Seung Lee in the right-of-center paper of the Examiner misses the point of the recent Truthout article that critiqued the NIMBY “movement”. He can identify the reasons of why the writers fall short, but doesn’t find the need to address the very problematic efforts of NIMBY co-opting grassroots semantics. In the manner that Donald Trump was able to pass himself as an underdog (yet being part of the richest capitalists in the country), NIMBY takes tactics and strategies that place them in position to the tactics of the alt-right.
First off, let’s clear something up. Lee implies that Mayor Ed Lee by himself was motivated by himself to act regarding the housing crises. From allowing tax breaks to siding strongly with the development and housing industries in San Francisco, Ed Lee has proven himself to not be a progressive, but a stanch, pro-market neoliberal. To acquaint his politics as “progressive” even within liberal semantics is dishonest, and erases the real reasons of ceding to the “pressure point” that Lee acknowledges: organized people themselves. If it weren’t for the protests, for the disruptive board meetings, etc., Ed Lee wouldn’t hesitate to gentrify the whole damn city if he could. However, even Ed Lee knows he can’t have a city without teachers. Neoliberalism to its full extent is something to avoid, but reaching it’s complete logical conclusion is pretty much all Ed Lee has been pushing for.
Secondly, Seung Lee mentions how Uber won’t be in Oakland anymore; after all, they are “downsizing their Oakland plans.” So? How is this any better for the community? Yet Lee continues as if these little concessions of the biggest businesses funding YIMBY have wonderous effects.
This can be seen yet again in his defense on Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman. “Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman’s donation to pro-development activist Sonja Strauss was to support her ongoing lawsuit against the high-city, low-density city of Lafayette, not ‘spark a libertarian, anti-poor campaign.’” Again, how’s this any better? If you help a lawsuit because they possess similar or uniform ideological points of oneself, how is that not supporting the ideology itself? Whether it be police killings or political trials, lawsuits have political dynamics. Stoppelman’s donation to a pro-development “activist” is anything but an ideological decision. I suggest rewording.
Here is the point of the Lee’s argument: that because the Bay Area only has “leftist versus liberal” politics, equating either side to the alt-right is being the same as the “real alt-right provocateurs who descended onto Berkeley.” He follows this by saying “Please don’t insult San Francisco’s collective intelligence by comparing housing to Hitler.”
The irony here is triplefold, but I won’t draw it or lose the reader in a complicated maze. Let’s dissect it.
Whilst Lee argues that the “left” doesn’t have the right to call liberals any sort of right-wing tendency because, they are both in the same side of the spectrum. Never mind that he leaves the “left” as an ambiguous amorphous blob that is apt for a type of Voldemort fear. Which or what left? The anarchists? The communists? The left liberals? Does he not know the complicated dynamics therein? The difference of goals and tactics? Apparently not. Equating neoliberalism, a pro-market tendency that is felt in poor communities with it’s tendency of columbusing, of pushing hyper-individualism, as well as in producing more homeless with a “progressive” label is dishonest. And even if progressivism has been meaning market-based solutions to the whole damn mess, perhaps it should be something that should be rejected.
Housing is not what is being labeled as Hitler here, and either Lee is ignorant of this fact, or intentionally missing it. What is being opposed by the “left” is capitalist solutions to the neoliberal status quo. The role of neoliberalism in evictions in staggering and dehumanizing. Driving thousands away from the city as well as increasing the costs of living for everybody (tech workers included), can we say that neoliberalism is actually close to being the “left” at all? This is a false equivalency.
Another fact that Lee willfully ignores is the amount of co-optation that YIMBY does in order to appear humane in its project. Like the alt-right, YIMBY is all about marketing itself as a progressive alternative. What the “new” alternative traits it has, we don’t know. However, like all solutions, YIMBY and Lee both believe that simply increasing the supply of housing will solve the problems. Oh what’s that you say? You’re a poor guy with a job that barely feeds you? Too bad so sad.
Never mind the fact that big rich guys like Peter Thiel supported Trump. Never mind that the YIMBY tries to co-opt language that is usually associated with the marginalized and poor. Never mind how Victoria Fierce blatantly misrepresents and twists “anarchism” in pushing for capitalist development. Like the alt-right, all YIMBY is good for is co-opting semantics, organizations and political power while pushing for more capitalist development, all the while sounding like a nice humane organization intent exploiting the environment and increasing evictions. Even when the alt-right enters in Berkeley for a brawl, the first one that throw the left under the bus for facing them head-on is… you guessed it, neoliberal minded who more than usually supporting YIMBY’s corporate agenda.
In his defense however, Lee realizes that the main problem are not the tech workers in and of themselves. The “the fault lies in the companies that relentlessly shoveled people into San Francisco and local institutions that for decades left the housing supply extremely low on purpose (As stated in the 2015 California Legislative Analyst’s Office report).” If this is the case, then why side with YIMBY’s funders? Why ignore the level of collusion with a racist presidency and Thiel? Why cast Stoppelman’s donation as an innocent action by itself? Lee has to take the neoliberal logic and realize it’s role in homelessness in the city, as well as its revulsion of the general public that voted against it by electing Donald Trump.
From this point of view, YIMBY deservedly owes Truthout’s comparison. As an extension of neoliberal ideology, it’s support for capitalist based solutions, as well as co-optation of semantics to appear as underdogs, YIMBY should be criticized and it’s focus should be driven into another direction.