Mentioned in this episode:
Screaming Queens (at most libraries or streaming) – Compton’s Cafeteria Riot documentary.
Cops Out of the Dyke March – Gay Shame action from 2019.
Conservatorship (“mental health jails”) – Episode 3 of the podcast has more on this.
NEWS CASTER 0:00
And now Gay Shame brings you an episode about the co-optation of the anti cop uprising
Mary Daggers 0:04
Gay Shame is a radical, queer direct action group based in San Francisco. We organize against the prison industrial complex, gentrification, capitalist co-optation of queer and trans struggle, and other racist and corrupt institutions. This is Mary Church Terell, Mary Knowles-Carter, and this is Mary Daggers. What do you call a collection of Mary’s–a murder?
Mary Knowles-Carter 0:44
For this episode, episode two of our illustrious, official, fancy podcast is just a tour through co-optation nation. What is co-optation you might ask? Co-optation when we’re talking about it is people in institutions with privilege and power seeking to take over a cause and redirect it to serve their ends.
Mary Daggers 1:06
I have a short list of signs that your cause has been co-opted. Signs that your cause has been co-opted: 1) the participation of elected officials is a telltale sign 2) someone is making a lot of money 3) someone applies for 501 c three status (which is the nonprofit tax code) 4) someone’s career-ism is being served 5) someone declares that it’s over.
Mary Church Terell 1:30
So yeah, this is Mary Church Terell. Folks who don’t know Gay Shame, from the start was a critique of cooptation in its most like basic level. I mean, that’s just something that people should from the start, know the very basic that’s what Gay Shame is–it’s a critique of pride. The issue with pride are one of the main issues is the rabbid assimilationist just willingness to be part of the dominant power structure. One of the earliest examples of what Gay Shame did was when we tried to have an intervention at pride and had to do with mostly corporate companies that were just overzealous and extremely willing to market towards gay people, you know, like different vodka brands with rainbows on it and stuff like that. One of the reasons why we’re talking about co-optation right now really has to deal with this kind of experience that a lot of people who have been participating in whatever you want to call it, like the movement, for a long time feel like a sense of acceleration to what’s happening with the dominant power structures co-opting our language, our things, but it feels a bit more threatening and unnerving for a lot of folks.
Mary Church Terell 2:57
Because on the one hand having to see a vodka bottle with a rainbow at a pride doesn’t you know, I mean, it sucks. But it doesn’t seem to affect quite as broadly most of the world. But what we’re currently watching is that all around the world, different governments are having to respond to calls to disband and abolish the police. So you have these really sort of peculiar situation where you have the president of the United States remarking on what’s happening in different cities, the different uprisings and stuff like that, and responding that this is the work of anarchists who don’t believe in our nation, in our country who fundamentally want to take it apart and destroy it. And yes, that’s true.
Mary Church Terell 3:54
And it’s shocking and it can be really disorienting or I should say, I find it incredibly disorienting to hear someoone saying that now it’s out there in this way where a lot of people who are progressive or whatever on the left, like folks feel alienated from that language because he’s saying it and you know, want to then disavow that even as a possibility. So you have this really intense thing happening where in certain places, for example, in St. Louis, where they burned down the police station. And then you have people who you think would be on the same side saying how that doesn’t represent all of us and stuff like that where at the same time people understand that that’s pretty much exactly what a lot of people actually do want, or there becomes this disavowal of it in any way being something that people actually want or need. Like now you have people who are fighting over Black Lives Matter murals on the street. So there’s like a Black Lives Matter mural in New York City, like I mentioned last time, that you know, people are pouring paint on and all kinds of things and then it’s just a massive distraction. Because people are more concerned about Black Lives Matter murals than they are about disbanding the police. So it’s a way to make the conversations go nowhere. They’re not actually going to respond to the actual material demands, or anything real that people could actually need or use in their lives, but they’re going to make it all about these fucking murals.
Mary Knowles-Carter 5:19
Just to rewind to put this whole conversation in context. So we have some framing, pride as an event–as many people know it in their imagination as like a street parade is itself a form of co-optation. It’s sort of like the original sin of co-opting queer and trans people like fighting against police repression, homophobia, transmisogyny, and just like, all sorts of violence in society towards queer people and our lives and embodiment. This has played out in different cities in a number of different ways depending on what the particular history of queer community in those cities are. So for San Francisco, we have the Compton’s Cafeteria riot, which was a cafe in the Tenderloin, in which there was a riot sparked by police harassing trans women who would go there to hang out–basically it was one of the spots where they could be in the Tenderloin, police came and started harassing them. One woman threw a cup of coffee in a cop space and history was written.
Mary Knowles-Carter 6:40
Okay, so Gay Shame has in many ways tried to organize against the nightmare that is San Francisco pride in particular. It’s probably the biggest pride event in the country, if not the world because people flock here to celebrate pride in San Francisco. It lends a particular violence to the experience of it here because not only is it precipitated by sweeping all the unhoused people off the street and increasing policing specifically in the Tenderloin, still to this day probably one of the most policed areas of the city, sex workers, unhoused people, all sorts of people just harassed constantly by the police, which is funded by and supported by and perpetuated by property owners in the area.
Mary Knowles-Carter 7:36
So, we’ve sort of been continuing to struggle against this extremely awful dynamic and the ways that San Francisco pride participates in it and motivates it. And so in 2019, to get the cops and corporations out of pride, there were two major events, two major actions that sort of symbolize that. So we we held up dyke march, and that was primarily organized by Gay Shame. And then we also got involved with a group of folks who ended up holding up the parade at San Francisco pride itself. And in that event, the police basically mowed down a young trans woman and they smashed her into the ground and dragged her off. It was very violent.
Mary Knowles-Carter 8:32
So we went to the pride board, and we had a confrontation with them. And this is where the co-optation starts happening yet again because this is what liberals do. It’s like they’re scoundrels by nature because their end is to have the state function as this headless, soulless bureaucracy, and to just take people’s power away from them and put all the problems in the background. Create institutions and laws and policies and never actually deal with anything, just keep the status quo going. Even if that’s not intentionally in their head, what they think they’re doing, that’s their default to always try and inscribe that solution on anything that ever happens. And so, we were hit with the big book of Robert’s Rules of Order first, and they told us that we couldn’t participate in the board meeting because we weren’t a line item on the agenda. And then we just kept interrupting them, and trying to force them to have the conversation that was in the room there waiting to be had, and so it unfolded. I don’t think that they conceded that we were really right about anything. Unfortunately, it’s the minorities in the room that are being the most forward about trying to shut down the conversation. They’re like, well I don’t think all cops are bad and you know, cops are part of our community too. And that same dynamic sort of played out a few weeks later at Glide Church, where there’s a an activist who lives in the Bay Area goes by the name of Alex U. Inn, who was running for the pride board and came to introduce themselves and their work to us. And we started having a conversation just about our work to try to get the police out of pride. And Alex U. Inn was like “me, too! That’s what I want. I want them to not wear their uniforms and to be marching in the parade.” And we’re like, “no, we want them to not be there at all.” They’re like, “I know, we want the same things.” And we’re like, “no, we don’t want that. That’s not the same thing. We want them to not be there.” And that was when we sort of had a moment of being introduced to their cop best friend. But to me, that moment really symbolized that sort of dynamic you end up in with liberals where they’re like we told you we’re on the same side, we want the same thing. And then they hug their cop friend in front of you and you’re just like, literally being gas lit in the most concrete blazing way humanly possible. And then at that event, the police chief of San Francisco, who was Black, issued a tearful apology for the police violence that took place, causing the Compton’s Cafeteria, right? And then there were other things that were going on in that event like some of the people speaking up most forcefully against the event were queer and trans people who are unhoused or marginally housed in the Tenderloin, talking about how the police violence never ended. It’s literally their daily existence and they were just silenced and shut out. And then they were selectively playing clips and footage of police officers at the time talking about how sometimes they get along with trans women. It was just like a really violent event like meant to rewrite history and forcing a narrative of police and queer/trans unity that is just completely false.
Mary Daggers 12:14
The Compton’s Cafeteria riot took place in August 1966, at a popular hangout for drag queens, trans women, and hustlers on Turk and Taylor in the Tenderloin. It was sparked by a cop harassing a queen who then threw coffee in his face. Police harassed and abused patrons of Compton’s regularly but this time the queens and trans women threw anything they could get their hands on at the cops.
Mary Knowles-Carter 12:33
Rigidly, the way that this Compton’s narrative has been taken by law enforcement. It’s sort of painted as a law enforcement like a weird origin story for a kind of trans responsive policing model or like a sort of community. Like if you watch Screaming Queens, which is an incredible documentary if you haven’t seen it. If you have seen it, you know that half that documentary is just the police talking about shit. Like they can’t find any people who are at Compton’s to talk-it’s mostly just this cop telling you about, oh well we’ve changed and like, you know, the police, you know what a trans person is now and won’t blah, blah, blah and it’s all this really intense bullshit. So it like it functions on that front it also functions another incredibly violent YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) developer front as it becomes the face of real estate’s plan to completely destroy the Tenderloin and make it into another real estate land grab, which for years, I mean, decades, that has been a battle in San Francisco going back to Willie Brown, and I’m sure earlier. I just remember that in particular, like always, because it’s that area immediately adjacent to City Hall. And the Tenderloin originally was like, you know, I mean, people know what the word means. If you look it up it’s the area that the police control, and they control the underground economy there, and they, manipulate it, and it’s sort of like hold people there hostage to this, for economic exploitation like that. That’s what tenderloin actually is and that’s how it functioned for a long time. I’m sure it still functions the same way today.
Mary Knowles-Carter 14:21
So the question of what that development looks like, I mean, they basically want to super control that area to make it so that they can continue doing whatever kind of exploitation that they can get away with, whether it’s people part of the underground economy or if it’s going to be real estate, and I don’t know, I actually don’t know what is more economic or more advantageous for their overall economic plan of the city, but it does feel that building a lot, a lot of luxury condos around that area. Like you will be able to market that economy to a whole different other kind of, you know, demographic of extremely, super wealthy. But the point being is that the folks who find themselves in the Tenderloin and make and try to create community there, they’re not going to be part of that vision, whatever it is.
Mary Daggers 15:17
The San Francisco transgender cultural district: the district is a really good example of co-optation because it does the same action of taking a cause and then emptying it of any radicalism or the people who actually would be benefiting from that and then retains the name or the image to the extent that it’s useful to the work co-opting. I think the identity of San Francisco as a liberal place, or as a progressive or radical place is a lot of what’s at the root of this kind of appropriation, or co-optation. It’s a brand that really works here to basically take whatever is seen as cutting edge or fringe or progressive in some sense. And do this, like emptying it, and using its name or using the identity. I think it’s something that relates it to the current moment with this co-optation that’s happening around the George Floyd protests because it seems like there are conversations happening at a really public, really broadspread level around sex work, around Black and indigenous queer people of color, and other groups that have been so underrepresented broadly and that now its become really trendy for corporations or for liberals to appear to care about these issues or to have a progressive stance.
Mary Church Terell 17:04
850 Bryant, that’s the name of the San Francisco county jail, people just want to get rid of the jail, they’re not trying to get a better jail or a nicer looking jail or a jail that’s like more whatever, they just want to get rid of it. You know, that’s what we want–to get rid of the jail. So people have been trying to organize to do that for a while. And you have to talk to the supervisor. That’s generally how it’s understood that you get things done. And now it’s like, the supervisors, the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco, there’s another example of that co-optation. You will have someone who will come from a quote unquote, progressive community, and they’ll be on the board of supervisors, and then they’ll claim to be down with one thing in particular, and then all of a sudden, everyone is shocked and surprised when they all of a sudden have this really intense conservative decision that just seems to come out of nowhere. So I mean Gay Shame is primarily comprised of anarchist folk–rule number one is that you just don’t trust politicians, not as far as you could throw them or even less far than that. People who were trying to organize to shut down 850, they were working very hard to make sure it was understood that this was not going to be them signing off on another jail being built, they were putting actually the majority of the effort into trying to promote these sustainable alternatives to just basically the entire jail system, the policing punishment system, and all those different carceral systems. They were trying to talk about other things, ways that you can enrich the community that was the really generative and exciting part of that organizing. And a lot of that is also what people are trying to apply and promote in other cities where they’re talking about getting rid of the police. I mean, the police in San Francisco have already been quote unquote, reformed by a lot of standards in other places, there’s been training, there’s been hiring things that they’ve done, and all this different shit. That shit doesn’t work.
Mary Knowles-Carter 19:13
The closing of the jail too, part of the discussion was what’s going to happen to the people that are in there. And there was various back and forth about building another place or relocating those inmates to Santa Rita, which is an extremely, notoriously awful jail that serves Alameda county. And 80% of the people that at the time, were sitting in 850 Bryant were all there on pretrial detention, so they hadn’t even been (you know not that that really makes it any better or worse, like nobody should be in there), but it’s just you are literally snatching people up off the street, and they’re locked up in there because they can’t afford whatever bail you set on them. And so that conversation actually I don’t think is even settled really of what they’re going to do with the people that they’re holding captive there, whether or not they’re going to be releasing them. I know that the DA, Chesa Boudin, who’s the quote unquote progressive DA of the city has been chipping away at the total number of people that are being housed there. And I think COVID maybe facilitated that process there, but it’s still a building that functions as a cage for human beings, and those people are going to continue to be caged. So the need for the movement to close the jail–close all jails, abolish all prisons–is just as present as it was when the new new jails coalition formed.
Mary Church Terell 20:55
San Francisco, it’s a public relations stunt in terms of what the policing looks like and they tailor this particular model by making the police look really progressive by having them work hand in hand with social workers by leaning really heavily on this conservatorship thing because it was a massive issue in San Francisco because it’s such an obvious, disgusting, and terrifying infringement upon like people’s alleged rights.
Mary Daggers 21:24
And conservatorship too is such an excellent example of co-optation because it’s just giving another name to the police arresting people and then siphoning people into psychiatric prisons and jails. The kind of conversation around conservatorship is framed as though it’s helping people who need aid. So it’s like the police basically will arrest someone that they think is crazy or drug addicted or is posing a danger to themselves or other people, and then they’ll be routed into psychiatric institutions rather than jail. And often they don’t have the opportunity to have a lawyer or represent themselves, and that actually looks more complicated once in psychiatric institutions. There is a weird trial process when people petition for your conservatorship, but just the whole framing of this really terrifying dynamic where people can be stripped of all their civil rights, their ability to have control over their own money, to choose where they live, to be able to not be locked up. And all of those things can be taken away but then are given this name of oh, it’s you know, helping people.
Mary Church Terell 22:45
Cash Not Conservatorship–that’s to you Gavin Newsome! Cash Not Conservatorship is a reference to Gavin Newsom is notorious, infamous Care Not Cash campaign where Gavin Newsom wanted to reduce people’s general assistance checks, their welfare checks, from somewhere–I can’t remember the exact figures around like $300, maybe $350 a month, maybe a little bit more, a little less than that to like $49 a month. So $49 a month for welfare for everything you need to do in a month. Because Gavin Newsom is trying to claim that people were just spending their welfare on alcohol. Folks like London Breed and all the other demons who ascend to power in this city, like to say “Care Not Cash” to justify not giving people the shit that they actually need. And so just to add a little salve to that as much as we can as a fairly small group, we fundraised a little bit of money to give people, our neighbors, who are out on the street just cash directly. So we’ve been throughout the week distributing that, giving people a little thing to make their day or week go a little bit easier, which is something that the likes of the city of San Francisco are loath to do.
Mary Daggers signing off. Mary Knowles Carter signing off and going back to a condo–later! this has been Mary Scorch Terell lifting as we sink, doing big things on a pebble doing doing them big ass thing on this moat.