Photography: Bel Poblador
Hunger for San Francisco
On May 3, 2016, I began to write emails to San Francisco's Mayor Ed Lee in support of the Frisco Five.
At the end of April 2016, a group of five individuals—a mix of educators and artists, a local government candidate, all native San Franciscans—began a hunger strike to protest police brutality in San Francisco, to call for police accountability, and to demand the firing of Police Chief Greg Suhr. Maria Cristina Gutierrez, Ike Pinkston, Edwin Lindo, Ilyich Sato (Equipto), and Selassie Blackwell camped outside of the Mission Police Station on Valencia Street. They soon came to be known as the Frisco Five. They went for 17 days without solid food, only drinking liquids like water, broth, coconut water, and tea.
We are in an era in San Francisco where many marginalized communities have had enough. With rapid and widespread gentrification, wrongful and rampant evictions, massive housing shortages, and police brutality and murder, it is clear that the wealth and success in San Francisco only benefit a select few. But there are local movements that are birthing, growing, collaborating, as people continue to find their voices in the call for justice, accountability, equity, and inclusivity: the Justice for Alex Nieto Coalition, the Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition, the labor protest by City College faculty, the Frisco Five and #hungerforjusticeSF, White Coats 4 Black Lives, and the SFSU students' hunger strike against cuts to the College of Ethnic Studies (known as the Third World Liberation Front 2016), to name a few.
I do not consider myself an activist, but rather a writer and community organizer by way of literature, with the drive to decolonize our literary, publishing, and educational spaces. This is by no means a journalistic account of these events. There is amazing, thorough, and mindful documentation of the ongoing protests by many local publications like 48 Hills, The Guardsman, and The San Francisco Examiner.
Rather, this is a blog series in epistolary form, in which I help to call out and bring attention to injustice in my city, grapple with what it means to become involved in my community, and learn how to use my voice to speak up against injustices in order to help amplify the stories and voices of marginalized communities and the people fighting for them.
I have been trying to understand my place, my positionality, in a city that has so much and yet is also so barren. I am often shocked by the pervasive lack of empathy that I observe and witness. After the murder of Mario Woods, yet another unarmed person of color killed by police, I felt enraged, hopeless, helpless, and yet also pushed to action: I couldn't see an end to the violence that has been happening nationally and in our own city. The Frisco Five and the movement that they and their team created helped me to access my voice in a more directed way. I am in the process of learning and trying to understand where my privileges and my oppressions intersect: I have a home, a job, higher education, a loving partner, and supportive family. How do these privileges allow me to act against the injustices that I see as a young pinay woman of color? How do these privileges allow me to use my voice, to use the platforms I have access to, to bring attention to issues I care about? How do I move from talking and sharing on social media to real-life support and action?
On May 19th, Chief Suhr finally resigned from his position after yet another officer-involved murder of an unarmed black woman. Her name was Jessica Williams. Yet everyone in the community knows and understands that the work and fight for justice is far from over. How can we further aid those who are on the front lines, working every day, tirelessly, for answers and action from our local leaders? How can we help to shift the old, predictable, cruel narrative that punishes, indicts, and dismisses victims of racist systems? What if we continue to tell our stories even as those in power try to silence and erase us?
I am interested in how my voice can add to an ongoing dialogue, and how our voices—combined and raised in unison and anger and hope and love—can help to amplify calls for justice and accountability, how the collective power of the people can bring about real, needed change.
SUBJECT: CONCERNING HUNGER STRIKE
May 3, 2016
Dear Mayor Ed Lee,
I have been a resident of San Francisco on and off for 9 years now. I have a great love for this city and its residents, but recently I have been deeply disheartened as I watch the response, or to be more accurate, the lack of response, from you as our mayor in regards to the hunger strikers.
I need to know where your empathy is? Your love for this city? I read as many articles as I can to keep updated on what is going on in our city—not just in regards to the wealthy, but to all of our citizens, especially those who need our help the most—and I am dismayed each time.
I am writing to let you know: I support the hunger strikers. I support them fully and with anger for our local government but also with love for our community. I support what they are protesting and join them in protest. The hunger strikers' cause is spreading, Mayor Lee, and national attention on the hunger strike continues to grow. The nation will see how far San Francisco has erred from its days of political progressiveness and change. Now we are led by individuals who seem only to care for the wealthy and corporations.
I can't help but assume that you and Chief Suhr are biding your time: either waiting for the hunger strikers to give up or what? The other alternative is abhorrent but it must be said: for one of them to suffer health issues because of this or to die.
If this is not true, then I urge you to please try and see these circumstances from the perspectives of those communities suffering most from the mass gentrification in our city, and the consequences of that. What they are asking, and what I am asking as a supporter of their cause, is for our local government to please listen to the pain of its residents. To listen with your hearts and not with your wallets. This message implores the human inside of you who can utilize empathy, understanding, and compassion, for people who have lost their families, friends, and community members to police violence and racism.
Change is coming, Mayor Lee. I'm sure you can see that nationally, eyes are opening to the ways in which our local governments and police force abuse their power. And it's either going to happen with your help and support, or without. It's sad to see that at this point, your name will be synonymous with a lot of pain and the eradication of culture and people of color from this beautiful city. Your name will stand alongside Rahm Emanuel, Tom Angel, and now, Greg Suhr—as individuals who swore to protect and serve their communities and failed miserably and violently.
Submit your own #dearmayoredlee
Do you have an email that you have sent or would like to send to Mayor Ed Lee, discussing the ongoing police violence (amongst other persistent injustices and inequities) in San Francisco? Whether it's a personal story of how you and your loved ones have been affected by police brutality or gentrification, or you've engaged in protests before, or if, like me, you're figuring out how to speak out—I want to hear what you have to say. Not merely name-calling and berating, but an attempt to engage in conversation and dialogue with the mayor, as a community, regardless of whether he chooses to acknowledge us immediately. I want to continue to put a spotlight on San Francisco so that our local leaders feel the pressure, locally and nationally, and make the steps towards real transformation. Send me your email at dearmayoredlee[at]gmail.com. I'd love to print your emails here that are written in the same spirit. Let's tell San Francisco's mayor and the country how we feel, what we're thinking, that we aren't backing down. And help spread the word with #dearmayoredlee.