For about 30 minutes Friday morning, around 100 anti-gentrification protesters blocked a commuter bus of Apple employees on the Western corner of Valencia and 24th streets from making its way to its Cupertino campus. As the crowd shouted, “Get off the bus, join us!” and “Whose city, our city,” one organizer admitted she wasn’t sure which company the protest was targeting.
“We want to make it clear that we’re not just targeting Google, we’re targeting the systematic use of these shuttles and their impact on this city,” said the protest’s leader Fred Sherburn-Zimmer of Heart of the City, a coalition of housing rights activists.
“I hope that we will be able to redirect the message today,” echoed organizer Erin McElroy. “This protest is about gentrification and people being displaced. We’re not necessarily against tech. We’re against tech’s effect on speculation and evictions.”
The protesters started chanting at 8:45 a.m. at the BART plaza on 24th Street and Mission and strode over to Valencia Street to surround the idling bus. Protesters carried a coffin that read “Affordable Housing” and some stuck their heads through gigantic Google pinpoint cutouts scrawled with the word “Evicted.”
A pickup truck was already parked in front of the bus with amps and a megaphone, handed off among a lineup of the arriving speakers, many of whom had experienced firsthand the rising cost of living in San Francisco. The speakers focused less on the tech buses themselves — a departure from the protest earlier this month which targeted the charter vehicles’ use of Muni stops — and instead spoke against the displacement of lower income tenants in the Bay Area. Among their demands were a moratorium on no-fault evictions and preservation of rent-controlled housing.
“It’s wrong, wrong what’s happening in San Francisco,” said Paula Tejeda to the crowd. Owner of Chile Lindo, Tejeda herself has battled an eviction. “We have the ability to stand up, we’re not going to take this lying down.”
One man claiming to be an Apple employee said he had been too late to his bus to get on before the protest started, and watched from the sidelines. Though he wasn’t sure how he was going to get to work, he seemed to sympathize with the protesters. (At the last protest on December 9, a housing activist impersonated a Google employee and yelled at the protesters.)
“Ultimately, the theme of this is correct,” said the employee who asked not to be identified. “But sometimes the enormity of the companies we work for make us as anonymous as the people being displaced….Do I think there should be some regulation on these buses? Absolutely. Should longtime residents that don’t make tech salaries have help staying in their homes? Yes, definitely.”
One passerby mockingly shouted to the crowd, “Free the tech bus!” as he stepped into Muddy Waters Coffee House. After about 30 minutes, the San Francisco Police Department did just that. As officers moved protesters off the street, the Apple bus was able to steer around the crowd and onto Valencia Street — off to Cupertino.
Sherburn-Zimmer said the protest was “loosely coordinated” with protests of Google and Apple commuter buses in the East Bay, one near the MacArthur BART and another at 7th and Adeline. She says the Oakland protesters were a separate group.
Prior to today’s protest, Mission Local talked to political scientist Corey Cook at the University of San Francisco about whether he thought the tech bus protesters’ tactics were effective.
“It’s really about what the goal is,” Cook said. “If the goal is to spark conversation it certainly did that. If it is to persuade people — not successful. What’s the message? What’s the intended reaction?”
Still, McElroy tallied the day’s protest as a success. With reporters from Reuters, Al Jazeera, and a host of local outlets covering the protest, the media is still interested in how San Francisco’s activists are denouncing the side effects of the tech boom for now.
“People should see that we are an anti-gentrification movement that’s only at the beginning,” said McElroy, as the protest wrapped up at the BART plaza. She said the group is planning another action in January that could involve a tech bus again, or divert to a completely different tactic. “We’ll keep it creative until evictions stop. Watch out for more.”