Jane Martin

A new feminism for San Francisco


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest opinion: Free Muni for all youth


On Tuesday, April 3, the Municipal Transportation Agency board faces a decision between providing free Muni passes for all San Francisco youth or providing free passes to only low-income youth. ComMunity advocates and Sup. David Campos have identified the funding. We are calling on the MTA board to take this opportunity to invest in a new generation of transit riders by establishing free Muni for ALL youth.

The movement to win free Muni passes for youth originated from cuts of between 40 percent and 100 percent to yellow school busses over the next two years.  As a society, we have responsibility to make sure youth can access free public education — and as a city we have a responsibility to get kids to school even as state funding is eliminated.

Right now 60 percent of all trips in San Francisco are taken by car, and for years we have not seen a huge change in transit mode share. If San Francisco wants to meet our climate objectives, we need to take steps now to encourage young people to get out of their cars.  In New York City, a program of free transit passes for youth has created generations of loyal transit riders. In order to truly become a transit-first city, we need to do the same here.

While the struggle to afford bus fare is obviously a larger challenge for very low-income families, due to the high cost of living in the city, there are many working-class and middle-income families who also struggle with the costs of transit for their children. The costs of housing, food, healthcare, and transit add up quickly for San Francisco families and have all contributed to a crisis of family flight out of San Francisco.

San Francisco currently has the smallest child population of any major U.S. city. While this is complex problem, requiring a huge investment in affordable housing and a strategy to bring more working-class jobs to the city, by establishing free Muni for all youth the city can take a very concrete step forward towards making the city more family friendly. Thousands of families would benefit from an extremely modest investment of $8.7 million a year.

The low-income youth and parents who have been at the forefront of this movement advocating for the free youth passes are nervous about their own ability to access a low-income-only pass because of the bureaucratic challenges they experience trying to apply to other government programs. The Muni Lifeline pass for low-income adults is very hard to access, requiring applicants to wait for hours during a weekday at the Human Service Agency headquarters.

The Federal Free School Lunch Program requires parents to provide documentation of income level. Using a means test would be difficult and costly to administer and could exclude some low-income young people — especially those from undocumented families and the children of parents who work in the informal economy. San Francisco should not create paperwork barriers that will prevent our young people from getting to school.

The documentation required now to get youth clipper cards prevents many families from getting them. Immigrant families who do not have copies of all their birth certificates are prevented from getting youth passes when they encounter difficulties getting birth records from their native countries.

With all of those factors, it just makes sense to make Muni free for all youth.

Jane Martin is an organizer with People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER).

The future of a giant landlord


OPINION The business model of CitiApartments is in crisis. The local landlord giant faces an avalanche of foreclosures, with almost 20 percent of its units being returned to lenders and dozens more properties in danger. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal blamed the credit market for the losses — but tenants standing up for their rights were a factor, too.

San Francisco renters have complained for years about the company’s practice of buying rent-controlled buildings then driving out tenants in order to re-rent their units at higher rates. In the past few years, tenant organizing has brought attention to CitiApartments’ aggressive tactics and put a kink in the company’s plans.

For years, CitiApartments has been accused of harassing tenants, with tactics ranging from illegal buyout offers to physical intimidation to intrusive surveillance. Tenants report living for months without walls and elevators, struggling with leaks and health hazards, with CitiApartments refusing to make repairs. Such problems are no accident: CitiApartments success depends on getting long-term tenants to move out.

Yet tenants are not sitting idly by. A campaign of tenants and advocates, CitiStop, has been educating new CitiApartments tenants about their rights. Over time, tenants have become less afraid and increasingly in touch with tenant advocates and lawyers. Tenants have pursued hefty private lawsuits and are also working with City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who is suing the company for numerous violations.

This campaign has had real results. Tenants are refusing to let CitiApartments force them out. And the organizing effort has helped defend rent control for all San Francisco tenants — CitiApartments owns such a large share of the apartment rental market that it is able to artificially raise rents citywide.

Normally foreclosures are bad news for tenants who have to deal with large banks unfamiliar with San Francisco tenant law. But in the case of CitiApartments, even bank ownership is an improvement. However, UBS, CitiApartments’ lender, has already made its first serious blunder by allowing CitiApartments to continue managing the buildings the bank now owns. UBS should seriously reconsider this decision, given CitiApartments’ track record.

The long-term fate of the buildings is an open question. An ideal solution would be for the city or a nonprofit to take over ownership of the buildings with the goal of providing permanent, affordable housing.

Though CitiApartments’ distressed mortgages are ideal candidates for federal aid, this option must be pursued carefully. It would not be helpful for the government to invest in these buildings based on CitiApartments’ claims that the company can recoup the money using the same flawed model that caused the problems in the first place. But as long as we avoid that trap, we have a great opportunity to meet the city’s pressing need for affordable rental housing.

CitiApartments’ business model has not been working for tenants for a long time, and now it is not working for CitiApartments. It is time to abandon speculative rental schemes and start prioritizing fair, equitable housing. *

Jane Martin is vice chair of SF Pride At Work and an organizer with the CitiStop Campaign.