The practice of politics

It isn't just about issues and ideology; it's about the way we fight

Supporters of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi sometimes cross an important line during his Oct. 9 removal proceedings.

ESSAY San Francisco's progressive movement needs restoration and renewal. Our focus on immediate fights and indignities has blurred our perspective on the larger, longer struggle for a more just, sustainable, and inclusive society. It's time to regain that vision by taking a new path and practicing a different kind of politics.

Back-to-back local scandals involving progressive male politicians treating women badly have spawned waves of ugly reactions and recriminations on all sides. Those frustrations have bubbled up against an overwhelming tidal wave of money from wealthy individuals and corporations used to deceive and divide the voting public on the local and national levels.

Real concerns about domestic violence have been reduced to an election-year weapon, cheapening an important issue. Stubborn injustices like lack of gender equity in pay and promotions and access to contraception have been countered with mythical "binders full of women," a new take on the old dodge of personal responsibility. Unacceptable groping or grabbing is alternatively denied, dismissed, or blamed on the women. Little has changed except the modern polish on our dated pronouncements.

The turbulence of this political year has tested our tolerance and we've lost our balance, if not our minds from time to time. But we can learn from our mistakes. San Franciscans should be leading the way forward, not just with our gadgets and technological innovations, but with the example we set in how we practice our politics.

Perhaps I'm not the best one to call out my comrades and propose our next steps. I'm a single, straight man, and I've fought as fiercely as anyone on behalf of the Guardian's progressive values and worldview, sometimes resorting to the same nastiness that we've seen bubbling over this year.

But as I've covered this year's high-profile political scandals involving Ross Mirkarimi and Julian Davis for the Guardian — and read the vitriolic comments reacting to my stories and expressed in public forums — it has caused me to rethink my own approach and that of the progressive movement. So I want to offer my insights, make amends, and contribute to the dialogue that our community desperately needs to have.


Let me start by saying that I understand why people perceive political conspiracies against Mirkarimi, Davis, and other progressive politicians in San Francisco. Wealthy interests really do have a disproportionate influence over the decisions that are shaping this city's future, to the detriment of the working and creative classes.

A small group of powerful people installed Ed Lee as mayor using calculated deceptions, and he has largely been carrying out their agenda ever since, practicing dirty politics that have fractured and debilitated the progressive movement. In this election cycle, we saw the willingness of Lee's deep-pocketed benefactors, such as right-wing billionaire Ron Conway, to shatter previous spending records to achieve their unapologetically stated goal of destroying San Francisco's progressive movement.

But if we want to replace economic values with human values — emphasizing people's needs over property and profits, which is the heart of progressivism — we can't forget our humanity in that struggle. Choosing conflict and the politics of division plays into the hands of those who seek to divide and conquer us. We need to embody the change we want to see and build new systems to replace our ailing political and economic models.

When Mayor Lee decided in March to suspend Sheriff Mirkarimi without pay and without any investigation — and by the way, showing no interest in hearing from the alleged victim, Eliana Lopez — progressives had good reason to be outraged. Domestic violence advocates and the Chronicle's editorial writers may not see it this way, but I understand why it seemed politically motivated.


Second to believing your own bullshit, another way that people and movements fail politically is to allow your opponents to define the terms of your engagement. The only way that we can begin to recast the discourse in our frame, given that the SFBG has proven that it cannot, is to organize our neighborhoods to create the kind of grassroots network that can undermine the corporate media.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 08, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

Being a Bully The essayist mentions “making amends” maybe to Jane Kim even though he says
“I felt that I was treating Kim like I would any politician, and I probably was,” this just wastes our time of course don’t interject personal emotion into the hopefully journalistic endeavor to discern the influence of Willie Brown on Jane’s action as supervisor isn’t being a “bully” BUT that is the very point of journalism to not accept diversion from what is the most important search “influence” on our government by special interests to the great detriment of average San Francisco citizens.

And the essayist should be aware this isn’t “bend[ing]” “the campaign rules and dump millions of dollars into one of their candidate” ITS FAR worse the money isn’t being "dumped" but has specific ‘INTENT” to control the government for Willie Brown’s clients obviously and the election fraud from Willie Brown through Gavin Nesom to Ed Lee is an unbroken continuum of FRAUD and undermining of our democracy IT aint just “bending” the rules”

Posted by thatsthewayitis on Nov. 08, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

Steve's fallacy here is one of the Stockholm Syndrome type, he and his friends get to go to nice parties every now and again for being so close to the insiders, so Steven is going to adopt much of the insider framing in order to keep that going.

The progocialite deal is to appear reasonable by accepting the Brown/Lee/Newsom framing to be given occasional access to those proximate to power, just like the labor and nonprofit deal is to toe the Brown/Lee/Newsom line or else lose your funding.

The days of progressivism are over, it is time to build a new broad and deep coalition of unrich San Franciscans to contest corporate dominance over local government. Anything else simply negotiates away the seed corn.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 09, 2012 @ 7:21 am

If the essay is searching for NEW approach my view is:
We don’t need a new philosophy but a new strategy. The essay states: "We need to stop demonizing those we don't agree with." CAN we ever NOT demonize the pathological "CORRUPTION" gripping San Francisco and that is held in place by an organized entrenched political machine? ...maybe we shouldn’t demonize because it’s a waste of time to express or we need to concentrate on finding and expressing the TRUTH and taking effective action.
The essay believes
"....we need to meet their hate with our love…we need to counter their greed with our generosity of spirit."
I disagree we don’t need to use "love" NOR do we need "generosity" of spirit? WE need to cultivate a strong SPIRIT to inspire ourselves to organize and to take effective brave and bold action even necessarily to find new ways to use the courts and new ways to enlist the government to attack the machine we need to be SMART and we need to be creative and brave we do not need to make amends with the corruptors but among ourselves and with our allies.

Posted by thatsthewayitis on Nov. 09, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

The only way to contest this machine is by an ongoing campaign of organization and mobilization. We have to figure out how systemic municipal corruption makes peoples' lives worse and hammer home on that. DPW, Muni, Rec and Park are the major public-facing agencies.

There is little progressive or labor or nonprofit interest in those issues, they prefer to focus on poverty issues, so these critical areas of public policies are forfeited by default to the machine. Perhaps abandoning that terrain is a condition of getting funded?

In any event, a successful campaign to overwhelm the machine is going to involve identifying the most egregious issues that impact the most people and working our way down starting from that which has the broadest and deepest support. This is the exact opposite of the single issue narrow focus organizing that has led us to this place.

However you want to adorn it, the only way to contest power is to raise power and bring power to the table. That can be a lot of fun as we used to see in election runoffs, it needn't be dour, cliquish and demoralizing as it is in the Sisyphean task of poverty mitigation.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 09, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

Here's my thought/concern/question as to a progressive agenda:
Land use is at the root of (almost) all politics.
- Since it's so huge, why aren't supervisoral candidate forums heavy with LU discussions?
- Why are audience questions about LU routinely ignored by forum moderators?

When we vote for someone who will be deciding on how SF will be developed, we should be investigating *in depth* their views on land use.
Instead, our attention is deliberately skewed away from it.

Unfortunately, voters continue to see progressive candidates *solely* in the light of social issues.

Progressives will do themselves a huge favor if they repeatedly and constantly stress land use issues in their campaigns.
If voters - particularly "moderate" voters - understood that progressive candidates are more likely to reflect their own views on land use, but that moderate candidates will always vast their BoS vote in favor of developers building SF out higher, taller, bulkier, then more progressives will be elected.
N.B. This is my first comment in this thread; the previous Judy isn't me (nor am I her!).

Posted by Judy Berkowitz on Nov. 09, 2012 @ 7:33 pm

Judy B?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 10, 2012 @ 1:01 am


Posted by Judy Berkowitz on Nov. 10, 2012 @ 3:42 pm

But not *that* judy b.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 10, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

LU might be very important for many of us renters hanging on by the skin of our teeth. How it is tied in to the everyday lives of people or will be is another way to look at this. When the developers get a project goint it is ultimately or in the view of present politics quickly affect renters and put pressure on rent control laws. The effect of Independent Election Committees is to me an urgent issue grassroots Eric Mar beat the million dollar man Davie Lee but he was a bad candidate. Breed is voted in in one of the most progressive districts that is a very bad sign. Willie Brown must be unmasked he hides his clients and works the back channels on behalf of the developers he owns many of the BOS and sells out the city everyday while appearing avuncular man about time( see the August Wash Mthly Willie Brown the power broker)

Posted by thatsthewayitis on Nov. 10, 2012 @ 9:01 am

Judy, the reason why LU is not present in progressive politics is two fold, first the developers and Chron will assassinate anyone who crosses them and second the nonprofits who are designated to hold stake for "the community" on LU issues is only allowed to hold stake if they play by the rules set down by the Mayor's office which are STFU if you expect to get any more funding, contracts and access.

Similarly, Muni was not on the table for any of the supervisorial races that I could distinguish. Same for DPW and it was a massive cheerfest for Rec and Park. These forward-facing departments are the most corrupt and offer the greatest toeholds for expanding a progressive coalition with an anti-corruption good government coalition.

Problem being is that buying into corruption is the cost of entry for the nonprofits as they benefit from corruption. Check and mate.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 10, 2012 @ 9:26 am

Hi ho marcos,

I see, understand and agree with your-feet-on-the-ground point(s).

However, I just want to see Land Use - and Muni - to be a plank in the progressive candidates' platforms.
A talking-point.
A vital means for voters to mark the difference between them and "moderate" candidates.

Posted by Judy B on Nov. 10, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

Judy, one node in the nexus of corruption stipulates that the MTA budget is the sole province of the Mayor to dispose with as he sees politically fit, and that no activism by those with claims on the general fund is tolerated around reforming Muni. All that is allowed is throwing more money at the MTA (free Muni for youth, for example) to benefit a narrowly targeted constituency.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 11, 2012 @ 9:28 am

I think Steve has done well to stimulate an important discussion.

That said, I agree with Marc (marcos) when he writes:

"I can't recount how many times I'd built consensus across the political spectrum to support a progressive position articulated in common sense terms only to be cut off by labor or the nonprofits and sold out for the narrowest of compromises."

It actually seems like we have gone backwards, right here in SF.
Example: 20 years ago the Women's Action Coaltion (WAC) offered free child care at every meeting. This was an organization whose only budget was the amount of dollar bills collected at weekly meetings to pay for the space.

When was the last time any other event, of any kind, offered free child care?

And look at the Commission on the Status of Women. I would love to be supportive of them, but why did they just give a big award to billionaire Christine Bronstein for her socialite networking organization, which charges about $75 per event and never offers child care, free or otherwise?

Why are we honoring a billionaire who never even reaches out to offer a hand up to those not already a part of the elite?

More discussion is in order, which is why I am organizing a forum on the status of feminism in San Francisco for December 1 at the Women's Building.

Posted by Erika McDonald on Nov. 11, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

I don't know how it helps women to say "sorry, we won't be as hard on you as we are on men because you are women". Talk about sexist. Jane Kim is on the Board of Supervisors - she is supposed to be able to stand up to the likes of Chris Daly, Willie Brown, and even h. Brown.

Or, perhaps it is just an admission that no matter how progressive and sensitive you are, you are still going to end up apologizing to pouty women for real and perceived slights.

Or, perhaps Steven is just trying to get back in Alix's good graces? She has reposted this article on Facebook! - you have an opening Steven!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

But yes, the hard left always splinters and fragments, thereby rendering itself irrelevant. 'Twas ever so.

As if they were not a small minority anyway, they cannot even be united but rather prefer internal squabbling to achieving anything.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

Seriously, were you around when the pols and male commenters on this site were pilloring Jane Kim? I don't think any male candidate or politician has ever had to put up with such sexist, degrading and downright vicious attacks as Ms. Kim. (note: I didn't agree with her Twitter vote, but I was shocked and appalled by the hate and the bullying.) Some of the prog male commenters on here posted remarks that were really revealing about the sexism of so-called progressive males. It was beyond the pale of anything I've seen in SF politics. And that's saying a lot.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

better than the appalling Debra Walker, let alone Chris Daly. D6 now actually has decent representation and the best thing about Kim is that she is independent. One minute she votes for Ross to keep his job and the next minute she votes for 8 Wash.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

This is FABULOUS!!! Way better than daytime TV! Please please please consider having a public debate. We could broadcast it on Pay-per-View and make a fortune.
Moderate Trouble Maker

Posted by Maria Morgan on Nov. 20, 2012 @ 4:46 pm

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