by Carol Denney
The full-page newspaper ad paid for on Friday, July 13, by an anonymous “Paid for by Fed Up Populace Campaign” tells the tale of someone consumed by the fear of what a nearby young man might do, claiming her quality of life was seriously compromised while having a sandwich at the Fresh Market Cafe at Neiman Marcus on Geary Street while seeing someone “acting silent” and holding a pair of scissors.
It ran on page three of the San Francisco Chronicle, guaranteeing the attention of the shrinking 20 percent of newspaper readers still living in the city. The sandwich eater claimed the young man was “homeless” and “strange,” and that he had a pair of scissors, all of which threw the woman into a state of terror.
She demanded that security be called, and the story stopped there.
The ad goes on to blame “San Francisco city fathers” who should be held accountable for “catering to the lowest common denominator” instead of the “tax paying, responsible, contributing members of society.”
I had recently met with a group of artists and activists working to coordinate art projects related to the housing crisis and its effects on people’s lives, and some of us had expressed the thought that the word “homeless” had become almost hopelessly stigmatized.
Some of us, myself included, are steering clear of the word and scrambling for alternatives to describe the economic refugees arriving on the street in wave after wave of evictions.
You can’t tell who’s homeless. The scruffy guy absently clicking a pen or playing with scissors might be teaching at the nearby university, having a cup of coffee while inching toward an academic epiphany.
One of my favorite civil rights lawyers spent most of his life barefoot, and would only grudgingly adjust to Birkenstocks for courtroom footwear or more formal occasions.
Other friends of mine pop out of a tent looking like an Urban Outfitter model to hit their shift at the nearby deli and have more style than I’ll put together in a lifetime.
The young man described in the ad didn’t make noise, didn’t commit any theft, didn’t break any law.
We can be assured of this because no one takes out a $30,090.00 full page ad to tell a story of the horror of having to share public space with others and leaves out such details if they really want to make their point. If the young man had hurt somebody with the scissors you better believe it would have been part of the ad.
Anyone can take out such an ad. It’s called an “advocacy” ad, and is approved by the publisher despite the inclusion of what the Chronicle admitted was a made-up campaign name associated with no website or group — an easy thing to check. The ad was placed by a private citizen who wanted, at the cost of $30,090.00, to remain anonymous.
If we want to respond to her cry to the “city fathers” (?) to clear the streets of anybody “acting silent” we can buy an advocacy ad, too, according to the Chronicle ad team. All we need is the money. And perhaps the cold heart that isn’t satisfied with the private spaces such money can acquire.
Imagine if all poverty and need were forced into the shadows based on the perceptions of danger by imaginative wealthy people. We would have what we have now; housing built predominantly for the well-off, with such a small ratio preserved for the poor that the rest of us huddle under overpasses until the next sweep.
I know why the woman who placed the ad wants to be anonymous. If we knew her name, we would want to thank her for clarifying how fear, and a compliant press, drives policy. And invite her to the rocking barbecue under the overpass; it’s one of the best tickets in town.