The ferment of protest is so deep and rich in Oakland that even the landed gentry tend to uphold it. Oakland's mayor, Jean Quan, was a member of the radical Third World Liberation Front at UC Berkeley, where she helped establish the university's Asian American Studies program. Oakland's most prominent real estate developer, Phil Tagami — who famously waved a shotgun at a group of Occupy protesters when they gathered outside his downtown office building — enjoys touting the city's progressive lineage.

"It's our proud history," Tagami says. "The Black Panthers, the Free Speech Movement, the Vietnam riots that took place on Telegraph Avenue — it's always been a progressive community."

But many of Tagami's colleagues feel that Oakland's political culture often works against progress. The Black Panthers ran medical clinics and free breakfast programs, but they also brought in a combative, militant ideology that Oakland has never been able to live down. From the '60s onward, the city cultivated a tradition of violent protest, which persisted through the Oscar Grant riots, the Occupy Movement, and the Trayvon Martin demonstrations last year. It's become the conventional wisdom that professional anarchists BART into Oakland from out of town, treating the city's downtown corridor as a playground.

Real estate developer Rick Holliday, who specializes in refurbishing urban structures — decaying clock towers, old canneries, skeletal train stations — and converting them into housing, says that the city's reputation for violent protest has stymied revitalization of its downtown.

"You see young people trying to open a bar or a coffee shop down there, and someone comes along and breaks all their windows," Holliday says, his voice rising angrily. "You're shooting the people in the foot that you want."

Had the cards fallen differently, Oakland could have developed right in San Franciso's shadow. When Gov. Jerry Brown was mayor of Oakland, from 1999 to 2007, he hatched plans to bring 10,000 people downtown in the hope that a vibrant retail district would follow. His tenure coincided with the first dot-com boom in San Francisco, and he shared the conceit of many housing developers that West Oakland — just a seven-minute BART ride from the Embarcadero stop! — could serve as a nesting place for tech workers with disposable income. In Holliday's imagination, West Grand Avenue and Mandela Parkway could have easily become tech corridors.

But Brown and other boosters always seemed to be running up against the city's small-town ethos. When Holliday began building an ambitious housing project at an old cannery in West Oakland, in 2006, he faced vigorous opposition from several organizations — including Causa Justa :: Just Cause, an anti-eviction group whose members also help organize the Google bus protests. Activists had managed to conflate infill with notions that evil gentrifiers were coming in to displace the locals.

"We're opposed to this very tired argument that 'the exact physical land we're building on doesn't have people on it, so it doesn't affect people in the surrounding area,'" Just Cause finance and communications director Adam Gold says, adding that the organization is also battling a proposed market-rate housing complex at 16th and Mission streets, right above the BART station. "When you dramatically increase the real estate values in an area, people get pushed out."

Resistance to change, coupled with a national housing crisis and an omnipresent crime problem, caused the dream of Dotcom 1.0 to founder in the East Bay. But housing developers remained embattled, convinced the boom would eventually come. In recent years, they've redoubled their efforts to bring capital to Oakland.

Meanwhile, it's become a settlement for people who've been priced out of San Francisco. Some of them have channeled their frustration into tech bus blockades, and many still BART back to San Francisco — a city inhospitable to them — to protest livability issues there.

In reality, many activists don't see themselves as getting in the way of progress. Rather, they're preserving the culture that attracts development in the first place.

The anti-eviction activists who gather in a small, drafty building on South Van Ness Street, on a rainy Wednesday night in February, are holdovers from a different era of San Francisco. They wear Ben Franklin haircuts, nose rings, and sensible shoes. They carry their effects in backpacks. They write things down on pen and paper — or on a whiteboard — instead of pecking at laptops. The few young adults who are present refer to the other attendees as "elders."

The elders have plenty to protest about.

Housing prices are bubbling up. Google is transporting employees to work by private ferry. San Francisco politicians have introduced a somewhat anemic policy of charging the tech buses $1 every time they commandeered a public bus stop.

That rankles the activists, who are even more rankled when a member of the press — me — comes into their meeting.

"Well, can you tell us what your story is about?" one woman asks, as others chime in with other questions. "Can we read it first?" "Can we ensure that it supports the movement?"

When I refuse, the matter is put forth for a group discussion. I am duly evicted from the anti-eviction meeting.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help

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

©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.