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Equipto Doubles Down on Ed Lee's Disgrace 

Wednesday, Oct 14 2015
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Ilyich Sato's introduction to politics was through his parents, trade union members and activists who raised him in a San Francisco home with posters of Che Guevara and Lenin on the walls.

Sato, known in the Bay Area hip-hop scene as Equipto, was also introduced to music through his parents, who gave him Run DMC's first record for Christmas one year.

This week, at least, Equipto is best-known as the man who angrily confronted Mayor Ed Lee during a chance encounter in a restaurant. In a video posted to social media and shared around the world, Equipto told Lee in a heated, one-sided volley that — among other things — the first Chinese-American mayor of a major American city is a "disgrace to Asians."

Last week, we sat down with Equipto after he got off work from his day job as a preschool teacher on Valencia Street. (He's also scheduled to perform with A-Plus of the Hieroglyphics crew on Nov. 5 at the Brick and Mortar Music Hall).

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

SF Weekly: Set the scene for us.

EQUIPTO: I'm at Max's Opera Cafe, I'm there with my family, and we're about to go see the Panther movie [The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution]. I'm sitting there with my mom and my sister and my nephews, and it was my mom who brought it to my attention. "Look who's sitting over there." Ten feet away.

Personally, I'm in a bad mood. I'm dealing with music, trying to put together a tour by myself, and I'd just gotten off of work. But I see him, and I'm thinking, "I gotta say something." I said, "I'm gonna say something to this dude Ed Lee." I put it on Facebook, "I'm sitting next to Ed Lee. Something's gonna happen."

In my mind, when I envisioned it, he was still gonna be sitting down, and I was gonna go to shake his hand and pull back and say, "No, you're a piece of shit."

I honestly didn't think about the impact it was going to make. But I was thinking of my nephews. I was thinking, "This would be good to represent and show what it's all about."

I'm there, and I'm wondering why nobody's even talking to this guy right now. This guy is throwing people out onto the street, disgracing San Francisco, and he's having a quiet meal? In a public place? That should not be happening.

We should be able to talk to this guy. You don't have to set up a meeting. He only has a meeting when there's money under the table, so there's no way he's gonna meet with me.

People there were afraid to say anything. They were just gonna eat their meal and go home to the same shit. I could have been that same person and gone home and felt like that. But all night, I would have been like, "I should have said something."

SFW: What did you mean he was a disgrace to Asians?

E: My family (Equipto's father was born in a Japanese internment camp during World War II) and all the Asians that I'm involved with are wholeheartedly beautiful people who sacrificed their lives for the struggle. We need to be aware of how much, during the civil rights struggle, the black man helped us out. We don't acknowledge that. We're, "We got our thing going on, let's just keep going." That shit ain't cool. That's not how I was raised.

[Mayor Lee] is disconnected with the struggle. He's disconnected, but he knows. There's no way in the world he doesn't know. He's being a yes man with people around him, 'Take the money, honey,' from bigwigs to his wife. But that's what happens. You hang around ten corrupt people, you're gonna be the eleventh. Believe that.

Almost what I mean was, the disgrace is what he can do... all the possibilities, all the things he can do.

I wanted to let him know that as an Asian, as a Japanese-American, that I am embarrassed he's San Francisco's mayor and doing things like this.

SFW: If you could do it again, would you say the same things?

E: I'd just add onto it.

A couple people are trying to get me to sit down with him — a person who works for the mayor, in the mayor's office, is trying to get me to sit down with him. It's a trip. I'm open to it. I definitely would do it. I'm like, this is my duty now. And if not, I'll see him again. There'll be another Max's.

I'm not gonna apologize to him for nothing. For what? What did I do? I spoke my mind to the mayor of our city. I'd still call him a disgrace to Asians and say he should be ashamed of himself. I'd still say he's a disgrace. Because he is.

I only raised my voice at the end because he started walking away. And he sort of shrugged his shoulders, like, "Oh well!"

SFW: Now what? Are people going to vote him out? (Lee is heavily favored to win a second term, against a field of first-time candidates with little financial and institutional support. Equipto, for his part, is supporting Amy Farrah-Weiss for mayor.)

E: Most people I talk to in my circle don't care. They may say they care but that's through their actions. You can't believe anyone who says "Free Mumia" or "Free Palestine" if they're not doing anything or contributing.

For most people, [the election] is definitely not a priority. When I mention it to them they say, "Oh yeah it's coming up?" That's sad, too.

This is part of the awakening we need to do within our own circle. A lot of my family, my friends, they've lost faith in the system. A lot of people think voting gets fixed. And you talk about momentum? All the media coverage is like, "He [Ed Lee] is gonna win by a landslide." That discourages the people. "He's gonna win by a landslide?" Why even vote?

A lot of people are just into our selfish survival. We're into our daily planning.

I wasn't so far away from the percentage of not giving a damn. But I had a change of heart. I had a sense of reality for what can really happen to this city. And I won't stop for nothing.

This is a do-or-die election. Because another four years of Ed Lee is destruction. We've already seen what happened — imagine him with a new term.


About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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