March Madness

Demonstrating may soothe the psyche, but it won't save San Francisco's arts scene

There's a line of logic that says no matter how petty, pointless, hypocritical, or mean the 22nd-and-Mission demonstration may have been, by calling attention to the cause of arts displacement in the Mission, good may have been done. But this idea — good ends from bad means — troubled me, and about a week after Dad called to tell me about the hospital orderly, I called to ask him to talk some more about the old days.

There was plenty of meanness and pettiness and pointlessness in the peace movement, too, he recalled. And those forces tended to hamper the cause in the long run.

"If a leader doesn't have some sort of humanitarian core value — and it has to be real, where they're not doing it for their own mental health, or because of a grudge, or a case where they want to compete with their sister organizer — unless they have a core that's genuine, people need to not touch it," Dad said. "If you say yes to things that are a denial of where you should be coming from, it has a way of collapsing and breaking down. It's like the '60s. We've been trying to overcome the '60s for all these years. There was so much that didn't come out of a solid core, it just raised havoc with people's lives. I think Gandhi had it right: When his efforts would gather energy from where he wasn't coming from, he would just quit for a while."

In this light, keeping artists in the Mission and in San Francisco is about building a citywide consensus that our arts community is a monument worth saving, then aligning with people who are acting on this idea. Already notions have been floated about pooling money to buy arts-space buildings, or persuading dot-com companies to spend money on the arts. The revolution may someday come, but right now we have a crisis to deal with.

In this Gandhian light — the American tradition of progressive direct action is, after all, a spawn of Gandhi's independence movement — saving the arts isn't about hating yuppies, or hating dot-commies, or hating people who participate in the capitalist system. It's not even about taking away Marci Reisman's Pomegranate New Age-haven building.

Or stripping Rachel Kaplan of her third-of-a-million-dollar condo.

It's about coming together as an entire city to save a treasured monument. It's about taking such bold, focused, and generous-spirited action that, when we're going about our lives 30 or so years from now, strangers stop us to say, "I admired what you did."

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