* NOTE: Between my first and last drafts of this post, a few awesome articles like this and this, with similar talking points and views, were published and circulated. After lots of internal debate, I edited this to avoid repetition, and decided to post anyway. If you haven’t checked out the others, I hope you do!
* Edited for clarity and updates on 2/6/14.
First, the obvious. Here in San Francisco, we know that there is a growing class divide. We know this is leading to debate and unrest. We know this in the stories of the elderly and evicted, the protests against Google buses and employee, the angry Tweets and blog post comments. We know people feel accused and vilified on both sides.
Next, the less obvious. And the difficult.
In the “Are Tech Geeks ruining San Francisco?” debate, I am the “gentrifier,” the “tech geek,” what have you.
I live with an engineer, whose work for a technology company in SF is why I moved to San Francisco. By proxy, many of my friends are tech people. I have only lived in the boundaries of San Francisco for a total of 3 years. I never “stuck it through the tough times in SF” nor did I “build up the SF community from shambles.” I live in a neighborhood that’s gone from “needle-notoriety” to “cute and trendy” in the past 10 years.
I am the gentrifier. Therefore, I don’t want to hear that people who live in this beautiful city might resent that I eat vegan Japanese food by Dolores Park. I think, “How dare people imagine I am hurting them? I don’t hurt anyone in living my ordinary life!”
But see, that’s the thing. I am more fortunate than most. I have a home. I have a middle-class job. I, unlike those around me, can stay afloat when the rental-tide rises. Through the mix of effort and luck, I don’t need to think about the problems of other people. So when protests pop up, I am jolted for a moment from my calm life.
I know that the issue is bigger than me. So what can I do? As a regular citizen without access to governmental controls or corporate decisions, it’s tempting to go drink my organic and locally-sourced coffee, and say, “Everyone gets kicked out inevitably. I’m not a bad person. Whatever.”
Or, I can get angry, and say, “Those stupid protesters are demonizing me, but I’m not evil.” Then drink my coffee.
Or, I can think about if there is something I can do…. no matter how small.
Here is my list based off Option (C).
5 Things (We) Tech Geeks Can Do in San Francisco to Stop Being “Evil”
1. Be friendly to our neighbors. Here’s a true story.
My next-door neighbors, who own two Priuses and one electric car — towed my car because I’d done a crappy parking job in the dark, and ended up 8 inches into their 10-feet-across, 1-car driveway.
Did they leave me a note first? No. Did they come talk to me first? No. Do I hate them now? $1,000 later, I’m trying not to. Lest you misunderstand, we live on a busy street where the construction guys park in my driveway while I’m gone, knowing that I will ask them to move their cars when I get home.
I learned from these unexpected neighbor’s actions that it’s really, really easy to destroy a neighborhood sense of community.
On the other hand, the truck driver across the street comes to chat when he sees me. I know his name, his job, and stories about the 10 family members who live crammed into his tiny home.
In other words: We can be Community Destroyers, like the Prius-neighbors. Or, preferably, we can be Community Builders, like the truck driver.
NOTE: Although I expect basic civility from people, I don’t expect my neighbors to welcome me with open arms. It’s not about “me.” I am the newcomer and the awkward gentrifier, so I think it is my responsibility to say “hi” first and reach out to build relationships.
2. Buy Local. And when I say “local,” I don’t mean “hipster-expensive-local,” although I just joked about that 2x already. By “buy local,” I mean…..
Go to the Mexican Market to buy your veggies. Go to that corner liquor store instead of Whole Foods. Go to the hole-in-the-wall tailor shop around the corner with the fabrics piled high in the window. Go there even if the sign is faded and it doesn’t have the same sleek fluorescents as Nordstrom’s. Go to the old corner shop bookstore, instead of buying off Amazon.
“Local” is supporting the small businesses that originally built up San Francisco. They aren’t always clean and shiny like the place with $4 coffee, but their services are often awesome because they’ve been at it for decades. These people have been around for ages, live in the City, and have become an integral part of their neighborhoods. Their stores keep the legacy and communities of this City alive.
3. Don’t wish ill on others even when we are uncomfortable. Which goes back to #1. I say it again because it’s tough.
The homeless guy on the corner wants to eat. The neighbor who complains about a noisy private bus wants to sleep. I am not better than the homeless guy. I am not worse than the neighbor.
I try not to let my class status control me; I am not defined by it. In other words, I don’t need to be reactively angry because someone is “stereotyping” me; status means the homeless guy’s stereotypes of me don’t impact my life as much as mine do of him. I don’t need to look down on someone and believe they are “less than” me, just because they stumbled across hard times.
I am not the objects I have, the opportunities I get because of my economic background. However, I have them. I recognize I have them. But I do not need to let these things control my attitude or actions.
4. Learn about the history of where we are, and the debate around us. This will help us understand how we want to approach the problem that is not going away anytime soon.
Is this anger misdirected towards us? Probably. Should people be protesting San Francisco regulations, or corporate responsibility, instead? Probably. Does that mean I should ignore it all? No.
I don’t know much about nativist semantics, or the argument over “who really belongs in SF” and “who really was here at the beginning.” The point is, I moved in later. I am still the houseguest learning how the house is run.
Saying, “Whatevs, it’s not my fault, don’t take it out on me,” is oversimplifying the problem. Saying, “I can do whatever I want, it’s a free country,” is tempting, but willfully ignorant of other people’s lives.
I’d like to not be ignorant, so I am educating myself by reading about 24th St, the debate over middle-class anti-gentrifiers (“artists”), and the elderly and evicted who are genuinely at the bottom of the debate.
5. Get involved in the community through time and money.
I am a guest in this home of San Francisco, still. When I enter a new household, I ask the home how I can be helpful. Some tell me to wash dishes, others say to fix a window, yet others tell me to just get to know everyone.
In San Francisco, I’ve just begun to figure out how I can help. I learned there is a Community Center nearby that helped citizens fight drugs, eviction, and crime back in the 1970′s. A black and white photo shows these Community members with pickaxes and shovels, helping to renovate homes for the elderly. Some of these Community Center members still hang out on the porches of my neighborhood.
Instead of complaining about the SF I don’t like, or coming in with the intent to make it into what I want, I can help to build the City.
After all, when I try building relationships with my new housemates, our new household grows and gets stronger.
Just last week, after reading another scathing op-ed about protesters, I walked down to the Community Center for the first time in the three years I’ve lived here. I filled out a Volunteer Application.
The guy there smiled at me, remembered my name, and offered a few times I could return to pack food, drive someone, or tutor a kid. I’m going back next week. It was a good start.
What it comes down to:
People may still view me as a “gentrifier” in my neighborhood.
And, I am.
However, with conscious attitude and actions, I believe that I will become more than that in time.
Last week, I got home and there was — lo and behold — a Prius parked with its bumper barely crossing the boundary of my driveway. Self-righteous anger flared up in me. How dare they? I thought. I thought about towing them in retaliation.
Instead, I took a deep breath. Then crossed the street and knocked on the neighbor’s door. I introduced myself to him. We shook hands for the first time.
I asked him to pull his car forward so I could get into the garage. He did.
Did I solve the world’s problems? No. Does any of this list solve the systemic problems around us? No.
However, we are the gentrifiers caught in-between. While we wait for San Francisco and its corporate citizens to hash it out, or perhaps get involved ourselves, we can work towards living consciously and positively.
PS: Photo Credit here.