It’s a beautiful fall afternoon in San Francisco. The previous night’s rain left the air feeling clean and crisp as I bike up Folsom Street, passing 14th Street. I see a huge mural of Yolanda López, an activist in the Chicano civil rights movement, with the words “Basta Ya!” in big red letters. I have officially made it to the Mission District.
The mural rests on Casa Adelante, the Mission’s only affordable and electric building, which took decades of activism to make a reality. The multi-use space provides housing for some of the roughly 8,000 families that have been priced out of the neighborhood over the past two decades, as well as community-led organizations occupying the ground floor. The building stands as a reminder of what the hard work of community activism can actually achieve.
López grew up in San Diego and moved to the Bay Area in the ’60s with the goal of studying art at San Francisco State University. There, she became involved with student activism. She joined a group called Los Siete de la Raza (The Seven of the Hispanic Community) that was involved in an infamous police altercation in 1969 making them a Mission cause celebre. The group created Basta Ya!, a street-focused newspaper. The publication covered the injustice at the hands of the Mission Police. She received guidance from Emory Douglass of the Black Panthers who taught her some tricks and trades of newspaper distribution. While López would eventually move back to Southern California, it was her time in the Bay Area that kick-started her career both as an artist and an activist. Her work was empowering to women, as she was most well known for her reimagined depictions of the Virgen de Guadalupe (Virgin Mary). López passed away in September 2021, but her inspirational persona continues to fuel the Mission.
The more I bike up Folsom, the more trees I start to see. Some are still green, while others are starting to turn yellow and drop their leaves. Turning on 22nd, I see a Muni bus pass by a few blocks down on Mission Street. I’m almost there. I’m on my way to Mission Cannabis Club to meet a colleague at their smoking lounge, which has been providing cannabis to the people since 2010. Formally known as Shambhala, Mission Cannabis Club re-opened in 2020 with the addition of a consumption lounge.
To enter the lounge, one must purchase something at the dispensary. Sometimes, I grab an infused beverage, but this time I chose a single pre-roll. One of the budtenders guides me up the stairs. We pass through a golden-framed glass door and into the lounge. We walk over to a booth and take a seat. The brown leather seats wrap around in a U shape with small, square wooden tables in the center. The lights are dim and there’s hip-hop music coming from the speakers above. The walls are covered in an eclectic mural with classic stoner imagery, including peace signs, smiley faces, burning joints and even the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. The original version by John Tenniel, not the Walt Disney characterization.
In the back of the lounge, there’s a “bud bar” marked by a red LED sign where customers can sample some of the product on sale downstairs. Brands pop up regularly to interact with customers and educate people on their product. The flat-screen TV on the wall opposite the bar has a video of swimming jellyfish on a loop. There are a few individuals sitting in booths on opposite ends of the room, sitting on their laptops with their headphones on. It’s about 3 pm; the day is still early. Behind me, there’s a self-service vinyl station stacked with trendy records. The pink neon sign overhead needs some repair, but the record player is spinning.
My colleague and I share a joint while we discuss various ongoing projects. We spend an hour or so chatting and in that time a few groups of people come and go. A young Hispanic couple share a joint and quickly leave. A group of five or six tourists take up a corner of the large booth in the center of the room. For some people, stopping by the lounge is a staple in their daily routine—so much so that the Mission Cannabis Club is launching a program where individuals can rent lockboxes in the dispensary to store their personal stash of flower. These customers will also be able to enter the lounge without having to make an additional purchase. Cool idea.
For those visiting San Francisco, this is a must-see when exploring The Mission. After a session at the lounge, the street art and authentic Mexican restaurants surrounding the neighborhood will be that much more intriguing. If there’s one thing I know about the Mission, it’s that there’s never a dull moment.
We wrap it up after one more joint and head our separate ways. I hop on my bike and set off for my next destination. The sun is beginning to set, and the air is getting colder as I bike up to my favorite bakery on 24th and Mission. It’s hard to say what the neighborhood will look like in another 10 or 20 years, but I believe the spirit of activists precisely like Yolanda López will keep the people of the Mission fighting for their slice of San Francisco. I’m pretty sure they’ve earned it.