Important. s1eepta1k, this one’s for you.
All these decades, I’ve moved through San Francisco pursuing my straight white literary activist girl pursuits but with joy in the people pursuing theirs and in the range and variety of life. Those mornings in Golden Gate Park, when I lived on that side of town, when the drummers were doing their thing on Hippie Hill, the roller disco royalty gyrating on skates, the old Chinese people doing their martial arts (with big pink fans, once, a whole flock of old ladies like flamingos), the bullfighters practicing sans bulls in the Panhandle, the swing dancers on the little bridge by the De Young, the saxaphonists and digeri doo guys playing with tunnel reverb, the runners running, the weddings and tourists and museum goers and cyclists and houseless campers and the archers at the far west where the gay men used to cruise before online shopping for sex: it felt like a world with room for everyone. I keep coming back to the sign an old woman held up at Occupy Wall Street: “We are fighting for a world where everyone matters.”
This is why I’ll pay my respects to Esta Noche even though I was never a Latina drag queen and why it pains me to see it and so many other institutions helping the old San Francisco be a world in which many worlds fit, in which everyone mattered, evicted, erased, outpriced. Those worlds are going out like lights as it becomes the brave new world of newcomers—and we always welcomed newcomers, but this many with this much clout are extinguishing what came before and not arriving in San Francisco but replacing it with a strange surburbanized dudely young version of the good life that doesn’t have room for Latina drag queen bars, apparently. Or bookstores. Or the Coltrane Church. Or ladies who are nearly 100 and here by grace of rent control who could tell you wonderful stories about the San Francisco of the 1930s and 1940s. Or the godfather of the Mission and the Galeria de la Raza.
Remember that Bernal Hill is where some Sandinistas trained once upon a time, before anyone dreamed the Google Bus would be stopping at its foot, remember that we were the great portal for Zen in the west with San Francisco Zen Center, remember that we have been a great generator of magazines—Rolling Stone, Artforum—that moved, of ideas that stuck, starting with the environmental movement at least since the Sierra Club was founded on Kearny Street in 1892 and Earth Island Institute 90 years or so later, of liberation for queer people at least since North Beach was full of lesbian and drag bars and Jose Sarria (may s/he rest in regal festivity) was running for Supe in 1961 and the drag queens were beating the cops with their purses and heels at the Compton Cafeteria Riot long before Stonewall, remember that the Mission mural scene was all about art that wasn’t white or gentrifying, remember that the Alcatraz occupation came out of Native Americans here who inspired a whole continent of indigenous people, remember that Asian rights and identities were often defined from here around the I-Hotel and its cultural center and activists and the great Asian writers of this region, remember that Valencia Street was lesbian bars and appliance stores before the new fancy came in, remember that the support for so many movements, and sometimes the big ideas, came from here. Will they again? I’m worried.
– Rebecca Solnit