Looking Back | Libertarian Party of San Francisco

Looking Back

This will be my final regular article for the LPSF Newsletter, and for a change, I’m going to go with a normal title and not one of my eclectic ones that often had folks scratching their heads. I have voted with my feet and moved to New Hampshire to be part of the Free State Project, an effort to convince 20,000 Libertarians to move to the “Live Free or Die” state to help push it in a more liberty-oriented direction. I’ve already jumped into activism here and joined the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance, which reviews the bills written by state legislators and fights against the statist ones and supports pro-freedom ones, and also my local “Porcupines” group. Apparently I arrived just in the nick of time as the state turned blue during the election last month, no Libertarians were elected or re-elected, and the New Hampshire Libertarian Party lost ballot access. They even tried to enact a state income tax here recently (heaven forbid), but fortunately that failed. I plan to send a report from New Hampshire from time to time to report on how liberty is fairing here, so you may see an occasional article from me. Lots of work to be done here!

I attended my first LPSF meeting in October of 2010 and got active immediately, and even with the numerous disappointments the LPSF withstood over the years, I never regretted getting involved. Not for a minute. I couldn’t imagine going back to being a bystander again and letting our liberties slip through our fingers. In the immortal words of Marcy Berry, “I’m not going down without a fight!”

Eight years of political activism encompassed a variety of activities: working on the political campaigns of Ron Paul, John Dennis, Jeff Adachi, and Joel Engardio; writing and submitting ballot measure arguments at the Department of Elections; tabling at gun shows; giving public comment at Plan Bay Area hearings; manning a booth at Pride every year; keeping the peace at LPSF meetings when personalities occasionally clashed; attending local community group meetings and presenting LPSF ballot measure positions; tabling at JSA conventions; marching occasionally in rallies; helping to plan our annual panel discussions; and of course working with other liberty groups like the Golden Gate Liberty Revolution and the Nine County Coalition. A few grand (and some not so grand) experiences stick out as I recall the last eight years.

Perhaps the happiest moment was watching the pictures that George and Catherine showed me after the Pink Pistols marched in the Pride Parade about five years ago. I wanted to march with them, but I was manning our own booth at the Pride Fair that day, so I had to miss it. Amazingly, the parade watchers were applauding and cheering on folks who were openly supporting gun rights—not exactly something that would normally be welcomed in San Francisco. Of course, I wouldn’t be so silly to think that the crowds were cheering for the “Pistols” part as much as the “Pink” part, but still they were cheering, not throwing tomatoes. For once, it actually made me proud to be a San Francisco resident, and I would call it San Francisco’s finest moment.

Another event that lingers was when Marcy and I tabled at the Valencia “Sunday Streets” to promote our 1st Annual Panel Discussion. A rude and rather unpleasant guy came up to our table and asked dismissingly, “Are you part of the Ayn Rand Group?” looking to pick a fight with us. Indeed, it did get rocky for a while as he was an avowed and unapologetic statist, but we happened to get on the subject of Rand Paul, who had recently denounced the US Government’s use of drones to kill innocent people overseas, and the guy totally supported Rand for his efforts. In the course of a turbulent discussion, he had gone from foe to friend. The one thing I’ve experienced first hand over the years is that, being a Libertarian, no matter how many issues you might disagree with someone, you’ll always find some common ground with the other person, regardless of how staunch their politics are.

Another good memory is when the LPSF was invited by the Noe Valley Democratic Club to present the “No” side on four separate ballot measures several years ago. Our Outreach Director Starchild was doing presentation duty that day for us. Without any necessary preparation or worry, it was amazing to watch Starchild effortlessly present all the good, common sense reasons for the group to recommend “No” votes to its members. How he managed to pull it off with no notes or props at all and do all four measures in one broad swoop—I’ll never know. I guess that’s why they call it the gift of gab. Of course, this was clearly a hostile group without any liberty leanings at all, but everything was completely civil, and mostly the audience sat quietly and listened politely. I remember very clearly that he chastised people who support ballot measures and laws that hurt working people and those on the lower economic scale the most but purport to help them. He was taking a sincere poke at the hypocrisy of those who feel they’re “helping” the poor, but he did it in a completely honest and forthright way. I’m sure they didn’t appreciate that bit thrown in! I admire him for pointing it out in no uncertain terms but presenting it without an ounce of acrimony. Of course, we heard afterwards that they recommended a “Yes” vote on each ballot measure. No surprise at all—you do your best and then move on.

One of the more unpleasant memories of my activism was a presentation before the Raoul Wallenberg Jewish Democratic Club a few years ago on four different ballot measures. I was invited to present the usual contrarian viewpoint and didn’t expect to sway them, but I gave it a shot anyway. I was asked to show up at 11:00 to present, and it was an invitation by the group’s leader (I didn’t invite myself). They kept me waiting for four hours in a hot, sweaty, fly-filled meeting room before I could present. Whenever one of the candidates running for office dropped in, they kept on putting them up next before anyone opposing any of the ballot measures was allowed to present. Having to listen to four straight hours of candidates joyously promoting groupthink identity politics was a sickening experience, to say the least. If you’re a woman, score one extra point. If you’re a woman “of color,” score two extra points. If you’re a woman “of color” and gay, score three extra points. If you’re a woman “of color” who’s gay and has children in government schools, score four extra points. Ad nauseum. Finally, they ran out of candidates popping in at the last moment, and I was given ten minutes to run through the four ballot measures. Unfortunately, they kept on interrupting me with rude questions and comments almost the entire ten minutes, and I’m not sure I got through all the ballot measures, but I think I did. To her credit, the transgender person (score five extra points) in charge who invited me did try to apologize for the ungraciousness of her colleagues as I was leaving, but I never returned to that group again and unsubscribed immediately. Shameful that those who care so much about the down and out couldn’t extend common courtesy to a guest. Well, it can’t always be sunshine and roses, but I have to say this was a rare occurrence in my activist years.

On the flip side of things, some of my best conversations over the years were listening to immigrants who stopped by our tabling events. I remember a guy from Africa ruminating about the trending statism in America. He argued avidly for more freedom—and there was little where he came from—and asked why people here are giving the government more control over their lives. Another time, at a liberty summit, I listened to a candidate running for office speak so passionately about why he was running and what life was like growing up back in Russia that a colleague that who rarely contributes to political campaigns was moved to contribute for once. Another time, a Hispanic couple that stopped at our table (who I had shamefully assumed would not be interested in politics or philosophy at all) turned out to be very interested in what Libertarians had to offer. Though they didn’t know much about libertarianism, they definitely had the independent spirit that defined America in the past, and we had a great conversation. Most memorable of all was hearing Lily Tang Williams, who ran for the US Senate in Colorado, speak at two LP conventions. She grew up during the Cultural Revolution and had plenty to say about what life was like growing up in the Mao Zedong years. Her stories of the micromanagement of everyday life that would be inconceivable to most of us made me teary-eyed, and at the same time her delivery was so down-to-earth that there were plenty of laughs too. She told us of her dream to come to America to get away from such tyranny and why she fights for liberty here so America doesn’t become what she was lucky to escape from. If my activist years have illustrated anything to me, it is that immigrants are our most valuable import, and they’re the best freedom fighters we’ve got.

Ever attended a San Francisco Board of Supervisors weekly meeting? I only attended one over the eight years, and it proved memorable too—but not in the best sense of the word. The LPSF and a few other liberty folks decided to attend this particular meeting because the Board of Supervisors was going to vote on a resolution against the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) forbidding San Francisco government officials from helping federal officials enforce this direct assault on all our liberties. The chamber was packed, and I was pleased that so many folks had shown up to speak for liberty. Alas, I was wrong. As item by item was discussed and voted on, it became obvious after a few hours of business that most of the folks had come to speak for their particular issue only. They came to grovel to the Board of Supervisors so the supervisors would vote favorably on their permit or application—and then promptly left. By early evening, when the Board of Supervisors finally got to the NDAA issue, the room was mostly empty. It was just us liberty folks and a few from the left concerned about civil liberties who got up and encouraged the supervisors to support the resolution. To their credit, the Board of Supervisors did vote unanimously in favor of the resolution. What was also interesting was how an elected representative of the voters gets “elected” to a non-elected position. That day the supervisors were “electing” Scott Wiener to one of the regional boards (Metropolitan Transportation Commission). He was asked to leave the room, they took a quick vote on “electing” him to the MTC, and every supervisor voted “Yes.” He was called back in to the chamber and congratulated, and that was that. The whole thing took 5-10 minutes—and that’s how a politician elected for one job becomes “elected” to perform another one. Also of note was David Chiu’s remark to Carmen Chu, who was leaving the Board of Supervisors that day to become the County Tax Assessor, “You collect the money, and we’ll figure out how to spend it.” Of course, it was made tongue-in-cheek, but with a bloated (and growing like the blob) budget, he really did mean it. Worst of all, during one part of the meeting, the Board of Supervisors went around the table checking in with each supervisor to see what they were up to that week. Each supervisor got up and announced breathlessly what new legislation or resolution they were working on. It seemed like a big competition to outdo each other to demonstrate how much they were doing to “help the people.” And trust me—they weren’t looking for ways to get government off people’s backs, but the opposite. It was sickening to watch this circus played out. When politicians become full-time mischief makers, this is what it looks like in action.

I don’t think I could close out my LPSF activism memories without mentioning fighting Plan Bay Area and the growth of regional government. Most memorable were two different hearings I attended in the early years before the plan was adopted in 2013. This was in the first go-round when they held actual public hearings, rather than the more recent versions of Plan Bay Area where public comment is no longer allowed and planned “workshops” are “presented” to the public where input is “invited.” The public hearing in Oakland was so different from one held at the Hotel Whitcomb in San Francisco. At the San Francisco hearing, the audience was quiet and respectful of those running the meeting, they were a younger crowd, and they seemed in total agreement with Eric Mar and the others in charge. Us few liberty folks were the only ones who spoke against Plan Bay Area. One young woman who supported the plan commented that people wait for buses and public transportation all over the world, that’s just how it is, and no reason for it to be any different for Bay Area residents. In other words, just grit your teeth and bear it. Another public speaker advised the central planners, “If you want to get them out of their cars, just take away their parking.” Indeed, the SFMTA has been doing this increasingly for years—and traffic has worsened. Contrasting this civilized meeting was the hearing in Oakland, which was well attended but the crowd was decidedly older. They were so rowdy—carrying signs, they clapped, hissed, and booed throughout the hearing and generally gave the regional folks a really hard time. While I myself don’t stoop to such low tactics (other than clapping), I have to say I totally enjoyed every minute of the show! The audience was so disrespectful of the authoritarians—it was a blast! Small wonder the planners moved away from the public hearing format where folks could actually get up and give the know-it-all’s a piece of their mind.

I have to say I am proud and happy to have worked with such a great bunch of people who devote big chunks of their free time working to ensure that some aspects of liberty remain intact in The People’s Republic of San Francisco. A heartfelt thanks especially to Nick, Starchild, Rebecca, Marcy, Francoise, Michael Denny, Phil, Les, and Jawj for being great colleagues and friends to me. I will truly miss them as we shared so many memorable times over the years fighting the statist mentality. Who could forget the epic philosophical debates between Starchild and Phil breaking bread after our meetings when we often closed the restaurant down? How about our last Tax Day rally at Civic Center about six years ago when the winds were so strong that each leg of our canopy had to be held down by a different person? (We switched to panel discussions indoors after that fiasco.) How about the debate at the Commonwealth Club over the first sugary beverage tax ballot measure where Starchild held his own against the stacked team of Nanny Stater Scott Wiener and Authoritarian Dr. Lustig? What about the time at Pride when a completely naked man (except for zories) came up to our booth and wanted to take the World’s Smallest Political Quiz and no one wanted to deal with him and I got stuck with it? And what about all the times over the years that I got hopelessly lost driving to activist events with my colleagues? How about the time the Department of Elections refused to print out argument against Prop B, an increase in the parcel tax for CCSF, and the Voters Handbook falsely stated that no argument had been submitted against it? (I sought the help of the SF Ethics Commission, the City Attorney, and the Secretary of State—all of them useless.) And could Starchild and Marcy ever forget the crazy, chaotic times at the Department of Elections years ago when the lottery allowed us to submit scores of ballot measure arguments against each measure and we were madly filling out cover sheets until the very last minute?

Indeed, it’s been a great run working with this small band of real freedom fighters. Thanks for the memories!