Michael “Med-O” Whitson has lived 32 years in the Bay Area and 30 of those years in his apartment on 1668 Page Street. He and LisaRuth Elliot were flatmates in the Haight, when their building was sold, and after they initially refused to accept a buy-out settlement, the new owners hired the leading landlord law firm of Fried & Williams to pursue an Ellis Act Eviction in 2013.
Michael is a community builder, musician, poet, writer, and activist, which is why he moved to San Francisco in 1982. San Francisco was a breath of fresh air for radical, creative types unlike any other place he had seen in the U.S. His most important collaborations have all been radical and collectively organized, including the Processed World Magazine Collective, 848 Community Space, CounterPULSE, and for the last four years Yuba Libre near Nevada City.
When their eviction became unavoidable, Michael wrote an email letter to close friends talking about the City that welcomed and inspire him for 32 years. With his permission, an extract of the letter “For A Future On Our Own Terms” is transcribed below:
After 30 years living at my beautiful Victorian home on 1668 Page St. I am being evicted. I will be moving out Aug 7. Many of you have followed my eviction process over the last several months. I want to thank everyone for all the support during this challenging rupture in my home and life.
The whole eviction process has been a slow, painful tragedy for me. Like getting fired, or a divorce, or the loss of a loved one, getting evicted is a ‘terminal’ event. It forces one to experience, in the most direct way, the naked, unequal power relations between being a renter and being an owner. Because of how such a coercive, hierarchical power dynamic unfolds it has been an utterly demeaning and dehumanizing experience for me.
My eviction is also a symptom of a much larger epidemic of displacement rampantly occurring in SF yet again. My roommates (LisaRuth Elliott and Jesse Hewitt) and I are part of a dramatic exodus of artists, activists, and creative rebels who have devoted their lives to a culture of liberation rather than maximizing the making of money. Renting at market rate in SF now requires serious income and effectively displaces my friends and those of similar ilk unless they are lucky enough to be in a long term rent controlled situation. I find this sea change in SF’s counter-cultural demographics incredibly sad. Neighborhoods, communities, towns, and cities always changes. But the kind of change that is happening now in SF is the worst way that a community or city can evolve. It is fueled by a real estate frenzy in which an increasing proportion of new owners are outside business investors rather than people who have any intention of living in SF. That has a particularly toxic impact on what it means to be neighbors in the practice of long term community.
Despite all this and my sadness/anger from being evicted, I am also incredibly grateful to have lived in SF the last 30 years and from 1985 – 2005 in particular. Those 20 years were, for me, the glory days of alternative culture in SF. It was an abundant, amazingly generative time for utopian experiments in creative collectivity. Projects such as Processed World, 848 Community Space, and CounterPULSE were my oxygen and blood, incredible inspiration as well as occasionally some unwanted perspiration! These projects and the inspiring people who participated in them have been a tremendous gift to me. I feel tremendous pride and joy from engaging in such collective cultural projects whose broader aim was to foster a more interesting, more just, and more enjoyable world. I feel considerable satisfaction knowing that these projects played an important role in a larger zeitgeist that has contributed to a life truly worth living! The high quality of life that I have enjoyed over the last 30 years in SF is true wealth that can’t be measured monetarily — but it sure can be fabulously enjoyed!
I never imagined I would live in the same house in SF for 30 years! Around year 15 it became abundantly clear that due to escalating rents and the protections from rent control I would never choose to leave Page St. unless I wanted to move away from SF. It has been a great pleasure as a long term tenant at Page St., to have offered a low cost place to live for scores of friends and associates over three decades. Unlike many long term, ‘master’ tenants in SF today, I never sought to have my rent subsidized by fellow tenants living with me at Page St. It always felt more important (and more ethical) to share the financial benefits of long term rent control with those who, like me, wanted to live in SF in an alternative, low cost way. It also felt important to not to succumb to the larger real estate distortion that encourages/conditions renters to act like landlords and profit from being a ‘master’ tenant. I just never wanted my home and those I lived with to be a way to make money. […]
I feel very fortunate to enjoy such a great network of friends. One of many ways this manifests is that I have a temporary, free place to live as long as takes me to find my new home. SPECIAL APPRECIATION TO [Friend] FOR OFFERING THIS TO ME.
Beyond that, I am looking to rent in Oakland/Berkeley for the long term. I am open to all kinds of possibilities from a collective household to a warehouse space to a flat or a house to finding a ‘couples’ flat or house for [J] and I. [J] currently has a great home next to Lake Merritt that is, unfortunately, too small for a couple. So another possibility would be a flat or house near Lake Merritt just for the two of us. If anyone knows about an interesting possibility for any of the above please contact me.
For a future on our own terms,