Ask not what SF can do for you …

Pub date January 20, 2009


It’s been a depressing decade for progressives. In fact, it seems our inability to fight the Bush administration and its misadventures in Iraq and elsewhere left us with the symptoms of a kind of collective Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: disillusioned, disappointed, and tired. That is, until Barack Obama’s election woke us up with a little thing called Hope™.

Now that we have all this energy, though, where should we direct it? How, on an individual level, can we support the Obama administration in making real change? Michelle Obama started to answer this question when she announced the Call to Service, asking Americans to devote time to neighborhood organizations and causes on Jan. 19 and beyond, via

We’d like to add to the discussion by highlighting some local groups, causes, and nonprofits who could use year-round help.


Perhaps the best way to use your renewed political energy is putting it toward a cause you care about. For example, if you’re worried about how this year’s massive budget deficit might devastate healthcare in San Francisco, you might want to get involved with Coalition to Save Public Health (415-848-3611 ext. 3628, Also check out nonprofits and grassroots groups working towards marriage equality, energy reform, or whatever pet issue you’re passionate about.


An even more direct way to be involved in local government is to volunteer inside City Hall, particularly with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (1 Carlton B. Goodlett, SF. 415-554-5184, Every supervisor has two aides, who in turn rely on donated labor to maintain the busy officials’ schedules and duties. To get involved, visit the Web site and fill out an application specifying your skills, availability, and preferred supervisors. Keep in mind four current supervisors once worked as staff or interns in these same offices, so this is a great way to get into politics while helping our government run more efficiently. It’s win-win.


Though SF might seem like a bicycle-friendly city, we’ve still got a lot of work to do, from promoting the bike as primary transportation to representing bicycle interests in local government and city planning. If you’re a fellow velo-fanatic, give your time to the Bicycle Coalition (995 Market, SF. 415-431-BIKE, Check the Web site to volunteer in the office, at Volunteer Nights, with bike valet parking, or with outreach.


It’s easy to forget how important beautiful, open spaces are to a community until you don’t have them. But just imagine how different the Mission would be without Dolores Park, or the Lower Haight without Duboce. Support the maintenance, beautification, and continued improvement of these and other green spaces by volunteering with the Neighborhood Parks Council (451 Hayes, F. 415-621-3260, The Council welcomes everything from one-time feedback or participation in a scheduled work day to longer-term internships for youth 16-23 years old, and everything in between.


One of our favorite recent-ish developments on the Interwebs is the proliferation of Web sites connecting philanthropic types to specific causes — especially two SF-based organizations who work specifically with volunteers. Check out Chinatown-based for a list of specific opportunities and a chance to upload your volunteer résumé — great for medium- to long-term volunteering — or former Best of the Bay winner One Brick (, which hosts an event calendar of upcoming volunteer events — great for one-time, short-term, and short-notice involvement.

Most important, we’d like to point out that community service, though incredibly important, is only one way to address our society’s ills. "It can be a Band-Aid approach to systemic problems," said Sup. Chris Daly. What we really need, he said, is "to demand more from elected leaders, for people to put themselves forward and take control of political institutions. There’s no greater service than keeping elected leaders accountable to the people they serve."

True dat.