A Hot Day of Resistance

root - Posted on 30 September 2002

The Shotwell Block Party celebrates culture, community and resistance to Eviction in El Mission’

by Alexandra Cuff/PoorNewsNetwork Media intern

Saturday afternoon I watched for the first time in my life, a spider capture and kill a fly. The power struggle was amazing. The fly was much larger than the spider but the spider’s attack was so natural, so organized. The web was beautiful. I was standing outside the neighborhood flower shop on 23rd and Shotwell, which was the first of my stops as I entered the free block-party on Shotwell Street on June 29. A rarity in San Francisco, a hot summer day – I had the afternoon off, folks were barbequing and playing live music in the street. Neighborhood youth were spray-painting murals, without harassment. My boyfriend and I, both recent victims of master-tenant schemes to rip off unassuming household members, rode our bikes down Shotwell street to celebrate this Mission neighborhoods' successful resistance to eviction.

Nuevo Ramize (a Flores mercado) is an example of one of the 1st successful cases of surviving unjust eviction during the peak of gentrification in the Mission district during 2001. When the flower shop moved to it’s current space on 23rd and Shotwell a neighbor wrote to city hall to advocate for an eviction based on an allegation that the zone was supposed to be residential. People in the community didn’t see the shop as being out of place. Through petition signing and legal and moral support of the community members, CBOs, and the landlord, Nuevo Ramize is still here. The owner, Carmen Ramirez is going through a legislative process through the Planning Commission to get a parking variance for the shop to gain two parking spots for clients.

Through the heat, the second annual Active Resistance celebration shouted, We Are Still Here. This wasn’t just a summer block party, it was a party to celebrate the victory that residents of the Mission have won in reclaiming our rights to stand up against the economic, racial and social inequities slithering into our neighborhood in the guise of the law and neighborhood rehabilitation. The founding block party was the first publicly recognized party for fighting the eviction of families living at 868 Shotwell Street in February 2001. Although threatened with eviction by their landlord, Khorges, for "nuisance, too much foot traffic in the building, and noise" – all of which were never proved - the Marenco, Recinos, and Barbarosa families were not leaving.

Rogelio Barbarosa brought the situation to the attention of Robert Morose who is a member of PODER (People Organized to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights) and a teacher at Cesar Chavez. Together Morose, Rogelio, PODER (which is a member of MAC, the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition), St. Peters, and the community, organized weekly meetings, which sometimes saw up to seventy folks gathering together to come up with a strategy for dealing with the eviction. The tactics which were created came straight from the parents, children, teenagers and other community members. The meetings organized marches through the neighborhood which targeted the Khorges' other properties including the property of displaced residents who were already victims of his unfair evictions. Interestingly enough, the owner of these families’ homes also owns a liquor store, other apartments, and a check-cashing mart. The business’ were boycotted and Khorges' lawyer’s office was targeted as a protest site. Khorges finally gave in due to the lost business, calls from Tom Ammiano and other supervisors, and the proactive resistance from the community.

There was a lot representation going down on Saturday. A number of different community members contributed as vendors, educators, poets, cooks, artists, and community planners. Among friends representing were MEDA (Mission Economic Development Association), POOR Magazine, MAC (Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition, and as a vendor, community member Orlando Velez who teaches silk-screening at the Mission Cultural Center and has recently started his own clothing business.
MAC had a couple of tables set up which represented a virtual map of the North East Mission. People were invited to paint and build small models of buildings and neighborhood icons and place them wherever they wanted. This is part of the community planning process, "People’s Plan for Land" which through MAC, is handing the planning process back to the community. The Po' Poets from POOR; Mari, Jewnbug, A. Faye, Charles Pitts and Joseph Bolden performed, some of them doing "slam-bios" others reading pieces of poetry that spoke to the issue of gentrification and displacement. Joseph, (also a PNN columnist) whose poem "Death of a City" spoke of a city unfit to live in, warned us not to "make this cautionary tale come true".

Although the rents are slightly less in the Mission and there has been attention brought to the problem of gentrification, people are still being evicted. More than half of us are renters as opposed to owners here in San Francisco. Rents have dropped off about 10% in the past year but that is menial compared with the 100% rise in the past 2 years. Mom and pop stores are surviving on year-to-year leases. The victories already won are proof that through community solidarity and awareness, we can work to make decisions about our neighborhoods for ourselves. Although I’m aware that I’m still part of this modern feudal system as a tenant, I rode my bike to my rented home with a confirmed hope that not everyone is turning their head when an injustice goes down. I’m also looking forward to next year’s Shotwell Street block party and hope that it will stretch a couple more blocks and that even more of us will be able to say: We Are Still Here.

To get involved with or learn more about the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition’s Community Planning Process, call PODER at 431-4210.


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