There was a community discussion of sorts in Bernal Heights on Tuesday night.
The topic was gentrification, evictions, and technology workers — and the interrelationship between the three — and the discussion took place at Virgil’s, the tasty new(isn) bar on Mission at Precita. Our D9 Supervisor, David Campos, was there, along with several housing rights activists and some people who work in tech.
Bernalwood doesn’t recall receiving an invite (grrrrrrrr) , but thankfully Ellen Huet from the SF Chronicle was there, and she described the scene:
The Tech Workers Against Displacement Happy Hour, led by a union organizer and a tech worker, had advertised itself as a place where tech workers “sick of being blamed for S.F.’s housing crisis” could come together to find solutions. As representatives from neighborhood groups took turns at the mike in Virgil’s Sea Room, some solutions emerged: volunteer at an advocacy group, or help Supervisor David Campos, who was there gathering support for his proposed tax on landlords who evict using the Ellis Act.
When it came time for the tech workers to say their piece, hands shot up. The man who interrupted earlier said he didn’t know, beyond suggestions to build a website for nonprofits, what he could to do to help. (“You could listen!” another man shouted.)
Brian Hanlon, a 31-year-old Forest Service employee, told tech workers to leverage their companies’ resources and encourage employers to “do the right thing.”
“If your firm is having trouble finding a great new acquisition target and they have tons of money sitting around, maybe you can encourage them to donate some of that to these (housing) nonprofits as well,” he said.
Wait. What?? Mr. Hanlon’s idea is nonsensical, so maybe it was just a flight of fancy. Still, rhetorical logic aside, a shakedown proposal seems like a counter-productive way to begin a constructive dialog.
Apparently, things never really got much better:
Several tech workers said they were encouraged by the night but still weren’t quite sure how to help such a complex problem right away without measurable goals or problems to solve.
And others were discouraged by the us-versus-them attitude. Brett Welch, a 30-year-old Australian transplant who founded a video startup, said he was heckled by a woman in the crowd who accused him of not having lived in San Francisco long enough.
“I said, ‘How do you even know that?’ She goes, ‘I just do,’ ” said Welch, who has lived in San Francisco for five years. “And I’m like, ‘No, you don’t. You have no idea how long someone’s been here.’ It’s just very polarized.”
The first meeting wasn’t very productive, he said, but it could accomplish one thing.
“I really want people to see that I have a face, and I have feelings, and I love the neighborhood that I live in,” he said. “And I don’t want to see people kicked out.”
Ah well. It would appear that what the evening lacked in neighborly warmth or problem-solving substance, it no doubt made up for in tribal solidarity, high-decibel “awareness-building,” and emotional catharsis. Knowing Virgil’s, the cocktails were probably damn good too.
On the bright side, the Chronicle says David Campos helped organize the meeting, and he used it to make a campaign stop, so at least one attendee had a productive evening.
UPDATE: San Francisco mag also did a thorough write up on the event:
There’s one thing you need to know about last night’s “Tech Against Displacement” event in the Mission: It was not organized by tech. It was, to put it politely, a clever bit of wordplay to call it “Tech Against Displacement.” For instead of members of the tech community reaching out to solve San Francisco’s affordability and eviction problems, the people who showed up were largely the standard array of activists who’ve been hectoring techies about the woes that they’ve visited on the city.
It was only when the activists ceded the mic to actual techies in the later half of the event that some progress was made: Instead of talking at your tech neighbors, how about, you know, talking to them?
PHOTOS: Brant Ward for The Chronicle