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Strange Loops

LaborFest is happening again, and it’s better than ever. Pretty ironic, given the amazing shift in San Francisco’s population… In a Chronicle article about the exodus of the “middle class” from San Francisco they printed these numbers:

From 2002 to 2006, the number of households making up to $49,000 per year dropped by 7.4 percent, those earning between $50,000 and $99,999 declined by 4.4 percent, and those bringing home between $100,000 and $149,999 fell by 3.9 percent, according to Census Bureau estimates. In polar opposition, the number of households making between $150,000 and $199,999 surged 52.2 percent and those earning more than $200,000 climbed 40.1 percent.

The growing interest that the vibrant LaborFest would indicate is a bit hard to explain. But I’m enjoying it a lot, regardless. I caught a quirky “performance” of the 1901 waterfront strike at Hyde Street Pier this afternoon. Actors played strikers and owners arguing in public with one another, with a bourgeois woman wandering through the crowd denouncing the strikers, and a confused worker asking bystanders what they thought as she tried to figure out who to support. It was very staged, so I’m not sure anyone was actually challenged to think differently, but it did catch something of the personal confrontation that class conflict used to consist more of.

It’s spooky though, imagining how the current demographic shift will show up in local politics in coming years. This fall will be telling, I suppose, as there are 7 of 11 seats up for new candidates on the Board of Supervisors. But no compelling reason to support anyone that I’ve heard of yet… maybe some readers will pitch one or other emerging candidacies…

I saw a great new Ken Loach film “It’s a Free World” after conducting my twice-annual Labor History bike tour on July 5. The Laborfest program is chock-full of interesting events and I recommend checking it out. I’m going to a Chinatown Labor History walk tomorrow morning at 10, and there’re some May 68 films tomorrow night. Earlier today, also part of LaborFest, I caught a few New Deal films at the Library, which has its own 3-floor exhibit on the New Deal right now. Interesting juxtaposition of New Deal propaganda, putting America to work etc., to the actual work going on across the street in front of City Hall. A new Potemkin Victory Garden has been installed by Slow Food Nation and a bunch of friends:

During the past week I’ve been lurking around (and helping a bit) the Victory Garden being installed across from City Hall. It’s sponsored by Slow Food Nation, the upcoming national convention/party of Slow Food folks in the U.S. (it’s an important international movement of course). I spoke about Victory Gardens during my Nowtopia tour, and continue to pump the idea of urban food forests as a more sensible use of our remaining public commons (all that land stupidly covered in asphalt). So I’m very enthusiastic about the temporary Victory Garden in Civic Center, and hope we can shoehorn the enthusiasm it’s generating into a more concerted effort for transforming public lands throughout the city. It was a curious juxtaposition though, to see all these folks essentially creating a public works program from below, and then watching films of the massive public works programs pushed from the top during the 1930s. Here’s a victory garden photo gallery:


It started on July 6 and 7 with black plastic and pouring soil into these circles of straw… not meant to last too long, clearly!

By July 10 things were shaping up further.

This is Kelsey, John Bela of REBAR, and Amy Franceschini of Future Farmers/Victory Gardens, the folks who are kind of the central committee on this garden effort.

Today, July 13, was planting day, and for the 150 or so who registered to plant, it was a day with schwag and work and food. I squeezed in on my personal connections, but only to take photos… here’s some of my faves:

A lot of folks who are the backbone of local gardening, farming and restoration were fully engaged. A few employees of the Presidio Trust were working the past couple of days. This is Jason and Antonio from Alemany Farm with an unidentified friend:

Home in San Francisco again, my life resumed its frenzied pulsing, so much to do, so many friends to reconnect with, impossible to keep up with everyone and all the possibilities…

I went to Modern Times last night to catch my friend Adrienne Pine presenting her new book “Working Hard, Drinking Hard” about crime, alcoholism and gendered social relations in Honduras. She’s a great speaker and managed to turn a very somber account of mass murder and social decomposition into a charming talk that made us laugh a lot. She’s a very capable speaker, having been a California Nurse organizer for a while before moving on to her current gig as an anthropology prof at American Univ. in Cairo. She made a compelling analysis of the Honduran situation, following the death squads set up or tolerated by then U.S. ambassador John Negroponte back in the 1980s, the rise of the gangs that overlapped with life here in the U.S., and the recomposition of economic life around the re-gendering of production in the maquiladoras (young women get the jobs, young men have no job prospects). The large surplus of young unemployed men has been the target of the police killings, and it happens to overlap still with “youth delinquency” here in San Francisco, as the city is now cooperating with the Feds to deport young drug dealers back to their home countries (some Hondurans are in this story, though not specified as such in the article).

Anyway, given the ongoing expansion of the global production chains, the endless replacement of industrial (usually male) labor with young women who are burned through as fast as possible, and the rise of kleptocratic states, mcMafia’s etc., Adrienne’s work is spot-on. She’ll be presenting again this coming Friday at AK Press warehouse in Oakland.

I’ve been trying to catch up with my piles of magazines that rolled in during my 2 month absence. A recent New Yorker had its own curious juxtaposition: The latest from Seymour Hersh on the preparations for invading/bombing Iran, presumably to eventually gain control over oil reserves throughout the Middle East. Right after that article Elizabeth Kolbert, who has been doing some great reporting on Climate Change, wrote a fascinating piece about the island of Samsø in Denmark managing to become an energy exporter in the past ten years. A guy made it is his personal project to convince the 4300 residents of the island to get excited about conserving and becoming energy independent, then even to the point of exporting energy back to the national grid. I love the piece because it shows how eminently possible such a drastic transformation is, but also because my great-great grandfather, Jakob Snedker Wohnsen (1841-1912) was harbor-master at Kolby Kaas, Samsø, in the late 19th century. So it’s nice to know that my ancestral stomping grounds are a step or two ahead of the curve on the climate crisis, y’know?

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