If you read the criticisms, the protests over tech shuttles and the industry's impact on housing costs are pointless and misdirected, if not worse.
“The protests are xenophobic and illogical,” wrote Rodrigo Guzman, CTO of iDoneThis, in an essay that was passed around Reddit and other like-minded echo chambers. “They do serve a useful purpose in sparking discussion about important issues (e.g. the Ellis Act, housing, cultural change in SF, etc), but the impact of that is very limited when there isn't coherence about the issues and the desired changes. The protests may even be counter-productive to their cause.”
On Twitter, the peanut gallery of peanut galleries, the backlash is even more pointed.
“The tech bus protests are targeting the wrong people,” tweeted urban housing specialist Mark Hogan. “Buses are not the cause of prices going up, local government policies are.”
“Tech workers taking a bus to get to work aren’t The Man,” chided Lisa McIntire, Gavin Newsom's former Deputy Communications Director. “HAVE YOU CONSIDERED CITY HALL, GUYS?”
But if City Hall hears the protesters and reacts, doesn't it mean they are successful?
Scott Lucas of SF Magazine recently opined that the protesters are winning, and his case is damn convincing:
Though we doubt that Google is going to “Fuck Off” any time soon, the protests already have had a pretty substantial impact. Since the first Google bus blockade on December 9th, there's been a noticeable uptick in both talk and action from city and industry leaders. While there may not be a direct correlation between the demonstrations and the responses below, it's hard to deny that the protestors have been driving the city's conversation.
His proof? Ed Lee coming out in favor of a $15/hour minimum wage, activists “shaming the [tech] billionaires into philanthropy,” new ideas for spurring middle-income housing development, Ron Conway's lobbying group sf.citi going on a public relations campaign, and three new pro-tenant measures getting passed by the Board of Supervisors.
And it doesn't just end there.
Tech companies themselves are scrambling to look good, with companies like Airbnb and Zendesk pledging community classes for children, donating unused office space as free community spaces, and even hosting lectures on the industry's impact on the city.
Even former Mayor Willie Brown, arguably patient zero in the artisocratization of San Francisco, has come out slamming the industry, writing, “What the tech world needs to do is nip this thorny plant in the bud. They need to come off their high cloud efforts to save Africa or wherever they take adventure vacations and start making things better for folks right here.”
One must consider the goals of the protesters before attacking their effectiveness. No one is naive enough to think that sporadically blocking a few commuter shuttles for 30 minutes a pop is going to create systemic change. But when it comes to raising awareness—and making sure City Hall gets the message loud and clear—taking on tech has been the most effective strategy yet, despite the divisiveness.
Like Occupy Wall Street targeting the financial sector to highlight America's inequality crisis, San Francisco's housing activists have made the tech industry represent our skyrocketing cost of living. So it's little surprise that shuttle commuters, many having just come from ramen dinners at Stanford and Berkeley, are now uncomfortable with being the new face of economic ruthlessness—a characterization that is often grossly inaccurate. And, of course, the targets are pointing fingers elsewhere, and dismissing the movement as scattered and confused.
But protesting greedy landlords didn't work. Howling at the Mayor did little good. Complaining about tax breaks and America's Cup never got traction.
It wasn't until activists put up roadblocks in front of the those gleaming white economic engines, squeezing the pockets of City Hall's primary backers, did anyone listen.
Those roadblocks might just make San Francisco a better city for everyone… even the tech community.