We Are San Francisco: 'Building Movements' with Lily Ho
Ben Kaplan 00:00
Hey, BART Rider. Hey San Francisco. I'm Ben Kaplan and this is the podcast where we define who we are and who we want to be. We are diverse, we are innovative, we are inclusive. We are change makers, problem solvers, activists, leaders,
citizens, we are open minded, optimistic, because hope for a better tomorrow and you and you and you got to get in the hole.
Ben Kaplan 00:26
This is the podcast. That's more than a podcast for Cisco. They are the world champion. We are San Francisco.
Ben Kaplan 00:41
Hey San Francisco. Today I'm chatting with Lily Ho. She's not only the president and founder of the Delta Chinatown initiative, but she's also one of the primary organisers of 2022 successful recall of three members of the San Francisco Board of Education. Lily has an interesting perspective on movement building in our city. Because the recall started out as the individual efforts of two passionate city residents, Autumn Lu Yan and Siva Raj, Willie fought to keep it as an organic and grassroots movement, despite many attempts to transform it into something far different than that, herself an alum of Lowell High School, the acclaimed San Francisco School at the heart of the recall battle, Willie also saw a unique opportunity to rally San Francisco's Asian community, a sizable population that had lost significant influence compared to the era of San Francisco's first Asian American mayor, Ed Lee. So what can the Board of Education recalled teach us about starting community led movements? And what would it take to start a new movement to reverse the city's downward trend? Let's find out with Lily Ho.
Ben Kaplan 01:54
Lily, even someone who's been very active across all types of civic action and political action in San Francisco, for the Board of Education recall, how did you come to get involved in that you were a local high school grad for people who don't know what we can explain what that means. But how did you get to be involved in this really what became a movement to recall three Board of Education members, but also refocus everyone on what was the most important things we needed to accomplish in the school system.
Lily Ho 02:26
Thanks, Ben. Thanks for having me. Yeah, the Board of Education recall was such a wild ride for I guess, our whole city, I first got involved because I was actually just paying attention to school closures. One of the hats that I wear as a board member on Huckleberry youth programmes, and we have a runaway shelter. And that shelter is used for kids in transition youth in transition, whether they would be reunited to parents or if they would move into the foster care system. And the house was considered an essential service during the pandemic. So it was open 24/7. But all of the beds, the house was empty. We didn't have any kids come to us at all during the pandemic. And it was really heartbreaking to see that because we know that cases of abuse do not does not stop during a pandemic, it probably intensifies under economic strain. And it intensifies when children are at home with their abusers for more hours of the day. And their primary reason why our house was empty during the pandemic is because schools were closed teachers, the ESA voc was a number one referral service to Child Protective Services, CPS that would then bring these kids to us. So I was paying attention to the Reopenings of the schools for a long time. And also my other had as an advocate for Chinatown, we were advocating for families that live in SROs. And again, these kids who are not in school were just trapped in these 10 by 10, single room occupancies for months for months with no end in sight. I mean, they had very, very small space to move, work, do anything and they were trapped.
Ben Kaplan 04:04
What timeframe is this? We're talking about when it kind of the seeds of this are starting so
Lily Ho 04:09
2020 was the pandemic, no vaccine in sight? Right. I think it was December, we started getting worried that there might be a vaccine coming out. January we thought that there might be a vaccine coming out. I think it was the end of January, if not the beginning of February when there was the famous Board of Education Meeting commission meeting where they stripped local of its admissions policies and made it a lottery. It was really deep in the pendant. I remember I was plugged in to that commission meeting because I was really curious how SF USD would talk about Lowell High School and race based admissions
Ben Kaplan 04:49
just for people not as well versed as obviously you are in this. You know, we're in a pandemic where like lots of parents are struggling at this point because we want schools to reopen and some kids might be able to focus on like a zoom As other kids cannot here is like waiting, waiting, waiting. Okay, what are we going to do that the context of this to do it? And then it seems like at the time that there should be focus on from the school board, the roots of this is like, you know, how are we going to reopen? How are we going to do this? What are we going to do? What does it take to make sure our kids are taken care of, but yet it's going down this other path and direction? And the context? Explain why for people, they don't know why LoL is a special school. That's kind of the crown jewel of the school system and one of the best schools in the country. And why that was so significant, not just for low, but then is our focus even on the right thing? Absolutely.
Lily Ho 05:32
I mean, I think we were seeing that they were trying to rename schools, they were trying to take over these murals that were really historic and famous murals and at George Washington High School, but really, like you said, everybody was waiting for these schools to reopen, and for them to focus on the right things. And I plugged into those meetings because I was really curious of like, how, what are they talking about? What are they doing, and honestly, it was in the middle of the pandemic, there was nothing else to do, there was nowhere to go
Ben Kaplan 05:59
explain the significance of low because I want to get into like how Movements form but this givens of low as a trigger, because that specific school, which is a merit based school, you have to get admitted to on the basis of merit is also a school that has a high Asian population, part of the Asian community in that school. So it's significant in that sense, why does low become a trigger to just be is that just being like frustrated parents complaining to something that rises to the level of like, we're gonna recall school board members, why is lol the spark? For that,
Lily Ho 06:30
I would say that it's not just like Lowell High School alumni, or like local high school parents that were triggered by this. It really was a place where people were proud of like, our Supreme Court justices went to Lowell High School, we've had really famous accomplished people come out of Lowell High School, it's a crown jewel of this whole city, because a lot of successful people have come out of it. And you can say like, they were educated in our public school system. And in general, for immigrant families, for you know, anyone who believes in this American dream, education is the pathway to changing our socio economic status. And for Asian parents education has always been emphasised. So there is an emphasis for you, like, you got to do good in school, if you do good enough in school, you can make a tool, if you make slowly, you might be able to get into a college or a good college, become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, whatever that is. And so it's really the idea that education can be the vehicle that lets families and change your path. And
Ben Kaplan 07:37
so when the school board takes an action, where the action was to remove merit based admissions, put it in the lottery system, which is a whole other topic we can talk about later, this lottery system makes sense at all, and then how its implemented besides that, sort of make it like every other school that exists, even though it was kind of this special school, it had the feeling right of like, it's good to have concerns about equity and access. And many of us, of course, believe in that. But not by reducing everything like if you're doing well reduce it to get equitable at a low level, we want to like raise everyone up to get equitable bonus at a high level. And this just felt like the opposite of that, and almost striking at the sense of like, educational opportunity for kids. And we're like, we're taking it away, instead of empowering people with more.
Lily Ho 08:24
Yeah, at some point, equity got conflated with equal opportunity. And that conversation has been kind of shifting for many years. You know, I personally don't necessarily agree that we need a merit based magnet school in this town, to be honest. But I think every school should be as good as lol. Why can't we get all of our students to be good enough to go to law, we should have many loopholes, we should have many high schools in the city that are just as attractive for parents who want their kids to go to, it doesn't make sense to like, take away one because not everyone can have that
Ben Kaplan 09:00
take me through then what happens in the how does this become the spark? And we talked about some of the reasons of it. But what happens that what happens after that board meeting, and how does that start forming into action? And including lots of people were thinking about what to do and a couple that Rick actually fairly new to San Francisco that takes an action to sort of spark the actual papers to do the recall.
Lily Ho 09:21
Yeah, I mean, there were many reasons to start a recall with or without the Lowell decision. And Siva and Autumn were just these idealistic parents had moved to San Francisco, and Sivas children were in SF USD and autumns kids were in another school district, and they were able to compare and contrast how different their kids educations were and what the impacts were. And they were really just genuine, caring parents who thought that these three Board of Commissioners rightfully so should go and so they filed the papers to submit for the recall before anybody else did and they sparked this grassroots movement.
Ben Kaplan 10:01
So what happens after that it starts showing up on the radar that these paperwork was filed. And what happens because I think what is unique about especially the Board of Education recall is that it's very organic. It's very grassroots. You and I have chatted about this before. It's very grassroots. It has an authenticity about it, which was important to sort of keep and not turn it into this big political operation. So what happens after that? How do people start noticing it? How does word spread? How does it start turning into a movement?
Lily Ho 10:29
It started as a Facebook group. And prior to that, we already had some Facebook groups going amongst low high school alumni,
Ben Kaplan 10:37
which you are one we should say, by the way, you are yourself a low high school alumni.
Lily Ho 10:41
Yes, yes, I am a little High School alum and, and some of us that low high school were like, Let's look into a lawsuit. They were looking to lawsuit route. I said, let me look into the recall route, like what does that look like? And when Steven autumn kicked it off, I was like, I am onboard with you guys. I will do whatever I can to help support you. So I was one of the first signatories I think Siva couldn't sign it, because he's not a citizen, I think so it was like autumn, and then me. And then there's 30 people altogether, that signed some paperwork to kick off the recall.
Ben Kaplan 11:16
And then how does more people get on board? Or just parents telling other parents because obviously, there's some communication, you know, schools a community, is that how it starts to spread? At what point do other groups start to get involved to kind of amplify this?
Lily Ho 11:30
Yeah, well, there were the Facebook groups, but specifically, I knew that I needed to get the Asian American community involved in this. So the first thing I did was to reach out to all in any Asian American organisation, I could find all of the Asian American Democratic groups, I pulled them together, and I said, Look, this is important, we should do this. And I would say that it wasn't universally supported. People didn't really want to jump on to something that might fail. People were like, Who are these people? Ottoman Siva, and who are you? Like, I'm just Liliha. Like, I'm just this person who came out of nowhere during the pandemic and left my job in banking. And I'm not a political operative. Like who the hell are you working on those recalls? I don't know. But this is the right thing to do. Right? And same with Steven autumn, they were they were like, who are they? They are new to San Francisco. They don't know anything about sounds like I was like, okay, yeah, well, whatever. But this is like this is happening. So are you on board or not. And this is why you shouldn't be on board. Like unless you plan on starting another recall. This is the only recall that currently exists. So let's do this. And of course, one of the first things we needed to do was get this out in the media and have like, broader eyes on this beyond just our Facebook groups. So the first press conference I held for the recall, was in Chinatown. And it was specific to the Chinese American and Chinese media. We had que TSF Tsingtao when newspaper, and I organised the all these people in Chinatown attend the rally and found parents in the Chinatown community who were upset and had children in schools and trying to intermediate and beyond, but definitely the bilingual community. It was important that bilingual parents who had children in the school system, were speaking at the press conference. So there was Kitt. Lam, and a couple of other parents that were leaders in Chinatown, small business community spoke at the press conference. And that's how we started to get the ball rolling in the Chinese American community. And then from there, I there was a little bit of momentum already. And I was able to try to get more established Chinese American and Asian American Democratic groups to get on board with this too,
Ben Kaplan 13:48
okay, because there's a little bit of a sense of something like a recall. I mean, these are people that are in office, pull them back, that's kind of viewed as a drastic step. So people who are involved in politics may be understandably a little hesitant to like sign on to that if it looks like this nascent little thing that may just go away soon. But as you start seeing it, build and get stronger, and this is real, and it doesn't look away, then maybe people at that point, willing to maybe not stick out your neck but like inch out your neck a little bit more for something like that. What do you say that's accurate? Totally.
Lily Ho 14:19
And I think that there were risks if it wasn't grassroots. We saw it with the DEA recall when you had big money or somebody like Richie Greenberg just putting money behind something and it's really easy to smear to say like he's just some rich dude from Menlo Park. What does he know about our city? What do these big corporations care about our kids? They're part of charge too. There's so many ways to slander a recall but it's really hard to slander, genuine parents who have kids suffering who want their schools reopened. Those were the people that I galvanised and got to speak publicly to support the recall. And I think that resonated with With every one else for like, there needed to be like an authenticity, and a purity to what we were doing. We needed signatures. And this was an easy coming out of the panic. Where
Ben Kaplan 15:10
were you at this point in terms of number of signatures? Because a movement can be an amorphous thing, like we just like a bunch of people feel strong, but like, when it's a recall, it's like you actually need signatures on a line. Otherwise, if you don't make it, it's going to die. Yeah.
Lily Ho 15:23
Okay. So we needed 51,325 signatures, and not just signatures, but signatures that you could validate. They're real people, the signatures had to be cross checked with your actual signature. So you could have your thing thrown out if you signed it incorrectly. Me
Ben Kaplan 15:39
My name is Benjamin, if I normally signed Benjamin and I just put Ben then it might not count. So you really want to get more than that number, because some are not going to be valid. You don't want to have 10 More than that number, you need to do better than that. Right.
Lily Ho 15:51
And so I think the standard was only 30% of signatures for recall signatures were valid. But after some time, we were doing like the validation tests ourselves. We found that I think we had over 75% validation rate. So they were like real people, real parents, real San Franciscans signing them. So we had a better validation rates than others. There was polling done, I think, early on, in the recall, that said that 60% of voters supported the recall. So we knew that there were out there, we knew that there was like a lot of people out there, we just needed to get to them. But we were coming out of the pandemic. So
Ben Kaplan 16:27
this is the spring of 2021, because the actual vote happens February 22. So this is like, not quite a year in advance of the actual thing. But okay, spring 2021. What did your numbers look like off the bat? It was pretty easy. And then how did you have to extend that? Okay,
Lily Ho 16:43
so people started to get vaccinated. February, March, April. And then you know, remember, we had two rounds of vaccines. We started collecting signatures in April, the press conference that I held in Chinatown for the Chinese American media was April 21. And in our first month, we gathered around 20,000 signatures,
Ben Kaplan 17:07
it was a 20,000 is just parents telling parents or Chinese American community telling others to do this, it just sort of spreading by people telling other people pretty organically at that point zone
Lily Ho 17:20
organically and organised enough. And of course, we were organising to around where we could get people to collect signatures. I mean, again, people weren't in the office so that you could only find people going to the supermarket or standing on a street corner, there wasn't a natural space for people to eat like churches, I don't think we're gathering right?
Ben Kaplan 17:40
So where were the signatures coming from? How were people doing it? Was it at like supermarkets and stuff like that, and people were in front, or yes,
Lily Ho 17:46
we organised our, you know, fanatic parents who felt strongly about this, specifically around like the supermarkets at farmer's markets, there was always someone at every farmers market that's like what we were striving for. And then at the major supermarkets just because that's just where we, we knew there was some foot traffic, again, we were coming out of the pandemic, and you need a pen to paper signatures, and you needed three of them, it took like, it took like more than way more than five minutes if it like to actually fill this stuff out.
Ben Kaplan 18:19
And how many volunteers at this point are doing the signature collection. And if you're gonna be at every farmers market, like what's the core team at that point,
Lily Ho 18:25
completely fluctuated, I would say, it started off with something like 20 to 30 for the first month. And we were just handing these out as much as you can, like, Here, take these home, have your whole family sign it. And then we had Jolin Gardea to host a drive thru signature thing in front of Lowell High School, I think in May, in early May. And that was a huge success. People just, you know, did like this drive thru, and got a lot of signatures out there too. And again, part of the strategy was also to give people the petition has signed like, so
Ben Kaplan 19:01
that way they could give it to someone else, we're getting a lot out and you're gonna get they're gonna tell other people and do this across 20,000. And then what was after that? What were kind of the milestones, or how hard was it? I don't know, the next 10,000 The next time 1000 Is it keep going.
Lily Ho 19:15
So at the time, we were only collecting donations $99. And the reason for that is you have to file certain paperwork around that and it was just more paperwork that Stephen autumn wanted to do. And honestly, there was this very optimistic idea that we could do it without getting paid signature collectors, which is
Ben Kaplan 19:34
often done and there's consultants you can hire and other things like go out there and get the signatures to do this. And there was a sense that we want this to be an organic movement. And honestly, it's better if you can do it that way, but maybe harder. Yeah,
Lily Ho 19:47
that's ideal. But we saw I think it was like around June, it started to plateau. It was hard to get from 20 to 25,000 Pass 25,000 and numbers were starting to die. I so basically all the low hanging fruit everyone who supported us regular knew about it, you know, they signed it already, they went out of their way to sign it. And then it started to plateau and money was plateauing. At that point, one, donations needed to increase and to seven autumn had to really just decide like, yes, we need paid signature gathers to do this and paid signature gatherers are not cheap, they're like, they're quite expensive. And it was something that I think kind of like, took away from this authenticity of this organic grassroots movement. But it was actually something that really needed to be done. Again, coming out of the pandemic, it was summertime, people were leaving town by June. And really the only way to do it with the get dedicated people on the streets all the time. So you're
Ben Kaplan 20:45
doing this, obviously, in an environment just like hard to get to groups, you're doing it. And so you made the shift in strategy at that point, like we've got halfway there. Let's get some added boots on the ground to get the rest of the way for sure.
Lily Ho 20:57
And at this time, I mean, there were political consultants and other San Franciscans who thought that they could run this recall better than two people, you see an autumn who just came to San Francisco and was waiting for an opportunity to start a second recall, to let this one fail and start a new one. Explain
Ben Kaplan 21:18
that to me, because there's gonna be people who are very supportive of the idea, but the vehicle for it, they might not want. And there can be egos involved. Even people that agree politically, there can be sort of territory things or could be wasn't done the right way. Because it's politics. Its political, right? Even though everyone wants the same thing to happen. You might have people cheering for a certain recall to fail so they can start another one, which actually, in the case of the district attorney recall, there were multiple ones, including ones that failed.
Lily Ho 21:50
Yeah, you hit that on the head. I mean, yes, it's politics. And at San Francisco, people are very opinionated about how they want things to run, even when we do agree, we are still opinionated about it, right. And so there were definitely people were waiting for opportunity to jump in there to start a second recall. And personally, for me, I felt a strong responsibility to keep this one going. Because it had already started off as a movement around Chinese Americans and Asian American parents who were really pissed off. At this point, Alison Collins tweet, where she called Asians house and words was already made public. And I was terrified, then actually, this is what drove me to continue, like driving this recall, I was terrified that our API constituency groups would be ignored. For over a decade, it would set us back over a decade, if any electoral district would point to San Francisco and say, look, they had an elected official call the Asian Americans house and words, and they couldn't get them recalled. I was terrified that our API votes, and our demographic would continue to be overlooked and exploited and our community voice would be would continue to be abandoned if we didn't get this done.
Ben Kaplan 23:11
And so maybe the fire was starting to, you know, still go on, but kind of dying down a little bit. Did that have a kind of add mirror fuel to get to go? Or was it you personally, it absolutely motivated you? And then you went out to the people and said, Hey, we've got to do this. We can't let this happen. There's more at stake even than just this recall here for our community in San Francisco. That
Lily Ho 23:34
is completely how I felt about it. I would say probably the ebb and flow of collecting signatures is not always linear. And that would be a normal take. But you know, we did have all that seem for 20,000 signatures the first month, and then the second one was drastically lower. Like we didn't get 10,000 We got like five or something like that. It was like it was a steep drop. So the strategy absolutely needed to transition and change. Especially since we were coming out at you know, we were coming into the summer season, people were leaving their homes or the city for the first time they were vaccinated for the first time and leaving the city like there was a small window that we were allowed to collect signatures to 51,000 signatures for any of this to qualify,
Ben Kaplan 24:16
what is the deadline at this point? How
Lily Ho 24:18
far away are we had give or take like three or four months I think is what we had, but all of that was the summertime. Okay, right. People were going on vacations and stuff.
Ben Kaplan 24:26
So you had four months left or another two months?
Lily Ho 24:28
I think it was six months total that we had. Okay, so you weren't
Ben Kaplan 24:31
up against Oh, my gosh, we're not going to make the deadline yet. You're okay. But you just could see the if you extrapolate the line on signatures. The problem is you might not make it in the four months you had
Lily Ho 24:42
Yeah, I we have to have certain number of signatures every week for us to not completely fizzle out. Or I mean, at that point, people were saying we're fizzled out. The recall is dead. It's time to start a new one.
Ben Kaplan 24:54
So how long did it take you to get the paid staff to do this and was there an immediate impact what happened the months after For that, once you brought them on board, what time did you cross the finish line? Well,
Lily Ho 25:03
for one, I had to keep the idea that this recall could still be successful amongst city political leaders.
Ben Kaplan 25:11
Because otherwise, if they didn't think it was going to be successful, they start shifting to another recall. Yeah, you didn't want that to divide signatures to something else. That's the same thing. But it would split off at that point,
Lily Ho 25:21
it would no longer be this authentic, organic, grassroots movement. And more importantly, it would not be something that was led by the Asian American community,
Ben Kaplan 25:31
I see. And then do you manage to kind of hold them off from creating it, or you had to get another 10,000 signatures fast, just to show that this was still going.
Lily Ho 25:41
It was both in time, at the same time that we needed to get more signatures, I kind of held everybody off at bay, there was I mean, you're asking me about some significant moments, I do recall this one significant moment. It was in the beginning of July. And at this point, the recall, they were running out of money. I don't think anyone knew that at the time, right? We were running out of money, the numbers were dropping. And I brought Steven autumn to, to this political luncheon, where the intention was asked for money when talking about the recall to ask for donations. And at that luncheon, Mary Jiang, she's the grandmother who is one of the leads in the Chiesa Bodeen. Recall. And I did not know her at the time, we spoke a little bit, Sita, an autumn spoke a little bit and introduced ourselves to this group of, you know, seasoned political operators. And Mary Jones stood up. And she said, if you are going to give to the DA recall, don't worry about it for now, give to them first. She said give money to the Board of Education recall first. And she personally gave $1,000 of her own money to our recall. And I think that was a really big moment that helped turn the conversation around that allowed people to believe that we could do it, we could get the money to do it, because that's what it required at that point. And that did help shift the entire kind of environment around what our recall looks like. It wasn't just organic and naive, it started to turn into something that had some supporters behind it. And from there, there were more donors that search gift money as well.
Ben Kaplan 27:27
And then how much did you raise? And how much did you need to raise on the heels of that basically, was the fund the paid petition gatherers at that point? Yeah, I
Lily Ho 27:35
don't really remember what those numbers looked like. But also, I will say that because there were two recalls at that point that were going on. Because the DEA recalls started several months after the Board of Education recall, they went straight to signature paid signature gatherers right away because they, their season, they knew they were smart. They knew how to do this, right? They just went straight to paid signature gatherers to make sure that they meet the deadline. And some of the signature gatherers were collecting for both recalls at the same time. So they built a little bit of an infrastructure that we were able to ride the coattails on,
Ben Kaplan 28:09
well, what point did you cross the threshold? How long ago after that? When did you cross that threshold?
Lily Ho 28:14
I think it was August, I remember knowing that we had crossed the threshold, and we would be okay. And
Ben Kaplan 28:21
it was not just a feeling of relief. Was it a feeling of joy? Was it Were you tired? How did it feel? What was it like? Well, now, okay, we're gonna be on the ballot. But now we actually got to make sure this passes, or how did you feel?
Lily Ho 28:33
Well, you never know until you know, but like, my numbers looked correct. So it felt like, it felt like there was still a long way to go to be honest. Like, okay, this is just one milestone, there are many more miles since off to go. It didn't feel done. Okay. So
Ben Kaplan 28:51
you got through it. It's a relief. There's a lot of work to be done. Take us through what happens between essentially August and February, I think of the next year, that time period, what are the key moments there that continue to advance this? And at what point do you start to believe that this is going to make it?
Lily Ho 29:11
Well, I think at that point, when other political operatives and others saw that like, like, what are the next paths following okay, they have Steven autumn have collected enough signatures, and then what? Well, what happens next is like the mayor appoints appointees. And so then there was like jockeying around which which would be the right appointees to appoint, like who can speak for the Asian American community, or just students in general, like who can win an election, it turned into just an election race, it turned into who can win an election, and it turned into kind of like politics is normal, I would say, because this grassroots part of it was really, really there for the Signature Collection Part. And whoever the mayor appoints was not really not in the hands of the moms and dads at the farmers markets and Superman. buckets, collecting signatures?
Ben Kaplan 30:01
And where did all that energy go at that point? Because there's a lot built up, nothing's really changed, although significant accomplishment to get that many signatures. But does that energy have a place to go? Do leaders emerge in different ways? Are people rallying different groups? You know, are there opportunities to like rally Chinese speaking voters and Chinatown and making sure they're involved and will vote? Where does all that energy go? Even as it becomes more of like a traditional political election battle?
Lily Ho 30:31
Yeah, I mean, I guess this is like a very, very interesting time in in San Francisco, I mean, in the United States, as well. But we were seeing the rise of anti Asian hate and crimes being committed. That seems to not be ending. And they were there were just kind of unheard of stuff. I mean, 80 year old and 70 year olds living in the sunset in Richmond getting robbed while they're going to their car. I mean, just, it was insane. Like it. And there's still, you know, a lot of anti Asian heat. And
Ben Kaplan 31:04
we just saw we just saw recently in the past week, we've seen instances of that if people were thinking that, Oh, it's died down. I mean, no, it hasn't.
Lily Ho 31:11
Yeah, I mean, I guess there's two ways to look at it. One is like this city is broken, right? Our government is broken, there are so many things wrong, that we can point to our elected officials to blame. And hence we had four people recalled, so that momentum was there. It's like people were people are frustrated, they want to do something about it, you know, angry people vote, and angry people will put their signatures on pen and paper on ballots. So some of that energy rolled over into the DA, a lot of that energy actually rolled over into the DA recall, the infrastructure that we had built to galvanise the Asian American community and Chinese community in a monolingual Chinese community, I think did roll over to the DA recall.
Ben Kaplan 31:53
Because there's a you don't think it's a coincidence that those two happened near each other. And they're sort of cross over and even described the Mary Zhang moment and, and all of that. It's not a coincidence that those happen together. Um,
Lily Ho 32:06
I don't know about the coincidence part. But it did happen. I mean, it did happen, because for so long, the Asian American community in San Francisco, there weren't voices speaking for our for our community, were 38% of the population. And we had elected officials who supported cesab, you know, who did not speak up against the crimes around our community. I mean, again, you had an elected official call us house and words, and she doubled down on it. So I think there was a lot of rage around the disrespect for our Asian American community. I would also add to that, though, elected officials never really knew how to engage our community. They they don't neither do political consultants. They have this playbook that they've been running for decades.
Ben Kaplan 32:55
What is the playbook? And where does the playbook fall short?
Lily Ho 32:59
The playbook is you go to Chinatown and take a bunch of photos and put it in the media house, something translated. And maybe that might have worked decades ago when Chinese people weren't allowed to live outside of Chinatown. But that doesn't work anymore. You know, that Asian American community lives everywhere in San Francisco. And yet the idea of the political powerhouse being in Chinatown is not true,
Ben Kaplan 33:24
quick detour. And we'll get back to the rest of the story of the recall. But was it all different in the time of Ed Lee, you know, Asian American mayor of San Francisco, there was a higher number of Asian members of the Board of Supervisors. Was it different back then? Did you feel even I know, you weren't super politically active back then. But did it feel different people you when you talk to people?
Lily Ho 33:42
Absolutely. It felt different. It felt like Okay, sweet. We've made it, we can take our eyes off the ball and live our life. I mean, that's, I think, I think that's how we felt we felt like okay, well, it should be fine, right. We've got word in Mora, we've got Connie Chen and office. There's someone speaking for us. But it wasn't until these recalls were happening. Did we see that our Asian face elected officials didn't actually support the community and what we felt were important to us, which was education and public safety.
Ben Kaplan 34:15
So what happens there between, you know, as we're moving towards the election, people are going to come to a vote, you feel like public opinions in your favour, but public opinions only one thing. It also matters who votes it also matters, operations on either side of this to get more people there. There is a little bit of this progressive moderate divide, even though everyone's a Democrat. It's like we've polarised within Democrats. And there's all kinds of things going on with D Triple C and where power is and all of that. And there's some sense that maybe the other side of this point might be more organised or have more entrenched power too. So how does all of that play out just so we could kind of like, finish the story and get over the finish? Yeah,
Lily Ho 35:02
I would say this ties into the rest of what's going on in San Francisco too, right? I mean, it's not just these recalls that San Franciscans are pissed off about. And again, the Asian American community is not in any way, a monolith. So there are varying opinions about everything. But the two things that we can solidly agree on, especially in 2021 was education and public safety. And so yes, API community had a lot to do with driving the momentum of those recalls. And what we do with that energy from here on out, I think it ties into the sort of the rest of San Francisco, we're also not happy about the Civil chaos that's going on the perception
Ben Kaplan 35:44
of, yes, civic disorder. And the problem with it is that not only is it the disorder itself, but it's very symbolic of where we are, which creates a lot of fear on top of it, that civic disorder. And on top of that, this is like a slippery slope, because you may say civic disorder is like broken windows and some property crime and some theft, but you know, it wasn't violent crime. But if that goes on, checked, I don't know of cases where like, you know, criminals were like, you know, we're gonna get less bold, we're gonna do less because they don't seem to be able to respond to this. So we're just gonna dial it down, we're okay, no, no, it gets bolder, it gets more if unchecked, this grows unchecked. property crime transitions to violent crime, because people get more, there's probably not a great word for it. But like ambitious as criminals, they're going to do more. And so it's a problem on many, many fronts. Yeah.
Lily Ho 36:38
And I will say this about San Franciscans. And I think this is not often recognised enough is that it is not easy to live here. Like, we have to really love the city to have stayed through the pandemic, put our foot down, grow our roots here and stay here, everything costs more, I mean, a parking ticket is like 110 bucks, you could easily have a way more comfortable lifestyle, you move 15 minutes away into Myrin. There are no parking metres, you can park anywhere you've got, you can leave your doors unlocked, or schools are safe, you can have a backyard, the weather is nicer. I mean, you have to really love San Francisco to still be here. And this is where I feel optimistic about everyone kind of waking up starting to get engaged in our local politics and local policies. And push first just some common sense stuff. You know, there is so much toxicity and so much polarisation and so much dog whistling going on. And it's like, come on, the majority of us are just normal people. And we want a safe, happy, comfortable place to live and thrive. We're not all here trying to make billions or millions, like very much San Francisco is still kind of like this middle class town. And I know that that term sounds really weird, right? Because we think about the middle class as this idea of the rest of the country and the middle class and the rest of the country. I think it's like 65k, you're considered middle class. Those numbers don't resonate here. But we all still actually still want the same thing. Right? Whatever that means to be comfortable. Middle class, happy, thriving, safe. And that is San Francisco, you know, and it's crazy, because you can make so much money here you can make half a million dollars a year and still feel financially unsafe. Right? It's, it's not so. But that is the reality of San Francisco but the people who stay here believe in the values of the city, and I think we'll stay to fight for it.
Ben Kaplan 38:40
Take me through the final numbers. mid February, it passes what was the feeling like what was the sense from all of the early parents who are organisers what finally happens to kind of finish the story and the three members of the board are recalled
Lily Ho 38:54
complete elation. I had no idea we would sweep that way. I think it was over way over 70% Which is kind of unheard of in any election in this town. Just complete elation. And again, it was really a grassroots movement. There were so many people involved that helped. And were part of this you know, yet kit Lammott every single Sunday at the farmers market with this gal named Angie, who just mad that booth every Sunday, fervently. He alone collected 12,000 signatures but it wasn't just from the farmers market. He was like literally driving all over town collecting signatures from people's homes. There'd be five signatures he would drive across town to pick up five signatures. And I think it felt it felt like we won the World Series for the first time I think is the only way I yeah, like we did it together. We all did it together.
Ben Kaplan 39:48
And do you think one person in San Francisco can make a difference or is it us together? It's a few individual people banding together can make had tremendous difference, or what would it take for the problems we have now to like, not be like, yeah, five to seven years. And there's like a plan and you know, some elected folks will put some laws like, what if we're just fed up now? Like, what can one people or a few people or a band of people actually accomplish? In your opinion,
Lily Ho 40:19
I think everyone has their own superpower. Like, then you have your own superpower, you're like starting this podcast, you're starting a collection of people who care about SF, I was very in touch with my community and knew how to organise my community in a way that resonated with my community. Everyone has their own superpower. And we need all of these tools in the toolbox to be working together. I would hate for someone to think that it takes one person because it doesn't, it takes like a lot of people caring, it takes a lot of heart to want to do something and to continue to do it until we're satisfied. And
Ben Kaplan 40:57
what would it take to have another movement to turn around the city? take hold? Now, do you think I mean, you did a tremendous amount of activating the Chinese American community in the early stages to get from zero to 20,000 signatures and not hold the press conference and all that you need that critical mass. And it's my belief that we have enough collective will and coordinated action. What I mean by that is, it's often two sides of the coin, meaning organic and organised, you need both right? You need it to be that organic thing, you can't make something out of nothing. But yet, there's a lot of energy that can just go every which way. And we need to focus it and channel it. And that's the organisation. So what can we do? What would it take to get that going? That it can last? Because it feels like there's a collective will now we need coordinated action? It feels like there's organic under the surface, but now we need organisation? Yeah,
Lily Ho 41:50
absolutely. I think what we need to do first is recognise that there is a lot of toxicity and our local SF politics, and to step into that environment, taking that part of yourself away, like be willing to have conversations, be willing to listen to the other side, or differing opinions. Like we pride ourselves on being the most inclusive city. But when it comes to politics, that's like really not too true. Right? It is important for us to engage with our community and be civil, and building this community were like, we all want the same thing. We want the city to be better. And it's okay, we disagree on anenome 20% of things and disagree one 40% of things, we still can work together and get along and we can still make this place better. And I trust that in good conversations, we can come to a common sense solution.
Ben Kaplan 42:46
And I personally believe that one of the most underrated phrases, and Paul texts on AI like almost never hear it, which is we agree to disagree. Let's agree to disagree on this. Yeah. And we have a bigger mission at hand, we have a bigger purpose. There's a lot of other things we might be aligned on. We agree to disagree, one, go have a beer, or like something else, right? Like, there's bigger things. And if people would just say that, you know, you get this heated argument, you get to stuff and all suffering just like you know what we agree to disagree. At least we agree on that. You know, let's go do something great for our city. Let's go have some fun. Let's do all that. And I also think it's amazing that people that stayed here and didn't move away, and you know what, it's okay. They care about San Francisco, they love San Francisco, maybe they did move to Marin, right? Or they did move outside the city, but they still care. That's okay. You know, that was individual things, things happen, different situations, different people, be involved, come back, let's make things happen. And all of these little differences that we have everything that the funny thing is is like if Lily you and I I'm sure if we talked about things enough, we would find things that we disagree on, right. But like, I don't even agree with myself, there may be different sides, you may have opposing conflicting views on things. That's okay. But I actually think we're stronger and we're better off. When we come together. Even with those differences. It makes a stronger movement, it would be stronger. We disagree on these things on the periphery or individual issues, but we come together that's a stronger movement than if we 100% agree on everything. We're in lockstep. It's all rainbows and puppy dogs. And that's not a strong movement. Because once you have outside forces in that, that split that it splits apart. But if you've overcome some of those individuals, that's strong, that's change. That's what makes a difference. We agree to disagree. Let's go have a beer and let's go change San Francisco.
Lily Ho 44:37
Yeah, I love that sentiment. And that's what that's what community is about. And family is about. You don't agree with everything or everybody I again, I don't agree with my thoughts, half of the time like why the hell did I do that? You know, but we should all come together and have fun and make the city better. We can do it as
Ben Kaplan 44:57
simple as that. It's, of course not quite as some Ball in real life. But I'm hopeful, I think now is a critical moment. I've talked to a few people now in the city who might say, and this isn't my turn. But this might be a generational moment, maybe only rarely in a generation Do you have sort of that collective will and a chance to do something and because the pandemic sort of disrupted everything, every which way, everything's in sort of disorder, but it's a unique moment. So I personally think now is a time for lots of new faces, fresh energy, fresh people. And I love it that maybe just to wrap up, you started in finance, you worked at a bank, and here you are a few years later, doing more and more and more and making a tremendous difference. So that's exciting. So maybe a final question for you, Lily is reflecting on all of this, it seems exhausting. It seems like a lot of work. Why do you keep doing it? And what do you think we can accomplish together? And let's say in the next three years, Oh,
Lily Ho 45:55
interesting. You call it exhausting. But actually, I think this is just me, but I'm exhausted when I don't live my values. But when I do get to live my values, it's empowering, it's beautiful, I have way more energy, I feel way more effective and productive. I can have multiple work streams, because I care about everything that I work on. So personally, it's not exhausting. For me, I love seeing that we can actually make our city better. I love seeing that we have been able to make an impact that we've been able to do recalls that have never been done before. We've been able to wake up communities that were never activated before. We were able to build community, because so many people want the city to be better. And I'm really happy to see what you're doing. Man, I think you're onto something. I do think we are. Everyone has come out of the pandemic a different person. Let's admit that, right. We've all grown and evolved, became more resilient, coming out of the pandemic, and to stay in the city throughout all of this chaos. Like, Yeah, we love this city. We're all fighters. And we all want to be here. So while we're here, let's just make it better.
Ben Kaplan 47:04
According to Lily Ho, there's a time in the life of any movement, when it's the moment of truth. People are intrigued, but then they start asking questions. Will this succeed? Will it fail? Who is already on board? Who isn't? And it's in that moment, that the movement requires someone with a vision, who says three simple words, this is possible. And you know why it's possible. It's because it's the right thing to do. So don't think big. Think small movements happen when a few people decide to devote personal time to the same shared mission. And that is unbelievably contagious. It wasn't an accident that the Board of Education recall was rooted in our public school system. Education is such a critical issue for San Francisco, because it exposes our values, just like a married couple that doesn't really get on the same page until they have kids and are forced to agree on how the heck we're going to raise these new life forms. Education speaks so powerfully, not only to who we are as a community, but who we want to be. If we believe in equal opportunity, do we raise everyone up to a higher standard? Or do we push everyone down to a lower one? If we believe in students coming first? Do we focus on issues that actually impact the student experience? Or do we get distracted by politics or personal ambition? If we are the greatest and most innovative city in the world and want to stay that way? How can we allow ourselves to have anything less but the greatest and most innovative education system in the world? Change is possible. We are going to do it. We are San Francisco