Ted's Dead: obituary for Ted Gullicksen, Homes not Jails, San Francisco (1 Viewer)

tony longshanks

Mar 21, 2016
Greenbrae, CA
Ted's Dead
by tony longshanks

This is a belated eulogy for Ted Gullicksen, longtime director (or in his own humble words, “office manager”) of the San Francisco Tenants Union (SFTU) and co-founder of Homes not Jails, who was found dead in his bed on the morning of October 14th, 2014.

I was a member of Homes Not Jails in its last or latest incarnation, from 2011 to 2013---an experience that forever altered the course of my life. Ted co-founded HnJ in 1992 (although in some peoples' accounts, it preexisted its official founding) as the direct-action arm of the SFTU. It was or is 1a squatters group that organized public housing takeovers as well as opening up squats out of the public eye for the practical purpose of housing the ever-increasing number of people who can't afford rent in San Francisco.

I did not know Ted personally, beyond saying “Hi” to him when I ran into him walking his little dog, Falkor, in the Mission, or glimpses caught of him sitting in the front yard of the SFTU having a smoke with one or other of his colleagues; nonetheless, he had a big influence on my life indirectly, and so often during those years when I discovered (and fell in love with) life as a squatter he was just out of frame as it were, barely one step removed from my orbit. I wrote asking if he'd let me interview him about the history of Homes not Jails for a zine I was doing in 2011; he replied with a time slot. It's been said in the media that Ted never turned down a media request, and I can vouch for that; I was a nobody with a little zine read by a few dozen people, yet he was willing to drop his work at the TU and devote time to me and my questions. I'm the one who ended up flaking out; I was wrestling with addiction and in full retreat from reality at the time, and missed all sorts of things I should've been part of.

During the time I was a member of HnJ, we had an office in the basement of the SFTU, which I loved for the way it symbolized the fact that legal advocacy and ballot measures on behalf of tenants are coupled with underground, direct-action tactics. The situation so beautifully summed up in a quote of Ted's 2: “Homes not Jails is the only organization that writes laws during the day, and breaks them at night.”

The remembrance of this quote marks the single most moving moment during Ted's memorial. (More on that below.)

When I heard that Ted had died---the same day that the SF Bay Guardian was abruptly shut down by its new corporate owners, after 40 years---it was like the full weight of my remorse for all the things I'd missed over the past couple years hit me at once. As a direct result of that shock, I began to get my shit together and re-emerge into the real world. I started several new volunteer gigs, including training as a tenant rights counselor at the SFTU.

At the SFTU I shadowed one of their longtime counselors, a great lady from Texas who was a treat just to listen to. She always took the time to go in-depth with each person she talked to, and she made each session entertaining as well as informative. Whenever she alluded to Ted---'Gull,' as she and others had referred to him, affectionately---my ears perked up. Once when she was stumped on a question, she murmured, “This is where Ted would be able to tell me...” Another time, I listened while she explained to a tenant how “our brilliant director, who passed away recently,” had basically tricked the opposition---the landlord lobby, property speculators, the profits-over-people crowd---into compromising away condominium conversions in the city for the foreseeable future.3 As I listened to her talk, I understood Ted's role in local politics, his vaunted acumen, his strategic genius that had sustained the SFTU and won a string of victories for tenants through the years. “He was brilliant,” she said, with tremendous stress on the last word.

The interim director of the SFTU when I was there, a young guy named Andrew who was filling the Ted shoes until they hired a permanent replacement, approached me once to say, “I realize you might be able to gain access to the building after hours, and that concerns me a bit.” Knowing my past as a member of Homes not Jails, which doubtless had involved sneaking into buildings like spider-man at wee hours of the night, he was worried I might try to pull something shady on them!

“I'm not out to hurt or steal from people I consider my allies,” I answered him, truthfully.

As a matter of fact, my dark ulterior motive in volunteering at the TU was to find out more about Ted---his mysterious death, the condition he'd been in beforehand... If there was any reason to believe foul play was involved, I fantasized about writing an expose of the truth that would avenge Ted, give the opposition a karmic kick in the ass, and make up for my own reprehensible absence in the recent past.

It's legitimate to question the circumstances around his death, since it occurred in the midst of a heated battle over Proposition G, a measure that would have taxed the obscene profits speculators make by “flipping” properties in San Francisco. “As of this writing, housing organizers in San Francisco are preparing an anti-speculation measure for the November 2014 ballot,” writes activist James Tracy in his recently published book Dispatches Against Displacement: Field Notes From San Francisco's Housing Wars. “It is an important moment, as it signals a new willingness to challenge the foundations of the displacement crisis.”4 Harvey Milk is said to have sponsored a similar piece of legislation shortly before his assassination in 1978.

Ted co-wrote the draft version of Prop G.

By the time I materialized on the scene at the TU, I found those folks burnt out on the issue and most of them didn't want to talk about Ted. What I did glean seemed to speak against a conspiracy theory: Ted, a couple people told me, had not been healthy for quite a while before his death. “He was sick, very sick.” “He chain-smoked, he ate a lot of donuts... he never went to the doctor.” “It was probably a hard attack.”

Still, there's weirdness around it, for those who care to explore the matter. One man who was determined to get to the bottom of the matter months after Ted's death went round and round with the medical examiner's office to obtain a copy of his death certificate, only to find that some of the info had been redacted.5

Nonetheless, I've washed my hands of the matter. The people closest to Ted would be the ones to raise the issue if it needed to be raised, and they have not done so.

Prop G, which should have been Ted's legacy, was voted down by a narrow majority in the November 2014 election. Since then, friends of mine who still live in SF have told me the housing battle has devolved into “a straight-up street fight.”

Ted is not remembered fondly by all. It seems he was not the most touchy-feely guy; adjectives like “gruff” are often used to describe him, and one person even told me “he was a man of very few words, and none of them were nice.”

But that needs to be balanced against his lifelong commitment to tenant's rights that is nothing short of amazing. “He helped so many people, it's unbelievable,” said a friend of mine, a member of the SPAZ collective6 who participated in Ted's memorial.

That memorial, held at Mission High School in the month following Ted's death, is adequate testimony to the man's impact, and to the fact that, despite his prickly personality, he was greatly loved by his city. Hundreds of people packed the Mission High auditorium for a two-hour service that forced the local press---who had tried to belittle Ted's passing early on as a matter of import to only a dwindling puddle of activists---to eat its noxious words. People were making banners, creativity was in the air, and there were moving speeches---particularly those by Mara Raider, who shared memories of Homes not Jails in its early days (of the time Ted used super glue to jam the locks in a BART station and prevent the cops from evicting the homeless!), and Rebecca Gourevitch (“Ted, for me, was life-changing”), whose beautifully delivered eulogy near the end of the service brought tears to many eyes (including mine).7

What a world! Ted's dead, and we're stuck with Ed.8 Is there no justice? StP may not be known for poetry, but it feels right to close with this little number I wrote shortly after I heard of his death.

There goes the man on his bike
61 years old & looking for squats
down the hill on his bike, there he goes
the best of us
(though not the last of us)
the uncrowned king
the soul of SF
for the last time
wish I'd known
have a safe ride home...


1An East Bay version of HnJ may still be active, you could write to [email protected] to find out.

2[note deleted]


4Dispatches Against Displacement, published by AK Press in late 2014. The quotes are from p. 110; earlier, on p. 29, Tracy describes an HnJ-sponsored public housing takeover, and Ted's role therein.

5See www.indybay.org/newsitems/2015/03/14/18769972.php, or just do a search for “What Killed Ted Gullicksen.” It's a two-part article, but the second part summarizes the first, so you only really need to read the second one. Michael Steinberg is the author.

6Semi-Permanent Autonomous Zone, see spaz.org

7A video of the full memorial is available on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=r28D_jM7qxw

8San Francisco mayor Ed Lee. Who, incidentally, called Ted's passing “a loss for our city.” See sfist.com/2014/10/14/report_sf_tenants_union_head_ted_gu.php
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Sometimes traveler is traveling.
Jul 28, 2011
Rochester, NY
That is one cool eulogy dude. Thank you. One suggestion would be to tweak the STP title to include maybe in parentheses - first and last name and affiliation perhaps - leave it up to you - this is just for searching possibilities in the future and for people to realize more who he was.

But really this is a well written and heart felt article about a man who worked for his community. Thanks Tony. <3

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