Book Review: Public Matters
By: Betsabe Morales
The 80s were a decade of roar and revolution as citizens felt more empowered than ever to voice their concerns through public demonstrations. Under the Reagan administration, significant tax cuts on the rich and reduced support for social services were not an easy pill to swallow for local, poorer communities. San Francisco remained a place dedicated to maintaining progressive ideals and principles despite the odds. Janet Delaney documents the excitement and intensity of a POC population protesting San Francisco’s rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods.
Predominately populated by Latin American immigrants, Mission District, San Francisco was a prime hub for cultural celebrations and protests against injustice. Like many activists and artists, Janet Delaney found Mission District ideal thanks to its affordable rent and culturally diverse population. She quickly assimilated to the lifestyle eating at local taquerias, supporting surrounding tiendas, and attending cultural celebrations. Delaney mentions the lack of cameras during these events compelled her to keep up with documenting these moments for the community. Attending public gatherings almost every weekend, Delaney found herself documenting snapshots of intimate moments and empowered voices.
Resembling a look-book, Public Matters highlights an 80s style aesthetic for Latino immigrants, students in uniform, street party goers, dancers, and union organizers. Community members carrying signs with politically charged messages chanting against Reagans ideological turn to the right-wing takes over most of the photographs. A sense of loyalty to the neighborhood is emphasized in shots of locals waiting behind barricades to cheer on those parading the streets. As much as these photos carry a heavy political message, the tone of the photographs convey togetherness rather than anger. The in-between shots of children, couples on dates at a carnival, and neighborhood hang outs transports the viewer back in time as if they were apart of Mission District.
Public Matters showcases a community fighting against displacement at the hands of gentrification and celebrating strong ties to their cultural roots to keep community spirit alive. Inspired by the energy of parades and assemblies, Delaney captured the essence of solidarity as the people of Mission District assembled together for justice. As a community that struggled at the hands of an arbitrary Reagan administration, Mission Districts story parallels communities who face the ramifications of the Trump Administration today. Facing constant backlash for his heinous policies, Trump has inadvertently caused a rise in protests and encouraged mobilization to assemble during the last two years. Delaneys photos are a reminder to not back down without a fight and remain diligent in the name of justice. Her work serves as a source of inspiration, a call to action, and hope during these trying times.