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Talbot / An American Dystopia

San Francisco has been turned into such a grotesque dystopia in the last several years that even the tech industry that ruined The City is now bitterly complaining. I love the entitled former Apple manager quoted in this article (who wouldn't give his full name) who's decamping for Texas with his partner because a $300,000 income just doesn't go that far in San Francisco. "You know… what with $30,000 a year for each kid's private school..." Yes, he actually said that. This wave of strange, selfish, robotic people came pouring into The City, displacing thousands of long-time and even lifelong residents, and then they have the nerve to complain about the growing homelessness and squalor all around them. Techies triggered the skyrocketing real estate prices — a boom that is now shuttering bookstores, theaters, galleries, beloved neighborhood cafes and food emporiums, etc. — and then these newcomers have the gall to complain that SF is a boring city.

It's a boring City because of THEM. What have they actually contributed to the life of our City? These young people who spend more time with their faces glued to screens than they do actually living? Every wave of new people that has washed into SF until now has brought something vibrant and special to The City.

The Irish, Italian and Chinese immigrants built The City, in the unique reflections of their homelands, including legendary restaurants, entertainment venues, and other cultural contributions that defined SF. These immigrant groups' battles for labor rights and social justice also made SF a more civilized place. African Americans then began arriving in big numbers during World War II, transforming the Fillmore into "the Harlem of the West" — a renaissance urban zone of small business entrepreneurship, jazz and soul music, and brilliant nightlife. Latino immigrants likewise turned the Mission into a thriving commercial and cultural oasis, producing such towering figures as Carlos Santana and dozens of great artists and street muralists.

The Beats colonized then-low-rent North Beach, giving birth to such poetic masterpieces as Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," the generational anthem he wrote in a cheap apartment on lower Telegraph Hill. Then came the invasion of the hippies in the 1960s — refugees from broken and boring Middle America — adding a new shimmering layer of history to SF with their music, art, street theater, fashion, underground radio, experimental film, organic local food, free medical clinics, and the like. And finally, of course, SF was blessed with the mighty coming of gays and lesbians and transgender people, who completed the glorious liberation of SF — and made it a beacon of enlightenment to the world.

But now we have a very different invasion: a corporate colonization of The City. The tech industry has heavily impacted The City (to use its dull, lifeless word), taking, taking, taking — from its housing stock and its heritage of hard-won progressivism — and giving nothing in return. There is no value-added (to use more of their robotic language) with the current invaders: they're clueless cultural leeches, social predators. But I blame the tech industry owners and executives much more than the tech work force. Again and again, these bubble billionaires have been given the chance to mitigate their terrible impacts on The City — by agreeing to compensate the City for choking the streets with their Google buses and swarming fleets of Uber and Lyft cars; by regulating the massive expropriation of scarce housing by Airbnb; by helping the growing population of homeless people (whom they MADE homeless) by supporting a modest tax on their enormous wealth. But instead, San Francisco tech titans — men like investor Ron Conway (who led the tech takeover of SF), Sequoia Capital partner Mike Moritz, Twitter's Jack Dorsey, and John and Patrick Collison, the Irish brothers who founded Stripe — have aggressively opposed City Hall's efforts to draft the 1 percent in the desperate battle to save San Francisco. These bubble billionaires would rather simply step over the human wreckage they've caused as they walk from their limousines to their favorite $300-a-meal luxury restaurant.

But these tech billionaires' work forces don't have to imitate their bosses' inhuman behavior. For starters, they can join the ongoing fight to improve public schools, instead of putting their kids in $30,000- a-year private schools. They can begin identifying more with the San Franciscans who lived here long before they came, and get involved in the political battles for affordable housing and against eviction. They can support their local stores, instead of doing all their shopping online. They can start going to meetings and talking with their neighbors instead of staring endlessly at their devices. They can work for local candidates like Dean Preston for Supervisor and Chesa Boudin for District Attorney.

In a word, they can start acting less like techies and more like citizens of San Francisco, this unique City that is still worth fighting for.


David Talbot © 2019

David Talbot is an American progressive journalist, author and media executive. He is the founder, former CEO and editor-in-chief of Salon, one of the first on-line magazines. He has also written a number of books, including the best seller Season of the Witch.


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