Yael Chanoff

Still soaring



“I was 18 years old the first time they locked me up in a psych ward.”

So begins “The Bipolar World,” an article published in the Bay Guardian‘s literature section 10 years ago, on September 18, 2002. The writer, Sascha Altman DuBrul, tells the story of his life. He’d been arrested walking on New York subway tracks after the year he first experienced what would later be diagnosed as bipolar disorder.

In the article, DuBrul wrote that the ideas shooting through his head were like a pinball game and he was convinced the radio was talking to him and that the CIA was recording his thoughts via secret neurotransmitters under his skin. But when he was diagnosed and told that he would need to take daily pills for the rest of his life, he wrote“I wasn’t convinced, to say the least, that gulping down a handful of pills every day would make me sane.”

“I think it’s really about time we start carving some more of the middle ground with stories from outside the mainstream and creating a new language for ourselves that reflects all the complexity and brilliance that we hold inside,” the article concludes.

DuBrul was right—the time was ripe.

“Within a couple of days of it being out on the street, I got about 40 emails from strangers,” DuBrul told me. “And it wasn’t just one or two line emails that were,’ hey, great article.’ It was people pouring out their stories to me.”

One of those people was Oakland artist Jacks McNamara, and the two instantly connected.

“You know the myth of Icarus, right? It’s the boy who flies too close to the sun. It’s from Greek mythology. So we were two people who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and we were like, instead of seeing ourselves as diseased or disordered, we see ourselves as having dangerous gifts, like having wings,” DuBrul said. “And so, we put up a website that said, ‘The Icarus Project, navigating the space between brilliance and madness.'”

The Icarus Project began as a website, whose forums quickly filled with discussions as more people shared their stories and connected. Today, The Icarus Project has published three books, including a guide to starting support groups, dozens of which have sprung up around the country. More than 14,000 people have registered on the website.

The Bay Area-born radical mental health project celebrates its 10 year anniversary this year. An art show, concerts, spoken word, film screening, and skill share will take place this coming week. “Icaristas” will do what they do best: share their stories in language that feels right, building connections and community.

“When Sascha and I started it, we’d never seen anything written about bipolar that we could relate to. Everything was sterile and clinical and very mainstream, and didn’t really situate these sort of struggles within a larger political context,” McNamara recalls.

Now, there are Icarus Project books translated into six languages, and a huge collection of writing and art in what one zine editor, Jonah Bossewitch, calls the Icarus “sphere of influence and inspiration.”

“Our lives are made of fleeting moments, and to create documentation — whether in print or online or on canvas — is to make a fleeting moment into something to be shared. The Icarus Project and others who share similar ideas of liberation need to live our lives of beautiful fleeting moments, but also need to create documentation so that we can be heard,” said Laura-Marie Taylor, creator of Functionally Ill, an Icarus-inspired mental health zine now in its 13th edition.

We’re in competition with the loud voices of psychiatry, advertising, governments, and other forces that want to tell us who we are. We need to broadcast our stories far and wide in order to counteract the forces that want to tell us who we are,” Taylor said.

That was also the view of Ken Paul Rosenthal, whose film, Crooked Beauty, will be screened at the 10-year anniversary celebration.

“She who does not write is written upon,” Rosenthal told me. “Society’s narratives will overwrite your authentic self.”

“I think more than anything, Icarus is about hearing stories,” he said.

And that story telling is intimately connected to the building of community and networks.

Rosenthal first got acquainted with Icarus when he read a line Mcnamara had written: “The world seemed to hit me so much harder and fill me so much fuller than anyone else I knew. Slanted sunlight could make me dizzy with its beauty and witnessing unkindness filled me with physical pain.”

“We really wanted to create materials that were beautiful and inspiring and that people actually wanted to read,” said McNamara. “And that they could relate to if they came from more of a subcultural perspective or just had suspicions about the mental health industry and the ways that it diagnoses people and treats them. “

Icarus concepts also spread through means other than their support groups and publications.

“A lot of long-term Icarus members have gone on to become social workers, or to become therapists, or in various ways to have careers that are based in mental health and are bringing alternative perspectives,” McNamara said.

One such Icarista is Kathy Rose. She met McNamara at a screening of Crooked Beauty in 2010, and began participating in support groups and volunteering with Icarus. A teacher at Five Keys Charter School, which operates in San Francisco county jails, Rose said that the understanding and language of mental health she got from Icarus have been useful in her classroom.

“I see how many of my students are struggling with their own mental health, how they are treated, and how so much is related to the trauma they’ve experienced in their lives and lack of support,” said Rose. She said that she has used Icarus materials in the classroom and screened Crooked Beauty.

Those materials explore questions of over-medication and independence and autonomy in decision-making and question the role of institutions like psychiatric hospitals and prisons.

“Institutionalization in prisons and mental hospitals isn’t helping anyone and isn’t getting us anywhere,” Rose said.

The Icarus Project isn’t the first effort to resist the mental health establishment. The Mental Patients Liberation Front, and the larger Psychiatric Survivors movement grew out of civil rights efforts of the 1960s and 70s, as patients demanded an end to coerced and forced psychiatric interventions like electroshock. Today, Mind Freedom International and other groups continue that pressure; most recently, hundreds protested an American Psychiatric Associations meeting discussing new definitions for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition on May 5.

The Icarus Project is also intimately connected to activist movements, but plays a unique role.

“There’s support networks that get started in activist communities, but there’s a lot of ways that people have a really hard time being supportive of each other if they haven’t done the work themselves to be able to be supportive of themselves,” said DuBrul. “What happens in activist communities is that people burn out, which is kind of the ultimate Icarus project. I mean, that’s the Icarus myth.”

He called the Occupy movement, with its distinctive tent cities packed with people, many of whom were hurting financially and emotionally, a “test case” for implementing Icarus concepts.

In fact, Occupy has led to yet another Icarus-inspired book, Mindful Occupation, due to be released this year. The book “aims to address the need for attention to mental health, healing, and emotional first aid within Occupy and other movement groups.”

Mental health professionals, along with other non-professionals who were a part of Occupy Wall Street, formed the Support working group to intervene when people seemed to be in crisis and patrol the park at night. But Jonah Bossewitch, a member of the working group and one of the editors of Mindful Occupation, said that the broad critique of society and authority present in most of Occupy didn’t always extend to Support.

“Nobody was going to go to the cops after people got into a fight. Yet people were getting forced treatment and psych evaluations, ” Bossewitch said. “Folks are ready to critique the outside world — capitalism, banks — but it’s way harder to look in at their own profession.”

For DuBrul, the emotional tensions that played out at Occupy, as well as the trauma of police beatings, jail, and exposure to chemicals, proved the need to continue and grow The Icarus Project.

“If you know how you are when you’re well, it’s much easier to get back there,” said DuBrul said. “I’m telling you, a movement full of people, an Occupy movement full of people that have a sense of how they are when they’re well, then it’s much easier to work towards what it is that you want. If you’re operating from a place where you’re having a really hard time, it’s much harder to get to where you’re going.”

So where is Icarus going? They hope to formalize the mentorship and education that has already happened, borrowing in some ways from the “sponsorship” approach that groups like Alcoholics Anonymous take.

“We started with a vision of creating a new language and culture about what gets considered mental illness,” DuBrul said. “It’s alright to be ‘mad’ and still be brilliant.”

The schedule of Icarus anniversary events is available at www.theicarusproject.net/10thanniversary

Protesters tell Obama to free Bradley Manning


Led by veterans from Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace, supporters of army PFC Bradley Manning protested in some 35 US cities tonight. The protests were planned to coincide with the Democratic National Convention, to demand that President Obama pardon Manning.

They also demanded that the President “retract and apologize for remarks made in 2011, in which he said Bradley Manning ‘broke the law.’” 

Manning allegedly released more than 700,000 classified files to Wikileaks, including the “Collateral Murder” video which depicts over a dozen Iraqis, including two Reuters employees, being shot without provocation from an Apache helicopter. 

Manning was arrested in Iraq in May 2010, and remains in jail, awaiting trial. His court martial may begin in February.

In San Francisco, supporters of Manning called for his release at a rally at 16th and Mission plaza. Speakers also decried Obama for wars that the United States continues to fight, for drone strikes, and for failing to close Guantanamo Bay.

Several veterans spoke to the crowd of about 60.

Jeff Paterson, founder of the war resister and conscientious objector support network Courage to Resist, spoke about the group’s work on Manning’s behalf.

“We ended Bradley’s torture at Quantico base,” Paterson said. The group also raised more than $200,000 for Manning’s legal defense fund.

Paterson told the crowd they won’t stop until Manning is free. 

“President Barack Obama can end this today by pardoning Bradley Manning,” Paterson said.

Paterson is known as the first US soldier to refuse to fight in Iraq. He was a Marine from 1986-1991, refusing deployment when he was stop-lossed in 1990. He was jailed for three months.

Joshua Shepherd, who served in the Navy for six years ending in 2008, also spoke at the rally.

“Our foreign policy is built upon lies,” said Shepherd. “Bradley Manning was instrumental in exposing our generation’s lies.”

Shepherd said that he began to question US foreign policy on a port visit in Nagasaki during his deployment.

“As far as I was concerned, we were pulling in for three days to enjoy our time in Nagasaki. And we were in a war ship,” Shepherd remembers.

But as they pulled into the shore, Shepherd said, “I saw the shore packed with protesters and they were terribly angry that we were there.” A visit to the Atomic Bomb Museum during his time in Nagasaki also influenced Shepherd, who now organizes with Iraq Veterans Against War. 

“It’s a process to turn around once you’ve joined the military and committed so much of yourself to this institution,” Shepherd told protesters today.

Shepherd was one of six veterans arrested at Obama campaign headquarters in Oakland Aug. 16. 

After the rally, protesters marched and protested a group watching Obama’s DNC speech.

“I find it hypocritical that Obama promised to protect whistle blowers four years ago,” said David Zebker, a San Francisco CPA who attended march.

While campaigning in 2008, President Obama promised to protect whistleblowers, saying their “acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled.”

“No person was harmed from the information he released,” Paterson said of Manning. “He’s a whistle blower in every classic sense of the word.”

The park bond battle



Recreation and Parks clubhouses are privatized and cut off from public access. Public spaces like the Botanical Gardens and the Arboretum in Golden Gate Park are closed to people who can’t pay the price of admission. Event fees and permit processes have become so onerous that they’ve squeezed out grassroots and free events.

It’s been enough to infuriate a long list of neighborhood groups who have been complaining about the San Francisco Recreation and Park  Department for years.

And now those complaints have led to a highly unusual coalition of individuals and groups across the political spectrum coming together to do what in progressive circles was once considered unthinkable: They’re opposing a park bond.

From environmentalists, tenant advocates, labor leaders, and Green Party members to West Side Republicans and fiscal conservatives,  activists are campaigning to try to defeat Proposition B, the Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond. 

The bond would allow the city to borrow $195 million for capital projects in several parks around the city. It comes five years after the voters passed a $185 million park bond. 

Environmental groups like San Francisco Tomorrow and SF Ocean Edge oppose the bond, and even the Sierra Club doesn’t support it because “In recent years, we have had many concerns with management of the city’s natural places,” as Michelle Meyers, director of the Sierra Club’s Bay Chapter, told us.  

Matt Gonzalez, the only Green Party member ever to serve as Board of Supervisors president, is part of the opposition, as is progressive leader Aaron Peskin.  Joining them is retired Judge Quentin Kopp, darling of the city’s fiscal conservatives.

The San Francisco Tenants Union wrote a ballot argument opposing Prop. B. The left-leaning Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council and the more centrist Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods both want the bond defeated.

Many of the people opposing Prop. B have never before opposed a city bond act. “This is very difficult for me,” said labor activist Denis Mosgofian. “Some of us always support public infrastructure spending.”

When we called Phil Ginsburg, the director of Rec-Park, for comment, his office referred us to Maggie Muir, who’s running the campaign for Yes on B. She sent a statement saying: “Unfortunately, a small group of individuals are opposing Proposition B because they disapprove of Recreation and Park Department efforts to improve our parks and better serve San Francisco’s diverse communities.” The statement refers to Prop B’s opponents as “single issue activists”

 So who are these activists, and why have they come together to oppose the parks bond?

 Many started with, as Muir put it, a single issue.  Journalist Rasa Gustaitis  didn’t want to see fees to enter the Botanical Gardens and Arboretum in Golden Gate Park.  West of Twin Peaks resident George Wooding was upset that Rec-Park has been leasing public clubhouses to private interests. Landscape Architect Kathy Howard took issue with a plan to renovate Beach Chalet soccer fields, complete with artificial turf and stadium lighting.

After a few years of fighting these small battles, people like Gustaitis, Wooding, and Howard started to see a pattern.  Park property was being privatized.


Some city departments, like the airport and the port, are so-called enterprise agencies. They don’t receive allocations from the city’s general fund, and operate entirely on money they charge users. In the case of the airport, most of the money comes from landing fees paid by airlines. The port charges ships that dock here, and takes in rent from its real-estate holdings.

Other departments, like Recreation and Parks, provide free services, funded by taxpayer money. In theory, the department creates and maintains open spaces for public use. The recreation side offers services like classes and after-school activities, many of which are centered in recreation centers and clubhouses in parks throughout the city. 

These have been staffed in the past by recreation directors, adults who coordinated and supervised play, in many cases becoming beloved community figures.

But some city officials want that mission to change. In a time of tight budgets (and facing significant cuts to its operating funds), Rec-Park has been looking for ways to increase revenue by charging fees for what was once free.

In fact, in a 2010 Rec-Park Commission meeting, interim General Manager Jared Rosenfeld said, “the sooner we become an enterprise agency, the better off we will be.”

In August 2010, the department fired 48 recreation directors.  In their place, Rec-Park hired part-time workers who were paid to put on programs but not to staff neighborhood rec centers. The department also hired six more employees in the Property Management Division, tasked with leasing out and renting parks property.

In 2010, the commission also approved a plan to impose a fee for non-residents and require residents to show ID to enter the Arboretum. The once-free public garden was on its way to becoming a cash cow (operated in part by the private San Francisco Botanical Society).

A fledgling group formed to fight the fees – and its members soon connected People from SF Ocean Edge, the Parks Alliance and SPEAK who were not pleased with a proposal to install artificial turf and floodlights at the Beach Chalet soccer field and people who opposed the leasing of clubhouses.

 Mosgofian, a member of the Labor Council and worker with Graphic Communications International Union Local 4-N, helped bring together many disparate groups who, they realized, have a common goal in halting the privatization of the parks system.

“It started with a number of different people who were involved in a number of different efforts to get the Rec and Park Department to do the right thing running into each other and eventually getting together,” said Mosgofian “People from these groups found themselves listening to each other’s efforts and got together.”

Subhed: The empty clubhouse

One of the turning points was the fight over J.P. Murphy Clubhouse in the Sunset.

 In July 2010, Rec-Park quietly began taking clubhouses, previously free and open to anyone in the neighborhood, and putting them up for lease. Nonprofits, some of them offering expensive programs,  took exclusive control of public facilities.

For Rec-Park, it was more money. For neighborhood residents, it was a sign they were being cut off from the resources their tax dollars built and funded.

“They would put a notice on the clubhouse door for a hearing, they would have four or five concerned mothers show up, and they would lease the facility,” said George Wooding, then-president of the West of Twin Peaks neighborhood group that got involved in opposing the clubhouse privatization.

The J.P. Murphy clubhouse in the inner sunset had benefitted from the 2008 bond. The building was renovated at a cost of $3.8 million. But when the shiny new rec center was finished, Rec-Park tried to put it up for lease.

Wooding helped organize strong opposition to the lease. They had already paid for the clubhouse through taxes and bond money, the opposition figured—why shouldn’t it be kept open to the public, free? 

 “I’d had enough. We felt, this is our park,  they just spent a ton of money. They fired the rec director. When Rec-Park came to rent out the facility, we just said no way,” Said Wooding.

The department gave up, and J.P. Murphy wasn’t leased. But without a lessee, the department simply closed the center. It’s empty and dark – although it’s available for $90 an hour rent.

Other similarly frustrating battles were going on around the city. 

Muir called the opposition “short-sighted.” 

“This opposition is punishing the people who use the facilities across the city, children who need safe parks to play in, seniors, and those who are disabled who need ADA compliance,” said Muir.

But Friends of Ethics, another group opposing the bond, argues that Rec-Park shouldn’t get another cent until the agency cleans up its act. In a paid ballot argument against Prop B, the group brought up the controversial process of leasing out the Stowe Lake Boathouse last year. The move to put Bruce McLellan, longtime operator of the family business that sold snacks and rented paddle boats, on a month-to-month lease before auctioning a new lease to the highest bidder created a serious backlash.

 On top of that, commission officials were accused of bias when they recommended a lobbyist, Alex Tourk, to one of the companies vying for the contract. 

 “It’s unseemly and it clouds public trust,” said No on Prop B proponent Larry Bush,  who publishes Citireport. 

The boathouse isn’t the only much-beloved tradition ended under the current Rec-Park administration’s reign. The Power the Peaceful festival, which brought big name musicians and thousands of attendants, all for free, has been priced out due to dramatic increases in fees. So has the Anarchist Book Festival. 

 Bob Planthold, a disability rights advocate who is also a member of Friends of Ethics, says that there are issues in the ADA compliance plans for the Parks Bond as well. Planthold says that money from the last bond measure in 2008 was misspent in terms of disability access.

 “Trails weren’t graded properly. There was no attention to whether there were tree roots that might be rising above the level of the trail that could trip somebody,” said Planthold. “They didn’t do a good, proper, fair job on making trails accessible.”

 The bond got unanimous support from the Board of Supervisors. That’s because it earmarks money for parks that desperately need it throughout the city. 

 But that doesn’t mean all the supervisors are pleased with the way Rec- is being run, either. In July 2010, Sup.  David Campos and then-Sup.  Ross Mirkarimi tried to pass a Charter Amendment to split the appointments to the commission among the mayor and the supervisors. 

 But they couldn’t get the measure through, and the commission remains entirely composed of mayoral appointees.  

So now the voters have a choice: Give more money to what  many say is a badly managed department moving toward the privatization of public property – or shoot down what almost everyone agrees is badly needed maintenance money. Of course, the critics say, Rec-Park can always change its direction then come back and try again in a year or two – but once public facilities become pay-per-use private operations, they tend to never come back. 

Yes on Prop. A rally urges support for City College parcel tax measure


Those who work at, attend and support City College of San Francisco have a lot of work ahead of them. The school’s budget has been regularly slashed, losing $20 million last year alone. The school cut 700 classes this semester. After receiving notice that they faced losing accreditation, students, faculty, staff and administrators have been working tirelessly to save the school.

A rally yesterday highlighted one issue of importance to City College: Proposition A.

Prop. A would create a parcel tax of $79 per year for eight years for San Francisco tax payers. The revenue, estimated at $15 million per year, would go to City College.

Prop. A will be one of three ballot measures that increase taxes in November, including Prop 30 and Prop 38. The second two are statewide measures that also raise taxes to fund schools. 

If both Prop. A and Prop. 30 pass it would restore much of the funds cut from City College. If either measure doesn’t pass, the college would face a large deficit.

Several members of the board of supervisors, the school board, and candidates for those seats spoke in support of City College. 

As Community College Board President John Rizzo mentioned at the rally, the school has cut 700 classes this semester alone. For many of those classes, the school still offers the subject but in far fewer class sections, lengthening wait lists and making it more difficult for students to get into the classes they need to graduate.

“This does not restore all the funding, but it goes a good way forward,” said Norman Yee, president of the board of education. Yee attended City College before going on to UC Berkeley, and taught ESL classes at City College for 10 years.

“If it wasn’t for City College I would have gone down a different path,” said Yee.

Alex Tom, Executive Director of the Chinese Progressive Association, emphasized that support for Prop A should be a citywide issue. He also pointed out that supporting City College “Is a big issue for Asian Americans.”

“Most people don’t know that half of the population of City College is Asian students,” said Tom.

Students, labor, and Democratic Party members also lended their voices to support Prop A. “It’s so important and critical for students to have this resource,” said Shanell Williams, president of the Associated Students organization at City College. 

Sup. John Avalos told Guardsman reporter Joe Fitzgerald that the accreditation process is related but separate from the need to pass Prop A. 

“We need to actually fund it, and make sure it’s around,” said Avalos. “If the parcel tax fails, we’ll see a real diminishment of the effectiveness of City College, and that’s something that I think would further deteriorate its ability to get accredited.”

Video by Joe Fitzgerald




Bernal Heights outdoor cinema Roccapulco Supper Club, 3140 Mission, SF; www.bhoutdoorcine.org. 7pm, $10 suggested donation. The first of five nights of film screenings in Bernal Heights. At this kickoff party, enjoy drinks, food and music from the Bernal Jazz Quintet before a lineup of short films celebrating community and organizing in the Bay Area. Films include Berkeley High School students on heritage and identity, "Occupy the Auctions Dance Party!" in which Occupy Bernal and ACCE stop evictions on the steps of City Hall, and a tour of Alemany Farm (also the beneficiary of the event’s ticket price), among others. The event also includes the announcement of winners of the Best of Bernal and Spirit of Bernal Awards and the first-year recipients of the Mauricio Vela Youth Film Scholarship.

Occupy, the state of the movement Mediterranean Café, 2475 Telegraph, Berk; www.occupyoakland.org. 7-10pm, free. Einar Stensson, a sociologist at Stockholm University and activist at Occupy Stockholm during the fall of 2011, studied Occupy Oakland for two months. Why did the movement start and spread so quickly around the globe? How is Occupy organized? Who matters in the movement and why? What is the future of Occupy? Come hear his perspectives on where Occupy is, locally and internationally.


Occupy the Bay The 25th Street Collective, 477 25th St., Oakl; www.occupyoakland.org. 6pm, $25. "This week in Oakland, California will go down as a watershed moment. People across America were disgusted by what they saw here. Average Americans trying to stand up and peacefully assemble, to be brutally savaged and attacked by the police department that they pay for." So said Michael Moore to a fired up crowd in the wake of the Oct. 26 Occupy Oakland eviction that rained tear gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators. This is just one of the many historic events caught on tape by filmmakers Jonathan Riley and Kevin Pina, whose documentary Occupy the Bay is screening around the Bay Area before it starts showing in film festivals. On Friday, stick around for special musical performances from Jabari Shaw, Shareef Ali and Super Natural.

Enemies of the state: In their own words Station 40, 3030B 16th St., SF; station40events.wordpress.com. 7pm, free. After a year of Occupy and years more of struggle by people who are not down with the state, there are a lot of people in jail and prison. At this event, organizers will read writing from those locked up. Poems and statements from Truth and Kali of Occupy Oakland and a statement from Jesse Nesbitt, the May Day brick-thrower we profiled ("Who is the Brick Thrower?" 5/8/12). As the event description says, "Any effort at anti-repression in the face of lengthy prison terms must be aimed at bringing down separation at all costs." Come fight the separation and connect.

Original Plumbing birthday celebration Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF; www.originalplumbing.com. 10pm, $3-6. Original Plumbing, the trans male quarterly magazine, is throwing a party celebrating its third year on this planet. It now lives in the Brooklyn part of the planet, but it all started in San Francisco, and they’re coming back here to party. "We feel that there is no single way to sum up what it means to be a trans man because we each have different beliefs, life experiences, and relationships to our own bodies," say the organizers, and they started the magazine to document this diversity of experiences. Celebrate with the editors Amos Mac and Rocco Katastrophe, and performances by Rocco Katastrophe with special guests Billie Elizabeth, Nicky Click & Jenna Riot. Birthday cupcakes available!


Rally to save City College City Hall steps, 1 Polk, SF; ProtectOurCityCollege@gmail.com. 12pm, free. A rally in support of Prop A, the local ballot measure that would create a parcel tax for revenue to City College of San Francisco. "If City College is to survive and maintain accessibility, educational quality and the mission of serving low-income and underrepresented students with the best educators and staff, we must pass Prop A," say organizers of the rally, which include students, teachers, staff and supporters.

Feeding a movement



Keith McHenry was in Tampa, feeding fed-up (and hungry) Republican National Convention protesters, when we spoke by phone. Next he’ll head to Charlotte to do the same for those protesting the Democrats, and then to New York for Occupy Wall Street’s anniversary on Sept. 17.

Everywhere he goes, he’ll feed the masses home-cooked vegetarian meals. But unlike the other protesters, McHenry helped invent the system that gets them fed. He helped to found Food Not Bombs, the organization that salvages food that would otherwise be thrown out, cooks it up, and serves free, tasty meals in public squares throughout the world.

McHenry served the first meal in Boston Common in 1980, then moved to San Francisco a few years later, bringing the movement with him. Now, there are 500 chapters in the United States and hundreds more throughout the world.

“We provided food for 100 days at the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine,” McHenry recalls. “We fed a two-year occupation in Sarajevo. We provided food at Camp Casey,” Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war stakeout at then-President George W. Bush’s ranch.

The FNB approach to hunger is pretty simple: There’s enough food to go around, it’s just not distributed right. So activists find ways to distribute food that would otherwise be thrown out. San Francisco FNB gets donations of extra, unsold food from places like Rainbow Grocery and Other Avenues food co-op.

It was started by anti-nuclear activists, thus the “Not Bombs” part. But there’s more to their analysis than a cry for peace. As the group states, “For over 30 years the movement has worked to end hunger and has supported actions to stop the globalization of the economy, restrictions to the movements of people, end exploitation and the destruction of the earth and its beings.”

A typical Food Not Bombs operation features a table with a vegetarian or vegan meal, maybe some produce, and anti-war and other leftist literature and banners. In 1988, this is what was on the table when the San Francisco Police Department cracked down on Food Not Bombs, arresting dozens for serving food at the entrance to Golden Gate Park at Haight and Stanyan.

“We had our sign such that when you walked in at the corner of Haight you would see the words Food Not Bombs for a block and a half,” McHenry recalls. “What was good about that was you had tourists, and local business people, and local workers, and you had the people in the Golden Gate Park, all coming together to eat at that place. It was really perfect.”

FNB still serves there on Saturdays, but that perfection was disrupted by a high profile series of arrests in 1988, then again a few weeks ago, when Parkwide, the Recreation and Parks Department’s new bike rental program, set up in their old spot.

Food Not Bombs still runs into conflicts with police and courts. Last year, McHenry was one of 24 arrested in Orlando, Florida, spending 19 days in jail after protesting an ordinance making it a crime to feed the homeless in the city’s downtown.

Last week, FNB held its world gathering at Occupy Tampa’s tent city, serving daily breakfast and dinner while planning the future of the movement. Occupy Tampa has only grown in recent weeks as it hosts people in town to protest the RNC. Sharing food and shelter, making art, and protesting politicians doing the bidding of greedy corporations is McHenry’s vision made reality — and one he got to see bloom last fall with the birth of Occupy.

As McHenry tells it, he and others from Food Not Bombs have been part of a decade-long buildup to the “occupy” tactics that erupted into the world in 2011. “I was promoting the idea of occupation ever since a meeting that was held in 2003 after Cancun,” he said. Protests at the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun were part of a growing trend of disrupting international conventions in which political and business leaders make agreements that further exploitation and neo-liberalism. But McHenry says that more was needed.

“There was a group of us that got together and said these one-off events, like summits, were just becoming more disempowering rather than successful,” he said.

After years of calling for occupations, the notion clicked last fall. “We had seen the Arab Spring, so that made it that much easier to imagine the occupation concept. And the Spanish occupations were just then happening.”

“That’s a common thing,” McHenry said. “People try all these different ways of organizing and then all at the same time, the same thing will start to click. And there’s no real way to say, ‘oh, it started here, it started there, this person started it.'”

When Occupy encampments sprang up, Food Not Bombs was behind many of the kitchens and food sharing efforts — it even had a guide to building a tent city kitchen at foodnotbombs.net/occupy_supplies.

“In the beginning of some of the first occupations like Chicago, DC, Wall Street, we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because we didn’t know if we would get busted,” McHenry said. “We ended up behind the scenes helping provide free meals to the occupations.”

McHenry said he hopes the spirit of occupying grows again. “It’s so important,” he said. “It would be great if we could regroup and retake public space.”


Jesus-free food


“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” Jesus supposedly said way back when. In San Francisco, there are a multitude of churches that offer free food to the hungry (find a handy list at www.freeprintshop.org).

But what follows is a list of secular organizations that share food — for the planet, for self-determination and providing for community outside of the system, for healthy food untainted by hormones, pesticides and GMOs, for food not grown by exploited workers, and for many other reasons, these groups bring food straight to the people.


Where: Parque Niños Unidos, 23rd St. and Treat. When: Sundays, 1-3pm. Numbers given out at around noon. The Free Farm Stand gives out food and flowers grown at the Free Farm on Eddy and Gough, where local volunteers grow and harvest produce. They also share local organic surplus produce left over from several farmer’s markets and produce brought in from neighbors and from locally gleaned fruit trees.

The philosophy of the Free Farm is food sovereignty. Why should anyone go hungry, or go broke, feeding themselves and their kids? Instead, they figure, they should get for free what the earth gives. They facilitate this by offering the farm’s harvest — as well free sprouts and plants, that people can use to grow food themselves.

“The solution to the problem of hunger is to share the abundance that’s out there and to encourage people to grow food and share some with those in need.” said a Free Farm Stand organizer. “We can set up neighborhood networks of people growing food and sharing their surplus.” The Free Farm Stand is a step towards that vision.


Where: Tuesday, 16th and Mission, Thursday, Turk and Taylor. When: 6pm. Some of the folks at Better Days to Come have God in mind, but the organization’s founder, Leonard Fulgham, came from not the churches but the prisons. As its mission statement says, “Mr. Fulgham began mentoring many of the younger inmates, while having the unique opportunity to hear their stories. Many of their stories outlined how they landed in the prison community and why they continued to return. Being homeless upon release back into society is a commonly known contributing factor to these ex-offenders being hungry while being starved by the lack of job training and vocational skills.” Fulgham passed away March 24, 2012, and in his memory, the organization began serving two hot meals a week.


Where: Civic Center Plaza at Hyde and Market. When: Tuesdays 5:45-7pm. Curry Without Worry serves vegetarian food, mostly Nepali and mostly with five courses, in San Francisco every week. It does the same at its other branch in Kathmandu. Shrawan Nepali once owned a restaurant, Taste of the Himalayas, but used the proceeds to start Curry Without Worry and eventually sold it when “I realized I was not a businessmen.” Instead, he’s a man who feeds people a vegan five-course meal, which includes a sauce made from timur, herbs that grow in his Himalayan hometown but are rare in the US. “Our mantra is healthy food for hungry souls,” says Nepali.


Where and when: Monday, UN Plaza at 6:30pm and 16th and Mission at 7pm. Wednesday, UN Plaza at 6pm. Thursday: 16th and Mission at 7pm. Saturday: Haight and Stanyan at 5pm. After 30 years, Food Not Bombs still serves almost daily in San Francisco at a few locations throughout the city. Volunteers cook meals then bring them out to the people, bringing home the message that there’s enough to go around and you shouldn’t need money to feed yourself. The Saturday team still shares food at Haight and Stanyan, where Food Not Bombs first parked three decades ago.


Where: In front of the Bank of America at 2701 Mission. When: Thursday, 5pm until food runs out. Occupy-related people, carrying on from the giant Food Bank of America action on Jan. 20, when the Bank of America at the Embarcadero locked its doors after activists set up a food table and hung two interactive banners where passers-by could write what fit under the category “person” and what fit under the category “corporation.” They hung a third banner saying Food Bank of America, hundreds ate a hot meal, and the concept caught on. Now, people who have been gathering food donations for Occupy and otherwise give away fresh produce and hand out information about credit unions weekly in front of the bank.


Where: Mendell Plaza, at Third and Oakdale. When: Every third Sunday, 10-2. A few organizations, including the Black Star Riders Coalition and the Kenneth Harding Jr. Foundation, work together to put on this food giveaway every other week. It takes place in Mendell Plaza, the square that some have renamed Kenny’s Plaza after Harding, who was killed in the plaza at 19 years old after a dispute with SFPD officers over bus fare. “First, we definitely want to honor Kenny, that’s why we got there,” said Tracey Bell-Borden, one of the organizers of the Community Feed. “But there’s been a lot of activity in that area for a long time. So it’s really about healing the community,” she said. “We have to take care of our community.”




Wednesday 29

Bernal Heights outdoor cinema Roccapulco Supper Club, 3140 Mission, SF; www.bhoutdoorcine.org. 7pm, $10 suggested donation. The first of five nights of film screenings in Bernal Heights. At this kickoff party, enjoy drinks, food and music from the Bernal Jazz Quintet before a lineup of short films celebrating community and organizing in the Bay Area. Films include Berkeley High School students on heritage and identity, “Occupy the Auctions Dance Party!” in which Occupy Bernal and ACCE stop evictions on the steps of City Hall, and a tour of Alemany Farm (also the beneficiary of the event’s ticket price), among others. The event also includes the announcement of winners of the Best of Bernal and Spirit of Bernal Awards and the first-year recipients of the Mauricio Vela Youth Film Scholarship.

Occupy, the state of the movement Mediterranean Café, 2475 Telegraph, Berk; www.occupyoakland.org. 7-10pm, free. Einar Stensson, a sociologist at Stockholm University and activist at Occupy Stockholm during the fall of 2011, studied Occupy Oakland for two months. Why did the movement start and spread so quickly around the globe? How is Occupy organized? Who matters in the movement and why? What is the future of Occupy? Come hear his perspectives on where Occupy is, locally and internationally.

Friday 31

Occupy the Bay The 25th Street Collective, 477 25th St., Oakl; www.occupyoakland.org. 6pm, $25. “This week in Oakland, California will go down as a watershed moment. People across America were disgusted by what they saw here. Average Americans trying to stand up and peacefully assemble, to be brutally savaged and attacked by the police department that they pay for.” So said Michael Moore to a fired up crowd in the wake of the Oct. 26 Occupy Oakland eviction that rained tear gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators. This is just one of the many historic events caught on tape by filmmakers Jonathan Riley and Kevin Pina, whose documentary Occupy the Bay is screening around the Bay Area before it starts showing in film festivals. On Friday, stick around for special musical performances from Jabari Shaw, Shareef Ali and Super Natural.

Enemies of the state: In their own words Station 40, 3030B 16th St., SF; station40events.wordpress.com. 7pm, free. After a year of Occupy and years more of struggle by people who are not down with the state, there are a lot of people in jail and prison. At this event, organizers will read writing from those locked up. Poems and statements from Truth and Kali of Occupy Oakland and a statement from Jesse Nesbitt, the May Day brick-thrower we profiled (“Who is the Brick Thrower?” 5/8/12). As the event description says, “Any effort at anti-repression in the face of lengthy prison terms must be aimed at bringing down separation at all costs.” Come fight the separation and connect.

Original Plumbing birthday celebration Elbo Room, 647 Valencia, SF; www.originalplumbing.com. 10pm, $3-6. Original Plumbing, the trans male quarterly magazine, is throwing a party celebrating its third year on this planet. It now lives in the Brooklyn part of the planet, but it all started in San Francisco, and they’re coming back here to party. “We feel that there is no single way to sum up what it means to be a trans man because we each have different beliefs, life experiences, and relationships to our own bodies,” say the organizers, and they started the magazine to document this diversity of experiences. Celebrate with the editors Amos Mac and Rocco Katastrophe, and performances by Rocco Katastrophe with special guests Billie Elizabeth, Nicky Click & Jenna Riot. Birthday cupcakes available!

Tuesday 4

Rally to save City College City Hall steps, 1 Polk, SF; ProtectOurCityCollege@gmail.com. 12pm, free. A rally in support of Prop A, the local ballot measure that would create a parcel tax for revenue to City College of San Francisco. “If City College is to survive and maintain accessibility, educational quality and the mission of serving low-income and underrepresented students with the best educators and staff, we must pass Prop A,” say organizers of the rally, which include students, teachers, staff and supporters.

Homeless camp raided


California Highway Patrol police, San Francisco police, Cal Trans workers, Department of Public Works, and workers from the mayor’s Homeless Outreach Team descended today on an encampment on Fourth and King.

Yesterday, 40-50 people lived on the sidewalk and under the freeway overpass next to the Caltrain tracks. The encampment had tents, mobile units, and other makeshift housing. One group of residents had a large tent with a well-maintained garden in the front yard.

Another, a woman who several residents said suffered from mental illness, had built a home out of metal that looked like parts of carts, wood, sheets and mattresses. After about four hours this morning, most other residents were moved out of the camp, but she remained, moving and packing suitcases. After Homeless Outreach Team members, police, workers, and humanitarian volunteers approached her, she took a single suitcase and walked to the sidewalk, then sat and watched as her other suitcases, mattresses, and the structures that constituted her house were thrown into a garbage truck.

The eviction began around 8am. Some residents said they were told they could take with them only what they could carry or, if they had something wheeled like a shopping or bike cart, what they could push. Others said they hadn’t been told one way or another what they could take, just that they had to get out.
The items in the dump trucks, said CHP Officer Sarah Wrathall, is “the stuff they said they don’t want.” Wrathall said people were given the chance to keep whatever they wanted to, and that items they wanted to keep but could not carry would be stored and tagged for retrieval later.

Jamie Crisco, a resident of the camp who was moving out, said that this was an unusual eviction. “There isn’t usually this dog and pony show,” said Crisco. A large amount of media was present at the eviction.

“Usually they will tell people to get out, and people will start packing. And in the process the workers will come and start taking stuff and throwing it away,” said Crisco, a veteran who had been living in a small trailer for a year.

“I don’t understand that,” added Crisco. “You’re creating a criminal element when you do that. You’re putting people in a position where they have to steal to acquire what just got taken from them.”

According to John Gallagher, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness who did outreach at the encampment before it was evicted, trash was pushed safely to the side and the camp was clean and peaceful before this morning’s “clean up.”

“We’re respectful, we’re quiet. Honestly, we keep this area cleaner than they ever could dream to,” agreed one person who was staying in the camp.

Wrathall described a very different situation, saying that the area under the overpass had amassed trash, waste and rats.

She said that the eviction was based on complaints from neighbors and other residents.

“People have a right to complain if they can’t walk down the sidewalk to get to Caltrain,” said Wrathall. She said that some people feared the dogs that lived in the camp.

She said illegal lodging and trespassing was reason enough to evict the camp’s residents. “It doesn’t have to be any other kind of crime.”

No citations were issued this morning.

Camp resident Margaret Stallings said that the camp was very peaceful and neighbors walked on the sidewalk and parked their cars in the adjacent parking lots without issues.

“This is a dead end street,” she said. The area under the freeway is out of the way of most city life and, according to Stallings, “Some people have been underneath there for eight years.”

In an outreach report written based on Gallagher’s observations, he stated that “This camp is so peaceful that I saw more that four people on their way to work walk unafraid right down the middle of camp.”

Patrice Perkins, who had been living in the camp for two and a half months, said that the encampment’s location was relatively tucked away. He expressed frustration that many of the residents will be pushed out towards other parts of SoMa and downtown.

“We found a place where you’re not in public. We’re not bothering anybody here,” he said. He pointed out the no parking signs along the street.

“See, no parking. It’s not being used.”

His neighbor in the camp, James Belcher, said that the eviction was causing him to miss two classes at Laney College. “I missed Civil War History this morning, and I’ll miss math at 10:30,” he said. Belcher said he has been studying for a few solid semesters and earning good  grades while looking for work, but struggling, based in part on issues associated with being a disabled veteran.

“It’s difficult for me to study in this little tent and stay in school,” he said.

One resident, who said she provided first aid at the camp, shared disinfectant wipes with a DPW worker when he expressed a need for them.

One of the city’s stated concerns with the camp was the presence of children, and in Gallagher’s outreach statement he said at least two children lived in the camp. None were present this morning, and Wrathall said that in her previous visits to the camp, she hadn’t seen any.

“I’ve never seen kids here, but if I did, I would take them to CPS [Child Protective Services]. Of if they’re older, 16 or 17, I would connect them to services like Huckleberry House. I would never walk away from someone who is 18 or under in the encampment. Its not safe,” she said.
“Homelessness is not a crime. People are afraid for the public to see their children because they will be taken away from them. And for what, the crime of being poor?” said Gallagher.

The Homeless Outreach Team secured rooms for several of the people who were evicted, including Stallings and Crisco.

“They’re housing me. I’ve been waiting on the VA list for housing for four and a half years,” said Crisco. “I’m a combat vet. I used to be a business owner. But life does things to you. Ends up putting you in places you didn’t plan on being.”

Crisco said he was happy to accept the room, but frustrated in general with the way the homeless are pushed around.

“I’m only human. I can only take so much pushing and prodding,” he said. “Sometimes, someone’s going to snap. And they’ll say, it’s the drugs. They never say, maybe it’s us. Maybe its what we’re doing to them.”

Removal of large homeless encampment scheduled for tomorrow morning


The Coalition on Homelessness received word that a homeless encampment at Fourth and King is scheduled for eviction tomorrow. According to an outreach report from John Gallagher, a human rights organizer at the coalition, about 40 people live in the encampment including at least two children. It has approxamitely 15 tent and 3-4 mobile structures.

Some excerpts from the report:

There are essentially two campsites, one under the overpass on Cal Train property and subject to the jurisdiction on the CHP and a sidewalk next to a bike path subject to SFPD.
4 persons using wheel chairs – and most of the people had at least some disability (their own words).
The camp community is clean and free of any smells and what rubbish there is has been set out of the way. They seem in general to be a law abiding community even keeping their tents away from the fire hydrant. There are bathrooms across the street in a park that is kept neat and clean.
Residents of this small community were proud to tell me that people who park cars next to the camp felt more security than those who parked away from camp. This camp is so peaceful that I saw more that four people on their way to work walk unafraid right down the middle of camp.
I was informed that several of the residents are “working poor.” they get up for 9 to 5 daily. There were two American flags displayed and potted plans are scattered around works of “Art” decoratively in from of most tents. There is a community garden bordered and well keep by the residents at the part of the overpass that receives the most sun. Clean laundry hangs drying on a chain link fence. This is a community of families, Artists, writers (two brothers), displaced persons and pet owners. ( Three healthy well fed dogs)

The eviction will likeley occur at 8 or 9am tomorrow. As Gallagher says in his report, part of the camp is on SFPD turf, and part is CalTrain property policed by the California Highway Patrol. Neither agency could be reached for comment.

Diamond Dave’s report from Romneyville


Activists from San Francisco and around the country are descending on Tampa this week to protest the Republican National Convention. I got a call this morning from Diamond Dave Whitaker, the poet who hung with the beats and the hippies in his 75 years, CCSF student senator and San Francisco legend. He’s has been serving food to protesters at election-season conventions for almost three decades. His first was 1984, the Democratic Convention here in San Francisco before he got hooked and headed to Dallas to protest the Republicans. Along with a few hundred others, Diamond Dave braved the rain, but missed the full effects of Hurricane Isaac on the tent city last night. The RNC starts officially starts today (though many of the day’s events have been called off due tot the hurricane warning.)

“I’m talking in the midst of Romneyville,” he said. “Folks came from far and wide to camp out together, cause a ruckus and be here.”

What’s Romneyville? “It’s a homeless camp, a poor peoples camp,” said Dave. He’s been there a week setting up the Food Not Bombs kitchen, and Romneyville grew up around him. It now has few hundred tents, he said. But most people arrived today, so as the convention gets started, it will probably grow. “Two buses from Zuccotti Square came today,” he said.

Romneyville is put together in part by the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign. Dave said Green Party vice presidential nominee Cheri Honkala, a formerly homeless mother herself who works with the Poor Peoples campaign, is a fixture around the camp.

“Our demands are housing for all, food for all, healthcare for all, and living wages for all. We call for an end to foreclosures and homelessness, an end to the war on the poor, both here and abroad. An end to criminalization of poverty. Money for jobs and housing, not for war!” says a statement from the group.

More protesters are staying over at the Occupy Tampa encampment.

A permitted march left this morning, and Diamond Dave says there’s another, unpermitted, planned for 3pm est. Many citizen journalists and livestreamers are documenting the events, one can be found at mobilebroadcastnews.com.

But so far, his work has been handing out free meals with Food Not Bombs.

“We fed the masses this morning for sure,” he said.

March for women’s rights this Sunday


As the war on women rages on, Defend Women’s Rights marches will fight back Sunday.

This week started off with Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s comments that seemed to suggest a belief that women who are raped are less likely to get pregnant. This was just one more drop in the bucket, if the bucket is reasons why men who don’t understand how reproduction works shouldn’t get to legislate policy that affects it. Remember when Michigan Rep. Lisa Brown was barred from participating in a House debate after daring to say the word vagina during an abortion debate? As Brown said at the time, “If I can’t say the word vagina, why are we legislating vaginas?”

People at the Republican National Convention in Tampa next week who find vaginas “lewd,” and yet work tirelessly to strip away reproductive rights, will surely be offended by some of what protesters are bringing to the convention. People with CODE PINK, for example, will be dressed in giant fluffy vagina costumes.

Women’s rights, of course, is broader than just reproductive rights. And a range of issues, including immigrants right, the pay gap, housing and welfare will be addressed at nationwide protests Sunday.

The Aug. 26 day of action is scheduled to coincide with both the RNC and Women’s Equality Day, which celebrated the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Women fought tooth and nail for rights before, since and after that day, and Women Organized to Resist and Defend (WORD), the group behind the day of action, sees itself as part of that tradition.

“We realized that we really needed to have a group that was ready to fight right now for women’s rights,” said Meghann Adams, an organizer with WORD.

For the march’s organizers, the Democratic National Convention happening in Charlotte right after the RNC is just as much reason to march. As they note on their website, “While President Obama is not a right-wing pro-lifer, we cannot count on him or any politician to defend our rights. In fact, in order to reach a budget compromise with Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner in July 2011, President Obama said, “I’ll give you abortion in D.C.”

“If you can’t make it to protest in Tampa and Charlotte, join or organize a protest in your community,” their statement reads. “There is a long, proud tradition of women in the United States mobilizing and fighting to win equality and respect. Let’s continue this legacy this summer!”

The march will leave from 24th and Mission at noon on Sunday, Aug. 26.

Farmville, for real



In the next few months, San Francisco will lose some of its most beloved urban farms.

The City Hall victory garden is now reduced to dirt. The grants that kept afloat Quesada Gardens Initiative, which creates community gardens in Bayview, were temporary and are now drying up. Kezar Gardens, funded by the Haight Asbury Neighborhood Council recycling center, is facing eviction by the city.

Time is up for Hayes Valley Farm, on the old freeway ramp, where developers are now ready to build condos.

St. Paulus Lutheran Church has also announced that it wants to sell the land that the Free Farm uses at Eddy and Gough.

“There’s the old joke about developers,” said Antonio Roman-Alcalá, co-founder of Alemany Farm and the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance. “God must be a developer, because they always seem to get their way.”

At the same time, new urban agriculture projects have sprung up across San Francisco. Legislation authored by Sup. David Chiu will create a city Urban Agriculture Program, with the goal of coordinating efforts throughout the city.

So is the movement to grow food in the city progressing? It’s a tricky question that gets down to one of the oldest conflicts in San Francisco: The best use of scarce, expensive land.


The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association lauds the value of community gardens. An April 2012 SPUR report notes that urban agriculture connects people “to the broader food system, offers open space and recreation, provides hands-on education, presents new and untested business opportunities, and builds community.”

According to the report, the city had “nearly 100 gardens and farms on both public and private land (not including school gardens),” two dozen of which started in the past four years.

But that’s nowhere near enough for the demand. “The last time waiting lists were surveyed, there were over 550 people waiting,” Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager at SPUR, told us. “That likely underrepresents demand because some people who are interested haven’t put their name down.”

Changes in zoning last year, and the recent ordinance to create the Urban Agriculture Program, show a measure of city support for urban farming and gardening.

“We have one of the most permissive zoning codes for urban agriculture that I know of in the country,” said Zigas.

One zoning change from 2011 makes it explicit that community gardens and farms less than one acre in size are welcome anywhere in the city, and that projects on larger plots of land are allowed in certain non-residential districts.

More recent legislation is meant to streamline the process of starting to grow food in the city. Applying to use empty public land for a garden can be an arduous process, and every public agency has a different approach. The hoops to jump through for land owned by the Police Department, for example, are entirely different than what the Public Utilities Commission requires. A new Urban Agriculture Program would coordinate efforts.

“The idea is to create a new program that will serve as the main point of entry. Whether it will be managed by existing agency or nonprofit is to be determined,” said Zigas.

If the timeline laid out in the ordinance is followed, the plan will be implemented by Jan.1, 2014.

By then, if all goes according to plan, no San Franciscan looking to garden will wait more than a year for access to a community garden plot.


Roman-Alcalá said that efforts to clear the way for urban agriculture are much less controversial than for affordable housing and other tenets of anti-gentrification. But for all the good the latest legislation does, it doesn’t secure a single square foot of land for urban agriculture.

“If you look at the language, there’s nowhere in it that mandates or prioritizes urban agriculture on any site,” said Roman-Alcalá. “The closest thing is a call for an audit of city owned rooftops. That’s the closest it comes to changing land use.”

And it won’t be easy. “No matter how much support there is for urban agriculture, in the end, developers and their ability to make money is going to be prioritized,'” he said. “The only way to really challenge that right now is cultural. Social change is not an event but a process.”

Janelle Fitzpatrick, a member of the Hayes Valley Farm Resource Council and a neighborhood resident who has been volunteering at the farm since it started, is committed to that process.

“Hayes Valley Farm proves that when the city, developers, and communities come together, urban agriculture projects can be successful,” Fitzpatrick said. She and dozens of other volunteers created the farm, which is now lush with food crops, flowers, and trees. The farm has a bee colony, a seed library, and a green house. It offers yoga and urban permaculture classes.

Hayes Valley Farm started on land that used to be ramps to the Central Freeway before that section was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake. The land under the freeway was toxic, but volunteers spent six months layering mulch and cardboard and planting fava beans to create soil. It took less than a year to create a productive farm on a lot that had been vacant and overgrown for nearly two decades.

“We’re producing food, we’re producing community, we’re producing education,” said Zoey Kroll, another volunteer and resource council member.

When they vacate their land in the winter, many Hayes Valley Farm team members will already be knee deep in new urban agriculture projects. These include Bloom Justice, a flower farm in the Lower Haight that Kroll says will teach job skills like forestry and landscaping. The farm has also built a relationship with Hunters Point Family, working together to offer organic gardening and produce at Double Rock Community Garden at the Alice Griffith Housing Development and Adam Rogers Community Garden.

As for the loss of the current site, Kroll says, “It’s an exercise in detachment.” Change in landscapes and ownership is part of urban life, she said — “We’re a city of renters.”

We’re also a city of very limited land. “Securing permanent public land for urban agriculture would be challenging,” said Kevin Bayuk, an instructor at the Urban Permaculture Institute. “And securing long-term tenure on anything significant, an acre or more of land in San Francisco, if it were on private land, would be cost prohibitive.”

Of the city’s three largest farms, only Alemany Farm seems secure in its future. The farm is on Recreation and Parks Department land, and has been working with the department since 2005 to create a somewhat autonomous governance structure.

Community gardens on Rec-Park land are subject to a 60-page rulebook, and according to Roman-Alcalá, Alemany Farm’s operations were restricted by the rules.

Last week, the group’s plan to be reclassified as a farm instead of a garden was approved, eliminating some of the rules and creating an advisory council of community stakeholders that will exert decision making power over the farm, although Rec-Park still has ultimate authority.

“Now it’s more secure,” said Roman-Alcalá. “We’ve finally reached this point where the city acknowledges it as a food production site.”

“I think the urban agriculture movement is still growing and burgeoning in the grassroots sense,” said Bayuk. “And I think some of the grassroots growth is reflected in the policy and code changes. “I’m optimistic for the idea of people putting land into productive use to meet human needs and be a benefit of all life.”

This article has been corrected to reflect information about the location and ownership of the Free Farm.




Lockout ruling victory march Castlewood Country Club, 707 Country Club Circle, Pleasanton; www.endthelockout.org. 5-6pm, free. Castlewood Country Club workers have been out of work and replaced by low-paid, non-union workers for two years. They haven’t stopped fighting to get their jobs back, and on Aug. 17, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the lockout is illegal and Castlewood Country Club must reinstate their jobs. Come march for victory for the workers. Also, come march for support on the road ahead, as the country club will likely appeal or delay the process.


Heal the Streets graduation celebration Nile Hall, Preservation Park, 668 13th St., Oakl; www.ellabakercenter.org. 5-7pm, free. "If we truly want to address violence, we must engage youth impacted by it so they can heal, have positive alternatives, and take action." That’s the philosophy of the Ella Baker Center’s Heal the Streets program, where young people spend 10 months in theater workshops and conversation, coming up with practical and creative ideas. Friday, they will be graduating from the program, presenting their theater piece and their findings. Come celebrate with them.


American Indian market and pow wow 56 Julian, SF; www.friendshiphousesf.org. 10am-6pm, free. This eighth annual street festival features a pow wow, dance, hand drum contest and dance contests (both with cash prizes), and vendor booths with arts and crafts and food. In 1953, Congress passed a resolution to seize more than a million acres of American Indian land. This resulted in massive displacement and movement of Native Americans to major cities, including the Bay Area. To provide support and a community center, Friendship House was founded in San Francisco. Now, it still provides several programs, including this annual street festival.


National day of action for women’s rights 24th and Mission, SF; www.defendwomensright.org. 12pm, free. On this day in 1920, the 19th Amendment passed, finally giving women the right to vote. This year, attacks on women spread throughout the country. The day before the Republican and Democratic national conventions, protests will be held in several cities nationwide to show that the people will not tolerate attacks on reproductive rights. Women Organized to Resist and Defend asked dozens of women why they will be marching, and the answers, shown in photos on their website, range from "to shut down sexual assault" to "women’s health is not secondary" to "ICE and homeland security perpetuate violence against women." Will you march?

Shifts in feminism in Japan’s anti-nuke movement Omiiroo Gallery, 400 Franklin, Oakl; nonukesaction.wordpress.com. 6pm, free. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, a movement of Japanese parents who no longer trusted the government’s word that the nuclear industry was safe took root. Parents formed study groups on radiation and used their own Geiger counters at home and at their children’s schools. Mari Matsumoto, a Tokyo writer who was in the middle of it, focuses on feminism and reproductive labor in the context of nuclear radiation. She will be speaking at this event, along with a screening of the film "How nukes got to Japan." The event is a potluck, and seating is available, but organizers recommend you bring a pillow to sit on the floor in case it runs out.


Eyewitness from Tahrir Square Audre Lorde Room, The Women’s Building, 3543 18th St., SF; www.occupyforumsf.org. 6pm, free. Gihan Abou Zeid had years of experience working to end violence against women and coordinating with various UN efforts before she became involved in the Egyptian Revolution. She has since helped to found Mayadin Al-Tahrir (Liberation Places), an effort to bring the liberation that was found in Tahrir Square to new places all over Egypt. After the successful ousting of Hosni Mubarak, many women have continued to protest sexual assaults and other violence. Zeid will speak on women’s experiences in the revolution and the ongoing fight for gender justice.

Country Country Club workers plan picket after step towards victory


Workers at Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton, represented by UNITE HERE Local 2850, received a favorable decision from Administrative Law Judge Clifford Anderson of the National Labor Relations Board on Monday. He found that the club owes all 61 union workers two years of back pay– and their jobs back.

“For the workers it feels like a relief to be believed in some way,” said Local 2850 organizer Sarah Norr. “The workers have been saying for two years that Castlewood was not really trying to reach a compromise.”

The food service workers and janitors of Local 2850 at Castlewood haven’t worked in two years. Instead, they picket the club and march. But they’re not on strike– they would love to go back to work. They’re on lockout.

In Feb. 2010, the club tried to hike up their health care costs, significantly increase the hours per week that would be considered full-time, and cut pay. After heated negotiations, the club refused to allow workers to return to their jobs and hired non-union replacements.

Negotiations have continued since, but according to Norr, they haven’t been productive. In Aug. 2010 the management presented a new set of proposals, which Norr called worst than the first. It would have allowed for the club to keep on the temporary workers that had replaced the union workers during the lockout and do away with seniority in scheduling and layoffs, as well as allowed for increased subcontracting. That was when the union filed a complaint with the NLRB.

In Aug. 2011, the General Counsel of the NLRB issued a decision that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Castlewood for violating federal labor law. After hearing nine days of testimony for various stakeholders on both sides, Judge Anderson ruled that the alleged violations had occured.

He found that the lockout was illegal, and recommended that the NLRB order Castlewood to reinstate the locked-out workers and pay them two years of back wages and benefits.

Jerry Olson, Castlewood Country Club’s general manager, told us that the club hasn’t decided yet if they will be complying with the judge’s order.

“We just received the ruling today in the mail, and we’re considering all our options,” Olson said Aug. 21. “We certainly respect the administrative law judge.”

“We were surprised,” said Olson. “We expected to win the case.”

“It’s important for folks to understand that this doesn’t guarantee that its all over,” Norr said. “Castlewood does have the option of asking for a review of the case from the NLRB in Washington, DC.” Such a review could take years, prolonging the lockout but also increasing the amount of back pay the club would need to pay if they lose.

Workers plan to picket the club Aug. 22 at 5pm, celebrating their victory and demanding that the club comply.

“We’re thrilled about the decision, but we know we could still have a long fight in front of us,” said Castlewood janitor Francisca Carranza in a press release. “We’ll be here for as long as it takes to get our jobs back and win a fair contract with health care for our kids. We know people in the community will stand behind us, just like they always have over the past two years.”

A week after police crack down, People’s Library still operating in East Oakland


The building where activists, some from Occupy Oakland, created a free library and garden August 13 was raided by police that night. But that was Monday, this is Friday– and the Biblioteca Popular Victor Martinez, or People’s Library, is still in full form.

The books and garden have moved from the building, which was built in 1918 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, to the sidewalk. But it’s still a lively scene. Books are shelved the block in front of the old library’s entrace, and around the corner participants have built gadren beds. In the sidewalk library and garden, children browse books, play chess, dig holes for seeds, water plants, ride bikes and scooters, and casually work on the fence around the building with pliers. 

The building at 1449 Miller was donated to the city of Oakland as part of a grant from Andrew Carnegie, and functioned as a library until 1979. It was one of eight libraries closed by the City Librarian following the passage of Prop 13, according to Harry Hamilton, City of Oakland public information officer. It was subsequently used for the Emiliano Zapata Street Academy, an alternative high school that now operates on 29th street. It was owned by the Oakland Redevelopment Agency, whose members allocated money to it in their 2005 five-year plan, but no redevelopment of the building had begun when redevelopment agencies across California were dissolved last fall. It is now owned by the the Redevelopment Successor Agency housed within the City of Oakland’s Office of Neighborhood Investment, and, for all official purposes, remains vacant.

On Monday morning, activists entered the building, intent to revitalize it themselves. Empty wooden bookshelves covered the walls, and the floor was strewn with trash. A few mattresses indicated that the officially vacant building certainly hasn’t been.

Those building the People’s Library brought in brooms, sponges and trashbags. A few hours later, the place was cleaned up and hundreds of donated books lined the long-empty shelves. Neighbors came in through the open doors, helping to clean, checking out books, and reading to their kids. In the backyard, kids and adults built raised beds and started planting in them.

At 6:30, there was a potluck and a poetry reading. Most families had wandered off by 10pm. At 11:30, about a dozen people remained. That’s when 80 police arrived, blocked off the street for two blocks in all directions, and told them that they had 15 minutes to gather their books and exit the building, or risk arrest.

The creators of the Victor Martinez People’s Library did as they were told. But they didn’t go far. The next morning, they set up the library again, this time on the sidewalk outside the now-boarded up building. The kids and families came back. Police did, too, but they stayed in cars on corners around the building, watching.

Now, it’s been a week, and what organizer Jaime Yassin calls “the only 24-hour library in the US” is still here.

“That was on their agenda, at some point, to do this. What the people are doing now,” said Emji Spero, a poet who heard about the action from people invovled in Monday’s poetry reading. “But instead, they’re spending money on police to come shut it down. Someone said to me, I can see the dollar signs floating off the police cars as they run their engines.”

“This is the social reform that the city is supposed to be doing,” said Khalid Shakur, another Oakland resident who was involved in setting up the library.

On Wednesday Yassin, who had been researching the building’s history, sat down with me on a couch by the library. He explained that the clean sidewalk where the couch now sits was an unofficial garbage dump days earlier, covered in old clothes, drug paraphenalia, and other trash.

Yassin showed me a 2005 report from the Urban Ecology 23rd Avenue Working Group. the plan, a result of focus groups and surveys of people in the neighborhood of the People’s Library, includes a plan to “rehabilitate Miller Library” as a top priority for beneficial development in the neighborhood.

“Renovation, however, will be expensive and require the city’s help,” the report reads. “the city-owned library needs seismic reinforcement, repair to flood damage, asbestos removal and handicap accesibility improvements.”

As I spoke with Yassin, a 10-year-old who had been gardening and playing on the sidewalk scooted up. He handed some scissors, just retrieved from his home a block away, to one of the people making signs to organize the library.

“I never saw nobody use it using it since I got here,” he said when I asked him about the building.

“I liked it when you guys came,” he added to Yassin, smiling, before racing off on his scooter.

Juan Delgadillo, who owns Plaza Automotive, a business across the street from the library, said he plans to borrow some books from the People’s Library. “It’s a very good idea,” said Delgadillo. “I support it.”

The group has been holding nightly potlucks, and is planning to host a community barbecue tomorrow (August 18) at 2pm.

As classes begin again, CCSF reconsiders its mission


Fall classes at City College of San Francisco began yesterday.  Students streamed through all nine campuses, navigating their schedules.

But they are coming back to a different school than they left. On July 3, Interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher received a letter from the Accrediting Commision of Community and Junior Colleges saying that the school could lose it’s accreditiaton, leading to its closure, unless it is able to succesfully “show cause” for staying open. The letter laid out 14 “major problems” that the accreditation board says CCSF must fix.

Now, the race is on, as students, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, and community members rush to keep the school open without compromising its unique and succesful qualities.

Welcome Weeks

At the Ocean and Mission campuses, student organizers put on rallies that thousands of passers-by saw on their way to class. Volunteers holding “welcome weeks” events hosted music and speakers, and implored students walking past to talk into the mic about what CCSF means to them. Organized by the Save CCSF coalition that formed in July, the welcome weeks activities, which may include speakers, music, litterature, film screenings, and other events will continue until August 31.

“This is a community, not just a college. And right now, our community is under attack,” said Robert Chu, a former CCSF student who was volunteering with the welcome weeks events.

For Jason Bowden, another student who spoke at the rally, yesterday was the first day of college. Bowden said he is planning to earn his EMT certification and Associate Degree in fire science. “The dream is to be a firefighter,” Bowden said at the rally.

Bowden said he is confident the school will stay open. “Initially, I was freaked out,” he said. “But with 90,000 students, from a sociological perspective it would be disastrous. But I don’t want to say its not going to happen. Stupider things have happened.”

Chu said he was assisted by the Extended Opportunities Programs and Services Program (EOPS).“I’m actually an orphan,” said Chu. “EOPS supported me graciously and helped me out.”

The EOPS office is in a building near Ram Plaza, where the Ocean Campus rally took place yesterday. The adjacent Student Union building houses other programs that aid students, such as Students Supporting Students and the Multi Cultural Resource Center. Nearby, offices of the Veterans Educational Transition Services and Guardian Scholars program, which supports students coming to CCSF from the foster care system.  Some expressed concern that programs like these will be deprioritized for funding as the school tries to meet its accreditation requirements.

The rally’s backdrop was a banner reading “Keep community in community college. Accessibility and affordability are non-negotiable.”

Mission statement

The evening before classes began, at an August 14 special board of trustees meeting, the trustees were discussing their priorities for CCSF moving forward.

The first recommendation in the accreditation board’s report regards CCSF’s mission statement.

“The team recommends that the college establish a prescribed process and timeline to regularly review the mission statement and revise it as necessary,” the text of the reccommendation reads. “The college should use the mission statement as the benchmark to determine institutional priorities and goals that support and improve academic programs, student support services and student learning effectively linked to a realistic assessment of resources”

In the wake of the accreditation crisis, the school set up 15 working groups to focus on different aspects of the process. The mission statement working group, tasked with evaluating the mission statement, and potentially, changing it, presented their work August 14– a new mission statement for the board to consider.

The board approved the first version of the new mission statement, which will be revisted at an August 23 meeting.

The new version includes a few changes. The new mission statement lists four goals: “transfer to baccalaureate institutions; acheivement of Associate Degrees in Art and Science; Acquisition of certificates and career skills needed for success in the workplace;” and “Basic Skills, including learning English as a Second Language.”

The goals that have been cut out of the mission statement: “Active engagement in the civic and social fabric of the community, citizenship preparation; completion of requirements for the Adlt High School Diploma and GED; Promotion of economic development and job growth” and “lifelong leaning, life skills, and cultural enrichment.”

The mission statement already read “CCSF provides educational programs and services to meet the following needs of our diverse community”; the new version adds the phrasing “that promote succesful leaning and student achievement.” Another phrase was added: “the college offers other programs and services supplementrary to our mission, only as resources allow and whenever possible in collaboration with partnering agencies and community business organizations.”

The mission statement working group was one of the first to complete their initial work. As Chancellor Fisher explained in the board of trustees meeting, “We need to finish recommendation one as early as possible because it will affect out planning.”

The working group that wrote the mission statement was comprised of faculty, administrators, trustees, and community members. No students were involved, until two– Associated Students president Shanell Williams and Student Senator Diamond Dave Whitaker– were added to the working group last week. Today, the mission statement working group, with its two new additional members, meets to discuss the ongoing process of documenting CCSF’s priorties. Their meeting is public and will take place 1:30-2:30pm at Batmale Hall.

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.”

Big week ahead as City College classes start


Classes at City College of San Francisco start for the fall on August 15. That makes this a big week for the coalition of students, staff, and community working on its future. 

As the college welcomes students back, this coalition will set up on the Ocean campus in Ram Plaza and at the Valencia entrance of the Mission Campus. With litterature from community groups, music and speakers, they hope to let incoming students get the chance to learn about the efforts to save the college- making sure it continues to exist, as well as maintaining its academic standards, accessibility, and other core values. The celebration will include music and speakers.

There’s also plenty happening before Wednesday. Today, a student organizing meeting will take place at the student union at the CCSF Ocean Campus. Then, at 6pm, CCSF will be the focus of the weekly Occupy Forum, an open space to discuss issues of importance to the occupy movement. William Walker, CCSF student trustee, will speak at this week’s forum, called “Education Under Attack: Austerity, Privatization and Profit.”

On Tuesday, the CCSF Board of Trustees will hold a special meeting at CCSF’s Ocean Campus. They are scheduled to discuss the progress of the working groups that have been set up to work towards meeting accreditation requirements. The meeting is public, and stakeholders and community members will definitely be making an appearance. The meeting is at 4pm in multi-use building room 140.

“There are a lot of people that have opinions on how we need to move forward,” said Walker. “It’s the job of students to come together to figure out what austerity is actually going to mean for city college, and what our must-have demands.”

Creating activist scholars: extended interview with Andrej Grubacic


For this week’s paper, we talked with with Andrej Grubacic, the new head of the anthropology department at the California Institute for Integral Studies. Here’s the extended interview with Grubacic, where he talks more about the new Anthropology and Social Change program, as well as the history of anarchist schools, how his grandmother influenced his politics growing up in Yugoslavia, and the state of the occupy movement.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: What’s the structure of the new program going to look like?

Andrej Grubacic: It’s going to be called Anthropology and Social Change, and we have two levels. One is MA, the other is PhD. Philosophically speaking and politically speaking, in the age of occupy and all of these movements, the great question for me was how to organize a department that’s actually going to be useful for all of these social struggles and that activism that’s happening outside of education. I’ve been in academia as a scholar-activist for a long time. And what I’ve discovered is the most painful thing in my experience is the separation. The fact of actual separation between the grassroots knowledges, produced outside of the academia, and academic knowledge produced within the universities. So the best things, the way that I was thinking about this was that what we should do on both levels, MA and PhD, is to construct a space of translation of different knowledge. So to put these two knowledges, one produced outside of academia and the other produced in the university, in dialogue.

So we have Boots Riley for example, he’s going to be teaching community organizing, or organizing for social justice. Then we’re going to have Sasha Lilley teaching an eminently practical course on how to create and produce radical radio. So you’re going to get activist media skills. Then we’re going to have a few other people teaching also different skills, and knowledge that’s inspired by art, bringing artists in, and knowledge that’s inspired by people who are thinking about social theory and social emancipation. We’re going to create something really exciting. 

SFBG: Do you think the students who attend are going to be the same kind of mix of academics, artists, activists, and people who want to organize within their own communities here in San Francisco?

AG: I think so. That’s the idea. The idea is to make this department work for the students, but also for the people in San Francisco Bay Area. And we can do that by bringing students who are interested in local work, and I think that’s going to be a pretty amazing. If we are of course able to do things right, but I think that we will be. So Chris Carlsson for example, he’s going to be teaching labor and ecological history of San Francisco, so a very local topic. We’re going to be teaching courses on activist ethnography, and activist ethnography is the center for the whole program, which is how can we relate to community– and this is where we’re also using the term integral– in an integral way? Meaning how do we integrate community into every step of the research process? And the traditional anthropology, as you probably know, is all about participant observation. We would like to have instead observant participants. People who are involved with the communities. People who are trying to dissolve the distinction between the researcher, between who’s on the outside, and who’s on the inside. And they’re creating something together. 

SFBG: I saw when you spoke at the University of the Commons launch. You were talking about how there’s a wave of radical activity going on at schools throughout the world.

AG: Oh yeah.

SFBG: This is obviously very different, because this is an institution putting out something radical, but do you think it fits into that trend right now?

AG: I think it does. Because if you know my biography, I’ve been travelling through all of these experiences in schools for many many years now. I had to leave Yugoslavia where I’m from because of my oppositional political activity and, you know, I finally arrived here to work at New College of California which was also a private institution, and I was very inspired by the department of Activism and Social Change, and I completely fell in love with the history of radical schools in San Francisco. Now I don’t know how much you know about them, but they’re, like, great stuff. There was a liberation school, there were Black Panther schools, of course. There is a great history of alternative schools and experiments. So New College was a private institution, but still, many of my activist friends, who became friends later, have actually been through New College and they got their MA s in activism and social change or media studies. So CIIS actually took many of these people, many of the professors from these programs, and invited them here. So in a certain sense, I think what was done in terms of Activism and Social Change, and orientation to social justice and emancipation, was that at New College we are still keeping that spirit alive. But, in communication- and I think this is the crucial thing for our department- we are doing this in communication with radical educational experiments, movement-based experiments from all over the world. Manolo Callahan, who is going to be teaching here next semester, he is one of the people involved in University of the Earth- Universidad de la Tierra in Oaxaca and in Chiapas, so we are creating relationships with them. Which you know are completely radical experiences outside of institutions, they call themselves deprofessionalized intellectuals. We have already relationships with the Activism and Social Change department in Leeds, in England, they have a great school there. With people in Brazil, the landless workers movements. We’re in touch with people from Ecuador and people form Bolivia. So it’s a whole network of educational, tendency of educational experiences that this department is now creating.

SFBG: Do you have economics courses here?

AG: Yeah.

SFBG: So are there classes that are non-capitalist economics?

AG: Yes, it’s called radical political economy. We are trying to understand political economy from a feminist perspective, from an anarchist perspective, from a post-colonialist- so in that sense we are engaging multiple emancipatory frameworks of understanding social reality. So I myself, I come from the anarchist experience in social science, in politics. We have people who are feminists- Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz for example. She’s sort of a legend in San Francisco Bay Area and she’s teaching three courses. Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz is going to be teaching about Native American struggles. As it pains me to say, that kind of a focus is mostly missing not only in private but also in public universities now. 

SFBG: So could you tell me a little more about the anarchist background you come from?

AG: I became an anarchist fairly early on, I was 13 or something. Because I was living in Yugoslavia. At that time, Yugoslavia was a socialist state. And because it was a socialist state for me it was a very interesting place to grow up, because you see socialism, real existing socialism, and you see many things that are beautiful about socialism. But you also see many things that are not so beautiful. And I was thinking about the alternatives to it. And for me it was really, sounds cheesy, but a conversation with my grandmother that decided it. She was a communist; she was a Yugoslav revolutionary communist. And Yugoslavia was falling apart, Yugoslavia was in a series of really brutal ethnic wars back in the 90s, and my grandmother, this lifelong communist, told me– my question was, are you still a communist? Do you still believe in communism in the context of this country falling apart? And she said yes, I do, I think that we have chosen a path to communism that was wrong. But I think the responsibility of your generation is to find a different path. The ideal is OK, the ideal is good. It’s a different path that you’re generation needs to find, and you have a great responsibility to do so. And the alternative that I discovered that seemed to me, back when I was 13 years old, and it still does, rational– as an alternative to the Marxist-Leninst way of getting from here to there, right– is anarchism. So for me anarchism, or libertarian socialism is another name that people are using, is a way of organizing for social justice and creating an egalitarian system that takes democracy very seriously. It’s like democracy without a state. 

SFBG: What happened that made you leave Yugoslavia?

AG: I was raised a Yugoslav. So I was raised to be a citizen of a country that doesn’t exist anymore. And on one hand, you had people who were Serbian nationalists, and I couldn’t really get along with those. On the other hand you had people who were neoliberal capitalists, who thought that everything coming from Europe and the United States was great and I couldn’t really agree with those either. And being a young academic, I was a historian at the time and working within the university, there was a great deal of pressure to get me out of the university. So it became very unpleasant. So I already had a relationship with Noam Chomsky, and Chomsky was following everything that was happening to me in Yugoslavia. And he told me at some point OK, it’s time for you to go. So he got me out of Yugoslavia, moved me to the United States or helped me move to the United States, introduced me to a man whose name is Immanuel Wallerstein, a great, amazing sociologist, who helped me get to his program at the Center for the Study of Economics, Historical Systems, and Civilization at SUNY-Binghamton to finish my graduate studies. So that was a– it was a long journey. 

Let’s just say that it was an active disagreement with the political class active at that time in Yugoslav-Serbia. It was actually funnily enough still called Yugoslavia. We only had two countries of the former Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro. But the political cultures and political groups in power were either Serbian nationalists or these hyper-capitalists, right. And going after them, because I was publishing and I was doing a lot of things, was– let’s say, not smart career choice. But it made it possible for me to meet people like Chomsky and some other people. And they liked what I was doing and they were concerned that, for health reasons, United States might be a better environment.

SFBG: Even within these more welcoming academic environments, do you feel your activism or anarchism is stifled in some way?

AG: I had a bad experience here at one university, a local university here in San Francisco, and it wasn’t a good experience. That felt unpleasant and it felt very stifling. CIIS is very different. Actually this is the first place where I think that I was hired because I was an anarchist, or I am an anarchist. It’s kind of funny. But in other places, in Yugoslavia and there was another institution here, I had problems because of my politics. Here, that was exactly the reason I was hired. So it gives you an idea that the school is very different than most other universities. 

SFBG: Could there be such a thing as an anarchist school?

AG: I hope University of the Commons can become something like an anarchist school. Anarchist schools actually used to exist. And they still exist. But the really big one was Francisco Ferrer in Spain. It was called Modern School. It was created in 1904. It became so huge– especially after Francisco Ferrer was killed by the Spanish state in 1909- that there were 60 schools only in Spain and there were I don’t know how many schools in the United States but the last one closed only in 1958 in New Jersey. Modern Schools were amazing places. One could also argue that Yasnaya Polyana of Leo Tolstoy was also an anarchist school. It was in many ways. 

But anarchist schools were schools where you had a few elements. Integral education was number one. Education of the whole person. You don’t only educate somebody as an intellectual but you aim at education of the whole person. The other thing was something that anarchists called reality of the encounter. Which means that all the questions in pedagogical practice needs to come from real questions posed by life itself. So you need to do something that’s practical. Another thing was the complementary role of the teacher, which means the teacher needs to be a facilitator who listens and who offers something in return. But the first thing, the first kind of show of interest, comes from the student. So the role of the teacher is complementary. Another huge thing was something Proudhon called démoédie, or self-government of the school. So school becomes a place where you teach students arts of self-government and self-management. Schools are organized in the spirit of direct democracy. Another thing which was Paul Goodman, famous anarchist educator, his idea was to organize decentralized “teeny schools,” as he called them. So to have a small teaching environment. To have students go to the bank to be taught about mathematics, to go to a museum and then to teach them about geography, to do these things. And then the most important thing for anarchist schools on all levels is the idea of natural motivation and natural learning which was first formulated by Tolstoy. The idea is the students have this natural motivation to learn. And what you do is basically you create an environment where that kind of learning becomes possible. And another thing for anarchist schools was the idea of spontaneous order. So there is no imposed order by the teacher, but there is a spontaneous order that the students themselves discover. In other words, discipline is– I think this is Tolstoy’s, the word that he used– discipline is being discovered, not imposed. What would that mean for a university is a different question. I think the one obvious thing would be that everybody, students and professors, there needs to be a horizontal relationship between them. There needs to be an atmosphere of collective production of knowledge in the classroom. There cannot be a curriculum that’s linear. It needs to be dialogical, it needs to be participatory, you need to talk about this and co-create a syllabus. You need to be as horizontal and participatory as possible. You need to be as imaginative as possible in diminishing your own role as a teacher, which is a very tricky thing, without becoming a populist in the classroom, you know. Empowering students, and finding appropriate structure together with students. Again we are coming back to the idea of listening. We need to listen to the students and together with them, create an atmosphere in the classroom that’s going to be genuinely transformative. 

SFBG: I’d love to ask you more about how this will relate to anarchism and occupy.

AG: In terms of anarchism, we are gonna have- this is going to be one of the few places where anarchism is going to be studied. So anarchist social theory, anarchist education, anarchist ideas in general. We are going to study them, seriously, because they need to be recognized seriously. They’re part of- it’s a beautiful history, it’s a beautiful tradition. How important it is, I think, is revealed, by the recent rediscovery or reinvention of anarchism at occupy. So I think that it’s more relevant than ever to create a space where anarchism will be studied. 

In terms of occupy, occupy is going through the process of fragmentation right now, and they are looking for a new political space of conversation I think. So the way that we can relate to occupy, I think, is to have our students participate in whatever different movements occupy helped. Because you know that occupy now how occupy patriarchy, there is decolonize, there are many different groups. So I expect our students to be involved in occupy, and I expect us to be able to offer a space where many of the debates related to occupy can happen. So, and you know there is an actual affinity. When Silvio Federici comes, or John Holloway, or Michael Hardt, or any of these people, these are the people that occupy people read, and these are some of the bibles of the occupy movement. So what are we going to do is, we are going to make them available and accessible to these people who come here, and we are going to bring here,  and we are going to take them to the occupy movements and we are going to invite people from the occupy movements to come here. But we are also going to do more I think. What we can do, and this is now only a plan an idea, is to invite the movement itself, not only occupy but different movements, and say, OK, please come here and tell us what would you like us to do. And one person from our department had this idea and I think it is brilliant. So to have the movement, different movements– is it food, is it the environment, is it one of the occupy-related movements- come here. We provide the space. And they tell us- social theorist, social scientists, people in the academia, they tell us what do they need us to do. It comes back to this idea of listening. So give a movement or movements a real possibility and opportunity to speak. Because usually academics, we are people who speak. Well we would like to see academics become people who actually listen. 

SFBG: I agree that occupy is basically an anarchist movement and a lot of the tenants of anarchism are being used in it. And I think this is a time when, in the mainstream, people are talking about anarchism more. But for a lot of people it has the image of people who wear black and smash stuff. So I’m curious, how does black bloc, or property damage, relate to the anarchism that’s going to be studied in the department?

AG: It doesn’t relate at all. The anarchism that we are going to study is– in Katrina, the Common Ground collective. That for me is a great example. Common Ground collective is a relief group of activists who went there from all over the place, they went to New Orleans, they were all anarchists and they said OK, we don’t believe in charity, we believe in solidarity. And they built a common ground center and they did relief work with the community for a couple of years. And there is a new book about it by a person who actually came here and spoke, one of the New Orleans activists, Scott Crow. And this is the kind of anarchism I am myself inspired by, the constructive side, not the destructive side. So how to build alternatives in the present for people, what sometimes referred to as prefigurative politics. How to think about positive stuff, constructive stuff. Building alternatives that are going to be persuasive enough– not about breaking windows. I don’t see any particular point in breaking windows. And I think it’s an unfortunate thing that people would reduce anarchism to that. If you think about it, the most important public intellectuals in the United States, one of them recently died, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky thankfully is still alive, they’re both anarchists. So this is the kind of anarchism that I subscribe to, and both of them were my mentors. And I studied with Howard. I studied with Noam, he was the chair of my PhD committee. So these are the people whose anarchism I take very seriously, and this is the kind of anarchism that I like. 

SFBG: But it’s hard to ignore organizing tactics.

AG: But even orgnanizing tactics– black bloc as a tactic comes from the autonomen movement in Germany, which was not an anarchist movement. It comes from the 80s. People dressed in black in Germany, you know, doing property destruction thinking that property destruction is going to contribute to the tactical efficiency of a particular action. Then it went through the environmental movement in particular places, in the environmental movement here in the United States. And it’s being used not only by anarchists, it’s being used by people who would call themselves communists, left, anti-state communists, by different varieties, autonomous Marxists. So it’s not only a tactic that anarchists use. And, you know, it’s a tactic. Anarchism is far broader. 

SFBG: Than just tactics.

AG: Yes. If you would ask me what is the most distinguishing, for me, character of anarchism I would say prefigurative politics– creating the new within the shell of the old—the idea of direct democracy, and the idea of direct action. Direct action being producing alternatives within the present, and direct democracy, behaving in the way that general assemblies are being set up. So that is I think the greatest lesson that anarchism can teach, direct democracy and direct action. 

SFBG: Occupy Oakland, they only had their camp for less than two months, but so much happned.

AG: They did great things. I really feel bad when I read mainstream media completely dismissing that experience. I was there, and the amount of work that went into keeping the medical facilities there, to helping homeless, feeding homeless, helping people with medicine, with immediate healthcare, taking care of children, creating children-friendly spaces, I mean it was amazing. Sure there were problems, of course there are going to be problems. But the stuff that people did there was just incredible. And the general strike, and shutting the port, and all of that, these were great things.

SFBG: And part of the reason the city started cracking down on it was when police tried to enter the space, people wouldn’t let them in.

AG: And they shouldn’t let them in, because the way police behave in Oakland was just outrageous.

This interview has been edited for length.

Local porn stars in Pussy Riot benefit show


Change the world one-handed!

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich of the band Pussy Riot have been jailed in Russia for months and face three years in prison for “hooliganism.”  They could be sentenced as soon as August 17, and their legal defense team is working their asses off.

That’s where Bianca Stone and Coral Aorta come in. On Monday, the local performers will do a cam show to benefit the defense team.

Stone said she was inspired by Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna and her fundraising support for Pussy Riot.

“It’s an act of raising awareness and solidarity and getting people involved,” said Stone.

“We need another riot grrrl movement. We need another mass art and cultural movement for young women and girls,” she said. “Imagine if every city had a pussy riot band?”

A hint of what’s to come: strip tease with a riot grrrl soundtrack and panties worn on faces as Pussy Riot-style balaclavas. And the first 30 minutes is free.

“Then, we’re gonna fuck the shit out of each other,” said Stone. You have to pay for that part.


Mon/13 2pm