The agony and the ecstasy are intertwined in California’s countryside. Artichokes, freestone peaches, and Gravenstein apples are but a few of the vast number of crops grown in the Golden State, which were it a country, would be the sixth leading agricultural exporter in the world. For the workers whose hands create wealth out of nature, the agony has been ever-present, from the bloody repression of the 1913 Wobbly-led Wheatland hop pickers strike to the recent attempt by Southern California grocery workers to hold onto their health care and pensions.
In the late nineties, the San Francisco Bay Area was caught up in the mania of the high-tech, information-based “New Economy.” Venture capitalists threw money at e-commerce start-ups based on dicey premises, while loss-making companies raked in millions at their initial public offerings. In low income areas like the Mission District, dot-coms moved in, forcing out poor people whose only recourse was to organize themselves in anti-displacement coalitions and hope for the market to crash. In the fray, even a new type of gold digger emerged: women in search of nerdly adolescent millionaires with fat stock options. It was a stupefying time