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Two Windows on the World, Viewed from Left to Right
By Olivia Boler
Noe Valley's residents and workers are reputed to be liberal, forward-thinking, and well-informed people, people concerned with issues beyond whether the TV sitcom Friends will be on for another season. Most recently, we have been jumping into the fray over our government's threatened actions against the nation of Iraq.
While most of us hold debates with friends and family, there are some who like to shout their opinions from the rooftops. In Downtown Noe Valley, two merchants whose views are on opposite ends of the political spectrum happen to have windows on the same block of 24th Street, and they use those windows without compunction. They are Global Exchange Fair Trade Craft Center and Twin Peaks Properties.
Global Exchange, Your Antiwar Headquarters
In the past few years, Global Exchange Fair Trade Craft Center, located at 4018 24th Street near Noe, has become a de facto Noe Valley center for peace activism. The window displays change at least monthly, but you can be sure to see posters declaring "Our Neighborhood Is a Hate-Free Zone," "Our Grief Is Not a Cry for War," and "10 Things You Can Do to Stop the War in [fill in the blank]."
According to store manager Shell Mae, people who want to protest the Bush administration's saber-rattling need only stop by Global Exchange to pick up the latest peace march information or sample letters to Congress.
"We have a lot of flyers here, and we post a list of current activities," says Mae, 38. "People can come here to talk to us, and we usually refer folks to our main office and our web site."
Mae says the store ran out of posters demanding "No War in Iraq" during the second week of October. However, it still has a good supply of "Top 10 Reasons Why the U.S. Should Not Invade Iraq," a flyer that also can be printed from its web site at www.globalexchange.org, along with a calendar of upcoming lectures, teach-ins, and peace rallies.
According to Mae, Global Exchange has become a kind of safe house for left-leaning activists, and most people who go there are familiar with the organization's credo: "Treat others as you would like to be treated." In Mae's three-and-a-half years as manager, only twice have individuals come into the store yelling and screaming about its liberal stance.
On the sad and shocking day of Sept. 11, 2001, Global Exchange opened its doors early and invited neighbors to come in and talk. No one bought anything, and Mae made coffee for everyone.
While the store's focus is "fair trade"--selling goods from Third World nations such as Peru, Ecuador, and Afghanistan so that the people who make them receive a fair price for their labor--working for peace is also near the top of the list. Mae feels that most of the store's employees and customers view war as a social justice and human rights issue and they look to Global Exchange to mobilize the anti-war effort.
They also decry racism, and what Mae says she and her Global Exchange colleagues call "Islamicism"--bias against Muslims, or anyone from an Arab country. She compares this attitude to the persecution of the Jews during World War II. "[Targeting Iraq] is the new cold war," she says with a sigh.
As for the threat of a hot war, Mae agrees with the views posted on the Global Exchange web site: The U.S. should not invade Iraq because there is no justification--our country has not been attacked, and there has been no proof of a connection between Iraq and the events of Sept. 11. Iraq does not pose a "clear and present danger"--in fact, war might make the U.S. more vulnerable because of the anti-American sentiment it would generate. A war would most likely cost billions of dollars, which would burden our country's weakened economy. And it would also cost thousands of lives--the lives of soldiers and civilians alike.
Mae says many neighborhood residents have expressed support for Global Exchange's sentiments, but she worries about the silent majority, who may be apathetic toward Bush's use of military force. "They should try to walk in the Iraqi people's shoes," she says. "They should try to think of them as a brother, lover, or friend."
Twin Peaks Properties: The Political Portal of Harry Aleo
A few doors away at 4072 24th Street (near Castro), a sign in the window of Twin Peaks Properties announces the real estate firm's 55th anniversary at that location and an invitation to the residents of "Loony Valley" to offer their congratulations via cell phone.
Yes, it's no secret that Twin Peaks proprietor Harry Aleo, 82, has been an outspoken champion of conservative causes for decades. And it's also no surprise that Aleo agrees with our government's current plans for dealing with Iraq.
On Oct. 7, President Bush gave a speech in Cincinnati meant to rouse Congressional support for a resolution giving him the authority to wage war on Iraq, should the country's leader, Saddam Hussein, fail to comply with United Nations weapons inspectors. The president claimed that war was a last resort and would only be used if diplomacy did not work. This is a position Aleo supports.
"Nobody, including myself, including anyone in the House of Representatives or the Senate, wants a war," says Aleo. "It's the last thing we want. What we do want is Iraq to abide by the resolutions of the last 10 years to give the U.N. inspectors unfettered access to its stockpile [of weapons]. If [Saddam Hussein] gives us that, there will be no need for war."
A veteran of World War II, in which he served for three years in Europe, Aleo nonetheless says he is opposed to going to war. Rather, he hopes the resolutions will force Hussein to comply and destroy his weapons of mass destruction.
"If [Hussein] wants to save his butt and his country, that's what he has to do. If he doesn't, the U.S. and our allies will take care of it ourselves."
When pressed, Aleo admits that Hussein might rebuff any tough resolution the United States or the United Nations authors, triggering a war, but he is firm in his position that our government cannot stand by and do nothing, especially since he suspects Hussein would give his weapons to terrorists who hate the U.S.
Though he often votes Republican, Aleo does not always agree with the Republican Party line, and he makes his opinions known, not just through his store window, but by writing letters to those in office. For example, he does not like the fact that President Bush is planning to grant amnesty to approximately three million "illegal aliens."
"There are nine million illegals in this country, and they are using up all our welfare money, using up our schools. Even if they are working here, they're illegal! They should not be in this country."
Aleo has dashed off a letter to Congress about this issue. "If something offends me, I'll write a letter."
He sometimes posts copies of letters he has written or received, both from detractors and supporters, in his storefront window. They are displayed against the backdrop of Old Glory and alongside newspaper clippings, political cartoons, and other neighborhood memorabilia that he thinks will interest people. He says his American flag has met with criticism, and has even been equated by some critics with a swastika.
"For the Fourth of July, I bought all these American flags to give away to the other merchants. Do you know how many came over to pick one up?" he asks. "Zero. In West Portal, 90 percent of the shops flew an American flag."
Clearly, Aleo, who was born in San Francisco and raised in Noe Valley but who now resides in West Portal, is disappointed with the lack of patriotism in the neighborhood.
However, he believes there are a number of closet conservatives in our midst. He says many people stop by to comment on his window, and sometimes they tell him they like what they see and agree with his sentiments.
Even Shell Mae of Global Exchange, whom you'd be hard-pressed to call a conservative, is happy that Aleo is outspoken about his political views.
"I think it's great that he's there and able to express himself," she says.
Thank goodness for Loony Valley: a haven of tolerance and free expression.