A cornerstone to San Francisco’s Mission District is the 24th Street BART plaza. The historic community hub brims with signs of Mission life: the scent of street hotdogs, vendors with home goods, the preacher whose Psalms boom into a megaphone, and the like. But frequent the plaza this past month of July and one striking difference appears: a chain-link fence. It was placed by non-profit Calle 24, BART and district supervisor, Hilary Ronen, barring the plaza from its community.
Started in the late ‘90s, Calle 24 Latino Cultural District came together as a grassroots non-profit organization led by the people and for the people. In the years since, they have spearheaded numerous community projects — notably, the Carnival festival and the monthly Mission art walks. On their website, Calle 24 says their success goes hand-in-hand with protecting and preserving the Mission’s Latine community and culture.
With the fence, the limitations of Calle 24’s support for the Mission community become clear. By design, Calle 24 is subject to the Nonprofit Industrial Complex (NPIC) — the idea that a non-profit’s relationship to the state creates pressure on them to support capitalist structures that maintain inequity.
Following accusations of a plaza drug market and safety issues, Calle 24 decided to roll out temporary fencing as a part of their campaign, “Calle Limpia, Corazon Contento” (clean street, happy heart). Drug claims have been reported, but not confirmed according to Mission District Police Capt. Michael McEachern. Come September, the fencing is scheduled to come down and be replaced by a city-sanctioned vending program.
Should vendors fail to register with the vending program, they will have to pay $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second and $1,000 for all additional violations. If vendors don’t obtain a license the city can file an injunction barring the vendor from the plaza space.
In an anonymous interview with Mission Local one vendor, who recently lost his job, shared how he supports his family off $75 a day made in sales at the plaza. Another vendor, Milagros Lopez, told Mission Local: “Why [doesn’t the city] let me stay here? Who can help me?” Lopez continued, “I’m a single mom. I’ve been here for eight years. I don’t want to have to start over.”
Last Saturday, Aug. 20, unnamed community members took down the fence and in its place held a display of mutual aid: free food and beverages, zines, and space for the vendors to sell again. Members holding down the space passed out pamphlets calling attention to the downfalls of the proposed vending program: costly permits, fines which can incur 10% interest each year if unpaid, and the hefty cost of violations.
By cosigning a program which threatens loss of livelihood and permanent displacement, Calle 24 reveals themself as a city-backed adherent, modeling the NPIC. As articulated by Parachute, “through the NPIC, the state maintains and controls dissent to further uphold capitalism by forcing social movements to follow capitalist structures, rather than dismantle them.”
In an Instagram statement on July 23, Calle 24 recognized the harmful imagery of the fencing, stating: “Calle 24 recognizes that fencing 24th street plaza is a strong visual and triggering measure for their community.” Despite this recognition, their harm still stands and remains unreconciled as trust has been lost at large.
Calle 24’s fencing serves as a grim reminder to the Mission community of where the organization’s community allyship begins and ends as an organization subject to NPIC.