Hometown hero Gavin Newsom officially announced his candidacy for Governor of California on April 21st, flaunting his technical savvy by simultaneously championing his cause on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. Not being as cybernetic as most of my peers I was forced to enjoy the video spectacle and was once again struck by how embarrassing it is when our supposed leaders pander to the people by utilizing shitty resolution for the sake of networking. Show a little class and stream your own videos.
There’s nothing particularly striking about his pep talk, aside from my being struck with uncontrollable laughter as soon as his well manicured mug appears. San Francisco is hailed as the nation’s leader in universal health care, ecological innovation and retaining teachers amidst grievous budget cuts. He repeatedly uses the term “we” instead of the political assertion of “I”, which has become something of a hallmark in all of his communiques. He is not running for governor so much as we are all being invited to run for governor. I guess this means I’ve been traveling the state with an SFPD escort all this time. The message is that San Francisco is doing better than California and the allusion is that it’s because we’ve had Gavin Newsom at the helm, single-handedly steering us into calmer waters as the rest of the world drowns in a fiscal tempest. The “green economy” is our guiding light, as evidenced by happy laborers installing solar paneling. Voters and the Board of Supervisors, advocates and PACs are not invited to share in the glory of our solar panels.
The elections won’t take place for another year but this never prevents pollsters from harassing the recluses and bored housewives who generate public opinion. If Jerry Brown and Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who are both assumed to be entering the race, run then Newsom places third. If Senator Dianne Feinstein throws her hat into the ring he drops to fourth, but he has commented that if she does he will bow out– as long as she announces her candidacy early enough. In an effort to court less slick Democrats Newsom has been spotted meeting with under-enlightened prospective voters in traditional hicktowns San Diego and Stockton where he plans to replace their images of gay marriage with his successful chain of yuppie eateries and wine bars.
So will the San Francisco model work the length and breadth of a state as large and diverse as California, and more importantly can Newsom convince skeptics he can handle the responsibilities given his track record? Are solar panels the key to economic solvency and can his experience managing lifestyle businesses trump the fact that China owns our collective asses? Perhaps we should examine a little bit of recent history wherein out intrepid leader laid down and allowed a foreign government full reign of policing the streets of San Francisco.
You may remember the world community’s recent black eye earned when the International Olympic Committee awarded China the coveted role of host despite a long history of human rights abuses, environmental degradation and continuing military occupation of a sovereign country. As the olympic torch wound its way around the globe massive protests greeted the relay, culminating in France where enraged citizens managed to douse the torch repeatedly until the spectacle was finally ended. San Francisco officials were concerned about maintaining their composure under worldwide scrutiny, and met with Chinese and IOC officials about how to best protect the sanctity of the torch. Gavin Newsom attempted to diffuse the situation by keeping the relay route a secret until the threat of lawsuits forced him to divulge this sensitive information. The Chinese opted to insist that their special torch attendants accompany the bearers.
After some petty squabbling about numbers an agreement was struck between the city and Chinese diplomats wherein six of the requested twelve blue-clad minders would jog along. Images released from Istanbul where one of these torch guards grappled with a protester weren’t enough to alarm anyone, it took the massive protests in London before SFPD chief Heather Fong decided to actually ask someone with a little experience how things were working. As it turns out these spritely young fellows were members of an elite paramilitary group charged with suppressing dissent and policing the Tibetan border. Government ministers in England were pissed that someone had allowed the “thugs” to march through London pushing and punching bystanders, and police commented that the relay was actually controlled by the Chinese, with Beijing Olympic official Zhang Ming calling the shots from a car via radio.
On the eve of the torch relay Newsom and Fong met up with the Chinese to hem and haw. They insisted only two paramilitaries could accompany the torch; the Chinese were insisting the original request of a dozen be allowed. In the end San Francisco promised to bolster the police presence through a variety of agencies, which pacified the irate Chinese. On the day of the running thousands of pro-Tibet and other assorted activists cluttered the Embarcadero and swarmed both the starting and ending points of the already truncated course. They were not allowed into either location as these preferred spectators were alleged to have been picked by Chinese and Olympic officials. Protesters have also suggested that the SFPD paid deference to PRC acolytes who had been bused in from parts unknown and had better looking flags, allowing them better marching and screaming space. All eyes were on McCovey Cove where opening remarks had been cut down to brief words no one could hear over the approaching hordes of freedom-loving Americans.
What eventually happened is pretty well known. Sequestered in our windowless office my boss and I had live ariel footage streaming as well as frequently updated Indymedia feeds, desperate to trace the path of the torch and see who could hose the fucker. Boats left the area and were followed by helicopters, people wearing spandex were piled into shuttles and helicopters followed them. Cameras remained fixed on the emptying warehouse where the torch had been held while my boss was on the phone with his boyfriend who used to work a couple blocks away, screaming which way helicopters were flying. Eventually the torch was produced on Van Ness and run for several blocks, surprising the few people who were walking around minding their own business and the thousands of people on the other side of the city where the relay was supposed to take place. The actual running of the torch took about half an hour, two runners at a time, before people with signs and flags began to show up. The torch was bustled into a bus and driven towards the Golden Gate Bridge under heavy police protection. After some tense moments sitting on the road the bus was diverted and headed south towards the airport– the relay was done.
The day was full of what the fuck moments that would make even the most jaded anarchist feel ashamed of the government. The very concept of allowing foreign nationals to police anyone here cannot be defended, nor can the apparent authority over our own officials shown by detachments from Beijing. The police choosing sides during a contentious protest isn’t anything new but remains in bad taste. The mayor’s previous decision to shorten the route after attempting to conceal it was already a blow to his credibility and the eventual secret rerouting which took place suggests that appeasing the Chinese required more than promises of additional security. However the most striking, or at least the best publicized, blow to the liberal heartland of San Francisco was when torch bearer Mejora Carter got manhandled by the paramilitaries and then cast off to SFPD who pushed her out of the street. Carter, awarded her place in the relay for her environmental activism, had hidden a small Tibetan flag on her person which she pulled out after receiving the torch. The torch police ripped the flag and torch from her before instructing the local police to handle the situation. Their acquiescence mirrors the city’s own, and whatever Newsom’s good intentions, mirrors his failure to do his job and stand up to the pressures of international commerce and political influence.
Top photo is by Robert Durell/Los Angeles Times, middle photo by Carlos Avila Gonzalez/SF Chronicle, bottom photo is unattributed and taken from The Times (UK). Top video is provided by Gavin Newsom for Governor, Inc., the bottom video was shot by Richard L. Pern for the SF Chronicle and is available on the Chron’s website in better resolution but their stream is too tricky for Vodpod.