I’m not really interested in writing about current events, but after reading that Yelp letter and all the fallout therein, I started to feel uncharacteristically depressed. Not sure if it’s because I’m off my meds this week or because it’s objectively depressing, but as a young female writer who is concerned with local social justice issues, it hurt me deeply to read the plea from the Yelp Girl. This is because issues such as the minimum wage, the living wage, the high cost of living, the rental market and income inequality are incredibly important topics that we as a community need to address. These are issues that are greatly impacting the people and the culture of the Bay Area; so many people are being pushed out, and so many people I know are fighting to fix this culture. So to read an article written by a young woman who is not from here, whose very presence is symptomatic of the positive feedback loop of ever increasing rents, and to have that article be presented in an incredibly self serving and entirely unsympathetic manner is fucking infuriating.
It have never been as disappointed in my generation as when I read this letter. This letter was Yelp Girl’s opportunity to have an Upton Sinclair moment a la The Jungle. This was her time to blow the lid off of poor working conditions in the burgeoning tech community, to relate that back to an unmanageable cost of living and the high way robbery of rent hikes. This was the moment to say something and take a stand, and instead of wowing everybody with the truth of how hard it is out here, she wrote an overly emotional, self serving essay that opened her up to criticism on a personal level and vicious ad hominem attacks. The essay started out well, but in terms of writing style and execution, I got lost in the middle because points that should have been delivered like punches were slurred and repeated and fell flat. Maybe if her essay had been well written, just fundamentally well thought out and delivered, then a lot of the blow back could have been avoided.
When we talk about having a living wage, we’re not talking about increasing the quality of life for people who aren’t from here and don’t know how to survive here. The living wage is a social justice issue, yet Yelp Girl doesn’t speak on the living wage from a social justice perspective. She speaks on it from a personal perspective, but it’s clear in her letter that she is grossly mismanaging her finances. Yelp Girl has fallen into the trap of American debt; she has fallen into the trap of student loans; she has fallen into the trap of not knowing how to escape her debt. She has fallen into the trap of thinking that $1440 is not enough money to survive each month. She also fell into the trap of paying $1245 a month to live here.
If we look at those two numbers – $1440 monthly income and $1245 monthly rent – we know this isn’t going to add up. When a landlord looks at monthly income in order to determine if someone is going to be a reliable tenant, they determine that rent should be 30% of the tenant’s income. This is something Yelp Girl states, yet it is something she didn’t abide by. The fact of the matter is: $1245 monthly rent is fucking ridiculous. If you’re living thirty miles out of San Francisco and paying $1245 monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment, it better be really, really nice. But this is also indicative of the current rental market scam; clearly landlords aren’t checking to ensure that tenants are abiding by the 30% rule. Perhaps this is because landlords don’t really care, and they know that we’re living in the wild, wild west of rent; even if a tenant moves in, can’t pay, and leaves after six months, getting $1245 a month for an apartment is such an insanely high profit that it doesn’t even matter if the tenant leaves in six months. Because as soon as that tenant leaves, the landlord can jack up the rent and do it again.
But the fact of the matter is, it is possible to live in the Bay Area and eat every day when earning $1440 monthly income. The catch? You have to be smart about it. You’ll probably want to pay no more than $600 in rent, something which people claim is impossible these days, but part of being smart is knowing how to find affordable housing. The key to finding affordable housing in your community? Participate in your community. Know people. Ask around. In fact, if you want to thrive in the Bay Area on $1440 a month (because, yes, it can be done), you have to live by the Bay Area code: FUCKING HUSTLE. If you want to eat every day, you have to hustle. If you want to go out and drink, you gotta hustle. There are women out there who have less education and less opportunity who are making more money than Yelp Girl because when they wake up they tell themselves (and this is a direct quote) “I would rather suck dick for rent money than not be able to pay my bills.” That’s hustle. And if there’s anything that I’ve learned about Yelp Girl after reading her article, it’s that she has no hustle. There’s nothing that we can do about that.
Yelp Girl’s lack of perspective on her personal plight within the pantheon of social justice issues that grip the Bay Area right now made her argument sound weak and myopic. Mapping thirty miles away from the Yelp offices into the East Bay means that she probably lives in Richmond or East Oakland. To put that into perspective, there’s a likelihood that Yelp Girl lives in an impoverished, traditionally African American or Latino community that struggles with crime but is still home to many families. Many of these families likewise live in one bedroom apartments, stacked two or more to a room, working multiple jobs, working under the table jobs, unable to find work due to a lack of education opportunities because they came from these neighborhoods (and many of them do not have access to college education), supporting entire families and still putting food on the table. It is hard to feel sympathy for a white, college educated transplant who lives alone in a one bedroom apartment and can’t manage her finances when you know damn straight that if the people who were from here had the opportunity to work as a support assistant at a tech company, then that would help stem the displacement of long time locals, that it would stem the flooding of transplants into an overcrowded rental market, and it would allow local families to stay in their houses and continue participating in the culture they helped define.
The fact of the matter is, Yelp Girl, you can leave. No one will miss you. Someone else will move into your apartment, someone else will work your job. Someone else will park in your parking spot and take your seat on BART. You’ll be one less car in traffic. You’ll be one less person in line. There are too many people here who have no culture and no hustle. There are too many people who came here to work, and to just work, and not to contribute to how awesome the Bay Area is or work towards making it a better place. We’re sick of it. And we’re not going to miss you.
Yelp Girl took a hot button social issue and made it into the laughing stock of the Internet. Yelp Girl thought that being self serving would make her a champion of worker’s rights, but I wonder if even her coworkers agree with her. Her letter was exemplary of a poor education for which she paid too much and isn’t getting much out of. She has let us know that she is poor and that she comes from a poor family. But guess what: nobody cares. Nobody cares where you came from or where you’re going. Nobody cares about your personal story or your personal struggle because everyone is too busy caring about their own struggle. Yelp Girl might not know that the struggle is real; I, too, thought that I was going to have an apartment and a car and a cat and a boyfriend by this age. But, guess what: I don’t, and I’ve adapted to that. None of us do. The dream of the 90’s has failed all of us. And, sure, it might not be fair, but we live in a capitalist society, and this is the fucking rat race. Living with your parents is no longer a struggle, it’s now a leg up. Eating free food at your job isn’t a sign of shame, it’s how we eat now. Apparently asking for hand outs on the Internet isn’t embarrassing either! The world around us has changed, and we have to change with it. If we don’t like the way the world is changing, well then, it’s time for direct action. Anything less than direct action in the face of injustice is a cop out.