After very uneventful and sleep-filled flights we’ve officially kicked off the tour in San Francisco! We were instantly overwhelmed with the scale of the US – from the formidable SF airport to the 10 lane freeways into the city. Entering the city at night, we had a quick orientation around our character-filled Tenderloin hostel before a much needed sleep in proper beds!
The city welcomed us with grey skies, constant drizzle and a long wait in a T-Mobile store for US SIM cards where we were mercifully reunited with our beloved internet and links back home. We then began our ‘city wander’, which encompassed the windy Lombard St and spectacular views of the steep gridded city roads, as well as a quick jaunt through Chinatown and the financial district.
We headed to our first meeting with Jessica Olsen, a climate activist from the Sierra Club. Our discussion mainly centred around the intersectionality of climate change and social justice issues like feminism and racism. Although climate change is certain to affect us all, her work has largely centred on how it will doubly affect those already at social and economic disadvantage. Three quarters of those displaced by climate change and environmental disasters are women, yet at important climate summits like COP21 women were only 34% of negotiation teams, with only 14% of lead negotiators female. In the midst of American primaries (their elections for party nominees) we also got some great discussion in about how NGOs like Sierra club work with and against the politics of the countries they function in. She was incredibly inspiring and everyone came away feeling like we had learnt a huge amount from her.
Our UN-loving selves then bonded while walking down the UN plaza and reading the Charter on the pavement. This ended us in the magnificent City Hall, where we witnessed multiple weddings in the half hour we were there.
We were then directed to the supermarket to buy ingredients for a Masterchef style cook-off. This included a ‘Garlic-gate Bridge’ and San Fran Fog inspired pasta (his name is Karl, check the twitter). Returning back to the hostel we were struck with the incredible scale of poverty in the Tenderloin (the area of the city we were staying in), such a stark difference from the glamorous parts of the city we had spent the day in. This has been a huge part of the educational experience for many of us growing up in cities where the poverty is not as prevalent, and it opened our eyes to the lack of support so many vulnerable people have in the States.
We started the day early with a ferry ride to Alcatraz Island where the Bay Bridge was temporarily mistaken for the Golden Gate by some (hoping it would be more red on closer look). Through an audio tour we learnt about the extensive history of the island – largely focusing on its few decades as a prison. There were also fascinating exhibitions on prisoners of age in the US, as well as of the Native American occupation of the island during their civil rights campaign. Upon returning to the city we had lunch at Fishermans Wharf – a beautiful tourist trap of giftshops, seals and seafood – and then walked to Ghirardelli’s for shared (US scale) Sundaes. This was followed by shopping in Union Square for some and a tour of the USS Pampanito for others (an authentic submarine at Fisherman’s wharf). After riding on the iconic San Fran cable cars, the day ended under exploding fireworks for the opening of the week long celebrations for the 50th Super Bowl being held in San Francisco next weekend. We jammed out to the sweet tunes of Chris Isaak and his mate Scotty amongst thousands of others, before finishing off the night in a classic American diner!
We’re now looking forward to the next few days for meetings, check the blog soon for updates!
Written by: Sophie Hudson and Roshana Ching