San Francisco’s Pepsi Liberalism

Fascist Threats Put Our Local Politicians to the Test. They Failed.

Editor’s Note: The author(s) of this article have requested that the Phoenix publish this article under a pseudonym. As with all articles published by the Phoenix, the opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of either The Phoenix or SF DSA.

On Monday, as the Bay Area collectively exhaled from a weekend of attempted white supremacist and far-right agitation, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee sent a tweet honoring the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Given the ineffectual way Mayor Lee and his allies in San Francisco’s political establishment handled the weekend’s events, they would have done better if they’d remembered another quote from Dr. King, written during his imprisonment in Birmingham:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate… who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.”

Lee’s announcement in a Saturday evening press conference that “the themes of love and compassion dominated over hate speech” was echoed by State Senator Scott Wiener, who proudly responded to a tweet praising the police barricading of Alamo Square Saturday morning by exclaiming that “San Francisco is ready for the fascists.” While he effusively praised the official Castro and Civic Center offsite marches, Wiener conveniently neglected to mention the thousands of peaceful protesters who amassed around Alamo Square, the same peaceful protestors who were met by hundreds of helmeted riot police armed with tear gas and assault weapons. Representative Nancy Pelosi chose to respond to the rallies by focusing her ire on Antifa, rather than on the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who planned the rallies in the first place.

San Francisco DSA was proud to join with progressive community organizations like Frisco Resistance and Bay Resistance, organized labor allies in ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) and IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), anti-white supremacy and anti-police brutality organizations like ANSWER Coalition, John Brown Anti-Klan League, and SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), socialist comrades from the ISO (International Socialist Organization) and PSL (Party for Socialism and Liberation), and queer allies from San Francisco Queer Resistance, in organizing direct antifascist action in Alamo Square on Saturday and in Berkeley on Sunday.

And yet, despite the thousands peacefully organized in San Francisco on Saturday, a casual observer who saw only the statements of local politicians could be forgiven for not knowing that this action happened at all. The editorial pages of the San Francisco Chronicle pulled off the impressive feat of entirely ignoring the Alamo Square rally while smugly chiding the Berkeley counter-protests for not living up to San Francisco’s “planning and leadership.”

How did our local politicians prepare for the weekend’s events? On the Wednesday before the protests, the official decision-making body of the San Francisco Democratic Party (the Democratic County Central Committee, or DCCC) convened for its regular monthly meeting. There, a discussion on whether to endorse Saturday’s peaceful rally devolved into unsubstantiated rumors that the rally had been canceled, along with overt skepticism from white committee members about the connection between capitalism and white supremacy. Here is Very Smart Brothas’ Damon Young characterizing this attitude and those who espouse it, in a piece aptly titled, “Polite White People Are Useless:”

“It’s unwise to mistake their lack of movement with futility. Because this type of idling does make a difference. Just the wrong kind of difference. It can be seductive and sublime. Who doesn’t want to believe that love bombs are enough to devastate hate? Who wouldn’t want to know that good manners win if the manners are good enough? Think about how much less stress battling white supremacy and police brutality would induce if all you needed to do to defeat it was drink a bottle of Pepsi.”

The “Pepsi liberalism” of San Francisco’s political establishment, while not entirely surprising, is indicative of a status quo where the absence of tension has become an acceptable substitute for the presence of justice. Witness, for example, the accelerating erosion of San Francisco’s black and Latinx communities. Witness the overwhelming consensus among city officials to combat the gentrification and displacement of black and brown communities by promoting unfettered construction of luxury housing units. Witness the crisis of LGBTQ+ youth forced onto the streets and hounded by draconian ballot measures to criminalize homelessness. Witness the stranglehold of police unions on politicians who hesitated to remove SFPD Chief Greg Suhr despite a 17-day hunger strike and the murders of Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, Mario Woods, O’Shaine Evans, Luis Góngora Pat, and Jessica Williams. In all of these cases, local politicians prioritized safe, incremental, and resoundingly ineffective policies, rather than taking on the more difficult task of pursuing justice.

For all the lip service paid by San Francisco’s political figureheads to “embracing a diversity of tactics,” the blatant attempts to ignore the antifascist direct action this weekend — and of the organizations that engage in it — was part and parcel of a larger willingness to undermine the anti-racist, anti-gentrification, and anti-police brutality direct action that these organizations do the other 364 days of the year when the fascists are not in town. And why would San Francisco’s elected officials want to sweep the work of these groups under the rug? Because a city alarmed by and alert to the dovetailing threats of white supremacy, techno-futurist capitalism, and racist and anti-queer state violence is not a sexy investment opportunity. Because a city that understands that love and compassion alone cannot protect the vulnerable from fascists is not a hotbed for “creative class” re-development. San Francisco’s technocrats and the puppets they get elected have no interest in building such a city. We must, and will, build it for ourselves.