After moving to northern California a dozen years ago, I attended a talk in downtown San Francisco by a candidate for local office and wasn’t too surprised by the progressive blather I was hearing given, well, the location. Then one of my colleagues pointed out that the candidate was the “conservative” choice in the race, which reminded me that I wasn’t in Orange County anymore.

San Francisco certainly has earned its reputation as a leftist bastion. Its politicians wear that as a badge of honor (“San Francisco values”) and yet they rarely look at the results of their policies, even as the increasing filth and disorder creep across the city. It isn’t the dystopian hellhole that out-of-state commentators suggest, but it’s headed in that direction — with limited pushback from elected officials.

It’s a place where “shoplifting has become endemic, brazen and increasingly well organized, culminating in mobs of looters ransacking stores and terrifying customers,” wrote Bret Stephens in his review of Michael Shellenberger’s new book, San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities. “Local shops are closing, neighborhoods are decaying, encampments of drug addicts have proliferated, and streets are befouled by human excrement.”

It’s hard to look up at the magnificent view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay when you always have to look down at the sidewalk to make sure you don’t slip in something disgusting. Against that backdrop, the decision by the city’s voters on Feb. 15 to recall three school-board members — and by unimaginably lopsided margins — offers a glimmer of hope and should (but won’t) be a wakeup call to progressives nationwide.

Quite simply, the school board (and the teachers’ union) has done to the city’s educational system what the mayor and supervisors have done to its sidewalks. As the city’s public schools were shut down during COVID-19, the board was focused on more exciting but symbolic matters.

First, it was intent on renaming 44 public schools whose current monikers were bastions of intolerance, racism, sexism, and whatnot. Board members were outraged that schools honored Abraham Lincoln, Paul Revere, Sierra Club founder John Muir, U.S. Sen. (and former mayor) Dianne Feinstein, and other such, er, radical right-wing figures. This debate tied up board meetings, of course, and the board ultimately was embarrassed into relenting. (The renaming process started before COVID but dragged on through the pandemic.)

As stupid as that was, it pales in comparison to the board’s decision in 2019 to desecrate Works Progress Administration murals at the city’s George Washington High School. Painted in 1936 by Victor Arnautoff, these panels were quite radical in their day — depicting slaves at Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation and images of dead Native Americans, which was meant to spotlight the evils of slavery and of the plight of Native Americans.

But all the usual suspects were offended, oblivious to the actual meaning of the historic work. Some board members actually wanted to paint over the work, offering yet another reminder of why governments — with their ever-shifting political sensibilities and lack of meaningful accountability — should never be entrusted with historic treasures. Fortunately, the school board voted 4-3 to simply cover them up.

As the schools remained closed in 2020, the board used the pandemic to target a premier high school and temporarily change its merit-based admissions policy to one based on a lottery system — thus angering many members of the city’s large Asian-American communities. Then shortly thereafter, the board voted — big surprise — to permanently end the merit-based system.

And on and on it went. KQED published an incredible timeline of the endless politically based disputes that plagued the district while the schools remained closed, test scores sputtered, and San Francisco’s parents seethed with anger.

This became too much even for San Francisco. Some prominent local Democratic politicians such as former supervisor and now state senator Scott Wiener and Mayor London Breed backed the recall effort. Voters agreed and bounced board members Alison Collins, Gabriela López, and Faauuga Moliga — with “yes” totals ranging from 69 percent to 76 percent. That’s a landslide by any measure.

Breed captured the reason succinctly: “In this particular case, the board neglected their primary responsibility.” You can guess the spin that the ejected board members and their supporters offered. “So if you fight for racial justice, this is the consequence,” López tweeted. “Don’t be mistaken, white supremacists are enjoying this. And the support of the recall is aligned with this.” Oh yes, San Francisco as the bastion of white supremacy. Others blamed venture capitalists who helped fund the recall effort.

Still, some observers have grasped the right message. “It’s hard to escape the conclusion that a lot of San Franciscans have climbed off the woke bandwagon — or were never wholeheartedly on it,” wrote the Atlantic’s Gary Kamiya. “Again, voters’ evident rejection of the board’s incessant braying about racism, White privilege, and the rest is inextricably entangled with their anger over the fact that schools remained closed for so long.” Yep.

For non-progressives, the vote is heartening. If San Francisco voters have had enough of public-school wokeness, maybe they’ll soon have enough of dirty streets and open-air drug markets.

Image credit: Larry D Crain

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