Earlier this year, in the dark days of winter, a meme emerged. State Senator Scott Wiener, his 6’7″ figure pictured in a suit and tie, stands under fluorescent lighting holding a clearly-photoshopped piece of paper that reads “SB 827 All buildings should be as tall as me.” The image was posted on a brand-new Facebook account christened Upzone the Memes, which, in the months since, has become a popular satirical political voice that rails against the YIMBY movement and its participants’ aggressive stance on housing height and density. Recently, that ire has extended to moderate politicians’ refusal to endorse Prop. C, the November 2018 ballot measure that would double our city’s homelessness budget.
The creator of the memes are anonymous, but on Wednesday SF Weekly made contact with a co-founder, who tells us they have been following the rise of SF BARF and the YIMBY movement for a while. State Bill 827 and the local group’s attempts to infiltrate San Francisco’s political scene bothered them.
“Someone pointed out that some people don’t see how privileged what they’re saying is,” Upzone the Memes says. “So we thought ‘what if we just create memes to highlight how ridiculous their statements are?'”
Memes, while prevalent on social media platforms, don’t frequently make appearances in San Francisco politics. Most people run op-eds in newspapers, hold press conferences or volunteer for candidates they believe in. But there’s a certain demographic that is particularly susceptible to their messaging.
“I think a lot of people — I’m a millennial — engage well with meme culture,” Upzone the Memes explains. “Memes help people become politically active, so I thought why not create some to address the housing conversation?”
Many of the images are artistically awful in their technique; badly trimmed photographs are superimposed over illustrations or popular memes, with white captions placed on top. The shoddy style is intentional. “I’m actually fairly good at photoshop, but I use an app on my phone for the memes,” they say. “I think it adds an element of charm. I could sit down and spend a long period of time making sure everything is beautiful, but sometimes I’m just on the bus, and I see something on Trauss or Foote or the news and I have to do it right then.
“I was almost late to work the other day making that Laura Foote one,” Upzone the Memes adds, referencing a meme they created after Foote got in a fiery Twitter argument with Mission Local Managing Editor Joe Eskenazi.
Members of the YIMBY party, understandably, are not a fan of Upzone the Memes (Laura Foote blocked them on Twitter almost immediately). Nevertheless, her Facebook and Twitter accounts remain public, the latter of which is frequently used to attack journalists, progressives, and people who fight for affordable housing.
“She gives me so much content to work with,” Upzone says. “I always like to focus on political positions more than anything. I try not to go after someone’s character, but the privilege of the YIMBys standing on this ivory tower and yelling at other people about what they should be doing is an easy piece of inspiration.”
YIMBYs aside, the content has evolved over 2018 along with San Francisco’s political topics of choice. Wiener’s SB 827 failed at the state level, so Upzone the Memes has let trolling that one die (for now). But Props C and 10 are now hot topics, at least until Nov. 6. Their election advice? “Don’t vote for everyone that YIMBYs or Ron Conway endorsed.”
The heat of San Francisco politics isn’t going to die down anytime soon, and Upzone the Memes isn’t going anywhere either — especially with Wiener saying he’ll bring back SB 827 for a second try. But they are surprised at how much their badly-photoshopped, politically-nerdy memes have taken off; the Facebook page has 608 follows, with another 417 on Twitter where they’re slightly more active.
“I never expected it to take off where it is,” Upzone the Memes says. “I have no intention of stopping. I have some goals – I’d like to bring more people into the fold to create more content. Getting other peoples’ sense of humor is important. There have been some great fan memes that have been sent to us. Keep them coming! We’re all socialists and we love collective control.”
For more creative, anonymous political efforts check out our coverage of the time mayoral candidate London Breed’s site redirected to Mark Leno’s, the prankster who created fake No on C websites, and how cats campaign for the Nov. 2018 race.