by Alison Collins
Several weeks ago, shortly after Elon Musk took over leadership as tweeter in chief, he joined the right-wing dogpile bashing San Francisco. “It has been really bad,” he tweeted. “Far left San Francisco/Berkeley views have been propagated to the world via Twitter.” He then worked with noted right wing conspiracy theorist Andy Ngo to reinstate banned accounts on Twitter.
San Francisco has earned a special place in American history as a city that proudly celebrates its diverse citizenry, ideas and lifestyles. Many important social, cultural and political movements that shaped national discourse and policy started in San Francisco. Like any US city, there have also been persistent struggles with economic disparities, racial inequality, policing and LGBTQ justice.
Since the dawn of the internet age, an influx of highly-paid, predominantly tech sector workers has contributed to dramatic changes in the demographics of the city. Longtime residents of color have been squeezed out due to gentrification, and many of those who remain face housing and income insecurity. In the last few years, there has also been a rise in attacks against Asian Americans, driving fear within Asian American communities.
Conservative activists both locally and nationally have criticized and targeted San Francisco and its leaders for our progressive values. They have increasingly mobilized tech investors and weaponized instability and fear to stoke conflict between communities of color and gain outsized influence through our elections.
Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016. While most San Francisco voters rejected his divisive and racist rhetoric, approximately 37,688 of our citizens voted for him. There are now more Trump voters than Black residents in San Francisco.
It was around this time educators began raising alarms about a rise in hate speech and hate crimes in schools. Then it happened at my daughter’s school. She stood up for a Latinx student being taunted by Asian American peers saying the president was going to send him and his family “back to Mexico.”
This was at a time when ICE raids were rampant and Latinx residents were scared. My daughter, who identifies as mixed and Black, also said students were joking about the KKK. In advocating for my child, we engaged with school leadership. The response was to explain it away, deny it was happening and squash it.
Unfortunately, this dynamic has played out in other ways throughout the city. Around this time Black students at Lowell High School staged a walkout to protest racism at their school. Affluent white and Asian parents were fighting district decisions to dismantle segregated tracking via math programs. Instead of listening to those who were harmed, people ignored or even attacked the victims.
One year later when I learned that an openly anti-Black racist and transphobe was campaigning for school board, I decided to take action. I campaigned for school board in the 2018 election and was elected the top vote getter out of 21 candidates with 125,000 votes. A broad coalition supported me because of my educational background and track record of advocacy for safe, equitable schools and equal access to academic opportunity.
I fight for the most vulnerable communities, those who have been most impacted by the changes in SF and who have historically been overlooked or even held down – Black, Indigenous, Latinx, low-income Chinese immigrant and AAPI communities and LGBTQ students and families. Meanwhile, the candidate espousing bigotry was forced to bow out but remains active and influential in city politics to this day.
So, when Black students at Lowell High School were once again subjected to vile pornography and anti-Black and anti-Semitic hatespeech, I had to support them. Sadly, the school and district response to students who were harmed was similar to what we saw at my daughter’s school in 2016. The issues that blew up at Lowell were never addressed.
Confronting racism, discussing bias and centering the Black experience are all difficult issues. People either don’t know how to talk about them or don’t want to. It is much easier to deny them. “Not in San Francisco!”
As a commissioner I saw many examples of the nationwide right wing “culture wars” in a local context. This includes conversations about the Washington High School mural and school renaming, though these issues had been around long before my election.
Lowell High School has always been a flashpoint in our city. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic and forced school closures, the board unanimously voted to institute a lottery system for admission to Lowell. The prior so-called merit-based system, which many argued was a violation of the California Education Code, relied in part on an entrance exam. These exams could not be administered due to the shelter-in-place mandate. Immediately after the vote, the blowback from some Lowell community members was immediate and violent, and the vitriol and pushback continues to this day.
A friend of mine often says I was like a canary in a coal mine. As a parent organizer, educator and school board member, I saw a lot of this coming. I was on the front end of right wing attacks, which have now become the norm whenever educators have dismantled discriminatory policies in our schools.
There is a clear sequence of events that have led us to this moment. The rise of Trumpism, the global Covid-19 pandemic and racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd mobilized a national conservative backlash. This backlash is playing out in our public education system via conversations about racial equity and LGBTQ rights. Fueled by corporate influence and outside money, right-wing operatives (see below) and tech billionaires capitalized on parental frustration during the pandemic.
Within this context, San Francisco conservatives tapped into outside money and accelerated these profound shifts in our politics. Right wing activists are collaborating locally and nationally to stir conflict to advance regressive policies that harm trans students, dismantle affirmative action and ban racial justice education from schools.
2021 brought the recalls against Gov. Newsom, the SF District Attorney and the SF School Board, funded in large part by conservative billionaires, many of whom have no children in public schools and may not even live in our city. School board recallers said they would recall all seven members if they could. Many of SF’s progressive leaders have been targeted with transphobic hate-speech. Local media run front-page articles literally putting a bulls-eye on progressive city leaders just weeks after Nancy Pelosi was subject to a failed assassination attempt.
There are many things to be concerned about. Yet, if you ask someone born in Bayview or the Mission District, they will say this is not new. There are many community organizers who have been advancing positive change for decades. Recent political backlash and targeted attacks prove there is always resistance to advancements in civil rights and equality. Not talking about race, not addressing trans and homophobia, makes things less safe for all of us.
Trump recently announced he’s running for a third time. Based on voter data, there were 56,321 San Franciscans who voted for Trump in 2020. That’s 18,633 more votes than in 2016, and more than the entire Black population in our city.
Recently, Marjorie Taylor Greene launched a vile homophobic attack against Scott Wiener, a state senator representing San Francisco. Marjorie Taylor Green’s attacks on an openly gay elected official come at the same time as the LGBTQIA community mourns the victims of the Q Club shootings. Her comments don’t just endanger Scott Wiener; they also amplify fear and trauma to all those already suffering.
These physical and verbal attacks are part of a larger pattern of right wing political narratives being used to weaponize San Francisco’s illustrious history as a city that celebrates LGBTQIA leadership, history and culture.
Make no mistake, the GOP isn’t just rubbing salt in the wounds of the LGBTQ community. This is part of a larger strategy to use San Francisco and what it represents as a progressive, inclusive city to raise money and engage right wing Christian nationalist voters.
Christopher Rufo is the architect of the anti-CRT (Critical Race Theory) agenda that is currently disrupting school boards and school curriculums across the country. In the past several months, Rufo has moved from targeting “woke” racial justice education to targeting trans students and LGBTQ-affirming policies.
Our city is a talking point in the traveling GOP roadshow: “Join our cause or teachers will turn your kids trans, just like in SF!” Reading through his Twitter timeline, it contains a veritable hit list of educators who Rufo associates with pedophilia.
Rufo is not an educator. He is a political strategist and expert on spinning lies about public schools into political power. And he is currently targeting SF schools and directly targeting educators and parents like me leading efforts to make them more inclusive.
Why is Rufo, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow, tweeting about me, mom and educator? Because the SF recall was also a part of this narrative.
Former Vice President Pence, Chris Rufo, Jim Jordan, Mike Pompeo, Kellyann Conway, Moms for Liberty, Sean Spicer, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, Sean Hannity, Andy Ngo … all celebrated the SF school board recalls of “woke ideology” of Black and Latina educators on the school board and are using it to target policies meant to protect Black and now trans children.
On Dec. 6, Scott Weiner, an openly gay state legislator representing San Francisco, received a bomb threat. Weiner states these threats come as a result of being targeted online by far-right legislators and activists for his work defending trans students, namely Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Q-Anon espousing senator, and Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA.
How we talk about these issues is not about our city. Conservatives who use SF as a talking point are trying to dictate how we think about America’s future. Will we become a more equitable society? Or will they double down on “law and order” policies that discriminate against Black Americans and erase their history? Will we criminalize LGBTQ students and push the LGBTQ community back into the closet?
If we don’t take a critical look at the true motives of those driving this national dialogue, the ideals that San Francisco represents for all Americans – progress, innovation, inclusivity – may become a thing of the past.
Support playwright Ishmael Reed’s off-Broadway production of “The Conductor,” a dramatization of the 2022 recall, here.
Alison Collins’ is a former member of the San Francisco School Board of Education. She was recalled in 2022 because of her advocacy for Black and LGBTQ students within San Francisco Public schools.
This story was made possible by a grant from the California State Library’s #StopTheHate campaign to promote interracial dialogue and intervene in hate crimes, which have drastically increased against all communities of color, specifically Black people, since 2020. The Stop The Hate campaign is made possible with funding from CSL in partnership with the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs (CAPIAA). The views expressed on this website and other materials produced by the SF Bay View do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the CSL, CAPIAA or the California government. Learn more at www.sfbayview.com/stopthehate or capiaa.ca.gov/stop-the-hate.