Eviction, creativity and a story of self discovery

IMG_0795Multimillionaires evicting seniors, families and the disabled for profit; The disappearance of art and music from San Francisco; the systematic vanishing of the Bay Area’s emblematic alternative thinking and values. These are a few things that motivated my passenger, Beatrice, to community organizing and activism against eviction. Beatrice’s approach to activism is a nontraditional one that is based around inclusion and creativity.

After riding with Beatrice earlier this month, I interviewed her, in person. We spoke about her perspective on the changes happening in San Francisco and, in a very open and honest discussion, the deep personal journey that these changes prompted.

Changes and exploration in San Francisco

Beatrice has lived in the Mission District for 14 of the 20 years she has lived in town. In that time, she has been very close to the arts and music scene. In the last few years, she began to intuitively sense an impending crisis. This was affirmed as she saw musicians being driven out of San Francisco, music and art venues closing and friends getting evicted. This prompted a deeper exploration of the issues which led to her attending her first community meeting.

At this meeting, Beatrice heard the stories of the people, largely Latino, who have been long time residents of this area. She witnessed men and women crying as they were forced out of their homes. One compelling story was of a resident who had many times risked his own life to suppress gang and drug related violence in the community.

2 compelling stories of eviction

1. Lisa Fong, an area millionaire and owner of San Francisco’s Punjab restaurant has been working to evict residents from one of the buildings she owns. The Latina/Latino American family in danger of eviction has been living in this space for years. This family operates a local day care which serves the Mission community. Eviction activists feel that the Fong family is exploiting a loophole to evict the residents by saying they want a member of their family to take over the space.

I called the Punjab restaurant and spoke to Lisa’s husband. He said, “nothing the Fong family is doing is illegal and that their 81-year-old mother wants to move back into the old property. She is tired of walking up 28 stairs every day. It is from that property that she conceived her children and built her empire.” He said this is the only tenant that they have a problem with. We spoke very briefly about their side of this issue as well as the bigger picture. He likened this to the movement against the rich in the sixties and the Rainbow Coalition. He said, “this is a capitalist society. When did it become illegal to make money in this country?” The gentleman I spoke to said that he knows Lisa’s family and they have worked hard to live the American dream.

The two families have been locked in a legal battle for the last five years.

I was unable to get a statement from the Latina/Latino American family who is in danger of being evicted. If the family is evicted, they will not likely be able to afford the rising rents in San Francisco. Two bedroom apartments go for just under $4000 a month.

2. Jacqui Naylor is a jazz singer who has resided in a historic building in Hayes Valley for the last 20-plus years Jacqui, along with many other of the building’s residents, is in danger of getting evicted. When I first met Beatrice, she told me a little but about Jacqui’s story as she was coming from meeting with her. Jacqui, from her apartment, runs an open and free Buddhist chanting workshop five days a week. If Jacqui gets evicted, the members of that community will have lost more than a just a neighbor.

These are a few situations that motivated Beatrice to take action. However, she does not consider herself an activist. In fact, she “has always been turned off by activism.” Beatrice believes there is a lot of power in inclusion. Many people blame the tech industry for the changes in San Francisco. Beatrice said, “it is always tempting to point fingers, I do it in my head all the time. But, this is counterproductive in activism.” Some activists, she said, have challenges seeing it in this manner, but Beatrice feels an inclusive approach is more powerful.

In general, she sees activism as an art which provides her the opportunity to exercise her creativity and connect people around a common cause. In the past, she was struggling with tapping into her own creativity and was in search for a sense of community. She said, “I keep an idea book where I jot down thoughts about social change, music, film and more. I never thought I could do anything about it, but I found motivation in this struggle… Somethings just come together inside of you.”

“If it wasn’t for this eviction project, I may never have found true community,” Beatrice said. She pointed to the community formed among Latina/Latino Mission residence and the artists who more recently moved to the area.

She was fascinated in the ways in which people form deep relationships and community. Many of the Mexican American families in the Mission, she said, came here with nothing, some as refugees, and work hard. They feel that because they don’t have a lot of money that they are not allowed to be here.

Regarding the role of art in activism and community, she said, “art shows the bigger picture and brings people together.” She spoke with many lawyers, developers and CEOs who she felt did not have the same understanding of community. She said, “If you have a sense of community then your wouldn’t kick people out of their homes.”

Beatrice is working on a few projects. Of interest is her work with Erin McElroy who developed the Anti-Eviction mapping project, which maps evictions throughout San Francisco. Beatrice is in touch with the SFPD in efforts to have the maps projected at the October 4th Our Mission No Eviction March or at another date. Also, through her organizing of resources, there will be Buddhist chanting at the event which she felt helped with cultural integration and inclusiveness. Just after I interviewed Beatrice last week, she sent me this text message about her efforts and social change.

There are many moving parts to the housing struggle in the Bay Area. Beatrice’s message is one of inclusion. How do we include all sides and work together to solve bigger issues? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.