Today’s small political actions

Today I am reaching out to my friends through chat and email, both hackerspaces I’m connected with (Noisebridge and Double Union), our various women in tech organizations, and in person. I woke up this morning (from my grief and disassociation last night) with staunch, fierce determination full of energy and fire and ideas.

I read through the President-Elect’s 100 day plan. Have a look. It’s quite scary. For instance how many people do you know who have health care through the Affordable Care Act, or who have it through their marriages to same sex partners — here we have a direct threat to their family health. Also deeply on my mind – what will happen with Sanctuary cities?

My friend hazelbroom and I met for coffee and discussed our lives, what we do to support others, what support we need, what we can change, what structurally we might be able to affect. A lot of my ideas are around mutual aid networks. How can we create them and make them sustainable? But here is a brief outline: better self care, mutual support for activists, support for others in our communities and beyond, political engagement with whatever politicians represent us. We try to move beyond a charity model and it is often not greatly successful.

For me, I have good mutual support with several friends for example I am around to help out if a friend is down on their luck and needs help with a medical bill, or getting a ride, or groceries during an illness, or wrapping your mind around a complicated legal or bureaucratic situation — and many friends have helped and visited me when I’ve been in difficulties. In those situations, boundaries are hard to negotiate and maintain – hard to even articulate. Learning to have that kind of conversation is likely part of the work we need to do. Hazelbroom pointed out that as queer folks we have more practice than many others with that kind of “chosen family” bond. Those bonds are something more like quasi-cousins, loose partnerships for emotional and economic support. I have many ideas here, and will be writing about them over the coming days and weeks.

Our first practical action was to leave the cafe and go a few blocks down the street to the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center. We signed up as volunteers and got some information from them and talked to Executive Director Gina Dacus, who super nicely took the time to give us an outline of what the BHNC does. I knew already they provide a lot of the low income housing support of our neighborhood and there is some sort of senior center. I found to my happy surprise that the senior services and classes are “senior and disabled” which means : Free senior/arthritis tai chi classes for me just a few blocks away, JUST what I need and have been wishing for!

We described some of our skills for Gina (Hazelbroom: she is an RN, so can give flu shots and that sort of thing! Me: some thoughts on helping with informational discussions of wheelchairs and scooters.) I am donating to the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center right now, online. Our next step is to pull in our local friends and neighbors (including all our energetic, healthy teenage children) to show up to the community engagement meeting, and listen to see if we get any immediate ideas where we might be needed and we can be helpful.

Another next step, I am donating immediately to CARECEN SF, picked a bit randomly out of a list of community organizations in my neighborhood of Bernal Heights-Mission.

colorful mural at 26th and mission

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Driving through McFarland

Driving up from San Diego through Bakersfield, Fresno, and Merced to San Francisco I noticed a lot of decayed infrastructure. I guess the San Fernando Valley is still recovering from earthquakes. Over half the highway ramps were closed. It had a post-apocalyptic feel. Maybe it was temporary but it was hard to imagine a temporary situation in which one would close miles and miles of highway exit ramps on a weekday rather than work on them one at a time.

Then we were mercifully out of the L.A. traffic and over the mountains coming down into the dusty central valley. I wanted to stop in all of the small towns just to look around. It was just as beautiful to me as the drive down Highway 1 looking at the ocean, imagining life in these country towns and wondering what it would be like. I don’t know, man. The American Dream! We constructed a future where we retired to one of them (spinning out stories of each town as we passed from its general look, the billboards, the state of the train yards) Perhaps a computer-fixing store with that crazy old coot with his old-fashioned “Internet” and the stern civic minded old lady with the purple and silver hair. Oblomovka kept doing monologues in a cracked voice where he explained to the youth of the future what an ethernet cable was and what particular computer components were for, not like those jacking-into-your-brain nanotrons.

I pulled off the highway in a very small town called McFarland only to find that the gas station pumps had signs on them. “NO GAS”. Quiet and dusty. We looked in vain for the Business District pointed to by a road sign. I think we were in it. There was a tiny barber shop, a corner store, I think a pizza place and two huge churches, signs with pithy proverbs in Spanish, a big football field and then some cow fields. I wished for the time to explore McFarland and wondered even harder what it would be like to live there, the good and the bad of small towns, whether someone would just beat the hell out of me instantly or if I would fix everyone’s web sites, teach at the high school, and start a utopian beekeeping co-op despite being one of 3 lunatic atheists in town plus clearly the evil first wave of gentrification and if they would shave the sides of my head at the barbershop or not. Imagining the BBQs and perhaps a 4H auction or rodeo or two, church picnics, knowing way too much about everyone’s business, who could fix a car, who was an alcoholic, who is rich and who isn’t, and all the things that seem to go with small towns.

Later on as Oblomovka drove part of the way I was surfing around with the connection from my phone and looked up McFarland, still thinking about the impression it made on me many miles away. Aside from the boringest possible demographic info on its Wikipedia page there was one significant thing about McFarland: The Budweiser Story. In a glurgey post-sept. 11-2001 email forwarded around the Internets, McFarland was the scene of a Budweiser truck driver coming to deliver some beer to a convenience store and finding some Muslim guys in there celebrating the fall of the towers, really whooping it up. He took all his cases of Bud and left and the company will never deliver their beer to that town again. The end! This story and its million variants were debunked quickly, but of course that didn’t stop the natural life of the racist faux-patriot email forward.

sandow birk oil painting

Oblomovka and I then began to spin out the image of the oil painting of the incident, the Beer Truck driver guy haloed in a beam of light angelically pointing, the celebrating guys lit by red neon as if by the fires of hell, a globe knocked over on its side, an observing cat in the shadows, all the elements of composition in triangles. I can’t remember all the details that were making me howl with laughter in the car. In my mind it was as Sandow Birk might paint it and I wished for a whole series of meme paintings done in some classical style.

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Warm Water Cove and Pier 70

Today’s random expedition led me to Potrero Point and Warm Water Cove, a tiny, gritty park one step above a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland. It’s a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland with a bench! I love this park. Right now it’s full of wild mustard, radish, dock, mallow and other great edible plants. The remains of a creek ooze out of a scary tunnel. It’s all surrounded by warehouses, parking lots surrounded by barbed wire, and off in the distance, rusting ocean-going cargo ships. Apparently there used to be weekly punk concerts there run off generators and lots of campers. While I was there today a woman and a dog in a very DIY camper van were doing some housekeeping and enjoying the late afternoon sun, so the camping, or homeless-person-occupancy, probably continues despite the recent community makeover, graffiti cleanup and daily policing. A few years ago people were still fishing from a pier to take advantage of the warm water coming from the power plant outfall (which attracts fish.) The pier’s gone now.

Sounds like a lot of piers have been closed over the last few years, including San Mateo Pier, the longest fishing pier in California.

From there I could see a very interesting building that looked like a lot of cubes piled up on top of each other.

It’s behind the Pacific Gas & Electric Station A, a huge and beautiful red brick building.

Pier 70

Here’s some links to the history of Potrero Point:

* Station A

A block or two north, little alleys wind around the decaying buildings of Pier 70.

* The Noonan Building
* Map of Pier 70 structures – a great map with notes for each building.
* Irish Hill This hill full of houses and apartments for the iron and steel mill workers and their families was leveled and the rubble used to fill in the Bay. I saw a tiny bit of the hill left – you can tell it’s not just a pile of dirt because it looks like a roadcut through serpentinite.

Underneath these industrial buildings is a tide-washed labyrinth of slag pits, cisterns, waste dumps, and wooden pilings. I can’t even imagine the giant amounts of toxic junk still leaching into the Bay.

Building 104, an office building from 1896:

Pier 70

Building 21, from 1900.

Pier 70

Building 11, The Noonan Building, 1941. People obviously live there.

Pier 70

During wartime this shipyard churned out countless ships. Thousands of people worked there in round-the-clock shifts. As the shipyards closed the area became neglected and used for storage for old cars, MUNI trains and buses. It sounds like then there were decades of concern from people in the Dogpatch, Potrero, and Hunters Point communities, plans for redevelopment, toxic cleanup, reclamation, preservation of the historic buildings, and industrial customers who still might use the land for power plants, and ship building or repair. The largest floating dry dock facility in the world was sold to the City in the 1980s for one dollar — probably because the massively polluted land (and ongoing pollution of the Bay) was clearly a liability and someone was going to have to *clean it up* before it got seriously used again.

As I mulled over What Is To Be Done here’s what I thought up. While it’s not being used for much else and it’s polluting and dangerous, full of crumbling buildings and broken glass and probably more asbestos than anyone can imagine, make it a public Dangerous Park. Just let anyone do whatever the hell they want in there and graffiti it up and have punk rock shows and photograph the roofs of falling-down warehouses. But let them know the dangers to their health and safety — just as you’d put up signs to say that a seaside cliff is dangerous because of erosion and high waves. The conditions of entering the Dangerous Park should be agreement that you’re not going to sue the city for whatever injuries result.

Some of the Historic Buildings would be graffitied and fucked up, but maybe some would be improved, cleaned up, cared for by artists and colonized in interesting ways.

I realize this isn’t going to happen and instead it will end up being a squalid industrial center for a while longer until some asshole buys it and Develops it, because the only way that people are “allowed” to be in or live on a toxic waste dump is if some bunch of developers makes an obscene profit off it while covering up any risks with massive lies. But people using crappy in land in some less centralized and profitable way, with accurate information about the problems of that use, is, weirdly, never okay.

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