Thursday, September 17, 2015

City Under Siege: Artists Endorse Aaron Peskin To Lead Fight For Affordable San Francisco


Aaron Peskin, center, surrounded by supporters. Photo by Stewart Bloom

By Denise Sullivan

Cafe Zoetrope in North Beach was overflowing on Monday evening with politically engaged artists, writers, and neighbors gathered to support Aaron Peskin, candidate for Supervisor. A longtime affordable housing advocate and former chair of the SFDCCC, Peskin termed out of his Supervisor's seat in 2008, but a return to the Board representing District Three could mean a restoration to sanity in the City's legislative chamber if he succeeds in ousting the Ed Lee appointee, Julie Christensen.

Citing his district's history, from the Gold Rush, Little Chile, and the mid-century's International Settlement nightclub district, to present day Chinatown, "One of our greatest neighborhoods is under attack," said Peskin. "Let's not forget the lessons of the I-Hotel, just a few steps from here." Conjuring the scene of a historic eviction of Fillipino immigrants and elders from Manilatown in the name of "redevelopment," a devastating program that continues to impact communities of color citywide, 50 years after its implementation, "We lost that battle, but…as a result, we have rent control, and we created a more compassionate city from that event."

Though it might be argued compassion has taken a vacation from the city named for a saint who embodied it, Peskin's passion for San Francisco and his district's contribution to literary arts has earned him an endorsement from City Lights Bookstore owner/publisher/poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (who offered this poem to Peskin for the evening). While Peskin quoted Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Wendell Berry on Wallace Stegner, author David Talbot who organized the event and edited a booklet of contributions by artists and writers, quipped, "Anyone who quotes Allen Ginsberg and Wallace Stegner gets my vote."

Mayoral candidate Broke-Ass Stuart kicked off the evening of live readings which included heavylifters like housing rights advocate, poet and native son Tony Robles, POOR Magazine editor and City Lights author, Lisa "Tiny" Gray-Garcia, and the City's present poet laureate, Alejandro Murguía, plus Talbot's friends and colleagues like memoirist Laura Fraser, Mark Bittner (The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill) and brother Stephen Talbot, a documentary filmmaker. All along the spectrum of the left, it's agreed the person for the job is Peskin, "…with the true fighting spirit of the Kennedy brothers, someone who is not afraid to fight the power and defend the people," as Talbot writes in his introduction to the booklet, San Francisco, Lost & Found.

Murguía summoned the words of Eduardo Galeano when he said, "We seem to be living in an Alice in Wonderland upside down world," by way of introducing his own poem, El Mundo al Reves (a portion appears below).
It's a strange world we're living here
Where fat buzzards perch on trees
And good fruit lies on the ground
And all around children in their bare feet
It's a strange world we're living here
Poet/activist Tony Robles. Photo- Stewart Bloom

"Poetry is the best part of the struggle," said Tony Robles quoting his uncle, poet Al Robles. Gray-Garcia used words of her own invention, like "gentriFUKation," to describe the situation at hand, while Bittner who arrived in 1973 wrote and read, "I worry that if Aaron doesn't win this election, everything I came here for will be gone forever. We really do need him. He understands how the government works. He also understands that not everybody wants to live a conventional life."

Between promoting his new book, The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government this fall, Talbot will continue to make a series of pre-election San Francisco appearances. On October 3, his newly founded organization, Vision-SF, will hold its first all-city congress from 2:30-4:30 PM at the Brava Theater on 24th at York Streets. The organization led by Talbot and a committee of organizers and political leaders including former City Attorney and Supervisor Louise Renne is determined to return San Francisco to more a hospitable and compassionate place. At the evening's end, I asked Renne how I might best gently convince an octogenarian North Beach artist friend of mine to switch sides from Christensen to Peskin and she offered up a few strategies. It might seem a small thing, but open communication across generational, economic, color and politically conscious/unconscious lines is a beginning toward reshaping the city under siege. The times demand that culture-makers and shapers step outside their own minds and take a stand, though in Talbot's words, it's "Going to be a long battle in SF."

Denise Sullivan is author of several books on popular music, including Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip Hop. She is at work on a book of personal San Francisco stories.



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