After a year that seemed to oscillate wildly between uncertainty and discovery, trauma and relief, heartache and connection, it can be hard to process what we and our city just went through. Perhaps it is fitting that for this unprecedented year, there is no script for how to commemorate its slow fizzle of an end.
That’s why Here/Say is launching an oral history project to help San Franciscans reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic. “Here/Hear: COVID Chronicles” invites San Franciscans—yes, you!—to dial in to a phone line and leave a voicemail describing your experience during lockdown or after getting vaccinated. Your voices and stories will be tagged, transcribed and translated into multiple languages before being placed onto a digital and immersive map of San Francisco that can be explored by computer or phone.
So tell the world your stories: the good, the bad, the sad, the anxious. We want to know about your quarantine hobbies, your close calls, your losses, your gains, your big laughs and big cries. What was it like to stay inside for a year? What was it like to report to the frontlines? What did you realize? What do you hope you’ll forget, and what do you want to remember? Who helped you through it all?
Read on for more about how to join us in this commemoration of San Francisco’s experience.
How do I participate?
Find a quiet spot and give us a ring at 415-573-3551.
Listen to our question prompts, choose one that speaks to you and take it away with your story. Think of it like an audio diary. You have up to five minutes to speak, so take your time.
Can you give me a peek at the prompts?
Sure thing! Below are the four questions we’re asking you to consider.
1. Is there a specific person who got you through the pandemic? What would you say to them?
2. Tell us about an interest or activity you discovered during lockdown. What has it meant to you?
3. Is there a story or experience that stands out from 2020, one that you don’t want to forget?
4. Have you been vaccinated? If yes, what has it changed for you?
How will this be used?
At this stage, we’re just collecting stories, but in a few weeks we’ll text you with follow-up questions.
We’ll ask you to share your name, email and ZIP code and to formally submit your story to our map. But don’t worry! We won’t share your name, phone number or email with anyone—that’s just useful information for us in case any of Here/Say Media’s journalists want to follow up with you about your story. We will use your ZIP code to plot your story onto our map.
We may post all or part of your submission to our audio map.
Need a little inspiration?
We’ll start—we had a few staff members record their own responses to get you thinking.
Transcript: A person who really got me through the pandemic was my mom. Which is a funny thing to say for a 30-year-old woman, but we went through a lot in 2020. I was living with her at the time because she had broken her ankle and so we were living together in the same household. And then the pandemic struck, and we were there together for, like, nine more months. And also at the time, I was working for a very small newspaper and we got even smaller—everyone was laid off except me. So I had this crazy job working all sorts of crazy hours to get this newspaper out every week and to serve a community of people and I couldn’t have done it without my mom. You know, it was funny because at the start of the pandemic I moved in to help take care of her—and I did—but really she took care of me just as much, if not more. So I’m really thankful to her for being there for me and helping me through that really crazy, difficult time in my career. Fortunately, I’ve moved onto greener pastures, but I’ll never forget that time with my mom when she was there for me. More than a mom. Just, you know, everything. So, thank you mom. I guess you’re never too old to say that.
Transcript: An activity that I discovered during lockdown was actually the purchase of my new drone to capture photos and video from high up over the landscape. I remember thinking it’d be a good way to learn something new to do. But in reality, when I started flying it and taking video from high up in the sky, it was almost a way to escape the confines of lockdown and be able to feel a sense of freedom that I hadn’t found since the beginning. I also remember that, when I started taking video and photos, I didn’t know how much of what I had taken would be shown anywhere. But the day came when the sky turned orange in San Francisco and through the Bay Area in 2020 due to the wildfires close by. And I remember getting out of bed early in the morning and taking video of this almost apocalyptic skyline sweeping around me and putting it online on my Instagram account, and then throughout the day seeing people from all over the Bay Area and in San Francisco particularly going outside and taking video and photo of this almost once-in-a-lifetime happening. And it seemed to me that we were all confined inside but, now more than ever, we had shown the ability to take our collective experience and share it with each other and take comfort and solace in the fact that we were all going through this together.
Transcript: George Floyd. When that happened in 2020, I think what I saw was an uprising nationwide of Black Americans saying we’re tired of getting shot by the police. But what was interesting was what I saw in San Francisco and my community—I’m from the Bayview district—and when I say everybody was part of every march…it was just amazing to see that. And it was something that I really had to step into and be a part of. It was different. It was emotional and powerful. And it’s a movement that I feel like is going to continue and will hopefully be successful. So, my first protest for George Floyd is what I remember at the beginning of the pandemic, because it happened towards when the shelter-in-place was. And everybody was like, ‘Nope. I gotta go out and I gotta protest.’ It was hard. We were all vulnerable. But look what happened. You know, this man is behind bars. And I really think my generation had a lot to do with that.
Transcript: I did get vaccinated and, I think for me, it has made it more possible for me to see my family and my parents. My parents also got vaccinated. And for us it’s just been awesome. Because we haven’t seen each other regularly in a while. And my dad has a chronic lung condition—Interstitial lung disease—and so with that it just made it really hard to actually feel comfortable or feel like it was worth it to put him at risk. Because it would probably have been pretty serious if he got COVID. And getting vaccinated just made it possible for us to get together and feel at ease and feel like, barring anything exceptional, he’s going to be okay and we’re not being irresponsible by seeing him. And I know for them, too, it’s also made it possible for them to see their grandchildren more which has been just great for their wellbeing, their overall mental health, and it just has meant that we’re able to start getting together again.
When will the project launch?
Check back in June to see the online map. We look forward to hearing your story and seeing you on the internet.