by Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia
Green waste-bins, green grass, green bottles, green jobs, green futures, green gentrification? As I walked past the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC) Recycling Center, I noticed there were multi-colored micro-business people carefully recycling their multi-colored bottles and cans into bright green recycling bins debris boxes. They were green like everyone else’s recycling bins, but somehow the HANC bins weren’t green enough to fight the lies of green nimby-ism, green displacement, green classism and yes, even green racism from an onslaught of hate from housed members of the Haight Ashbury neighborhood and beyond who want to get rid of the truly green center of activism and micro-business that is HANC.
In 1999, POOR Magazine released Volume 3 of the hard copy version of our magazine; that was when we still had funding to publish a paper issue. It was entitled simply “WORK,” and we focused on unrecognized work and workers engaged in low- and no-wage work and micro-business like recycling, street vending, panhandling, mothering, sex work, workfare, day labor and prison labor.
This was an extremely controversial issue of POOR Magazine because people get very angry at the idea of panhandlers and recyclers who don’t work for corporate trash companies, such as Sunset Scavenger, and corporate solicitors, such as politicians, PACS and salespeople who practice so-called “legal” panhandling, being considered workers or micro-business people at all.
We surveyed over 300 workers engaged in thousands of different industries – from corporate to non-profit to underground business folk – and discovered what we already knew and few fail to recognize: There was little difference in the schedules, workloads, hours, breaks and focus of a full-time recycler and a corner store owner, of a street newspaper vendor and a full-time restaurant worker. Our main finding: Workers and business people work hard and long and take pride in their workmanship and business – just like the workers and micro-business people at HANC.
San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius has waged what equates to a multi-year hate campaign against the workers at HANC and houseless folks in general by filling his columns with an endless stream of stereotypes and hypocrisies about people without a roof who live and work near the park versus the peaceful yuppies and hipsters who live and work near the park.
He paints the houseless residents of the Haight district as dirty, lazy and aggressive, even going so far as to equate houseless folks with the coyotes in Golden Gate Park, contrasting the “peaceful” hipsters who sit in the park at concerts, picnics, parties, bars and events, who recycle in the “right” way, never litter, get drunk or act aggressive. Unfortunately, the main difference between these two communities is that one is constantly spoken for in the corporate news and the other one never gets a voice in the Chronicle or any corporate media channel.
So as we march toward the implementation of the newly voted in civil sidewalks law, which not only criminalizes public space but metes out a clearly defined attack on people in poverty sitting and standing in public spaces and differently privileges those who don’t look houseless or poor sitting and standing in public spaces, we encounter an eviction notice served on the HANC folks to make way for a “community garden.”
I wonder: How did gentrification, removal, hate and racism suddenly get cloaked in green? And why can’t people see that offering poor people a community centered space to redeem their recyclables, while working to clean Mother Earth is one of the most beautifully, truly green projects ever created.
Tiny, Lisa Gray-Garcia, is the co-editor and co-founder of POOR Magazine and Poor News Network and the author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.