Chesa Boudin: Extracted
pirate wires #71 // pirates seize the polls
Bye. The vote was decisive. Last night, Chesa Boudin’s parting words were “we can never incarcerate our way out of poverty,” once again implicitly making the insane case that all poor people are criminals rather than law-abiding citizens themselves disproportionately harmed by crime. Then, San Francisco’s infamous pro-crime District Attorney was finally and overwhelmingly recalled by one of the most left-wing cities in United States history. It was a victory for the grass roots activists who first mobilized to recall the School Board, spearheaded by desperate parents stripped of school resources throughout the pandemic. It was a victory for the city’s Asian American community, comprising over a third of San Francisco, fiercely animated over the deterioration of public safety. It was finally a victory for a small but growing subset of the tech community, which not only applied fresh resources and attention to the recall elections, but, in stark contrast with the broader “nomad in the cloud” narrative, real work on behalf of their real home where they really live.
Three cheers for the pirate siege of San Francisco Bay. We did it, Joe.
Already, Chesa’s recall has been cast by local and national media in predictably partisan terms, with coverage amounting to something very close to disinformation. In the first place, we’re told, there is no crime in San Francisco. But in the second, all of this really terrible and highly-visible crime is not Chesa Boudin’s fault. It’s the cops, it’s the virus, it’s the tech industry!
According to our hall monitors, here’s what the recall is Really All About: right-wing disinformation, evil, racist rich people, and “San Francisco is conservative, actually.” But Chesa lost every majority black and non-white neighborhood in the city other than the Mission, which along with the predominantly white, yuppie enclaves of the Haight, Noe Valley, and Bernal Heights comprised his only strong bastion of support. The truth is, he didn’t lose because of evil rich people, or racism, or the Republicans who don’t exist in San Francisco. He lost because he refused do his job.
It’s worth noting the soon-to-be former DA was obsessed with a national decarceration narrative that never made sense in the context of San Francisco, and made even less sense once home invasion and fentanyl deaths spiked throughout the city at the top of the pandemic — a trend city leadership first ignored, and then attempted to lie out of existence. We can all agree a young kid selling weed should not go to prison. We should all be able to agree a man who breaks into your house while your kids are sleeping absolutely needs to go to jail.
An obsession with national political narratives is a popular tendency among elected officials in San Francisco, who failed upward for many decades into positions of greater state and national power. But as drug encampments proliferated, and small businesses closed, our sleepy, oddball city by the Bay became irate. A national, rather than local focus from city leadership no longer seemed clownish. It was maddening.
A few weeks ago, in the Pirate Wires voting guide, I offered the following thoughts on what San Franciscans are actually concerned with: a release of chronic offenders that leads to carnage. The normalization of open-air drug markets. Skyrocketing burglary.
Crime is effectively legal
Last year, on the topic of fentanyl dealers, Chesa publicly encouraged empathy… not for the thousands dead, but for the dealers. It appears his office has instructed investigators to withhold evidence. His office has failed to protect victims of domestic violence. His office has tried to massage data and lie about his record, but Boudin’s resistance to sharing data on case outcomes was finally overcome; he is prosecuting at a lower rate than his predecessor Gascon, who was by the way himself a pro-crime ideologue (now facing his own possible recall in Los Angeles), so I’m really not sure why this was ever the standard. Chesa’s failure to prosecute is a decision rooted in a radical approach to crime, and part of a national strategy to circumvent law by hacking the DA’s office. No thank you.
A couple years back I wrote a piece called Extract or Die, in which I took apart the absurd notion that tech workers — criticized both for moving to the city and for leaving it — were responsible for the city’s collapse. I offered the controversial opinion that in fact our elected leadership was responsible for the disastrous policies they crafted, passed, and to this day support.
That having been said:
I do think the technology industry can and should be blamed for one thing: taking this bullshit for as long as it has. While the industry has caused none of the problems it’s accused of causing, absence of tech workers from local politics has been problematic, if understandable. The technology industry is ripe with opportunity, and attracts people excited by the prospect of building technologies and companies that have never before existed, unencumbered by bureaucracy, and limited only by the bounds of their imagination. No one moved to San Francisco because they wanted to run for the local Board of Supervisors. I get it. But if 2020 proved anything, it’s local politics is almost the only thing that matters in terms of our day-to-day existence, and if the deterioration of San Francisco can’t be stopped, I at least hope it will be remembered. We can ignore local politics, but local politics will nonetheless shape our lives, and a sufficiently unhinged City Hall can destroy almost anything.
Many tech workers have promised to stay in San Francisco, and to help fix the system. Among the few who aren’t merely throwing a few guilty millions into the black hole of local non-profits and calling it a day, a grim and shocking reality will quickly be discovered:
Nothing in San Francisco can be set on a path to slow correction until at least six of the eleven district board seats along with the mayorship belong to sane, goal-oriented leaders cognizant of our city’s many problems, and single-mindedly focused on solving them. These politicians will likewise need to be extremely well-funded. This is to say we need a political class, funded by a political machine, neither of which currently exist. Even were both the class and the funding apparatus to rapidly emerge, and even were the new political coalition to win an undefeated string of miracle elections, it would take four years to seize meaningful political power from the resident psychotics in charge, who, as per the last election, appear to be very popular among close to ninety percent of voters (a curiosity for another wire). This is to say nothing of the broader Bay Area political toxicity, nor the state political dynamics, which are poised to exacerbate every one of our problems. It is a multi-front political catastrophe.
The last tech bull run grew the San Francisco city budget to over twice what it was when I moved to my little spot off Divisadero Street ten years ago (from around $6 billion to over $13 billion). In that time, everything from education and crime to public transportation has gotten worse. But tech workers have been, for the most part, bubble people. We worked and spent money and, when finally ready to have kids, left. We had few opinions on local politics, made no real effort, and exerted almost no real influence. Now, a nascent group within the tech community focused on common sense education policy, public safety, and housing has activated, and has achieved promising, early success. It is an exciting trend I hope persists. But while it feels very good, Chesa’s unemployment is a small victory.
The recall elections are just that, the recall of a few deranged, anti-social politicians wrapped in the fraudulent language of caring and justice. Chesa apologists were actually right about something: he was only part of the problem. Police officers need to more aggressively police. They, along with the DA’s office, need support of the local government. The city Supervisors need to stop passing unhinged legislation. Removing Chesa is a healthy step in the right direction, but his removal does not guarantee change.
From across the country, Matt Yglesias invoked the victory of Mayor London Breed:
The notion Breed is leading some kind of coalition for sanity is simply not based in reality. While the mayor is certainly more moderate than the city’s local chapter of the DSA, and she clearly benefited from the local uprising, she had nothing — truly nothing — to do with the recalls. To the contrary, her long reluctance to embrace the recalls jeopardized the efforts. Today, the city is still crippled by a dearth of leadership, as is every city in the country, and nothing will change until competent people are placed in positions of local power.
In San Francisco, a small machine is now built to counter the city’s more dominant political machine (from hell). But keep in mind while only 16% of voters heaved Chesa into office like a smoking pipe bomb, the recall represents a similarly small number of committed reformers. November, the city’s next chance to elect new supervisors, is the real test.
Still, this does look like hope. This looks like the start of everything I wished for in that Mad Max summer of 2020, when the world broke and our government shrugged. So be inspired by the few who acted in San Francisco, and made some meaningful first steps toward change, but more importantly be a part of the solution wherever you are. I know this is a crazy thought, but we’re the adults in the room now. This is our country. These are our cities. We can literally just build a nice place to live.
No more clown shit.