The Evolution of Protest: The Bay Area Has Been Shaped by Dissent, But No One Can Stand in the Way of What's Coming.

The Evolution of Protest: The Bay Area Has Been Shaped by Dissent, But No One Can Stand in the Way of What's Coming.
Fred Noland

The first salvo in the great tech-bus wars was fired on a crisp Friday morning in December. News from the front was, of course, live-tweeted.

The correspondent in this case was Craig Frost, a Google employee whose charter bus ambled toward a busy intersection at Seventh and Adeline streets in Oakland around 8:30 a.m., only to be blocked by a man in a trucker hat, and a woman in sunglasses. They unfurled a banner. It read "Fuck Off Google."

Frost tweeted the next sequence of events as other protesters gathered around the bus. Someone hurled a blunt object — either a rock or a sparkplug, Frost thought — and shattered one of the vehicle's side windows. When protesters dispersed, they left behind stray paper fliers with a typed-out manifesto.

"In case you're wondering why this is happening, we'll be extremely clear," the piece began. "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."

The tech charter buses — big, sleek, equipped with Wi-Fi and upholstered seating — have come to signify the Bay Area's nouveau riche, many of whom travel 30 or 40 miles each way to their jobs in Silicon Valley. By enabling that commute, the buses allow tech employees to live in San Francisco, Oakland, or Berkeley, where they raise the median income, ratchet up local real estate prices, and transform working-class neighborhoods into chi-chi retail corridors. In the process, they have displaced long-time residents and helped transform the urban environment through a concatenation of circumstances that no single Google employee could control.

"You are not innocent victims," the flier went on. "Without you, the housing prices would not be rising, and we would not be facing eviction and foreclosure."

Frost explained, in a series of tweets, that he'd moved to the Bay Area from Los Angeles to be closer to his in-laws, and that he drives a full hour to Oakland to catch the bus to Mountain View, for a job he started in January. "I can't afford to live closer," he tweeted, woefully, to the metro journalists who began following his feed for protest updates. "...When my lease is up I may try to move closer. It's not about me you know. My wife has a job close to where we are now."

Frost's tweets — captured, screen-grabbed, and reprinted in numerous media blogs that day — portrayed a guy who'd stepped onto a battlefield, when he was just trying to get to work. He and his Google co-workers had become accomplices to all the land-grabbing, real estate speculation, and deepening income divisions that plague the Bay Area even as it's been enriched by the tech boom. Their bus had become a totem in a tumultuous class war. And now, that war had become violent. Sort of.

It turned out that several atomized groups had staged bus blockades throughout San Francisco and Oakland that Friday. Protesters representing Eviction Free San Francisco obstructed an Apple shuttle at 24th and Valencia streets, waving cardboard "Evicted" signs in the shape of Google navigation points, and a banner with the slogan "Get Off the Bus; Join Us." A different group blocked off a Google bus as it pulled into the MacArthur BART station, its front window bearing a tell-tale "Bus to MTV [Mountain View]" sign. Clad in North Face windbreakers and skinny jeans, the protesters looked nearly indistinguishable from their tech counterparts inside.

These protests don't have quite the tectonic force of, say, the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. Unlike the civil rights movement, which aimed to repeal Jim Crow laws, or the gay rights movement, which aimed to abolish DOMA, the tech bus backlash doesn't have a distinct endgame. Tech employees don't have marching orders to displace ordinary residents; there isn't a single, malevolent Silicon Valley bogeyman who is trying to strip San Francisco of its essential character.

Yet on one level at least, the bus protests have been massively successful. In two months, they've garnered national media attention, despite having lean production values and a small pool of organizers. They've used a repository of symbols to create a powerful visual tableau: that of the scrappy proletariat standing in front of big, insular tech. They've enabled San Franciscans to wield an old style of protest against a new, ascendant economy. They transmit a provocative message, even if the goal is illusory.

Any human can stand in the way of a bus, after all. But he can't stop the engine of progress behind it.

On the morning of Dec. 9 — almost two weeks before the bus blockade that ensnared Frost — a small, bespectacled, ginger-haired man emerged from somewhere behind a Google coach on Valencia Street, to badger a group of protesters.

"Look, I can pay my rent — can you pay your rent?" he demanded, waving an arm hysterically at a protest organizer named Erin McElroy. "Well then you know what?" he continued, "Why don't you go to a city where you can afford it — you know? 'Cause this is a city for the right people who can afford it. If you can't afford it, it's time for you to leave."

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Ms. Swan, seems to think all housing is inherently good, and opposition to it is “conservative.” But burdening community after community with nothing but high-end housing and condos that price out ordinary workers is not a benefit. The fix will be simple to see, just hard to enact in a system designed to benefit developers, who have no incentive to build the housing we need, i.e. honestly affordable housing for low-paid working people, unless politicians force them to by hooking rents to the minimum wage, rent control, etc. Housing should not be a “whatever the market can bear” system unless people really enjoy seeing their neighbors living under the overpass. Sincerely, Carol Denney


This reminds me of how journalists covered Occupy. They had this really, overly literal refrain of, 'But what do you want!? ' that totally missed the point. Protests speak complex truths that can't be spoken. Occupy spoke the truth of Wall St sequestration of resources and all of the sudden we were talking about CEO salaries, tax breaks and income inequality. As such occupy gave Obama the platform to beat Romney. The tech bus protest and anti-eviction movement doesn't neatly distill down into a simple news story or review of activism that can be read in the time it takes to eat a burrito. Which is exactly the kind of snarky, nit picky reductionist degeneration into literalness this article represents. Protests, like earthquakes, are small surface expressions of much greater truths and forces in our society that often elude the perceptive capacities of  journalists, who then get their undies in a wad about 'well, what's this really about,'  when they themselves are just too simple and literal minded to understand. Protests give people hope and community both in the present, and in the future, as people look back on past actions. Patholigizing people who see the potential of protest, who refuse to bury their head in the sand, or dismiss the messiness of the mess we're in as 'anxiety over change' isn't worthy of the printed word, or the higher human reasoning. Corporate Shuttle Roadkill

Jean Jeanie
Jean Jeanie

James A. Hudkins where do the myriad protestors go who are born and raised in SF and the bay Area?

Tony Gallen
Tony Gallen

That man in the window on the bus needs a good assbeating.

mrericsir topcommenter

Only in San Francisco would people protest that local companies are paying their employees too well.

Andrea Cwynar
Andrea Cwynar

I'm so sick of hearing about the tech buses and all the problems they cause in regards to the cost of living. As a small business owner in Sf for 14 years, I would say the bigger problem is this city and its officials who make the policies in regards to how and who pays for what in this town. My business pays out the nose in taxes, and when those are paid, SF makes a new policy that causes me to pay more never able to get ahead. SF promotes itself as a small business town, but yet it starves us and gives no type of incentive what so ever. And then the city doesn't even charge the big corps to use the Muni stops? Who is the problem here in the cost of living? Protesters should think this over a little more.....They see a big shiny bus and start pointing fingers, but the cost of living has always been high in this town....yes its getting worse, but is it really the companies or the lack of smart infrastructure down at city hall?

John Davison
John Davison

@dallas isn't democracy the process of a larger group outvoting a smaller group... is that bad ?

James A. Hudkins
James A. Hudkins

The Tech buses could help their cause of they were nicer about it. I recently saw 2 of them, one on Market and another on Park Presidio just stop in traffic and block a lane. I had to drive around. It was rude. In each place there were frontage areas and supermarkets they could compensate to use their parking lot. I approve of the Tech people building the economy and improving neighborhoods by their presence, but they should not be rude about it. The protestors should examine their own lives and perhaps return to where they come from. They don't own San Francisco just because they moved here.


One wonders about people like Erin McElroy. they wonder around saving the locals from themselves.  An outsider that recently moved into the Mission that complains that outsiders are moving into the Mission.

There is just so much interesting about her savior status.  A while liberal Foucault and Derrida fan who takes part in street theater as a local with a fake Google bus union employee who lives in the East bay.

According to the Bay Guardian.


In the video, a union organizer who hopped off the bus shouts down Erin McElroy, staging an argument with a protester who also heads the eviction mapping project. "How long have you lived in this city?" McElroy asked him. He shouted back "Why don't you go to a city that can afford it? This is a city for the right people who can afford it. You can't afford it? You can leave. I'm sorry, get a better job."


I guess that avant-garde, cutting edge, postmodern protest is the art here, the art of being OK to be a gentrifier while complaining about gentrification.  Their own gentrification of the area is OK because they took the right classes and spout the right platitudes.  People like Erin are here to help the masses because the masses don't have your sophistication to know the only wrong answer is not agreeing with the opinions of the person at the front of the class, now the Erin's are at the front of the class.  The properly educated leading the charge for the dumb masses, the middle class vanguard socialists directing from above the peasant revolution.

This is the new protest it seems.

I look forward to her further career in SF, the short years we may have left of them anyways.

mblaircheney topcommenter

A major point is being missed here, just today... it was announced that WhatsApp, based in Mountain View, Ca…. sold to Facebook for $19,000,000,000.00

The company employs 55 people - that translates into $380,000,000.00 per person—$1.00 a day to use San Francisco's official bus stops for their silk lined carriages… to some that may seem fair… not!

This money... $380,000,000.00 a worker... in the hands of mostly a few young white guys, will be part of the engine that dismantles and displaces these largely minority neighborhoods.

85 people in the World own 50% of it's assets… take notice… see how it's done.

This transfer of wealth for rendering an arguably useless... as in "we can all live without it"... service. These people are not tending hospital emergency rooms, entering burning buildings to save lives or standing in the front lines of our military risking all for the endless war etc. etc. No cure for cancer is in the works, no Pulitzer Prize novel is being written… poverty and hunger remains, unless they decide to donate their booty… don't hold your breath. 

A false value has been placed on WhatsApp, funny, by another falsely valued company Facebook. Reminds me… many CEO's pay is determined by other CEO that oversee a board that determines the CEO's value… then they swap seats the next week to render the other fellows CEO pay based on the rising CEO pay average.

The game is rigged, the transfer of wealth is real, the distortion to our society... is not creeping in... it is 'All In!'

Dutifully announced by multi $1,000,000.00 News 'Talking Heads' reading a teleprompter while texting their money manager to get in on the next IPO.

This imbalance will not last, voters will finally wake up and take it all back… it has happened before.

Protestors have something that even the obscenely, undeserved rich have… one vote per person.


And don't forget Google is a member of  ALEC, code for American Legislative Exchange Council.   A stealth organization of conservative legislators (both sides of the aisle) and mega corporations that make-up rules/laws that favor their interest at the expense of Everyone Else!


Right people, i think the word is wealthy

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