In a fitting tribute to the first day of Women’s History Month, Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi—both of whom have strong ties to San Francisco—sat behind President Joe Biden as he delivered his first State of the Union Address. Also looming over the president’s shoulder: Record-high inflation, war in Europe and a surging opioid epidemic that’s taken more lives in North America than both world wars in the past 25 years, according to a recent report.
Biden did his best to strike a hopeful tone—highlighting record job creation and a receding pandemic while focusing on Ukraine’s fierce resistance against Russian forces. For those who tuned into the president’s speech at Manny’s—the Mission “community space” where local politicos and activists gather to sip coffee, drink beer and talk shop—there was plenty to celebrate, despite all the international and domestic uncertainty.
More than 30 people eventually wandered into Manny’s Tuesday night. The scene was a stark contrast from two years ago. Rather than gathering outside and wearing masks, patrons sat around mostly maskless, cheering the president when he said something that struck a chord.
Gil Bar-Or, a software engineer from Sunnyvale who phone banked for Biden at Manny’s during the 2020 election, said he was enthusiastic that the president seemed focused on expanding tech opportunities across the country. Biden spent part of his speech acknowledging the CEO of Intel, Pat Gelsinger, for investing in a computer chip manufacturing plant in Ohio—a part of the country known more for dying company towns than thriving tech startups.
“It’s one thing I’ve always wondered growing up in Silicon Valley, how can we spread the wealth,” Bar-Or said.
Tech wasn’t the only issue that hit close to home for San Franciscans. Those working on the frontlines of the city’s overdose epidemic also expressed optimism to hear Biden utter the words “harm reduction.”
“Biden understands, very clearly, that harm reduction and recovery aren’t oppositional to each other,” Gary Mccoy, director of policy at HealthRight 360—one of the city’s largest addiction treatment providers—wrote in a statement to The Standard. “As a person in recovery, I got emotional hearing him celebrate the 23 million of us in recovery.”
Though only one person at Manny’s noted he was disappointed with Biden’s assertion that American cities need to “fund the police,” the comment drew some pointed reactions from locals on Twitter.
The founder of the District Attorney recall, Richie Greenberg, tweeted that funding the police “will not go over well in San Francisco.”
In addition to praising “the iron will of the Ukrainian people” for resisting “Putin’s war,” the president also sought to reassure Americans.
“I want you to know that we are going to be OK,” Biden said, noting that the tragedy of war has had at least one positive side effect: “We see unity among the people who are gathering in cities in large crowds around the world even in Russia to demonstrate their support for Ukraine.”
He also worked to reassure Americans that the war would not hurt the economy, though academics and casual observers have been able to see the effects of the conflict at the pump.
At the gas station two blocks down from Manny’s, unleaded gas cost $4.69 per gallon.
SF State economics professor Venoo Kakar said that reducing gas prices is essential to lowering the prices of everything else, and is a key factor in controlling inflation. Biden touted that he and 30 other countries had tapped into 60 million barrels of oil to try and diminish the economic impact of Russia’s invasion.
“It’s all contingent on gas prices,” Kakar said. “He made the speech, that’s good, but now we have to wait and see.”David Sjostedt can be reached at [email protected].