we’re still here
life is full of tough choices. when, for whatever reason, you have some economic and social privilege, your lifestyle decisions are more likely to impact everyone around you. where you live, where you work, if you travel, how you travel, what you buy, how you buy it, how you get rid of it, and how you interact with others can be convivial or inadvertently violent. gentrification, por ejemplo, is violence.
i try to live a thoughtful life. from my quotidian interactions -making sure the person who was there first gets served first, trying not to make garbage- to my larger life -career decisions, money matters- and at the end of the day, no matter what i decide and what i disregard, i must own up to what i am doing, if nothing else. it is in this vein that i will openly admit i am a selfish, entitled, lazy, ignorant gentrifier.
i moved to the mission neighborhood of san francisco in 2001, at the end of the dot com bust. i’m not sure where in the displacement timeline i arrived. since i was half asleep or half awake when i got there, i wasn’t too concerned. i loved san francisco and the mission. it was the only place that ever felt like home.
i came back the bay area from my 10 month self-imposed sabbatical in 2012, only to realize my peer group had gentrified me out of the city (whether or not they are actually my peers is a disputable point). i knew right away i was going to be part of the giant wave, which had started years ago, of young professionals moving to the east bay, and to cool, dangerous oakland, in particular. this broke my heart, and still does. i love san francisco, and i love oakland; i didn’t want to kill oakland the same way i helped kill the mission.
rent in sf bordered on criminal before i left, and now it’s just murder. the idea of waiting in line for an open house with people half my age who make three times my salary vying for the chance to spend 60% of my income to live in a hobbit hole made me want to vomit. i’m selfish. i didn’t want to live in a house with ten other tech bros who party all night having money fights, or a family of co-op’y folks where i have to consensus myself into oblivion. i’m wasteful. i’ve had to make tough choices, and, in the end, it meant no choice at all. i could not afford the only choice that would have created the least amount of damage. my life then went on pause as i became paralyzed in transient sublet mode waiting for the gods to reopen those san francisco golden gates and let me back in. i was a yuppie refugee.
i’m well aware this is a complete insult to actual refugees who have not been bestowed my unearned privilege. and yet, that’s how it felt all the same: temporarily stuck in a place that was not mine and stubbornly refusing to plant roots because one day maybe the wall would come tumbling down and i could return. i was not alone, either. i saw others wandering aimlessly around -generally in a car because, y’know, it’s the east bay- pining the fog, a decent burrito, and that apartment they gave up years ago (damn it!). we are not committed to this place; we were pushed on to the good people of oakland, and we have money, which makes us dangerous.
pieces of the san francisco diaspora were everywhere: the leather daddy walking around lake merritt, the knowing look of defeat on the faces of my fellow commuters, the long lines for ice cream and brunch, and the preternatural bloom of pretentious beer gardens. and if this were all we left in our wake, i could learn to live with it. if it were paired with a conscious acknowledgment of said intrusions and active steps to ghettoize ourselves in berkeley, i could have committed to that thoughtful life (even if did not include pupusas). but we all just watch(ed) and did more of the same. we watch(ed) the rents go up and up, we watch(ed) west and east oakland families get evicted and replaced by our cooperatives and artist lofts, we watch(ed) as day by day the class and ethnic hue of passengers getting off at the west macarthur bart station became monochromatic, we watch(ed) our tech overlords barrel down streets in their tinted buses, and we watch(ed) as newly evicted huddled masses carry their used ikea furniture further inland -to live in places where there are no jobs so they have to commute to their old neighborhoods to work because people who can live wherever they want made the choice to displace them. antioch, ho! and don’t tell me you can’t afford to live in a richer neighborhood. you just want to eat brunch. quit playin. i watch(ed), and tried to stay very, very quiet.
because, honestly, who wants to be that guy? or date that guy? or spend any time around that guy? the angry one; the bitter one; the one that doesn’t want to go to the new place with the delicious sweet potato fries because they remember the affordable sandwich shop that used to be there; the one that cringes when you excitedly tell them about the apartment you “found” in west oakland/east oakland/fruitvale, and cringes more when you don’t know/don’t care what that neighborhood used to be or where those neighbors are now; the one that shakes her fist in your face when you talk about how gentrification improves the economy and makes oakland safer. well, maybe i don’t always stay that quiet…
“i hella ❤ oakland,” they say. if you really loved oakland, really, really, loved the small pocket of oakland you claim to know, you would move up the hill and try to advocate for economic and social justice development that is supportive of the desires of oakland’s most underresourced; those that have been respirando lucha for decades (do you know the deep rebellion that runs through this place?). admire it from afar, create your own culture somewhere else (i hear you’re fond of the desert once a year… no, I’m kidding, please don’t fuck up the desert), and invest your social and economic capitol in ways that are supportive of folks who created the culture you think you love but are truly just eating alive. the culture that will have to add one more struggle to its list after you realize detroit got cool and move there. your physical and economic existence is displacing someone else’s. it doesn’t matter if you clean litter up around your block or talk to your neighbors because you also call the cops on them, and you’re fooling yourself if you think anyone is grateful to wash dishes for you in one of the 20 new cafes or happy hour spots only you can afford. for those of us who remember what 40th and telegraph, city center, the laurel district, etc., used to look like, we know it wasn’t pretty. but it was honest. the artisanal glitz, foodie, faux indie nonsense that’s happening now, is uglier. it’s uglier because it is an ignorant lie wrapped in oblivion with a condescending, god damn, giant fucking pink fuzzy mustache on it (disruption is doublespeak for deregulation, asshat); because it creates more hunger and desperation; because it divides us more; because it swept poverty somewhere else.
the only constant thing in life is change, and that doesn’t mean all kinds of change are inevitable. thoughtlessly devouring the communities around you -whether in your big decisions or in your small ones- is a choice. gentrification is not inevitable. it is a choice. actually, it’s a series of choices made by individuals, and the only person i can control is myself.
and so i did sneak back across the border into fogtown two years after my return, and it’s more of the same. i returned to my beautiful, abusive, lover that i cannot leave and barely recognize anymore. where i pay 60% of my income for a 270 square foot shoebox; where the weight of a possible eviction presses heavily on my heart; where packs of white boys manspread all over the sidewalk; where city hall sold our soul; where no one seems to care and i choose to shout as loud as i can.