I think I’ve cracked the complexity that is Randy Shaw.
As you all know, my first interview with Randy didn’t go too well. I couldn’t handle his short answers, or wrap my head around his long resume of activism successes and resident criticisms. I also felt like an imposition on the many projects he’s busy with, especially because he was just back from two weeks vacation. And if you met Randy, you would see that he’s not a very warm person; he’s all business. Exactly why he made a point to recruit me for Beyond Chron while I was trying to interview him. Randy felt important, powerful, and capable in his office.
And so, I was both frightened (he didn’t show much remorse for the suicide of his opponent) of Randy, and stressed over how I would write about a man that seemed a mystery to me. Like a lawyer or politician, he almost seemed inhuman. He was not a talking heart, but a talking mind, a talking text book–so opposite of most people in the Tenderloin who are empathetic souls. Which brings me to my next point…
Maybe that’s why many Tenderloin residents distrust Randy. Even though he works for a non-profit, has devoted 30 years to tenant rights, and writes endlessly about the TL’s progress when so many news outlets only cite crime, the people of the Tenderloin see a talking mind, when they wear their hearts on their sleeves. They look at his activism and find it disgusting–a bragging list for Shaw. They count the Tenderloin Housing Clinic’s many buildings, and name Shaw a “property pimp.” They read Beyond Chron and tag it as a blog for all of his opinions. They laugh at his Uptown Tenderloin Museum, finding little optimism that tourists will find the TL charming, calling it a ploy for gentrification.
And I bought it. I talked to a few people, and couldn’t help but feel a bit of the same angst. I love the Tenderloin. I defend it. Imagine what comes to mind when you hear one man has been profiting off it’s low income residents and welfare funds, and claims himself “progressive.” I am a journalist, and I’ve become so attached to these talking hearts, being a sucker for story telling and human nature. But I’ve been blindsided by it. I wasn’t looking at the facts, and the facts all point to Randy Shaw making visible improvements to the Tenderloin neighborhood despite defamatory comments online and on the streets (as I’m realizing, most aren’t credible).
So who is Randy Shaw?
He’s a man that’s pragmatic, sometimes comes off as cocky, and assertive. He gets up, and sits down at his computer, scanning the documents scattered around him as he mumbles something about me writing for Beyond Chron before dismissing me to continue his work he’s already started (while I’m still in his presence). He takes on media coverage, traffic and pedestrian safety, tenant issues, historical preservation, and neighborhood lighting. What so many of the people he serves don’t know is; why?
Although he’s not very good at expressing it, it’s because he deeply cares about the Tenderloin; in love with it’s beautiful, old buildings (so much that he’s making a museum for it and has b&w photos of them all over his office) and committed to it’s close-knit community–even in the adversity of criticism. His strong belief that certain measures will help or harm the Tenderloin make him seem opinionated and abrasive, but he is sincere when he believes that Twitter’s Mid-Market arrival or the loss of certain businesses will benefit the Tenderloin.
Randy Shaw is an activist, and a good one at that.
Thank you everyone for your feedback last class. For pushing me to talk to more officials, find sources who will give names, and use more objective language. I am leaving the character of Randy that lends itself, and the facts about his work in the story, and throwing the rest out. You’ll find a new story Monday.