 Percent College Prep Club, and bringing home-cooked meals to seniors in his area. He also coached kids in the Junior 49ers program until it became too hard on his injuries.

Stardust, an ESL teacher and oboe player in the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony and the SF Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, has been working for LGBT rights, women’s rights, and online civil rights for years. When Occupy took off, he gravitated toward the neighborhood fights against foreclosures.

Like people all over the US, Rhodes and his wife were fooled several years ago by a pick-a-payment loan plan. At the time, World Savings was peddling the deals through neighborhoods, promising potential borrowers that they could send their kids to college, buy a car, take vacations — and modify their loans after a year.

But when Rhodes started to apply for loan modifications, he was denied. He kept receiving letters asking for more information, often the same information he had already given — a common story that led to part of the Homeowners Bill of Rights that will guarantee a single point of contact from the bank. He was stumped when he was told he needed more income — the bank said it wouldn’t accept payments that were more than 30 percent of a borrower’s income, and Rhodes was getting a fixed disability check.

He found another income source as a homecare provider, but after all the time that the bank wouldn’t accept his payments, Rhodes was marked as someone who wasn’t making payments, and was tracked for foreclosure.

Meanwhile, Occupy Bernal was working on more than 100 similar cases in its neighborhood. The organizers hadn’t quite convinced Mayor Ed Lee to help at that point, but Rep. Pelosi’s staffers were on their side, getting banks to prioritize the cases of those working with Occupy Bernal. They worked with other community groups like Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) to do physical occupations of homes. But for those who had received a notice of default and a notice of sale — two steps in the foreclosure process that precede the auction of a property — Stardust was there with another tactic.

He spearheaded Occupy the Auctions. He shows up at City Hall at 1:30 every day and tries to disrupt foreclosure auctions. He’s been there continuously since April 27, 2012, and has stopped dozens of home sales. When fighting the eviction of a neighbor, he is sometimes backed by more than 100 people. But many days it’s just Stardust.

Now, Rhodes is in a loan modification process. Rather than conflicting and confusing machine-generated paper work, he gets regular calls about the status of his modification from a point person in Wells Fargo’s executive complaint office. He testified in Sacramento in favor of the Homeowners Bill of Rights, which passed July 2. He’s also become an Occupy Bernal organizer on top of his other volunteer pursuits.

Stardust battles mega-banks and the city’s wealthiest in his work. But he says the biggest challenge is helping people to get over the shame they feel when they realize they are facing foreclosure. “It’s not their fault,” he says. “It’s the system.”

Friends of Ethics

In the summer of 2011, at the behest of the Ethics Commission, the Board of Supervisors put on the ballot a measure that would have loosened some of the rules for campaign consultant reporting, and would have allowed further changes in the city’s landmark ethics laws without a vote of the people. It had unanimous support on the board — and frankly, technical changes in campaign laws are not the kind of sexy stuff that gets the public angry.

But a small group, led in part by five former ethics commissioners, took on the task of defeating the measure. The activists also took on the challenge of defeating Prop. E, which would have allowed the supervisors to amend future measures passed by the voters.

Despite being outspent by tens of thousands of dollars, Friends of Ethics — a small grassroots operation — prevailed. Both measures were defeated (32 percent to 67 percent in the case of Prop. E, the worst loss of all the local measures on the ballot).

The group is great at forming coalitions: in the case of the No on E and F campaign, Friends of Ethics reached out to some 30 organizations that formally joined in opposing the measures after hearing presentations.

The members of FOE are a fractious group of organizers and shit-disturbers who don’t always get along or agree on other issues. But they’ve come together to do something nobody else does: make protecting and expanding political reform laws a front-line priority.

And the battle goes on. Not long after the November 2011 election, Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced legislation that would have led to less disclosure of political contributions before an election, and would have made it easier to conceal who was making contributions and paying for campaign mailers. The Wiener bill would weaken campaign contribution limit, giving the wealthiest donors greater power in elections.

When the amendments were heard at a well-attended Rules Committee in June (with plenty of public comment from Friends of Ethics), the supervisors sent the amendments back to the Ethics Commission to be rewritten.

The next step for the Friends of Ethics is to work with interested supervisors to push for changes to the city’s campaign laws that will actually benefit the public, such as increased transparency in election contributions and expanded campaign restrictions for those receiving contracts and other benefits from the city.

In an era defined by the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United case and a nationwide assault on fair elections, it’s critical work.

Friends of Ethics can be reached at

2012 Local Heroes

The Occupy movement

When Adbusters magazine called for people to show up on September 17, 2011, in New York City to protest the way Wall Street was holding the country hostage, no one could have predicted what would emerge.

It was the start of a movement, and San Francisco heeded the call. About 100 people gathered in the city’s Financial District. They started camping. And the effort exploded.

In the first few weeks, camps sprung up across the country. In Chicago and Los Angeles, in Bethel, Alaska and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, people were drawn together. But, unlike most protests, they stayed together. Night after night.

Along the way, a certain prevailing narrative from outside observers never quite got it right. First the camps were dismissed as nothing but bratty college students and hippies. Then they were called dirty and filled with homeless people. (Occupy challenged the whole idea of a monolithic homeless population. Once they had a home in the Occupy tent cities, homeless people were just — shocker — people.)

By December, when most of the campers had been kicked out, the narrative shifted. Occupy was resting, hibernating, many declared. Some snickered at the fair-weather activists who would only come out in the sunshine.

But in the Bay Area, at least, that hibernation story was simply false. On December 12, Occupy Oakland brought out thousands for its second port shutdown, in solidarity with port workers. On January 20, downtown banks were forced to close for the day and people in the streets celebrated Occupy San Francisco’s shutdown of the financial district. A week later, 400 were arrested when thousands tried to turn a vacant Oakland building into a community center. This was no hibernation.

Actions in some way inspired or fueled by Occupy have continued into the spring and summer. On March 1, Occupy, with a focus on student debt and accessible education, formed the 99 Mile March. Dozens marched from the Bay Area to Sacramento to join thousands of students and supporters in calling for an end to cuts to education; hundreds then occupied the Capitol building. On April 22, Occupy, with a focus on food justice, formed the Gill Tract Occupy the Farm action. Hundreds took a UC Berkeley-stewarded tract of land slated for a baseball diamond and a Whole Foods and planted it, turning it into a farm with rows of crops, a kids space, and a permaculture garden. On June 15, Occupy formed the Lakeview sit-in and Peoples School for Public Education, which taught day camp to children and refused to leave a beloved Oakland elementary school, one of five slated for closure.

Police eventually won the many-months battle with most Occupy groups in the Bay Area. The camps are mostly gone, though a tenacious group keeps its 24-hour protest in front of the Federal Reserve.

But because of Occupy — and its accompanying burst in resistance, creativity, and the belief that we really can, and must, come together to do something — dozens of Bay Area residents remain in homes that were facing foreclosure. Hundreds of people who felt forgotten and abandoned have found community. Thousands have been inspired to start their own projects and work with others.

When Adbusters called Occupy Wall Street to action, it was under the banner of “democracy not corporatocracy.” That ain’t an easy project. But it has already made the world a better and more hopeful place. 

Guardian feminism panel calls for change, gang activity


In the interest of behaving badly, let us first say that we won’t apologize for the “roving feminist gangs” comment, nor the laughter that ensued at our July 11 “Bay Area Feminism Today” panel. In the light of the sexual attacks that have terrorized Mission District residents this year, Celeste Chan’s joke (actually a reference to comments made by Fox News in reference to the New Jersey Seven) has to be read as a self defense tactic — and source of comfort and strength to the women living in the neighborhood. Not a threat to men. Unless they’re commiting sexual assault, of course — but then, women commiting sexual assault will probably have the gang’s wrath to face as well. 

Seven women from all walks of Bay Area activism — arts, nightlife, immigrant advocacy, domestic violence organizations, and more — came together at City College’s Mission branch to discuss what our SF progressive community needs to work on, recent feminist victories, whether they even believe in the term “feminism,” and everything in between. Our “Faces of feminism” cover story announcing the event attracted a decent-sized crowd of around 120 (mainly young women, with zero male elected officials in attendance.) We laughed, we nearly cried, we came away with a lot to think about. Here’s some of the general topics that were discussed. And here’s to this being a spark for continued talks, however a Fourth Wave Bay feminism may take shape.


Reproductive justice

Reproductive justice has long been a feminist goal, but with the recent spate of attacks on birth control and abortion access it’s come up again. Are we here in the Bay Area isolated from the War On Women?Some panelists thought we can affect the country’s situation positively.

“Part of what we do here in the Bay Area is we send strong women to Washington,” the Drug Policy Alliance‘s Laura Thomas said. “We are responsible for a significant amount of women in Congress.” But California’s reproductive justice situation is more complicated than it may seem. St. James Infirmary‘s Stephany Ashley noted that reproductive health here is under attack with “criminalization of HIV-positive people,”  and that California “just cut all funding for HIV prevention for women.”


Chan, founder of Queer Rebels Productions, added that California is cutting domestic violence services through slashing CalWORKS funding. Mujeres Unidas‘ Juana Flores noted that the Bay’s Latino communities can find it difficult to support aspects of reproductive health because of religion and tradition. But she said that people need to work together and realize that “it’s a real war. It’s a real war on us.” She warned that “politicians are not going to fix things just because they want to improve our lives. We need to fight back.”

Transgender activist and member of SF’s Youth Commission Mia Tu Mutch said that part of the war on women has been a wave of anti-trans legislation across the country, as well as a wave of hate crimes, especially against trans women of color. Some legislation in Tennessee is making it more difficult for trans people to go the bathroom, she said. “Reproductive justice is important, but we also need just the simple right to pee.”

But what about the word itself?

Does feminism have power as its own concept now, or has its work been rightly subsumed into the queer movement, the civil rights movement, and other forms of activism? “A lot of us can agree that there isn’t something you can point to and say, this is the feminist movement in San Francisco,” Ashley said. “But there are many important feminist projects happening.”
Alix Rosenthal, who created a controversial women’s slate in her bid for re-election on the SF Democratic County Central Committee recalled how “30 to 40 years ago, we all had to join together because there weren’t enough of us. Now people have splintered off.” Chan brought up the bicycle scene in 1983’s feminist sci-fi film Born in Flames, and quoted Audre Lourde: “for so long, we’ve been on the edge of each other’s battles.”

Tu Mutch said that she “would rather identify as fighting for LGBT rights, progressive rights” than as feminist. But, she continued that it is “under the system of patriarchy that we’re all getting screwed over.” She said that women are treated as second-class citizens, and trans and gender non-conforming people are treated as third class citizens in our society.  Edaj, longtime Bay Area DJ and director of the Women’s Stage at Pride for a decade, agreed that the word feminism “sparks a lot of emotion in people” and can create obstacles in growing support. Said Flores: “it’s a big word. People call me a feminist when I claim my rights. When I see another women who is suffering or being abused it’s unbearable to me,” Flores said. “When someone calls me a feminist, I feel proud.”

The inward gaze: how does the San Francisco progressive community do on feminist issues?

In a word: okay. But there’s work to be done even here, in “progressive” San Francisco. Thomas led the charge, talking about the state’s current legal ability to shackle women prisoners during childbirth. Tu Mutch expressed a need to stop “pitting groups against each other,” and to get rid of a City Hall attitude that says “my budget is more important than yours.” Tu Mutch said “there’s still rampant transphobia and gender essentialism,” that affects not just women, but the “countless people born with intersex conditions and who identify outside the binary.”

Ashley pointed out that “even some of our favorite male progressive politicians, you don’t see them cultivating leadership among women, queer people, trans people.” She talked about how that’s a traditional feminist organizing principle, “mentorship and meaningful participation, not just tokenizing participation.”

As a (not) side note, there wasn’t a single male politician in the audience that day. As Ashley put it, “patriarchy is really the problem.” Ashley and panel moderator, SFBG culture editor Caitlin Donohue shared the fact that they’ve felt diminished by remarks made by and in the company of the city’s so-called “progressive politicians.”

Recent feminist victories

But enough depressing stuff. How about recent feminist victories, asked an audience member.

This question was met with a disconcerting silence. Until Chan jumped in: “I’m really inspired by the place queer arts are at right now.” She told of the “lineage of resistance” of art that deals with questions like “how do people survive the unimaginable? How do people survive the truly horrific?” Disturbing incidents like that of transgender prisoner Cece McDonald beg the question, “is the perfect victim a dead victim? If you fight back, you’ll be criminalized? Now more than ever we need a movement. We really need to come together,” concluded Chan.

Rosenthal saw hope in surprising places. “Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman,” she said. “These women are so incompetent. But they made it. They really made it.” She talked about how usually women have had to be five times better than the men they competed with, but “Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman are not five times better than anyone. But they made it.”
Laura Thomas was inspired by Julia Bluhm, the 14-year old ballet dancer from Maine whose online petition led Seventeen to promise to stop using Photoshop to alter women’s body types. Ashley acknowledged Tu Mutch’s advocacy work, and said she was recently inspired by a “take back the plaza” event Tu Mutch had organized. Edaj was inspired by being named a Pride Grand Marshall, and the feeling that the Pride organization was acknowledging the importance of the space created at the Women’s Stage. She was also inspired by Morningstar Vancil, a Filipino vet who is a two-spirit drag king, and Vancil’s commitment to disabled veterans issues.

Action items

In response to a question that asked what the 2012 action plan for Bay Area feminists should involve, Ashley said “principles of intersectionality, anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism” had to be valued more than they have been in past feminist movements. They’re there in Third Wave feminism, Ashely said, only they are “wrapped up in theory and academia.” Those guiding principles should have “more on the ground” applicability. What needs to happen right now, speaking of on the ground? Back to 2012’s spate of sexual violence in the Mission, there’s a distinct necessity for “a perfect community response that doesn’t involve the police, so that we all of a sudden feel really comfortable taking a walk at 3 in the morning through our favorite neighborhood.”

Flores said that any new form of feminism would need to be about “mutual respect” and “against any form of injustice,” to which Thomas agreed, saying it needs to be “less theory, more practice.” It also, Thomas said “has to deal with gender in a different way. A new feminism needs to go beyond gender, or deal with gender differently” in the sense of respecting gender non-conforming identities. A tricky prospect, she admitted. “How you develop a gendered movement that doesn’t use gender as a defining construct, I don’t know.” More specifically, she underlined the importance of “progressive revenue measures,” and “an end to cuts to childcare and domestic violence programs.” “Our economy’s not coming back through more cuts. We need revenue, more taxes,” she said, to cheers from the crowd. Well this was a Guardian forum, after all. 

Edaj reiterated that “that word scares off a lot of people who might otherwise want to join.” Tu Mutch underlined that it would need to “take up the idea that men and women are opposites. That only serves to degrade women.” A new feminism, she said, would be about “turning away from that and realizing there’s lots of different genders.”

Tu Mutch said she would like to see success for her organization to fight for trans healthcare rights, FEATHER. “People have to spend ridiculous amounts of money to transition,” she said. “We need universal healthcare for all, including trans people.”

Chan pondered the question. In the end, she concluded, “roving feminist gangs,” inspiring at least one angry letter from a slighted middleaged white man in the crowd. Which wasn’t the only reason why we deemed the panel a success, but an important one.

Obama’s evolution


Other than a few Mitt Romney supporters, most of us view evolution as a wonderful biological mechanism to which we owe our supposed higher intelligence. So Obama’s “evolution” from a foe to a supporter of same-sex marriage deserves tremendous praise. But before we go all ga-ga over the president, let’s remember:

He didn’t evolve on his own. In this case, the evolution needed a push, from generations of LGBT activists and supporters, who put the issue in front of the world, made it a basic matter of civil and human rights, and forced Obama to realize that he could no longer duck and had to take a stand.

Remember FRD’s famous statement to activists? “Now you have to make me do it.” That’s what happened here. Obama made the political calculation, of course, and it’s a good one — energizing his base is more important than angering a bunch of people who weren’t going to vote for him anyway. But there’s more to it, and I think Paul Hogarth has the right line:

Biden’s statement may have been the final trigger, but the LGBT movement deserves the credit – despite the odds – to hold firm on getting the President to take this historic stance. And it’s a lesson that other progressive constituencies should take heart in, as we strive to make Barack Obama the President we hoped he would be.

Let’s also remember that this really started in San Francisco, with an act of what I like to call civic disobedience. At the time, a lot of critics said that Mayor Gavin Newsom was hurting the Democratic Party by making a move before the rest of the nation was ready for it. But what he did eight years ago was force the rest of the nation to get ready for it — and the subsequent legalization of gay unions in a growing number of states has shown America what the Boston Phoenix referred to as “the utter, mundane normality” of same-sex marriage.

We all knew this moment was coming. The demographics can’t be denied. Almost everyone younger than 30, and most people younger than 40, supports same-sex marriage. The country is changing — in this case, in a very positive way — and Obama was risking being on the wrong side of history. Even the Republicans seem to get that — they’re running away from this issue as fast as they can.

So now it’s likely that L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will have his way and the Democratic Party platform will have a same-sex marriage component. Romney will be on the defensive on a key social issue – a huge change from the past. The Supreme Court will be more likely to uphold Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision on Prop. 8 (yes, the high court is political and changes with the norms of society, sometimes slowly, but the president’s statement will have a clear impact.)

So this is huge — not just because of the impact but because of what it says about the power of progressive movements. Now let’s make the president raise taxes on the rich.



Stuck in reverse


Some days, you wake up, check the news, and wonder just what the hell happened to this country. And I’m not talking about that nutty right-wing view that we’ve strayed from the original vision laid out for us by the authors of the Constitution or the Bible. I have just the opposite view: I’m wondering why those people seem so intent on dragging us back into the bad old days of bygone centuries, when white male property owners ran things as they saw fit.

A dangerously intolerant religious fundamentalist who longs for the Puritan days, Rick Santorum, essentially tied for first place in the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses. And he was part of an entire field of candidates that wants to revoke women’s reproductive and LGBT rights, deny that industrialization has affected the environment and should be addressed, dismantle already decimated government agencies, simply let the strong exploit the weak, and hope that Jesus comes back to save us from ourselves. Their strange reverence for the Constitution apparently stems from wanting to drag us back into the 18th century.

And don’t even get me started on President Barack Obama and his worthless Democratic Party, which is only a bit better than the truly heinous Republicans. At least Obama says some of the right things – like wanting to raise taxes on millionaires, reverse Bush-era attacks on civil liberties, respect states’ medical marijuana laws, and use diplomacy rather than only bellicosity with concerning countries like Iran – even though he acts in contradiction of those statements, over and over again.

It’s no better in the Golden State, where the yestercentury crowd now wants to abandon plans for a high-speed rail system that has already been awarded $3.5 billion in federal transportation funding and for which California voters authorized another $10 billion in bond funding. Why? Because a panel headed by an Orange County douchebag says the business plan isn’t detailed enough and the money for the entire $100 billion buildout isn’t nailed down yet. Well guess what? California also doesn’t have a plan for when its highway and airport systems get overwhelmed by population growth over the next 20 years. And criticizing the viability of high-speed rail – something most other advanced countries figured out how to build decades ago – isn’t exactly going to help secure private equity commitments. It’s a super fast train, folks – not some scary satanic iron horse from the future – people will pay to ride it.

But the situation must be better here in liberal San Francisco, right? Wrong! Mayor Ed Lee, the San Francisco Chronicle, and all their business community allies continue to relentlessly push their belief that the main job of government is to create private sector jobs, even though most economists say a politician’s ability to do so is limited at best.

Lee is pushing for all city legislation to be measured by whether it creates private sector jobs, as if protecting the environment, preserving public sector jobs, or safeguarding the health, welfare, and workers’ rights of citizens weren’t also under the purview of local government. A Chronicle editorial today called Lee the most “realistic city leader in memory. He’s all about creating jobs, repaving streets, sprucing up faded Market Street and fixing Muni’s flaws,” the same goals the paper was focused on a century ago.

But the main trust of the editorial was calling for Lee to also focus on homelessness. Not poverty, mind you, but homelessness. “A decrease in jobless numbers is important, but so are fewer shopping carts pushed along sidewalks and a drop in the numbers of mentally ill in doorways and on park benches,” they wrote. In other words, they just don’t want to see poor people on the streets, because that newspaper and its fiscally conservative editorial writers and base of readers certainly haven’t been calling for a fairer distribution of this city’s wealth, or even higher taxes on the rich that might fund more subsidized housing programs or mental health treatment. I get the feeling they’d be content to just allow shanty towns on our southern border where our low-wage workers can live, just like the Third World cities that they seem to want to emulate.

Ugh, so depressing, so ridiculous, so regressive. I think I’m going back to bed now.

Our Weekly Picks: November 23-29



Immortal Technique

“So now that it’s proven, that a soldier of revolution/ Or head of an empire, disguised in a constitution/ Can not escape the retribution or manipulation/ Of the self-appointed rulers of the planet’s corporations.” So says Afro-Peruvian rapper Immortal Technique on new mixtape The Martyr (Viper Records). Born Felipe Coronel, Tech seizes every opportunity to eviscerate American class warfare and excoriate the United States government’s complicity. Tech’s angry sermons get a little lost in the first half of Martyr because of distracting riffs taken from the Beatles, Aerosmith, and The Goonies soundtrack, though there is a clever reworking of ABBA’s “Money, Money, Money” in reference to this generation’s “Rich Man’s World (1%).” Pure, undiluted Tech shines through on the mixtape’s second half. Swill with care. (Kevin Lee)

With Chino XL, Da Circle, DJ GI Joe

8 p.m., $32.50


1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000


MOM’s Family Funk’tion

Before you indulge in caloric binges, first endear yourself to the soulful 1960s sound that has always sounded sweeter during the holidays: Motown. No one knows and appreciates this more than the masterminds behind MOM (Motown on Mondays) who bring originals, remixes, and “close relatives” of Motown label songs to venues and events across San Francisco, including Madrone Art Bar, Public Works, SF Funk Fest, even the Treasure Island Music Festival. The first MOM’s Family Funk’tion goes down the night before the turkey funeral that is Thanksgiving at Brick & Mortar, with DJs Gordo, Timo, Phleck, and Matteo spinning the tracks that get the tail-feathers shaking. The crew from MOM promises to provide “toasty soul and fresh funk jams.” (Emily Savage)

10 p.m., $5

Brick & Mortar Music Hall

1710 Mission, SF

(415) 800-8782



Before her set at Pitchfork Music Festival last summer, we were all given tubes of neon yellow warpaint so we could emulate tUnE-YarDs’ Merrill Garbus. Though we may have resembled her, it was no use. We would never be as badass as the woman on stage looping ukulele, smashing drums, and wailing something fierce. With help from additional saxophonists and drummers, the playful jams of Garbus’ quirky hit album w h o k i l l (4AD) burst forth into the calculated cacophony that is tUnE-YarDs. (Frances Capell)

With Pat Jordache

8 p.m., $23

Regency Ballroom

1300 Van Ness, SF

(415) 673-5716



“Sing-A-Long Sound of Music”

Chances are “Sing-A-Long Sound of Music,” the classic musical from 1964 with lyric subtitles so the whole theater can burst into song, is your mother’s dream come true — unless I am the only one who has watched their mom caper around the house, singing “My Favorite Things” (a possibility). It’s fortunate that “Sing-A-Long Sound of Music” should show the weekend after Thanksgiving. If mom’s in town, it’s your best bet. Additionally, the theater hands out goody bags, holds a pre-film concert featuring organist David Hegarty, as well as a costume contest. Your mom can dress up as Maria, of course, and you can dress as one of the Von Trapp children. Come on, do it for family. (James H. Miller)

7 p.m., $15

Castro Theater

429 Castro, SF

(415) 621-6120



Are there a lot of orphans in the DJ community? Why are they active the weekend after Thanksgiving, when touring bands are presumably in food comas? Thankfully, there’s still down and dirty shows like this to sweat the gravy out, featuring a big lineup of international and SF DJs including Nadastrom, the progenitors of the bastard toddler of Dutch house and reggaeton: moombahton. Put on by Soundpieces, Camp?, and Irie Cartel, the proceeds of the event will benefit DJs Bogl and Benjammin Taylor, who lost their home in the fire above the Haight and Fillmore Walgreens a couple months back.(Ryan Prendiville)

With Truth (NZ), Stylust Beats (CAN), Lorne B (CAN), Tuffist (SP), Dnae Beats and more

10 p.m., $15 advance

103 Harriet, SF

(415) 431-1200


“Velveteen Rabbit”

There is a lovely tradition in English children’s books that dresses issues around growing up with imagination and a gentle but firm hold on reality. Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows are two of them. Marjorie Williams’ 1922 The Velveteen Rabbit is another. ODC/Dance’s KT Nelson, a young mother at the time, choreographed it 24 years ago. Today, it’s as fresh and imaginative as ever, with wonderfully colorful costumes, Benjamin Britten’s splendid score and Geoff Hoyle’s intimate narration. The two-person high Nana has just a touch of Victorian strictness about cleaning up the nursery but her efficiency is more than held in check by the toys who have minds of their own. Opening performance is Grandparents’ (20 percent off) and photo day (Rita Felciano)

Through Dec. 11, times vary, $15–$45

Novellus Theater

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

700 Howard, SF

(415) 978-2787


“Great Dickens Christmas Fair”

Do not discount the Dickens Fair’s potential for holiday weekend shenanigans. Opportunities for hijinx abound, and not just because the fair’s 800 performers — from dirty-overcoated “guvnah!” drunks to crinoline-encased ladies who tea — are encouraged to interact in character with passers-by (mess with them gently! They love it!) The fair fills the cavernous Cow Palace, and houses a corsetry with live models coordinated by local cinchers Dark Garden, an adventurer’s salon where you can share your rollicking tales of shot glass exploration with fantastically mustached gents — and yes, you can booze your face off. Four bars, people! Including an absinthery in an alley, where you can mix chemically-induced hallucinations in with your environment-induced ones. (Caitlin Donohue)

Through Dec. 18, $22–$25

Cow Palace

2600 Geneva, SF



Boys Noize

Here’s a great way to shed those new extra turkey (or Tofurkey) pounds — waddle into the Mezzanine Saturday night in your most comfortable tight jeans and dance your ass off. Boys Noize throws down the kind of relentlessly squelchy music that might make pioneers of Detroit’s minimal techno scene wince. Noize, actually the moniker of German DJ Alex Ridha, has been busy as of late, pushing releases on his record label, BoysNoize Records and its digital offshoot BNR Trax. The label’s sounds range from acidy techno to sinister electro, with a sprinkle of wobbly dubstep and a dash of oddball, leftfield sounds — much like the label’s creator himself. (Lee)

10 p.m., $30


444 Jessie, SF

415) 625-8880

SUNDAY 11/27

Jeffrey Luck Lucas and Nebulous Orchestra

The Mission District’s Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist is no ordinary church — sure, it holds regular worship services, but it is also highly progressive (vocally supportive of LGBT rights, for example), boasts a colorful mural on one of its exterior walls, and is staunchly community-oriented, welcoming the occasional secular event into its historic (circa 1910, after being rebuilt post-1906 quake) building. Tonight’s performance features Mission troubadour Jeffrey Luck Lucas, heading up an “orchestra” (pipe organ, oboes, clarinets, strings, and more) comprised of other local musicians. You can bet that the acoustics in the church — itself known for a strong music program — will render the experience even more amen-worthy. (Cheryl Eddy)

With Gloaming Boys

6 p.m., $8–$20 (no one turned away for lack of funds)

Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist

1661 15th St., SF

MONDAY 11/28

“You Are All Captains”

A beguiling and beautiful meta-fiction, You All Are Captains grew out of Oliver Laxe’s experience teaching film workshops to local kids in Tangiers. Everyone plays themselves in this reflexive movie, though Laxe casts himself as the fool — a presumptuous European director guiding students to his own ends. The disguise allows him to realize sly but substantive reflections upon the ontology and ethics of filming. It’s fitting that You All Are Captains is making its local premier in a classroom: a U.C. Berkeley student group flying under the banner of “Picturing Neo-Imperialism” has invited Laxe to present his debut in person more than a year after it won the FIPRESCI critics’ award at Cannes. (Max Goldberg)

7 p.m., free

UC Berkeley

Dwinelle B-4, Berk.


Metal Mother

By some standards, Oakland’s Tara Tati came into music fairly late: she didn’t take up the piano seriously until she was 23. But you wouldn’t guess as much listening to her ethnic fusion project, Metal Mother. On the debut album Bonfire Diaries, the singer-songwriter builds up a bold and elemental sound. With its trudging percussion and distinctly dark temper, Metal Mother invokes ’80s goth rock, ethnic fusion bands like Dead Can Dance, and at times, world ambient soundscapes. And yet, at heart, Tati sounds like a pop artist in the same vein as Björk circa Homogenic, and that alone implies talent. (Miller)

With Horns of Happiness, Mortar and Pestle, Birdseye

8 p.m., $10

Cafe Du Nord

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861- 5061



Is the Locust a joke? With its speedy deliver, high vocals, beepy attack synth, and masked personas, I never could quite decide. And yet, who cares? The energy level was always high, the shows always masterful absurdist romps. Justin Pearson and Gabe Serbian from the screamy ’90s-born Three One G act have now formed Retox — like Locust 2.0. Masks now off, and sounds a bit filled in (but really, just a smidge — its new album clocks in at 13 minutes total), it’s shinier, thicker, less jokey. It’s helter-skelter rock’n’roll, minus the screeching buzz-saw, the painful intro to “Boredom is Counter-Revolutionary” notwithstanding. The band is matched well with frantic experimental Japanese noise-punk act Melt-Banana. Anticipate high-energy, non-medical spasms. (Savage)

With Melt-Banana, Peace Creep

9 p.m., $14

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455

Inside the occupation


Follow the Guardian’s complete Occupy SF coverage here.

Thursday morning, in gray seven o’clock fog, about 100 people asleep in front of the Federal Reserve building began to blink their eyes open. The bustling camp that had been there the day before — a small village of tents, tarps and easy-ups, shelves brimming with books, art supplies, and a display of hundreds of signs — was gone. The kitchen and all their food were missing, too.

“Wake up, everyone’s gotta wake up. Remember, sit/lie kicks in at seven,” urged a few protesters gently, winding their way through the maze of sleeping bags and blankets. No one was in the mood for legal trouble. All the people there, and a few hundred more who had gone home at two and three in the morning, had been a part of OccupySF’s first clash with the police. Someone pushed a cart full of fruit and granola bars. Breakfast. It was the camp’s first food donation since the incident, which had ended only four hours before. In the calm morning air, it was clear: the police could confiscate gear, but they could not stop the protest. It was only the beginning.

To say that OccupySF has grown in the past three weeks does not begin to describe it.

On Wednesday, Oct. 5, the camp was busy, clean, and what organizer Amy O proudly described as “jubilant.” Hundreds exchanged ideas, played music, and made signs and art. Two abundant snack tables providing free food to any and all were only the tip of the iceberg; the kitchen was piled so high that organizers had begun turning away food donations.

This scene contrasted starkly to the demonstration’s first night. Occupy SF started on Sept. 17, the same day as Occupy Wall Street, as one of the solidarity actions now reportedly numbering over 1,000. About 150 people gathered for the protest that first day and only a handful stayed the night. A week later, there was a devoted group of 10 campers. By Oct. 1, a good 40 people were camping and the kitchen and communications sections were set up. When the police showed up late Wednesday night, camp was 200 strong.



Spending time at the camp is addictive. Since my first night, I feel something constantly pulling me back. That night, Oct. 1, the camp was lively and half a block long. A big, hot pot of soup sat on the kitchen stove. Next door, the communications area was populated with organizers busily typing on laptops. The medical tent was next, kept pristine but as of yet untouched—its necessity, nonetheless, was evident after that week’s incident in New York when police pepper sprayed a group of young women.

At that point, the San Francisco Police Department had been courteous with OccupySF. They provided escorts on marches and didn’t bother the camp. Soon after arriving, Russell, a friendly 23-year-old from San Diego who has been camping since the first day, greeted me. He told me that there was a Gardening Committee meeting in a few minutes, and I planned to check it out. Next I saw Lesley Moore, 48, an Oakland resident with unrelenting energy and a knack for mediating misunderstandings at meetings.

She carried a clipboard and was compiling a massive list of food, supplies, and every imaginable resource the group might want. I learned that a flood of supporters, eager to donate, had requested info about what the camp needed. She planned to post the list on later that night.

Fifteen people climbed into a tent for the Gardening Committee meeting, keen to begin growing food for the camp. The donations were rolling in, and if there was a project we wanted to do, well, we probably could. We discussed what could grow in the winter and planting more in the spring. The mood was giddy with possibility but a bit uneasy— could we imagine we’d still be here then?

Many participants are determined to stay put. Jreds, a protester who had come from Chico, looked me in the eye and promised, “I’m staying as long as it takes.”

When asked his occupation, Jreds replied, “This is our occupation.”

After years of foreclosures and unemployment, no wonder so many people are motivated and available to work and sleep at a place like this. Wall Street’s unmitigated power has failed to trickle down into economic opportunities for the rest of us, and in this economy, “why don’t you just get a job” is starting to sound like “let them eat cake.”

As John Reimann, 65, a retired carpenter from Oakland, put it, “I’ve been waiting 10 years for something like this.” He helped start Occupy Oakland last week.

Protester Chris L, who says the community at the camp is the best part about it, also plans to stay indefinitely. Billy Gene Hobbs, a promoter from LA who can often be seen jumping and shouting to keep protest crowds pumped, came to visit San Francisco two weeks ago, found the camp, and hasn’t left. Since the police came through, almost 100 more people have joined.

The camp’s population is a source of ongoing discussion. Complaints of “too many hippies” usually die quickly when someone actually comes to camp, where the people they’re referring to are not the only ones and, moreover, are active and responsible organizers.

Others object that the protest is populated mostly with young people, especially white and male. There is active discussion on how to accommodate people with children as well as people with disabilities.

It seems everyone — including the many people of color, folks of all ages, and disabled people who have been organizers and participants in the movement — shares the view that oppressive institutions work hand in hand with the corporate corruption and power that the movement strives to end.



Camp life is dotted with calls for the People’s Mic, a tool developed at Occupy Wall Street, where using bullhorn or speakers is illegal. When someone yells “Mic check!” the crowd echoes in response. The person speaks his piece, sentence by sentence, as the crowd repeats. If a few people nearby can hear him, everyone can. For better or for worse, it tends not to amplify ideas people don’t have much taste for; at a recent meeting, when someone insisted that people who had been foreclosed on were greedy and foolish, the People’s Mic’s volume faded fast.

The People’s Mic requires no electricity, discourages rambling, a brilliant improvisation. But the central feature of Occupations throughout the country is the General Assembly. OccupySF has been holding General Assemblies every day at camp at 6 p.m. and on Saturdays at noon in Union Square. In the past week they have consistently boasted a couple hundred participants daily, but continue to practice consensus-based decision-making and participatory democracy. They’re long and often frustrating, but for many, as a standard rallying cry insists, “This is what democracy looks like!”

Many have stepped up at meetings to say that too many men, too many white people, or simply too many of the same voices are being heard. Solidarity efforts like Occupy the Hood, which declares the vital need that people of color make decisions and organize in and along with the occupations, have surfaced nationally.

On Oct. 5, after about 700 people marched on the Financial District with OccupySF, the General Assembly was particularly well attended. It was peppered with invitations and expressions of solidarity, conveyed by representatives of groups from throughout the Bay Area.

The week’s schedule slowly filled: Thursday’s anti-war march, the next day’s teach-in with activist Miguel Robles, a 7 am “Wake Up Action” with Unite-HERE Local 2 on Oct. 10, and plans to coordinate with the LGBT rights group Get Equal for a National Coming Out Day action the next day.

Carolyn DeRoo, a brightly charismatic BART station agent, reveled in the whoops and cheers when she announced that Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, the union that represents BART workers, had just voted to endorse Occupy SF. “I got an hour off work today so I could be in the march,” said DeRoo.

She expressed concern over the lack of coherent messaging, hoping it wouldn’t hurt the movement. “I was about to get on a plane to New York because of how badly I wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “I’m so glad it has started in SF.”



But on that fateful night, Oct. 5, meeting ideals were strained. High-tension and often angry debate filled the hours between being warned of police action and its onset, making consensus difficult. Some wanted to take down the camp, unable to risk arrest. There were campers from all walks of life present, including some homeless folks and travelers who would risk losing all or most of their possessions if the police confiscated them. Others didn’t want to see the camp’s growth stunted due to police intimidation.

Dierdre Anglin, 40, an Oakland resident who works in the nonprofit sector, was particularly calm amongst the chaos. “I think the energy got a little high,” she said, as protesters ran around taking down tents and preparing for the imminent police confrontation. “But we have decided to take the stance and to stay here.”

She added, “I personally feel that they are not going to do anything because it would make the police look quite bad. There’s a lot of support for us.” Anglin’s prediction about the cops’ actions, if not their public relations consequences, was mistaken. Police marched in around 1 am, and Department of Public Works employees began to fill their trucks with camp materials.

Billy Gene, ever energetic, raced to lie down on the street in front of trucks and was dragged away, yelling “Don’t be mean!” at police. Many sat and stood in front of trucks. Others could be seen shaking their heads at colleagues’ verbal attacks and murmuring, “that isn’t nonviolent.”

There was no property damage or physical violence on the part of the protesters, although one man was arrested for allegedly punching an officer in the face, which both sides cast as an aberration that didn’t reflect the tenor of the standoff.

At 3 am, protesters surveyed the damage. An organizer addressed the group: “We’re still here, and it’s time to rebuild.” The camp received a donation of blankets and sleeping bags at four o’clock that morning. At five, a small jam session and dance party broke out.

Police have since provided information on how to retrieve confiscated materials, and Police Chief Greg Suhr told us they’ve been actively trying to facilitate getting people their stuff back and allowing the occupation to continue (see accompanying article for more from Suhr).

In the days since, the mood has again turned jubilant. On Thursday afternoon, Oct. 6, about 120 people were gathered at the camp. Signs ranged from “student loan debt is slavery” to “grannies against war.” The next night, the mass of people had increased, and with it the group’s creativity. Protesters could be seen pedaling a stationary bike connected to a battery, powering laptops.

As the sun set Friday, 300 people at camp looked west. They erupted in cheers as a 500-person anti-war demonstration marched onto the site. Market between Main and Embarcadero was shut down as protesters rallied and then held General Assembly. A dozen police lined up near the sidewalk; one told me they were separating OccupySF from the march. The next second, the “march” erupted in chants of “We are the 99 percent,” the Occupy movement’s signature rallying cry. Attempts to divide were futile.

That the movement has no “one message” has in many ways worked to their advantage. It seems hundreds of thousands of people with varying issues and concerns can all agree that an elite class, embodied by Wall Street, has far too much power and money, and that the people must unite against the sorry state of this system. As I looked in the officers’ eyes, I wondered how long even their disconnect from the protesters will last. Most are, after all, the 99 percent too.

After the General Assembly held the street for an hour, police requested that they please move to the sidewalk. A consensus vote decided to oblige. An assembly member proclaimed, words booming with the roar of the People’s Mic, “Let us remember that we took this street, and we could have held it if we wanted to.”

This is the kind of power many haven’t felt in a long time. And I get the feeling that no one intends to relinquish it any time soon.

Eric Quezada. Presente.


By Roberto Lovato and Jason Ferreira

“I’d love to see a garden of flowers there,” whispered Eric Quezada a few days before his final breath on Earth. Looking like a Guatemalan Quixote, a lanky Eric pointed to the front of his Bernal Heights home with an index finger whittled down by a cancer he’d been fighting ferociously for seven years.

Days later, about 150 people brought pots packed with daisies, bougainvilleas, lavender, lots of red roses — and a bright bouquet of candles to bear witness to the life and friendship of a man who had planted his gentle way into our thoughts, our actions and—most especially—our hearts. To see the tearful and trembling faces of the diverse crowd — former Salvadoran revolutionaries, African American internationalists, soccer buddies made over a lifetime, immigrant rights advocates, Aztec dancers, Guatemalan family members, long time and recent Mission residents, queer leaders and the (Latino) Man Who Would Be Mayor — was heartbreaking. But at the same time we were all shining forth the beautiful Mission that Eric spent a lifetime steadfastly tending to with love.

A true revolutionary, our friend, our brother, who died Aug. 24 at 45, Eric Quezada, lived and died organizing his community, La Misión.

San Francisco and the wider community lost more than just a housing activist, a former candidate for supervisor, and an extraordinarily effective standard bearer of the left. We lost a husband-father-son-brother, a loyal friend and mentor, and a spiritual-political figure whose sources of beauty only became obvious after he gently touched you.

The son of Carlos and Clara Quezada, two Guatemalan immigrants known to many Mission residents as the dynamic duo that birthed two soccer stars (Eric and older brother Carlos) and owned CQ Bike shop on 24th Street, the very soft-spoken Eric lived to bridge the human and the political.

Traveling as a child between a San Francisco on the verge of the silicon revolution-based gentrification wave and wartime Guatemala, Eric developed early on a sense of the emotional and political circuits connecting movements and people on the insurgent continent of América. He grew up hearing stories of very involved and engaged family members like aunt, Ana Maria Quezada, who was arrested for protesting and organizing in Argentina during the 1978 World Cup, and his parents, who lived through the military coup that ousted democratically-elected Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz. “I remember hearing stories about Arbenz,” Eric once told us, adding, “—and how the U.S. sponsored the coup.”

Eric’s unique vision was also born out of the racism –and the resistance to it-back home in the Bay Area. Eric often talked of how his mother and he once witnessed two police officers harassing several young African American boys in the parking lot of a convenience store. Clara immediately took the officers to task for their racism, refusing to leave until they left the young boys alone. Eric never forgot his immigrant mother’s courage, her transcendent lesson: always stand alongside those who face injustice.

“Eric is a continuum,” fellow organizer and beloved compañera, Lorena Melgarejo, said. “His beliefs, his commitment didn’t stop in public. They are deep in how he thought about life. As a dad, as a friend, as a lover- that’s who he was,” said Lorena.

After Eric told her when they first met that he didn’t want to burden her with his cancer, Lorena responded: “You have no right to stop your life, you can’t close the door to life!” After that, they were never apart. Embracing life, one filled with no regrets, they fell in love immediately. A few years later, upon the arrival of their beautiful daughter Ixchel, Lorena reminded the larger-than-life, activist father that, “You can’t put your personal life on hold because there’ll always be an event, a meeting or some crisis in the world.”

As was obvious to anyone who really got to know him, one of Eric’s primary connectors to that wider, crisis-filled world of politics and culture was something seemingly apolitical: soccer.

“His politics were like his soccer playing,” explained Eric’s uncle, Edgar, who formed an important part of the Sagastume soccer dynasty in late 20th century San Francisco. “When Eric played, he was cool, but tenacious, hard working. He trained meticulously and never gave up. Eric was fond of saying how he “learned about the politics in different countries—Croatia, Greece, Mexico, El Salvador, England, all kinds—from playing in the San Francisco (soccer) leagues. You learned international relations and neighborhood politics at the same time.”

Such a schooling made Eric a ferocious ally of Central American revolutionary movements including the URNG in Guatemala, Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and the FMLN in El Salvador. These same commitments also served him well as a leader in the Venceremos Brigade to Cuba, where he met Fidel Castro, famously causing the Cuban leader to become nostalgic when asked about his memories of meeting Malcolm X in Harlem. Later, in 2002, he met with Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. They talked about everything from 21st century socialism to baseball. Beaming with the pride that only a lifelong—not fair weather—fan can display, Eric swore that Chávez was a huge fan of the San Francisco Giants.

The eclectic internationalism Eric envisioned and embodied was always two-way. He always strived towards reciprocity. Through Grassroots Global Justice and his work at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre (Brazil), Eric sought to bring to the international stage the struggles of working class San Franciscans: day laborers, the homeless, people with HIV, and undocumented immigrants.

Eric’s journey reflected that of his mentor and dear friend, the legendary Bill Sorro (who himself died of cancer four years ago this very week). Both Bill and Eric were revolutionaries largely unsatisfied with the traditional rhetoric and disarming anger of the left. “We don’t struggle because we hate, we do so because we love. Yes, we may hate oppression but in the end we are fighting for something, we fight out of a place of love.” Eric never wavered in this.

Eric was a jazz man. A saxophone player, he believed in the art of improvisation and experimentation. At a time when the left was floundering, Eric brought a musical spirit to the necessary work of strengthening dialogue, analysis, and education in the community. He co-founded the Center for Political Education (San Francisco’s equivalent of the legendary Brecht Forum), which has served since 1998 as a catalyst for more effective organizing and as a space to build bridges.

Eric understood the centrality of compassionate bridge-building to political success. And like one of his heroes, Monseñor Oscar Romero, he will in his death rise again in his people. For Oscar Grande, a young community organizer with PODER, a Mission-based Latino environmental and economic justice organization, “Eric was instrumental in bringing radical politics and a visionary spirit to Mission politics,” said Grande.

Eric’s involvement in city politics was less about winning elections and electoral power than about the process of teaching the community how to deal with the powers that be. “He was about ‘let’s re-write the laws and get rid of the bums at City Hall so we can get the things our community needs: housing, open space and recreation opportunities at the material level,'” Grande said. But, according to Grande, who describes Eric as an “older bro/mentor,” Eric’s greatest contribution was spiritual.

“There are fewer and fewer schools of politics, places where you learn how to do politics,” said Grande. “Most of those that are still around in the Latino community are about deal-making, cozying up to the politicians. Eric offered an alternative. The spiritual and the political were always there. Those other fools started from the top-down. Eric started from the bottom up.” This was a key principle of the Mission Anti-displacement Coalition that Eric was instrumental in establishing.

During the last five years of his life, Eric’s bottom-up, interconnecting philosophy was realized at Dolores Street Community Services, a housing and community advocacy organization. For Wendy Phillips, longtime friend of Eric and DSCS Interim Executive Director, Eric was instrumental in securing real housing and other resources for different groups and in connecting DSCS and the Mission to immigrant rights, LGBT rights, and other struggles of our time.

“I think helping create MAC was a huge accomplishment of his because it stopped the massive wave of gentrifying capital entering the Mission. He and MAC mobilized hundreds of people to resist and show the board of supervisors and Mayor that the Mission wasn’t going to go down without a fight.” Their efforts resulted in a community rezoning process that has prioritized the creation of affordable housing in the Mission.

Phillips also noted that, while at DSCS, Eric also spearheaded the creation of the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network, a network of thirteen organizations that provide free legal services for immigrants, and, of course, advocacy. As if describing his soccer-inspired cosmopolitanism, she said, “Before it became obvious to most, Eric sensed that things were getting really bad on immigration and decided to create SFILEN, which unites Latino organizations, African organizations, Arab organizations, and Asian organizations in an effort to defend immigrants citywide.”

Eric’s defense of — and offensives in — La Mision continues to reverberate in and beyond his beloved neighborhood. “My campaign is really reigniting and reasserting the movement that Eric Quezada helped to build and grow,” said John Avalos, a serious contender in the upcoming Mayor’s race. Avalos, who has dedicated his campaign to Eric and his family, believes that Eric best symbolizes the continuation of the “movement of the people to build power against the downtown forces of gentrification and create livable neighborhoods where people can live with dignity.”

Eric Quezada spent his last days accompanied by loved ones. Along with Lorena, Ixchel and his mother, Eric was tended to and accompanied at his bedside by soccer buddies, family members, his closest personal and political friends, all of whom joined him in taking in the soothing sounds of his favorite music: guitarist friends playing boleros and bossa nova, CD’s of Los Lobos and Jorge Drexler, whose song “Todo Se Transforma,” (nothing is lost, everything is transformed) gave solace to Eric until his final breath. From the vantage point of our present heartbreak, it gives the rest of us hope.

In the lingo of the Latino and Latin American musical and political movements that informed Eric’s thought and action and his life in La Mision, “El Compañero Eric Quezada murio conspirando,” Comrade Eric Quezada died conspiring.

While in English the word “conspire” means to “make secret plans jointly to commit an unlawful or harmful act,” in political Spanish the word has an almost opposite meaning. Conspirar is closer to the Latin roots that combine con, meaning “together,” and spirare, the word for “breathing” and the origin of the word, “spirit.”

In this way, Eric conspired for a better world. After his last breath, he has left us a great spirit. We love you, carnal. Compañero Eric Quezada PRESENTE! La Lucha Continua!!!

(Note: The Community Celebration of Eric Quezada will take place on Sunday, September 25, 2011, 2-5 p.m. at Horace Mann Middle School, 3351 23rd Street

Those wishing to help Eric’s family can donate to the MAF — Ixchel Quezada Education Fund,





This mid-Market foodie haven proves that industrial-chic decor, organic ingredients, and a kick-ass oyster bar are a timeless combo.

1658 Market, SF. (415) 552-2522,


Gold Dust Lounge

World-class jazz, absurdly low happy hour prices, and a storied history have kept the Gold Dust a Union Square mainstay since 1933.

247 Powell, SF. (415) 397-1695


Community Music Center

With campuses in the Richmond and Mission districts, the Community Music Center has been making music education accessible to all since 1921.

544 Capp, SF. (415) 647-6015,


Intersection for the Arts

The Bay Area’s original alternative arts venue, Intersection for the Arts, has been going against the grain since 1965.

446 Valencia, SF. (415) 626-2787,


City Lights Bookstore: Best Classic Retail Shop

City Lights Bookstore

Responsible for legitimizing the paperback and making San Francisco the center of the literary universe, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s North Beach shop remains fiercely independent.

261 Columbus, SF. (415) 362-8193,


Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco’s postcard perfect landmark, only northern exit, and beacon for destination suicides, this iconic suspension bridge has been rockin’ that orange vermillion hue since 1937.

Hwys. 101 and 1, SF.


Coit Tower

Coit Tower, the art deco phallic symbol on Telegraph Hill, has been proudly crowning San Francisco since 1933.

1 Telegraph Hill, SF. (415) 362-0808


San Francisco City Guides

This all-volunteer army of local history buffs doles out free walking tours that delve deep into the heart of San Francisco’s past.

100 Larkin, SF. (415) 557-4266,


Armistead Maupin

Armistead “Teddy Bear” Maupin’s iconic Tales of the City newspaper series has been published in novel form, turned into a television series, and translated into 10 languages.


Richard Diebenkorn

The driving force behind the West Coast’s flirtation with figurative painting by way of abstract impressionism, Diebenkorn found inspiration in his Berkeley surroundings.


Carlos Santana

Revered by guitar buffs, fusion enthusiasts, and stoners everywhere, Santana began his career during the peak of the ’60s rock era and produced the last No. 1 single of the 20th century (“Smooth”).


Wavy Gravy

With his tie-dyed armor, clown nose, and perpetual force field of bubbles, Wavy Gravy — living ice cream flavor, Woodstock MC, and ’60s impresario — now flies his activist freak flag over Camp Winnarainbow.


Harvey Milk

As the first openly gay man elected to public office, Milk helped usher in a new politics — smashing glass ceilings for minority candidates everywhere, igniting the local LGBT rights movement, and establishing San Francisco as a town without closet doors.


“I Left My Heart in San Francisco”

Whether it’s Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra crooning about the fog that chills the air and the little cable cars climbing halfway to the stars, there’s nary a dry eye when this tune climaxes.



In this 1958 gumshoe thriller, Hitchcock introduced the world to San Francisco the character, complete with impossibly steep hills, panoramic views, and gorgeous architecture.

Classics — Editors Picks


Alternative theater is a precarious vocation at best, even in an alternative kind of town. Venues come and go, companies founder and fold, everyone wants to move to New York, and hardly anyone breaks even. Despite the tough climate, one stalwart survivor of the downtown downturn continues to expand — and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The EXIT Theatre has been a haven for experimental small productions since its 1983 inaugural performance in the lobby of a nearby residential hotel, and has supported the advancing artistic endeavors of a host of Bay Area faves including mugwumpin, RIPE, Cutting Ball, Art Street Theatre, Crowded Fire, Banana Bag and Bodice, foolsFURY, stealth DIVA Sean Owens, and master illusionist Christian Cagigal. Founder and host of the annual San Francisco Fringe Festival, the EXIT attracts performers and audiences from around the world. Additional festivals such as the DIVAfest, Labor Fest, and the fondly remembered Absurdity Theatre Festival keep them coming back for more.

EXIT Theatre, 156 Eddy, SF. (415) 673-3847,


In a mega-festival concert world where a bottle of water can cost more than $5, we’re lucky to have Rock Medicine, a nonprofit emergency response service celebrating its 35th anniversary that hands out earplugs, patches up cuts and scrapes, and gets over-excited and dehydrated kids back to the show — all for free. Made up of volunteer paramedics, doctors, and other helpful, rockin’ citizens, the Rock Medicine program is run by the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, part of the free love legacy of the 1960s. As the concerts of the famous era got bigger and more and more kids flocked to the Bay Area, concert mogul Bill Graham contacted clinic head Skip Gaye, and Rock Medicine was born. Now the organization tries to be present at every humongous musical shindig that takes place, with representatives usually located at a table bearing a giant jug of Gatorade. Rest assured, you’ll never surf the mosh pit without some helpful medical back-up.


Laughing Sal at Musée Mécanique:
Best Place to Score Crank

In the style of London’s Madame Tussauds or the Musée de la Magie of Paris, San Francisco’s own Musée Mécanique is dedicated to exhibiting the beauty of childhood esoterica. Dan Zelinsky’s private collection of hand-cranked musical instruments, antique arcade machines, and automated guignols — many that date from the turn of the century — give visitors a wondrous pre-digital toy experience. Among the many objets d’art, highlights include the automated Drinking Man, who imbibes spirits at the drop of a quarter only to have the liquid recirculate to the cup through his arm; Naughty Marietta, who is seen through the hand-cranked Cail-O-Scope in various states of undress; Laffing Sal, one of the most famous and frightening exhibits purely because of her laugh, and the Orchestrion, a mechanical orchestra that plays a hideously enchanting racket. While some may find these strange machines and life-like dolls less entertaining than disturbing, the Tim Burton weirdo in us adores them.

Pier 45, shed A, Fisherman’s Wharf, SF. (415) 346-2000,


Most rehab centers are cushy, designed for spoiled brats whose parents, managers, or partners are so sick of desperate phone calls and missing jewelry they’ll pay any price for a month of addict-free peace. But what addicts really need is a place that takes no shit and offers real results, providing a path to self-sustenance and a community dedicated to change. That’s what the Delancey Street Foundation, a privately-funded rehab center, has been supplying to San Francisco’s hard life crowd for more than three decades. Unlike many other such facilities where the failure rate is as hopeless as Britney Spears’ attempt to raise children, Delancey Street boasts a 98 percent success rate. And it’s free. All you have to do is show up and prove your dedication to self-improvement. If you pass the test, you’re given a room and an apprenticeship at one of the organization’s 12 former-addict-run enterprises. Selling Christmas trees, frothing lattes, and moving furniture may not be a catered month by the ocean, but it works.

600 Embarcadero, SF. (415) 957-9800,


Where can you see a hip-hop dance troupe, a moving human sculpture in Indian classical style, and a Scottish highland romp dedicated to the Celtic god of fire, all in the same short weekend? The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival was founded in 1978, the first city-funded multicultural dance event in the country. Since then it’s played host to some 14,000 artists performing in more than 100 genres at various locales. This year the festival celebrated its 30th anniversary with flair, expanding its season to four weekends and adding new programming, like film screenings and dance classes. A $100,000 grant enabled festival directors to fly artists in from overseas for the first time. Sadly, Ethnic Dance Fest comes but once a year, but the auditions held in January at the Palace of Fine Arts are open to the public — audience members can expect a standing-room-only, casual atmosphere, and a different act every 10 minutes.

(415) 474-3914,


There is much to celebrate about the ever-static interior of the beloved House of Shields as it begins its second century of operation. The yellowing Charles McCabe clipping on the wall tells no lies when it proclaims, “Time Stands Still at the House of Shields.” But our favorite relic is not the ruggedly handsome Victorian back bar, the ornate wood paneling, or even the long closed tunnel connecting the old basement speakeasy to the Palace Hotel across the street. And although we enjoy the quirky music programming at this downtown live venue (everything from live blues standards to “twee pop punk”), there’s something more. Discreetly tucked away in the men’s room is the largest single-user urinal we’ve ever seen. No chance of missing the mark with this one. Laid on its back, the mammoth porcelain plumbing fixture could double as a short bathtub. They just don’t make ’em like they used to.

39 New Montgomery, SF. (415) 392-7732,


Jeff Fairclough of Mark Harrington Glass:
Best Crystal Cover-up

So you’re house-sitting at a friend’s swank Noe Valley Victorian, and you decide it couldn’t do any harm to have a few people over and crack a few beers. Before you know it, a misfired attempt to crowd-surf off the billiard table knocks a priceless Wedgwood bowl on the floor, dashing it to pieces. You may not be as screwed as you think. Mark Harrington Glass in the Mission has been repairing glass, crystal, and china by hand since 1932. Co-owner Linda Gotelli says they stay afloat because they’ve cultivated a “niche” in glasswork: they do everything by hand. This is safer for the glass and allows them to take on odd-sized objects, like a five-foot tall antique Italian olive oil jar. Gotelli says she expects her customers to be honest, but admits that the company offers “invisible repairs” capable of fooling all but the most knowledgeable antiquers.

286 Sanchez, SF. (415) 931-6809,


The Swedes get to take credit for Ikea and H&M; Legos and modern furniture go to the Danish; the Norwegian cruise around glorious fjords. Finns export Finlandia, while the Icelandic claim Björk and ram scrota soup as their own. If these many accomplishments don’t make Bay-transplanted natives of those consonant-heavy countries lucky enough, they also get a shared cabin in Tahoe (replete with ski boats), a cabin in Clear Lake, and a loft in the city that hosts fabulous parties. All this comes with membership in the Young Scandinavians Club, a 58-year-old organization that encourages pride in Nordic heritage and tons of drinking and wakeboarding with tall, tan, white-toothed, blonde people. So dig into your family genealogy and find old Swedish grandpa Gustaf, or marry Henrik, that green-card-seeking Norwegian, to join. People who have lived in a Scandinavian country for more than six months are also invited into the club. Just say ja.

(415) 346-7450,


The Hotel Utah Saloon looks like it was hastily assembled out of whatever was lying around — a giant stuffed deer thrusts its head and shoulders through the wall near the door, while the second floor gallery seems to float on the stern of a small wooden boat. You get the feeling that if you came back the next day you might find it completely rearranged, or vanished altogether. This isn’t surprising in a place as old as the Utah, which celebrates its 100th birthday this year. In the early evening, the bar fills with regulars trading anecdotes with tattooed, comely, competence-oozing barmaidens. Around 9 p.m., the music starts and a younger set drifts in. Over the years, the unpretentious Utah has hosted Robin Williams, musical outfit Cake, and countless local bands — yet the door will rarely set you back more than $8. The food runs a tad pricey, but the fried cheese sandwich (“fried cheese” sandwich or “fried” cheese sandwich? Our lips are sealed) is worth it and ample enough for two.

500 Fourth St., SF. (415) 546-6300,


A daytrip to Port Costa is not usually on anyone’s must-do list, unless you ride a Harley, in which case you’re probably already there. This Best of the Bay pick aims to change that. Tucked along the lazy meander of the Carquinez Strait, Port Costa (pop. 250) is exactly the sort of place time forgets. What isn’t forgotten in Port Costa is the art of having a good time — most evident when bellied up to the bar at the Warehouse Café. Filled to bursting with the fanciful detritus of saloon decor such as leather booths, elegantly fringed lampshades, a campy tribute altar to Marilyn Monroe, 1980s-era video games, and a 9-foot tall polar bear in a glass case, the 100+ year-old former grain warehouse also features live music and barbeque on summer Sundays and an everyday list of more than 400 international beers, which you get to pick out of an enormous walk-in cooler on your own — if you ask nicely first.

Warehouse Café, 5 Canyon Lake, Port Costa. (510) 787-1827


Forget that shady dude in the Haight: the best people to score shrooms with are the members of the Mycological Society of San Francisco, a nonprofit formed in 1950 to promote an exchange of information about gathering and eating mushrooms. (Sorry, but we’re not talking about the mushrooms that go with psychedelic felt posters.) The society welcomes any newcomers interested in moving past the white button salad staple to learn about where to gather mushrooms and how to detect poisonous specimens. Lectures and meetings held by professional mycologists are held monthly, and group gathering expeditions provide a chance to bond in the outdoors with your fellow enoki enthusiasts. An adjunct culinary society hosts potluck dinners every month, with every dish, from the chanterelle salad to the candy cap mushroom cookies (trust us, they’re delish) featuring the fungi among us. And don’t forget the biannual fungus fairs, which help the public learn more-l (groan) about mushrooming and mycology.


Skateboarding may have been born on the streets of Los Angeles, but the sport and/or lifestyle would’ve been destined to a future of irrelevance — remember Rollerbladers? — had it not been hijacked more than 25 years ago by the San Franciscan gangstas who run Thrasher Magazine. The founders of the lo-fi zine — now a globally distributed glossy — dedicated themselves to defining what it meant to be a skateboarder as opposed to a surfer bro who occasionally rode around on a piece of wood. The current editorial team, headed by local legend Jake Phelps, carries on that tradition today, infusing a distinct SF feel into modern global skate culture. Thanks to Thrasher‘s coverage of underground music, fashion, and events, skateboarding has grown into a full-fledged subculture with its own set of rules, a truly bizarre crew of nonconformist leaders, and an indisputable spot at the top of the pop culture food chain.


For 30 years the Inner Sunset’s Milano Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant has been helping folks get their piece of the pie. It’s a real-deal mom-and-pop pizza joint where an old TV flickers above the clinking of plates and glasses and the rumbling of the streetcar. The staff buzzes about while friends sit at tables eating heartily, drinking $5 pitchers of IPA, and conversing amiably. Photos line the walls — and this is what really makes Milano special: three decades’ worth of San Francisco memories. Old-time regulars hold up Milano T-shirts, athletes show off regional title trophies, and would-be actors and actresses stare with dramatic intent. There are sepia-toned shots of the owners’ family and a loving memorial to Jack and Dolores, namesakes of the Jack and Dolores Special (Canadian bacon, garlic, onions, feta, and pesto). Many autographed pics of local music acts whose members have worked at Milano are also displayed, including one of DJ Shadow, taken at Milano by Annie Leibovitz for Rolling Stone. But even if you never become quite that famous, at least there’s a hot slice waiting for you.

1390 Ninth Ave., SF. (415) 665-3773


No other Bay Area film production house possesses the charm, history, and long-term awesomeness of Francis Ford Coppola’s 39-year-old art collective turned premier cinematic dream factory, American Zoetrope. The legendary company has put out some of the world’s most acclaimed titles (the Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, Lost in Translation), nurtures local up-and-coming directors and screenwriters, and represents the apex of the classy side of San Francisco’s movie industry. Coppola’s reach doesn’t stop with film, of course. His empire has grown to include an award-winning literary magazine, a distinguished winery, and a restaurant and bar called Café Zoetrope in the fabulously triangular and historic Sentinel Building, American Zoetrope’s operational home base (and also where the Kingston Trio recorded many of their hits, the Caesar salad was reportedly invented, and the Coppola family has its pied-à-terre). Coppola’s team congregates at the bar after work to drink with other esteemed locals like Lawrence Ferlinghetti or chat with legendary tale-spinning bartender Peter.


Café Du Nord turned 100 this year, but the roster of live performers that enlivens this well-appointed, intimate, literally underground music venue remains anything but musty. Forward-thinking (if history-respecting) music makers Rykarda Parasol, Nada Surf, and Raised by Robots joined spunky old-schoolers like Rickie Lee Jones, Was (Not Was), and the Lady Tigra on the schedule this year, and the sometimes raucous Porch Light storytelling series, organized by writers Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte, keeps San Francisco’s literary scene on its toes. Located beneath the Swedish American Hall, Du Nord features several holdovers from its speakeasy days, including trapdoors and an elaborate system of tunnels, and the ghosts of illicit-grog-swilling artists, working girls, and con men are said to sometimes join in the modern-day revelry. Yet updates abound: owner Guy Carson is building a daytime café and gallery adjacent to the music hall; featuring musicians’ art in exhibits that tie in with shows, it’s slated to open in mid-September.

2170 Market, SF. (415) 861-5016,


Need staples? Forget Staples — or any of those other impersonal office supply Borgs from Planet Big Box. For every kind, shape, size, and width of pencil, pen, notebook, or eraser you need, we have Patrick and Company, a 135-year-old purveyor of business necessities that’s been providing all manner of indispensable items since San Francisco was a set of tin shacks in the sand dunes (well, at least the outer reaches of it). Long before the Great Quake hit, the Patrick family was keeping lowly company clerks up to their visors in ticker tape and hand-cranked calculators. But the five Bay Area Patrick’s locations don’t limit themselves to stocking the manila-tinged totems of daily drudgery — they also feature a wide variety of colorful and collectible stickers and other yummy must-wants that add a splash of color to your beige cubicle. Plus: office furnishings! OK, we know, office supplies may not be the most exciting things in the world (to some), but at Patrick and Company they at least come with a history.

Various locations.