SF Politics 101: Discover Your Shade of Blue

Joel Engardio speaking at the February 2017 "SF Politics 101" course presented by United Democratic Club.

Joel Engardio speaking at the February 2017 "SF Politics 101" course presented by United Democratic Club.

By Joel P. Engardio

There is always a surprised reaction when I tell people that nearly half the voters in one San Francisco neighborhood supported a ban on same-sex marriage in 2008. It’s the same neighborhood that had the highest number of Trump voters last fall.

Socially conservative Republicans do exist in San Francisco. A swath of red cuts through our super-blue city along Sloat Boulevard between Stern Grove and Stonestown Mall, from 19th Avenue out to the ocean.

Yet the 37,000 Trump voters in San Francisco only make up about 10 percent of the electorate, which means the fight for local political power is exclusively between Democrats. It’s why San Francisco Democrats come in so many different shades of blue. And why San Francisco politics are so confusing.

Every month, I try to unravel the confusion with a presentation called “SF Politics 101.” It’s an intro course on politics sponsored by the United Democratic Club. I’m part of a team of speakers who explain local, state and federal basics like:

  • Why do we have 11 city supervisors and how do they relate to the mayor?
  • What is the difference between a state assemblymember and senator?
  • Who represents us in Washington, D.C. and how can we be heard?

I’m a board member of the United Democratic Club, which is focused on uniting our local Democrats. Many shades of blue are welcome because there are core issues we all want to address and we should be open-minded to different ideas that could lead to the best solutions.

This is certainly the case when it comes to national politics and resisting actions by President Trump that are a threat to our shared Democratic values. San Francisco Democrats can’t afford to be distracted by local infighting when we need a united front against Trump.

That’s why the “SF Politics 101” course includes federal politics and lets people know how to take action.

My section also covers a brief history of San Francisco to better understand how our politics evolved. The audience finds it hard to believe that we only elected Republican mayors for a half century leading up the mid-1960s and that a conservative Republican came very close to winning the office as recently as 1975.

The face – and politics – of San Francisco began to change with the influx of young hippies and gays from all parts of the country after the 1967 “Summer of Love.” At the same time, President Lyndon Johnson relaxed immigration restrictions from Asia and Latin America. The Catholic conservatives who had defined our city for many decades retreated to the westside, where pockets of Republican red still exist in view of the giant cross on Mt. Davidson.

Today, San Francisco is run by the shade of Democratic blue that is able to win power. When explaining the difference between “moderate” and “progressive” Democrats, I tell people that the titles are complex and not always “black and white.” Voters can often be a mixture of both, depending on the local issue they care about.

Housing density and affordability, transportation, homelessness – local Democrats wrestle over the solutions for all these issues. The fights can leave voters bewildered if they don’t understand the local Democratic spectrum.

Margot Kenney is a young Democrat who attended last month’s course.

“The most interesting part was hearing about the various shades of blue in San Francisco, and how polarized democratic politics are in our city. It made me reflect on my own stance, which is somewhat conflicted,” Kenney said. “I'm tired of feeling completely overwhelmed and powerless each day as news breaks on the latest outrage out of Washington. The United Democratic Club is comprised of folks with a lot of experience in political organizing, and it is a great place to learn and make a difference.”

Attend the next “SF Politics 101” and discover your own shade of blue.

When: The third Monday of every month. Doors open 6:30p and presentation begins 7p
Where: 55 Fillmore (IBEW Local 6 auditorium)
What: The free event also includes drinks and snacks!
Learn More: Visit www.facebook.com/SFUnitedDems to learn more about the United Democratic Club

Also published in Bay City Beacon March 17, 2017