Reflections after a rainy morning lit drop

March 5, 2024

This morning I got up before dawn to drop lit for the primary election in San Francisco. As drizzle fell on my head, the sun rose, then hid again behind mist. The last time I did this — an early morning lit drop on Election Day — was in 2016. There’s been a dramatic increase in networked, front-door surveillance cameras (the Ring brand and others). It’s a trend that worries me: the abuse potential of all that video, concentrated in the hands of a few tech companies, is enormous. Installing them seems like a statement that convenience (and a security blanket against package theft1) matters more than basic privacy. Were those houses a lost cause? Seeing the cameras everywhere, I struggled against demoralization.

For the third year running, San Francisco is in the grip of a wave of reactionary politics driven by fear of crime, and specifically crimes of poverty. Homeless people are not treated as unlucky neighbors who need help, but conflated with dangerous criminals. When someone who is hungry shoplifts from Walgreens to eat, all our empathy is with the owners and managers of Walgreens, and it’s not the food bank that receives funding, but the police and jails, so these individuals who refuse to starve quietly can be prevented from interfering with the city’s business recovery.

Maybe the most galling example of the mindset is how fentanyl overdoses have been weaponized. Mayor Breed mothballed her own administration’s evidence-based overdose prevention plan, which emphasizes availability of treatment, harm reduction, and social support, in favor of punitive measures that have predictably backfired and led overdose deaths to continue to surge to record highs. Prop F — we’ll find out tonight/tomorrow if we managed to beat it — would drive those deaths even higher. The cruelty seems to be the point.

A mailer I got from GrowSF justified endorsing Prop F by saying, when they polled the idea, it got 74% support. That’s the whole argument. Not: It works, it’ll actually solve the problem. Just: It polls well. So it must be right.

As ambitious moderate activists chase those polls — and progressives, looking at the same polls, shy away from calling BS — we seem to be on a runaway train of radicalization to the right. I used to identify as a YIMBY, and I know people who do bicycle as well as housing advocacy and tend to support the mod side of the city’s moderate/progressive divide. They reassure me that mod politicians don’t really believe in these policies that resemble the disastrous 1994 crime bill; rather, the politicians are only professing to support this stuff to get elected. They tell me they’re uncomfortable with these policies, but can’t be expected to turn on their allies.

When the city voted to recall our reformist DA Chesa Boudin in 2022, I thought: At least the wave has crested now, and it’ll get better from here. I was wrong. Polls show more than twice as many of us worry about crime as our top priority as did so when Boudin was office. That could be interpreted as vindication of Boudin’s approach and proof the “tough” policies since pursued by Mayor Breed and DA Jenkins aren’t working. But progressives still aren’t telling that story effectively, and the big spenders aren’t slowing down but pushing for ever more right-wing policies, now, preposterously, pointing a finger at judges and trying to persuade us to install conservative judges.

This mood of fear won’t pass on its own, like a wave, I realized. We have to fight back, or people like Dorsey, Moritz, and Tan will keep repeating their fact-free, populist appeals and passing worse and worse stuff.

That’s why I was running up steps at 5 in the morning putting League voter guides and Labor and Working Families slates on doors. It’s not that either the League or the slate is perfect. But we badly need people in politics who, however flawed they might be, stand for something more than chasing polls. We need to come together on real solutions to our problems, not reaction and division.

A view down a steep hill on a sidewalk lined with palm trees on an overcast, drizzly day.
  1. I’ve had the experience of having clear surveillance footage of my bike being stolen including the license plate of the getaway vehicle, and SFPD not doing jack and me not getting my bike back, so unlike a lot of people I get that surveillance is not magic. 

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