They’re back again. After attracting the national media spotlight this month by blocking a Google commuter bus in the city’s Mission District, housing rights activists showed up to once again protest a tech bus near the 24th Street BART station in San Francisco Friday morning.
Organizers would only tell Mission Local on Thursday night that they’d target a bus from “one of three” tech companies, and that the protest would be followed by a rally of housing rights activists and displaced residents from across the city. As of 8 a.m. on Friday, protesters had stopped a bus across the bay at MacArthur BART station, holding a banner that said “Love the Bay, Block the Bus,” until police showed up to free the vehicle. A handful of protesters had just started converging at 24th Street BART by 8:30 a.m. with megaphones.
Friday’s demonstration in the Mission may look a lot like the December 9 one, in which protesters surrounded a bus, holding barricades that read, “Two-tier system” and “Illegal use of public infrastructure.” A union organizer pretending to be a Google employee yelled at an activist that she should move somewhere she could afford. (He later told the press it was “political theater.”) The fake techie storyline, combined with the spectacle of activists holding up a double-decker charter bus in San Francisco’s gentrifying Latino neighborhood during a dizzying rent crisis brought tons of press attention to the activists dubbing themselves Heart of the City. (Their website writes up the protest victoriously: “Debates abound, people are talkin.’ The eviction and affordability crisis in SF are at center stage.”)
Mayor Ed Lee directly addressed the housing tension at a press conference earlier this week, promising to prioritize building affordable housing and asking people to stop blaming tech companies for the eviction crisis.
A protest organizer told Mission Local Thursday they’re going to ditch the “street theater” Friday morning to focus on demanding a moratorium on evictions from the city’s rent-controlled housing stock. They want the mayor to pay more attention to the problem, and the tech companies themselves to help offset the effects of their arrival.
“It’s an invitation for them to be part of the solution,” said organizer Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, who talked on the condition that the story wouldn’t be published until Friday morning. (She didn’t want to tip off the police or the buses.)
Sherburn-Zimmer and her collective want to see big tech companies like Google get involved in overthrowing the state’s Ellis Act, which allows a landlord to get out of the rental business and evict all the tenants, usually before or after the sale of the property. Or to somehow help restrict the rise of rents near shuttle stops. Paying for the use of the stops, or donating to the city or to housing rights organizations would also be a step in the right direction, she said. (Sherburn-Zimmer is an organizer with the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and a frequent face at eviction protests. But she said that she and all other activists represent themselves and not their organizations.)
Still, one local political analyst was skeptical that targeting a tech bus would help build support for their cause. “I don’t think it would help galvanize people who weren’t already mobilized,” said Corey Cook, an associate professor of political science at the University of San Francisco. “If the goal was to build a movement and get more people supportive and more sympathetic to your views, I don’t think this persuades people.”
He said the protesters ought to look elsewhere for the root of the housing crisis. “It’s a public policy question. If you want to spur action, I’m not sure the action is about the Google employees and the people who ride the buses, because you sure don’t want them in their private cars. The question is really: can you spur policymakers to deal with these broader issues about wages, economic security, and affordability?”
Still, bus blockages make for great theater. And here goes round two.