Archive for the ‘Living’ Category

 

 

Reem’s storefront bakery is usually closed Sundays, with most businesses in the Fruitvale BART plaza slower without the weekday bustle. But over the weekend about two dozen protesters gathered in front, saying the mural inside glorifies a terrorist.

The fairly new Arab bakery has been targeted by protesters before for its mural inside featuring Rasmeah Odeh, who was convicted in a 1969 Jerusalem grocery bombing that killed two and injured nine. She was released a decade later in a prisoner exchange, and said her confession came after torture including beatings and sexual abuse. In recent years she faced charges for not disclosing the information when she immigrated to the United States, and deported.

On Sunday, the cafe was hosting Sunaina Maira, a UC Davis professor and author of “Boycott! The Academy and Justice for Palestine.” Inside looked full, like 50 or so people, pretty good for a Sunday afternoon book reading anywhere. The bakery, which does a lot of business at farmers markets and other pop-ups, is also politically active in various social justice causes and held the event with the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. Supporters characterized the protesters as right-wing, Zionists and supporting the oppression of Palestinians. If you want to check out the bakery, they are at http://reemscalifornia.com/

The protesters, however, reject that, saying it is about hating Jews, and that killers should not be celebrated. Many made a point to say they are involved in liberal causes. They carried signs and tried getting into a conversation with the dozen or so bakery supporters standing as a buffer between the business during the author’s talk. Instead they were silent as the protesters aired their side, which included criticizing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel. After a half hour to hour they left, though as with anything related to this conflict, I’m sure it will not be the end. They have a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/boycottReemsCalifornia.

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At 6 a.m. New Year’s Day I was at Harborside in Oakland, a marijuana dispensary industry leader now with a renovated lobby, display cases and added budtender registers guiding purchases. I had a complimentary coffee and donut, non-medicated. A new era was starting in California, and I was there to shoot video of the first legal sales to anyone 21 years old or over.

California voters joined other states in approving recreational use in 2016, and on New Year’s Day 2018 government licenses needed for legal sales started. Before that, in 1996, California voters approved marijuana use for medical reasons. Benefits for cancer and HIV/AIDS patients were what you heard about initially, but later, for about $50 anyone could go to a doctor specializing in giving marijuana prescriptions, have a less serious reason like pain or not sleeping, and get a one-year recommendation to buy marijuana at dispensaries. Before that possession could be a misdemeanor, though in cities like San Francisco most likely a cop would grind it into the ground with their foot and admonish you for being a stoner.

It made me think of other ways marijuana has changed.

Like how there were marijuana dealers, who didn’t have brand names or fancy packaging with logos, but a clear sandwich bag or even “baggie.” These were people from school, work, other friends, or their connections. Buyers could also take chances on the street, like Haight-Ashbury, listening for someone passing by to quietly whisper “buds,” or going to the guys with “mota” hanging out in the shadows of Dolores Park. The latter had the cheaper “Mexican weed,” often with seeds, dried brown and flattened supposedly from transport over the border. Amounts ranged from a half-gram to an eighth of an ounce, far from the one ounce Californians can now have. Of course concentrates, vape pens and other processed product utilizing all usable parts of the plant didn’t exist. Edibles were limited to brownies or other sweet baked goods, usually sold by a hippie at a music festival or made by a friend with access to cheaply sold or even discarded harvest trim. 

Sounds like progress for users who, even after paying the new government taxes, are still relatively paying less without the risk of legal trouble or logistics of a dealer. In the 1990s, an eighth of top grade bud in California would be $50 to $60, with minimum wage about $5 an hour. Now dispensary specials can be $150 an ounce, and nothing is dry or with seeds. 

I also thought of today’s marijuana icons. Like will there be another Cheech and Chong, or Snoop Dogg? Or movies such as the “Harold and Kumar” and “Friday” series. A common theme is that they are outlaws. Endearing outlaws usually on a goofy adventure. Imagine if they were getting high from today’s high-end boutique dispensaries touting organics and culinary experiments from infused wine to chocolate espresso bites. Jay and Silent Bob being in the drug dealers’ union is now a reality, with organized labor part of the cannabis business. 

Of course, marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, and in some states it can be jail time for small amounts. But whether there’s ever a shift to a nationwide legalization, a total ban, or somewhere in between, the normalization of marijuana has already changed its culture forever.

Usually, an “emergency” action in San Francisco concerning the military means a protest against an American act of war.

But Wednesday night, after President Trump’s morning announcement that transgenders would no longer be allowed, almost 1,000 people met in the Castro and marched for the right to serve. With chants including “Out of the bars and into the streets,” evoking Harvey Milk and 1970s gay rights, they blocked traffic on Market Street until reaching City Hall, which was lit in the light blue and pink colors of the transgender flag.

Speakers included those who have served, and a teen who wanted to continue the family tradition of military service. Of course, many others did point out their objection to the military on grounds such as oppression and better use of resources.

It made me wonder about the number of transgenders, which President Obama lifted the official ban on last year. A lot of media referenced last year’s RAND Corporation report titled “Assessing the Implications of Allowing Transgender Personnel to Serve Openly” that gave a “midrange estimate of around 2,450 transgender personnel in the active component (out of a total number of approximately 1.3 million active-component service members) and 1,510 in the selected reserve.” So, a small amount of the less than 1 percent of Americans active in the all-volunteer military.

It made me think of my interview with attendee Tayler Williams, who while not looking to join the military service, said transgender people should be given the opportunity.

“I thought he was crazy, ‘cause he’s going to start a war, and he’s going to need people to fight. And if they’re willing to fight, they should be able to.”

Here’s video from the protest.

 

 

Speaking of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender communities, last month was Pride. Some have criticized it for becoming too corporate instead of political as it has grown. But like many such events across the country this year, opposition to President Trump’s views including immigration, refugees, the Muslim registry, and Black Lives Matter took center stage. The first several contingents were dedicated to those causes. Some carried flags and signs, with a group of women taking a more militant stance with masks and bats. That was followed by hours more of politicians, corporate floats, school marching bands, and the like. I felt old when the younger folks in attendance got all excited when cast members of Internet shows “13 Reasons Why” and “Orange is the New Black” came through, and I was not starstruck nor in possession of a good cell phone to prepare a proper selfie.

In gathering interviews, I came across gay rights activists John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney in the crowd, who said all those at risk from Trump’s policies must come together.

“The new administration in Washington, once again, the LGBT community feels under threat,” Lewis said. “Stand up. Stand up for our lives. Stand up for the lives of so many people who are suffering of the new administration.”

Here is video from that.

 

By Eric Louie

In full disclosure, I am a San Francisco native. It sounds irrelevant when talking about yesterday’s hunger strike march to City Hall to oust Police Chief Greg Suhr in the national debate over police shootings. But it also gives a personal view in what is happening as the city changes with tech money.

Gentrification, with lower-income blacks and Latinos moved out as wealthier whites move in, was linked early to the current local movement against police force. But even longtime residents are seldom born and raised, which many natives carry as a status. Some of the five hunger strikers were identified in media reports as native San Franciscans, which caught my interest. In a seven-by-seven-mile square city with one major public high school for each neighborhood, you didn’t know everyone in town, but probably had the same hangout spots and maybe even friends in common. I didn’t know the “Frisco 5” before, but in my quick search found this 5-year-old video for “Heart & Soul” from hunger striker Ilych Sato, also known as the rapper Equipto. His mom is also striking. Obviously I don’t assume all native San Franciscans will agree with their politics, but seeing images from the 1989 earthquake to Carousel (the former Doggie Diner) at Ocean Beach hit home.

Home is something I think of all the time as I take a 45-minute BART train ride to the city from the East Bay. I remember my high school theater tech teacher at School of the Arts randomly asking us what we thought about never being able to afford a house in the city we’re from. In college, though a city internship class taught by former Supervisor Mabel Teng, we learned about how the city is more younger and single than family. Along the march someone who recognized me from high school said hi, while another who I see occasionally doing backstage work when I’m working with catering companies downtown was also there. It’s rare to see anyone from those days, so it’s interesting to note that not only did I see two yesterday, but another friend from the old days while at the protest last week.

After marching to City Hall, demonstrators learned Mayor Ed Lee was in another neighborhood. Protesters then went to the Board of Supervisors, who were also meeting. During the exchange, one speaker talked about how young white people who have moved to the Mission District drink, play music and trash Dolores Park while people of color would get busted for that. Not that there wasn’t marijuana smoke during the march, or white people in it, but while it might not be the best illustration of inequality to make the news, this is also an example of how some see their safe spaces being taken. Locally, a video taken by a guy mocking a park ranger enforcing the rules went viral last year, not because of those cheering on his right to party, but because it showed the entitled attitude that has come with the growth.   

Interestingly, Suhr is a San Francisco native too, attending the private Saint Ignatius College Preparatory. But he isn’t talking much, let alone about his city roots, canceling a pre-scheduled community discussion with Public Defender Jeff Adachi Tuesday night. I’d love to ask him about how this has affected him as a native. Anyway, here’s some video from yesterday’s march, their 13th day without solid food, along with some I got from the sixth day.

 

 

Today I woke up with less than a year before I’m 40, and decided to take the advice of a writer I chauffeur and get back into writing by…writing. More than I have been, anyway. So here’s a short story that ties in the day I turned 21, played a show with my band, and the changing technologies since then that reinforces why we need to live life for moments that will never happen again. There’s even video of the show, and for an added bonus, there’s videos of the Human Beans on San Francisco cable access and one I made of Nick’s band Secret Secretaries included in this posting.

I spent my 21st birthday playing with my band 3 Hunglo at San Francisco State University. It wasn’t the largest show, coming in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. But it was everything I could ask for both as an aspiring punk rock bassist, and now later in life, especially as we dissolved after a few years after only “releasing” a home-dubbed cassette tape with a handful of songs. Thinking about those times and lost technologies 18 years later makes me realize how important it is to follow those dreams, because they can never be had again.

My buddy Nick and I were both from San Francisco’s Sunset District, having downhill skateboard races as kids through Noriega Street traffic to the beach. After getting hooked up with friends’ drummer friends, we upped our professionalism and found Lonnie’s ad on the bulletin board at the Lookout Records store in Berkeley. As in he wrote his phone number on a card tacked on a wall at a store where people got music on record, CD or tapes. Not craigslist or another online listing post. Nick and I had our first serious band.

I was going to SF State at the time, working on campus doing phone surveys, which was a very welcome job. It paid $8 an hour, then $11 as a supervisor, while my job at the Hallmark card store was the minimum wage $5. Comparatively, I shared a studio apartment with my girlfriend for $655 a month, not the $1,500 or $2,000 it would be now. Another perk was making long distance calls. Phone calls were generally made from landlines back then, and paid for by distance, not cell phone minutes. In fact, cell phones were only for those with money, and would have been too costly and bourgeois anyway.

It was through that job that a co-worker was looking for acts to fill her St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the university. Having band members available during the day was probably a big part, so we did it. I let the student newspaper know for their event listings, which back then was a bigger deal in advertising shows than in today’s must-have Web presence. I heard about most local bands from The List, a basic-type, photocopied weekly listing passed out at record stores and shows in the Bay Area. No bands had Web pages, and if your music came out on CD it was because a label put it out or you had the money to have them done professionally. Burning a CD was not the DIY undertaking it is today.

Apparently, being listed with us upset some of the Irish folk dancers organizing the event, and along with Lonnie being late due to parking and traffic, we got in a rough six minutes. But it was one of the most memorable six minutes of my life. Peet, another neighborhood buddy who played in the Human Beans and later joined 3 Hunglo when Lonnie left to play for Subincision, even made an appearance on the boombox. Peet would play various tapes, sometimes instructional or commercial recordings, with different speeds and other manipulations as background noise. It used to annoy me, but with Peet later passing away and tapes virtually non-existent, I’d do anything to see that happen again. It’s hard to think it was barely a generation ago.

 

This week the family of Alex Nieto started their federal civil lawsuit in his police shooting death, one of a handful of cases in the Bay Area that have drawn significant protests in recent years over police brutality. It has also brought in discussion of San Francisco’s gentrification, with Nieto a Latino born and raised in the Mission and Bernal Heights. On the trial’s first day a couple hundred people gathered in his family’s support outside the courthouse. Here’s a video I put together.

Nieto, 28, was killed March 21, 2014. He was at Bernal Heights Park on a Friday having a burrito before work as a nightclub security guard when passers-by called police and reported a man with a gun. Police responding said he pulled a Taser at them, causing them to fire, including reloading their handguns and shooting him more until he was no longer a threat. There is no video, as has become the standard in the current outrage over police shootings, but a witness said he was not a threat. There’s debate over whether his hands were in his jacket pockets when he was shot, and many other specifics that are being followed by multiple local media outlets daily.

The officers involved were long cleared of criminal wrongdoing, with some promoted, without any big visible change to police or window smashing protests in reaction. But with the Black Lives Matter movement continuing, with Beyonce’s dancers giving a nod to the Mario Woods shooting with an off-stage video at the Super Bowl, the outcome will have an impact on both the movement locally and community at large. The fact that it is getting daily media coverage, while many lawsuits against police reported at their conclusion, if at all, shows how closely this discussion has become one of the nation’s top issues.

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By Eric Louie

Yesterday I was at the 12th Annual Walk For Life West Coast, which brought thousands to downtown San Francisco to rally against abortion.

It also brought pro-choice counter protesters. The event started in front of City Hall, and when pro-life activist David Daleiden started to speak, activists with FEMEN USA rushed the stage. More active in Europe, where they started in 2008, the women activists’ tactic is to take off their tops for a variety of causes. Their messages are painted on their bodies, with flowers in their hair, and the aim is to use their bodies against a system run by men. Security quickly grabbed them and got them off the stage. As police took them away they shouted “Fraud, fake, liar!” 

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I had expected the other counter protesters, who waited along the march route and were separated by a row of police on bicycles. But the FEMEN activists, who undoubtedly create a media spectacle, obviously do not publicize their actions. Luckily I had found a spot past the crowd near the front of stage right to get shots of the speakers. But I was also able to break away to behind the stage when the commotion started. While the basic rule of camera work is to get as close as you can, it also reminded me of an early lesson in journalism, which was to sit in the back of a courtroom, city council meeting or other gathering. You get to see more, and get out in case something happens.

Here’s some video I got.