The San Francisco Sit/Lie Law and the Hypocrisies of History

Wanted: (freedom-loving scofflaws, community-minded reprobates, righteous ne'er-do-wells) Harvey B. Milk, Sit/Lie Rebel since 1974 FOR: Social Use of Public Space, Enjoying Neighborhoods and Neighbors, Celebrating the City, Sharing Public Space with Everyone, Violation of the Sit/Lie Law


Yesterday, May 22nd, would have been Harvey Milk‘s 81st birthday. In San Francisco people held rallies and celebrations.

I and other activists against the recently passed “Sit/Lie” law held another Sidewalks are for People day. The Sit/Lie law makes it illegal to sit or lie on any public sidewalk between 7am and 11pm. It’s illegal to sit on the curb while waiting for the bus, it’s illegal to put a folding chair on the sidewalk to enjoy the sun and greet your neighbors, and it’s illegal to sit down if you’re holding a sidewalk sale, even if you’re a child running a little lemonade stand.

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Boycott Bottled Water Graffito in SF

One great thing about San Francisco is that you get used to finding things on the street. This morning, for example, on the way to a friend’s house I came across a box of books, and took a couple for myself, including A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami.

You also find graffiti, much of it lame, some of it great. This piece is a black and red (heh) stencil, around a San Francisco Water Department access panel, poetically enough:

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Book Review: The Anti-Capitalism Reader

book cover

I picked up this collection of essays many years ago. I had read a few of the pieces here and there, but recently decided to read the whole thing through from front to back. I got a startling sense of time warp.

I write this just two weeks after Osama bin Laden was assassinated by the United States, an event that seems anti-climactic, of an unimportance that would be astonishing to any time-traveler from nine or ten years ago. Already the story is fading from the news, subject only to occasional reverberations around discussion of the merits of torture or conspiracy theories that he is still alive. There is no indication that the US is any closer to ending its occupations of Iraq or Afghanistan, its wars in Libya or Pakistan, or its various military actions in other places across the world.

The Anti-Capitalism Reader, edited by Joel Schalit, was published in 2002, and many of the essays refer to the events of September 11th, 2001. Reading the interviews and analysis, you can feel the epochal status of 9/11 at that time, while now it has faded, representing only the turning point to the Dreary New Normal. Continue reading “Book Review: The Anti-Capitalism Reader”

On Republican Donor Support for Same-sex Marriage

I recently read this New York Times article on GOP donor support for same-sex marriage. Astonishingly, most of the new money to lobby for same-sex marriage in New York state is coming from wealthy donors to the Republican party.

Predictably, it’s seen from two angles: 1) libertarian – it’s not the state’s business to butt into people’s relationships – and 2) support for same-sex marriage is “good for business” and would be part of New York state’s “competitive advantage”.
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Class and Unhappiness

I had a bizarre evening. I went to a party at the house of a colleague who, it turns out, is quite rich. I couldn’t help but see class in all the interactions of the evening, especially the hired staff in the background who cleared away plates and poured drinks. I had a great conversation with the doorman, who plays poker online for a living, and was doing this job to make ends meet while waiting to collect money held up in various online forums due to the US trying to illegalize online gambling.

Later, on the way home, I ran into a friend of a friend who is a solid middle-class blue-collar worker, doing carpentry in the homes of the rich. He pointed out that the rich are often miserable. We talked for a while about how the system is so fucked up that even those who are “benefiting” from it, those who succeed by its rules, are often unhappy. In other words, even many elements of the ruling class are so unhappy under our current social system that they are amenable to a discussion about how we could organize our lives differently.

We don’t envy the rich so much as we feel sorry for them. And we extend our hand to them, to join us in creating an entirely new world.

Update – 2011/05/16

I don’t mean to imply that all rich people (or the party host) are unhappy. But I do think there is a pattern where unhappy people who aren’t well-off can imagine that their unhappiness will be cured by money; if they succeed in becoming rich, and remain unhappy, they are at a loss for what the underlying problem could be. Even the “winners” in our society are often profoundly alienated.