What Happened to the
San Francisco Left?

by Warren Hinckle
San Francisco Independent

What has happened to the S.F. left? Seven years ago, they'd be in the streets asking for Clinton's head on a pike for carpet bombing Baghdad.

"Bombs don't come from the stork; they come from the IRS, from personal income taxes." --Hunter S. Thompson in San Francisco's War News

There was once in this fair and compassionate city an urgently topical publication called War News. Publication began on March 2, 1991 and ceased on March 16, 1991 with a circulation of 200,000. War News' purpose was to oppose the Gulf War, and, when the war ended, it ended.

The antiwar newspaper was an instant product of San Francisco's antiwar culture that made the city the epicenter of Vietnam War protests. It was largely a creation of the city's famous underground-comics artists of the '70s--Robert Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Dan O'Neil, Gilbert Shelton, Winston Smith, and Ron Turner of Last Gasp Books, and writers included Hunter Thompson, Daniel Ellsberg, Andrew Kopkind, Ishamel Reed, Barbara Ehrenreich, and novelist John Berger. I was the editor of War News, which was financed by the Mitchell Brothers from their porn profits; it was a very San Francisco thing.

There were few Gulf War supporters in town--I seem to recall state sentator Quentin Kopp and political consultant Jack Davis (when they were still speaking) waving little U.S. flags dork-like at a military parade--but most city politicos denounced the war and there were massive street protests; being against the invasion of Iraq in 1991 was as natural to San Francisco as summer fog.

Seven years later, in 1998, President Bill Clinton is trying to dodge the impeachment bullet and he drops more Tomahawk and Cruise missles on Iraq than former president George Bush did during the entire Persian Gulf War and there is hardly a ripple of outrage on the city streets.

Whatever ahs happened to the Frisco left? Seven years ago, it would have had Clinton's head on a pike for carpet-bombing Iraq. And San Francisco would have been the starting gate for a push to impeach Clinton--not from the right for lying but from the left for the seriously high crime of using the war power, without authorization from Congress, to inflict civilian casualties to create a diversion from an obsessed special prosecutor's investigation of his sex life and his lies about it.

Over the weekend, I was on the phone with Gilbert Baker, trying to figure out what had gone wrong with the left in San Francisco. Baker is a political activist, the brilliant designer of the gay rainbow flag and the Nureyev of political demonstrations. He has caused more trouble on the streets of politics than cops have in their bad dreams.

"There was maybe a billion dollars' worth of bombs and ordinance in this diversion operation against Iraq--and Democrats are complaining that independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation cost $40 million," Baker said.

"In 1991, we marched in the streets by the thousands for days. We shut down the Bay Bridge over the Gulf War. Now a lot of people don't seem to care about civil rights, gay rights, you name it," he said.

Is there a left-wing passive freeze--like the lemon-crop frost--coming on? Are times so relatively good that yesterday's gladiators would rather curl up by the fire and ignore tomorrow's torments?

Last week Baker penned an interesting article, distributed to the gay press, about the peculiar passivity of the California gay community--a passivity echoed in San Francisco's former formidable antiwar community--over the Y2K election year of the far right's initiative banning gay marriages.

Baker said that he himself was for freedom from marriage, straight or gay, but his political alarm system had gone off when he saw that the right wing, nationally, was financing, from its ample resources, a ballot initiative defining marriage as "bridal white supermecy."

Despite his own ambivalent feeling over whether gay marriage is the way to go for the poppy state, Baker believes passionately, politically, that the antigay marriage on the 1999 ballot has to be defeated because, if it is won, it would be a signal victory for the religious right. This megabillon-dollar attempt to put a right-wing camel's nose under the tent of California politics began with the well-financed far-right attempt to disembowel organized labor on the last ballot. Baker's concern was if it wins one, it might end up winning them all.

He was further concerned that his troops had become so uninvolved in the struggle for justice that began in the civil and women's and gay rights movements of the '60s and '70s that they took too many things for granted. The continuing and increasing attacks against gays on city streets might indicate that there is nothing to be taken for granted.

A similar tired attitude seems apparent in San Francisco's antiwar movement, in which Baker was to the very crucible, thus to his dismay.

Forgetting the inexplicably obvious, that President Clinton has betrayed everyone of his putative constituencies--the gays-in-the-military weaseling and the signing of the Defense of Marriage Act; blacks who are continually imprisoned by exponential numbers because of his get-the-ghetto drug policies; the women he has sold out for political expediency; the very Irish patriots he acts to champion but keeps in U.S. prisons, destined for English jails, and this is excluding the Clinton-backed genocidal embargo against Iraq, which no one has justified except for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, to say that hundreds of thousands of children dying from starvation are an acceptable risk--one has to ask what has the man done to command any respect form the lefty (but p.c.)-to-centrist Democrats in San Francisco? If he lied about screwing around (sorry, Hillary), he caved into the medical establishment's fear of lawyers who might find out the truth--be bombed in a massive, inhumane, and already acknowledged way the civilians of Iraq for a clearly political ploy that was obvious to everyone except to lunkheaded CNN correspondents.

If contemporary history should be any guide, the move for really tossing Bill Clinton out of office should come from what was once the activist, moralist San Francisco left for taking out on Arab civilians what he would not keep in his pants.

In this town, which once took the cloth of the frontier into today's Levi's designer clothes, there is only a stillness in our jeans.

Copyright 1998 San Francisco Independent, reprinted with permission