Google Protests: Saving Our Funky Shops and Flamboyant Political Theaters

hyphyGoogleFrom Hyphenated Republic

A recent New York Times piece on Google Bus and Anti-Google actions in the SF Bay Area holds some unlikely insights for those seeking to fight gentrification in San Francisco and Oakland.

“Demonstrators regularly block the shuttles. Last week, a group of activists stalked a Google engineer at his East Bay house, urging the masses to “Fight evil. Join the revolution. One neighbor speculated that the protesters were associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“It felt like regular old Berkeley behavior, to tell you the truth,” another said.

In many ways, it was. Mr. Levandowski’s house used to be a part of a small informal commune in the late 1960s. Tom Hayden, a founding member of the radical group Students for a Democratic Society, lived there.

Conditions are ripe for another large-scale protest movement, Mr. Hayden said in an interview.”

The author continues along this line for a bit, wondering if there will be an “Occupy Silicon Valley” and even takes a moment to separate the idea of “protesters” from “community”. Someone unfamiliar with discussions in activist circles about the protests, would be pardoned for being surprised that the protests were ostensibly anti-gentrification actions.

Nevertheless, one can’t fault the New York Times reporter for coming to such conclusions. Both in San Francisco, and especially in Oakland, the character of the actions left little doubt about the demographic behind them. They were indeed, what one of the interviewed experts describes as…

“… a very large, frustrated younger population watching the middle class disappear before their eyes just as they prepare to go into it [with a] a rising, serious hostility against Google…part of a class struggle around the means of producing information.”

Certainly projecting this image has not been the intention of anyone I’ve spoken to who was involved in, or supported, the actions. The opposite is true, in fact, that most protesters honestly believed they were also representing the powerless, those mostly people of color being priced out of their homes and forced out of their social and economic public space. But just as certainly it should not come as a real surprise to anyone that this is exactly how the actions are not being interpreted.

In San Francisco, the actions have at least been portrayed as being anti-eviction and there have been some instances of mentioning gentrification—though without any historical reference and scarce race or class component. It’s not surprising that in almost every report, journalists could not find a person of color to speak to at the demonstrations who could talk about gentrification and how it has already changed the low-income neighborhoods targeted before the tech boom.

And, of course, they would obviously not look very hard away from the crowd—the labor organizer who created a minor sensation by posing as a Google employee got more time at the mic than any person of color in danger of being displaced in the Mission district.

But even the minor contextualization and mention of displacement from the San Francisco conversation is missing in stories that focused on Oakland’s google flavored actions. The Guardian’s report on the action at the house of Google Engineer Anthony Levandowski focused on the group’s anti-surveillance message, citing the complaints in their literature about Levandowski’s work on “surveillance, control and automation” but not gentrification.

The issue of gentrification in the Bay Area is now obscured with a decidedly middle-class centered media focus–in San Francisco, the middle class is being “priced out” while in Oakland it is a middle class anarchist versus tech class battle. Natasha Lennard, in Salon, also wrote an entire ode to aggressive tactics against Google, but barely mentioned the idea of gentrification in the context of them.

Read the entire article on Hyphenated-Republic.


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