Left Turn Only for San Francisco

How do we break free of the daily trauma and stupidity of contemporary politics? How do we go beyond the arduous defensive struggles that keep so many preoccupied with police violence, racist abuses, toxic masculinity, and the grinding poverty that is slowly consuming more and more of our neighbors?

Fairness has all but vanished. And the rent is too damn high! At the end of the day we are all working to pay the banks.

Dignity escapes us. We feel forced to look away, step over, and avoid the human beings who we should be helping, defending, and nurturing. The tidal wave of poverty and dispossession oppresses ALL of us. The fear of falling stalks our lives.

Self-governance is a myth. Our government has been seized by billionaires and corporate functionaries, nationally and locally.

Debt ensnares us. Credit has replaced wage increases, binding us with its coercive power. Student debt has now surpassed $1 trillion and WILL NEVER BE PAID. Without credit, doors close to our well-being now and in the future.

The planet is being destroyed. The climate crisis inexorably presses in on us. Heatwaves, catastrophic fires, floods, and hurricanes are all more frequent and more extreme. Glaciers are melting, species are being wiped out in record numbers. The government response? An all-out war on what’s left of natural systems, repealing environmental laws and aggressively pushing oil and coal use.

We are permanently at war. The attack on nature goes hand in hand with the attack on humans. The U.S. wastes over $1 trillion a year on military and secret services, funding bases in over 170 countries, carrying out air and ground attacks in an unknown number of undeclared wars in Asia and Africa. 17 years in Afghanistan and 15 in Iraq? Resources are being squandered on barbaric mayhem, mass murder, and endless war. It is an insult to our humanity and our intelligence—stoking irrational fears of immigrants, refugees, other countries, and other peoples bolsters the madness. Stop glorifying soldiers and the military. Abolish the national anthem (a pro-slavery song)! Abolish ICE! Demilitarize local police, abolish SWAT teams. Repeal the Police Officers Bill of Rights in California. Close military bases around the world; shrink the standing military to less than 20,000.

Reject your daily dose of trauma. The reality TV host masquerading as a politician understands little about this world, but he is quite expert at the manipulative power of constant attack. When someone attacks, abuses, insults, and threatens, we all throw up our arms, literally or figuratively, and seek to defend ourselves. But maybe the daily provocations designed to make us jump on command should be ignored? Resist the daily outrage over the hateful buffoon. Remember that things have been going off the rails for a long time.

Rethink ineffective tactics. There is an endless treadmill of rushing from demonstration to protest to campaign, while imploring others to join in. But those tactics don’t work. It’s incredibly difficult to develop a deeper strategic approach.

Our time is compressed. We are forced to sell too much of it to pay our bills, but as soon as we are free, we have so much to do. Most people have another purpose to their lives—musicians or artists, political activists, mentors, parents, or gardeners. Passionate hours “working” at what we care about make us feel fully alive. In our work lives we only survive thanks to the countless small acts of solidarity and mutual aid that create extended breaks, late arrivals and early departures, that claw back a bit of the time we otherwise are forced to sell.

Together we produce an incredible common wealth. We make the world around us in all its complexity and abundance, much of which goes unmeasured by the modern economy. We all contribute to the wealth that only a few are actually taking due to archaic relations of property and profit. In our online lives of clicking, liking, sharing, and posting, we are contributing (we hope) not only to Facebook or Twitter or Google’s profits (as they mine and sell our attention and engagement), but importantly we build networks of affinity, circles of friendship and trust, and webs of possibility. When we befriend our neighbors, co-workers, and people we meet in our everyday lives, unmeasured affinities grow and deepen, producing our real common wealth.

[There is] an emerging post-capitalist alternative which simultaneously transforms civil society, the market and the state forms. Civil society becomes productive, since citizens and inhabitants are commoners contributing to shared resources. The market forms become non- or post-capitalist, transformed to be compatible with the logic of the commons. The accumulation of capital is transformed into the accumulation of the commons. Public authorities become enablers of the personal and social autonomy necessary to be able to contribute to the commons.
—“Re-imagining the left through an ecology of the commons: towards a post-capitalist commons transition”
by Michel Bauwens & Jose Ramos in Global Discourse July 12, 2018

The best defense is a good offense. Outside of elections, beyond the imaginations of politicians and worshippers of market and military rationality, another agenda is slowly percolating at the base of society. Building networks of cooperation to protest, to produce, to invent, and to nurture, all undergird a radical agenda that exceeds the possibilities of our so-called representative democracy. How can we push the people who claim to represent us to build the infrastructure that would allow a new life to really emerge?

Lower the cost of everyday life for everyone. Basic utilities that are part of everyday modern life should be provided at low or no cost by the city. As more things are provided for less money, the pressure on San Franciscans to work will diminish. San Franciscans will be free to invent, create, and enrich their own lives as well as the rest of us. Together we can do much more than any of us can do alone. People who have been forced into deep poverty and life on the streets are often creative, talented, kind people, with untapped skills and resourcefulness. Rather than being criminalized and scapegoated, why not invite them to create humane and flourishing solutions to our unequal society? Another population works at what are increasingly referred to as “bullshit jobs,” shuffling papers, feigning corporate efficiency, managing the endless details of other people’s property and money, while taking home little for themselves. What if all that wasted time and energy were unleashed to address the vital reorganization of urban life on a healthy ecological foundation? Our long-term goal should be a culture that requires much less work and produces a much richer life. But to get there will take a serious effort.

For starters, why in an era of global warming and increasing droughts have we not yet embarked on a crash program to reorganize our use of precious fresh drinking water?

Stop shitting in drinking water! Replumb the city. Every single apartment, house, office and school in the city should be replumbed to put gray water into daily use. We must stop using precious fresh drinking water for waste removal. California is at the edge of a drought zone—it’s only a matter of time before a years-long drought grips our region. We should be reorganizing our infrastructure NOW to radically reduce our use of fresh clean drinking water and to increase our use of water once used, i.e. gray water. This will take years, and many hours of skilled labor. Simultaneously build smaller decentralized sewage treatment facilities cascading up watersheds to relieve pressure on centralized, flood-prone facilities built decades ago at sea level.

Daylight creeks—restore wetlands. Oceans are rising fast, existing shorelines will soon be inundated. Think permaculturally about building and unbuilding the city. Remove structures from natural wetlands and culverted creeks, sites bound to collapse in a major earthquake (as they have in previous ones). Prepare for coastal flooding and subway inundation. At least waterproof underground stations and tunnels!

Restore aquaculture to the Bay! Once upon a time the bay teemed with huge salmon and sturgeon, while whales, porpoises, seals, and other water-dwelling mammals thrived too. Huge shellmounds attest to the rich and diverse food sources that fed the humans who lived here for thousands of years. Clams, oysters, mussels, fish should all be cultivated and harvested in bay waters. Other aquaponic technologies should be developed alongside a restored bay to expand local food production.

Declare a Housing Emergency! The market is broken. Stop building luxury condominiums and start building low-cost housing! If private investors won’t do it, use parcel taxes to finance a massive investment fund to buy land and build new elegant, long-lasting apartment buildings to provide homes to every San Francisco who wants or needs one at rents far below today’s “market rate,” which is simply an insult to all of us. Organize a city investigation into the occupancy and use of all apartments and homes. Those that are owned as investments and are standing empty should be heavily taxed: if empty for one year, 25% of the purchase price is owed the city; if empty for 2 years, another 50% of the purchase price is owed the city. If still empty after these taxes have been assessed, the city must use eminent domain to seize the unused property.

Establish and use a public bank to deposit the billions San Francisco currently puts into commercial banks. Add to that the burgeoning public taxes on cannabis sales. Use the interest on public deposits to underwrite public financing of a city-wide land trust to remove properties from the market in perpetuity and stabilize the cost of housing. Finance tenants to buy their buildings as limited equity co-ops and incentivize landlords to sell to the City Land Trust well below market prices with tax breaks, lifetime rent-free tenancies, and other benefits.

Free Medical Care! San Francisco is overrun with state-of-the-art hospitals and medical facilities. We are home to one of the premier biomedical research institutes in the country, and the medical industry is one of the top employers in the City. Share the abundance with all San Franciscans.

Establish Free Public Tool Libraries and Tinkerers’ Workshops. Create an infrastructure for invention and play and astonishing results will ensue. Use the enormous piles of refuse as raw material for repurposing and reprocessing into new inventions, new technologies, new toys. Bring kids together with engineers, transform education with creative, practical projects that mentor the technologically inventive thinkers of the future.

Free the Internet! City-owned fiber optic cable is already in the ground. Provide free broadband connections to all, supplemented by the SFLAN point-to-point network, and free public wifi in all parks and plazas.

Seize the electrical system and send PG&E packing! They’ve illegally ripped off San Francisco for 100 years—take their assets in San Francisco without compensation, and begin providing much lower cost electricity to all, finally complying with the 1913 Raker Act. Continue to solarize across the city’s roofs, while adding wind and tidal power as deemed necessary.


Make MUNI Free! Municipalize the private shuttle buses clogging our streets, reorganize them into one system serving all Silicon Valley destinations and open them to anyone to use. Turn private luxury shuttles into public buses! All bus and streetcar lines should be free to all passengers.

Impose congestion pricing on most of San Francisco, use revenue from car drivers to fund free MUNI. Nothing is worsening the quality of life in San Francisco as dramatically as the ever-increasing glut of private cars—the recent arrival of 30,000+ additional cars per day on the streets of the city via Uber and Lyft represents a public policy breakdown of the first order. Congestion pricing will drive large numbers of those suburban drivers back where they came from.

Dump Ford and Jump and all the private bike services and replace them with a fleet of city-owned bicycles, free to use by anyone with a library card. A network of public bike repair facilities around the city will keep the fleet in good operating order while also allowing mechanical skills to be widely shared.

One Lane for Food! With congestion pricing and the “natural” fall of car traffic, we can narrow the streets, widen sidewalks, and dig up a lane on every wide street and turn it into long linear neighborhood farms. Plant orchards and food gardens all over the city and seek 50% of fresh fruit and vegetables from city-based farms by 2025. Open community kitchens and have harvest festivals in every neighborhood.

Open wildlife corridors that crisscross the city. Parks, greenways, and ped-and-bike paths that don’t cross motorized throughways improve our quality of life, but also make possible and reasonable cohabitation with other species in the urban environment.

Restore daily newspapers! Publicly fund multiple news-papers as well as our robust neighborhood newspapers. Ensure ideological diversity is well represented in order to foster critical thinking and investigative journalism to closely monitor all public and private enterprises and to keep the population well-informed.

Recognize the Department of Memory! San Francisco has an abundance of community history groups, community newspapers, historical projects and historians, almost all of whom are working as volunteers or on extremely limited budgets. Recognize the importance of history to a robust public life—as important as any other public utility—and provide support for the many points of view being produced in our local history community. A new History or Humanities Commission could emulate the Arts Commission in providing annual grants to support this vital grassroots work.

Abolish all outdoor advertising. Turn the billboards and walls over to our many artists. Continue to supports artists and neighborhood arts groups through the Arts Commission.

These ideas, far from complete and open to expansion in so many directions, are all meant to expand San Francisco’s Common Wealth.

They are designed to provide dignified participation in meaningfully producing a good life for all to each and every person here, especially those currently left out and castigated.

Justice and fairness demands that everyone contributes, pulls their own weight, adds their own creativity and untapped talents to our common wealth.

Together we really could make a beautiful life.

Why shouldn’t we?


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