Update 2 p.m.: Our local “Google bus” protests took a turn today as a total of three buses were stopped in actions in San Francisco and Oakland, where one of the vehicles was vandalized.
In San Francisco, a bus carrying Apple employees was blocked during the morning rush hour by protesters at 24th and Valencia streets. The action, carried out by activists seeking city action to halt evictions in the Mission District and elsewhere amid an influx of technology workers, was a sequel to one on Dec. 9 in which a Google bus was halted at the same corner.
In Oakland, one bus was stopped at the MacArthur BART station. The second incident happened at 7th and Adeline streets near the West Oakland BART station. Demonstrators there not only displayed banners, including one that said “F*** Off Google,” but also broke windows on one bus and caused other damage. Google confirmed the West Oakland incident to KQED News reporter Sam Harnett.
The character of the West Oakland incident seems much more aggressive and hostile toward Google and its employees than bus-related protests in San Francisco, which have been nonviolent and focused specifically on the displacement of residents from the Mission District as employees of technology firms bid up rents and home prices. During this morning’s San Francisco action, demonstrators went through the motions, at least, of reaching out to Apple employees inside the bus, urging them to join the protest. (None did, so far as we’ve heard.)
The Bay Area Council, a business group that reportedly represents 30 of the shuttle bus operators in their dealings with San Francisco officials, issued a statement saying “the vandalism and violence against employee shuttles and the workers who ride them is unfortunate and unacceptable.”
Activist media site IndyBay carried this rather impressionistic account of what happened at 7th and Adeline:
At 8:15, a small group of people met at 7th and Adeline in West Oakland. Down the street, over 20 employees of Google were queued up, waiting for their giant white bus to take them to their Mountain View headquarters. When it arrived, a kind young man, homeless and unemployed, boarded the bus with the employees.
While they took their seats, several people unfurled two giant banners reading “TECHIES: Your World Is Not Welcome Here” and “F*** OFF GOOGLE.” They offered fliers to the passengers but they were refused. One passenger tried to take someone’s bicycle, but they were repelled. Inside the bus, the other passengers slowly became aware of what was happening outside. One female passenger suddenly remarked, “The protesters are at it again.”
The kind young man on the bus urgently approached the bus driver and began asking,
“Bus driver, what are you gonna do, man? What are you gonna do?”
“Don’t worry. It’s freedom of speech, freedom of speech.”
The kind young man then walked to the rear of the bus, saying,
“Oh my god! What’s gonna happen next?”
The same female passenger took out her phone and began filming the blockade.
“At least we’re warm in here and they’re cold out there,” she said.
Almost on cue, a person appeared from behind the bus and quickly smashed the whole of the rear window, making glass rain down on the street. Cold air blew inside the bus and the blockaders with their banners departed. The kind young man left the bus and outside someone threw fliers with a smiley face logo and the message ‘disrupt google’ into the air.
After this the bus remained where it was, blocked for the time being. Several more people arrived while the stranded Google employees began collecting the fliers off the street. The bus remained where it was, the thought of driving to Mountain View with a broken window and flooded with cold air an unthinkable horror they could not endure. Another crowd assembled near the bus pickup zone and within the hour the blockade began again.
Here’s a link to a Twitter image of the protest as seen from inside the Google bus:
My Gbus got hit by protesters in Oakland and they broke a window. pic.twitter.com/VGCyhBLgyd
— Craig Frost (@craigsfrost) December 20, 2013
And here’s the beginning of the text of the flyer the West Oakland protesters were distributing:
“In case you’re wondering why this happened, we’ll be extremely clear. The people outside your Google bus serve you coffee, watch your kids, have sex with you for money, make you food, and are being driven out of their neighborhoods. While you guys live fat as hogs with your free 24/7 buffets, everyone else is scraping the bottom of their wallets, b arely existing in this expensive world that you and your chums have helped create.
(Full text of the flyer: Google Bus Protesters’ Manifesto: ‘Get Out of Oakland!’)
In its statement on today’s bus incidents, the Bay Area Council said the protests do nothing to address the underlying causes of the housing challenges facing the region:
The anger and frustration that some residents feel about rising home prices and rents, growing evictions, increasing traffic is understandable. But blaming a single industry and a single group of workers is unfair, misguided and misdirected. Many of these problems are directly related to the simple fact that the Bay Area over the past 30 years has failed to produce sufficient housing across all income levels to meet the needs of our growing economy. We also have failed to invest adequately to expand and maintain our transportation infrastructure. We must acknowledge the pain that many residents are feeling as our economy grows, but the solution to these issues resides in working together to expand our housing supply, invest in transit and transportation and helping those who are directly affected by the changes we’re experiencing.”
Original post: San Francisco anti-eviction activists have taken to the streets to block Silicon Valley-bound buses this morning. Several dozen protesters at 24th and Valencia streets in San Francisco blocked a bus carrying Apple employees. A protest at the same corner on Dec. 9 targeted a Google bus. (That action featured an apparently impromptu performance by an Oakland labor activist who, suggesting he was a Google employee enraged at the delay in getting to work, told the protesters they needed to get out of San Francisco and find someplace they could afford to live.)
Some of those in this morning’s crowd carried banners, including one urging passengers to get off the bus and join the protest. The picture above is from KQED News producer Vinnee Tong, who just happened to be passing the corner of 24th and Valencia while the protest was under way.
A second bus, this one headed for Google’s Mountain View campus, was blocked this morning by protesters at Oakland’s MacArthur BART station. Here’s a picture of that from KQED News reporter Grace Rubenstein:
This month’s protests have carried a double-edged message. They’re focused partly on the displacement of apartment tenants across the city as well-paid technology sector workers crowding into the city drive up rental prices. And the actions are also targeting the fact that fleets of Silicon Valley buses are using Muni bus stops and other infrastructure without paying for it. Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle’s Kurtis Alexander on today’s protest and the background context:
Friday’s action, taken by a few dozen demonstrators, began shortly before 9 a.m. on southbound Valencia Street at 24th Street. It wasn’t immediately clear which company the shuttle belonged to. The blockade didn’t last long, as police soon arrived and protesters followed their orders to move to the sidewalk. The bus departed at 9:20 a.m.
This time, nobody pretended to be an entitled techie.
Tony Robles, who works for a nonprofit group that advocates for seniors and the disabled , said he joined the rally to call attention to rising rents that displaced vulnerable residents. “We’re here to send a message to the rich tech companies that their business has ramifications and consequences,” he said.
Efforts to talk to the bus riders were unsuccessful.
Business leaders have said the backlash against the tech buses doesn’t make sense, as the buses take solo drivers off the roads. According to the Bay Area Council, a business group that represents the shuttle operators, 30 companies run the buses and make a combined total of 4,000 stops across San Francisco every weekday.
Currently, those buses are using Muni stops without permission and without paying a cent.