: New: Book Report: Season of the Witch

It's a history of San Francisco, concentrating on the weirdness of the 1970s and early 1980s. Jonestown, AIDS, … I'd read about bad things from those days, but hadn't followed Mr Rogers' advice to Look for the Helpers. This book pointed me at some folks doing good work in the Haight, near where I live. I read about Huckleberry House, which sheltered and counseled many many runaway teenagers who drifted in to San Francisco during this time. It told me about the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, who helped a lot of folks who were running into nasty drug side effects.

My local branch library has a big sign that says NO DEALING / NO HOLDING DRUGS / NO USING DRUGS. All these years, I thought the sign was there because that library's a block away from a stretch of Haight Street that's basically an open-air drug market. But BUT that library sign is actually a copy of a historical sign at the Free Clinic—I should have kept reading to the next few items that said NO ALCOHOL / NO PETS / ANY OF THESE CAN CLOSE THE CLINIC. Why did the clinic need that sign? Police would barge in, looking for druggies. If that made someone scared to visit the clinic even though they were overdosing—well, that's the trade-off law enforcement was supposed to make back then. And AND drug pushers were also barging in—here was a great gathering of potential customers, right? Thus the sign. The Clinic saved a lot of people under remarkably hostile conditions.

In the news lately: the Clinic's shutting down. Not so many "customers" as there used to be. Let's hope that means that the city is taking care of its residents better, even poor residents suffering from unexpected side effects.

So… I learned some local history. And I learned that I'm not as much of a bad-ass for visiting my local branch library as I thought I was.

Election security enthusiasts might enjoy reading up on Jim Jones' organization pre-Jonestown. There's a description of a large-scale voter fraud effort, falsely registering followers from other towns as San Francisco residents, then busing them in to vote on election day; my back-of-the-envelope estimate is maybe 1000 fraudulent votes. It sounds like there weren't enough votes to change the election winner (it sounds like that to me…but that's my estimate from reading the words of someone in the Jones cult who says that their fraud did change the winner, so… who knows). But add up those fraudulent votes together with votes by Jones' followers who genuinely did live in San Francisco, and maybe you do have the Jones organization swinging elections.

Fans of voter fraud conspiracy theories won't like the story, though. Unlike people in the conspiracy theories, some of Jones' volunteers didn't keep the secret… as you'd expect when you're involving almost-enough conspirators to swing an election.

Nobody really likes the Jim Jones story. It's pretty horrifying.

This book is full of horrors and helpers. As a San Franciscan, I found it pretty interesting. You might like it, too. Do let yourself take breaks, though. Things got pretty intense back then.

Tags: book filthy hippies libraries

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