A little over a year ago, I found myself awake in the middle of the night, unable to shake a troubling conversation. An old friend “Lara” had called that afternoon to tell me the building – the one she and her husband “Omar” had lived in for 15 years – had been sold to an out-of-state investment group. The eviction notice had just arrived. Lara, a retired teacher, and Omar, a registered nurse, have made their home here since 1978. They are deeply rooted and, like most San Franciscans, renters. Her voice was understandably shaky and tinged with panic as she asked, “How can we just pack up and go? And to where? We’re not 25-year-olds!” We discussed ways to buy time, but we both knew the painful truth: Barring a miracle, Lara and Omar would be leaving San Francisco, and would almost certainly never be able to return. It was just one of many similarly distressing conversations I had been having lately.
Sure, gentrifying waves have been crashing into San Francisco ever since I moved here in 1983 (and certainly before). But this was a tsunami, and it was beginning to look like few without substantial means would survive the rising tide. Every week there were more stories of loss, more reports of friends and acquaintances losing their place in the very community in which they expected to grow old. At the same time, nonprofits and neighborhood businesses were disappearing at such an astonishing pace, it felt like the ground was shifting under all of us.
On that anxious early morning, I sat staring at my laptop until I came up with an idea to help me sleep better: a Facebook page that I titled VanishingSF. I posted a photograph of two people, each holding up a big red cardboard sign. One read: “Stop Evicting People With AIDS.” The other: “Housing = Healthcare.” In the description, I pasted this line from Rebecca Solnit’s 2004 book, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, which I read as a love letter to the overlooked power of social change movements:
To live entirely for oneself in private is a huge luxury, a luxury countless aspects of this society encourage, but like a diet of pure foie gras, it clogs and narrows the arteries of the heart… (more)