“You guys live fat as hogs with your free 24/7 buffets”

On Friday, a group of protestors in West Oakland blocked a Google bus carrying workers that had stopped to pick up people at the West Oakland BART and carry them to the Google Mountain View campus.  According to SF Gate, a brick was thrown through the window of one bus and a tire slashed on another, all in the name of anti-gentrification, pro-affordable housing policy. The bus was freed by Oakland police, but not before passengers were handed flyers stating “Get the fuck out of Oakland.

As we all know, the Google–and other–commuter buses that ferry workers to Silicon Valley campuses from around the Bay have become symbols of displacement and privilege.  The appearance of the buses dramatizes the disconnection from place that many locals sense in the newcomer techies, who live on our streets but are perceived as a breed apart, focused on their tech tribe, aka corporation, and insensitive to issues of race, class and community that honor those who came before. The buses–and the people who ride them–are also perceived by many as willing participants in the gentrification and displacement of long-term residents and working class people from Oakland neighborhoods–and a factor in people being pushed out and even evicted in San Francisco.

It’s tricky for a city like Oakland, that wants to court tech companies to move here, to align with protests against Google buses and privilege–and yet we all know that tech, with its tradition of founders hiring their friends, can be a closed network.  Not only does bringing tech companies to Oakland not ensure those companies will provide jobs for Oakland people, the rise of tech in the area ensures that as more and more displaced San Francisco wanna-bes move to the East Bay, our friends and neighbors may get pushed out of their communities.

In an effort to understand what folks have been feeling about this–and as a means of tracking the sentiment and the level of discussion about the recent #googlebus the bus demonstrations–which are about affordable housing and displacement as well as class–I did a scan through the twittersphere using Topsy.  I saw the posts by Occupy-flavored activists and black bloc anarchists, some frustrated tech folks, some housing organizers, and lots of locals reading and watching through the news stream. Consensus: conflicted, mostly.

I also came across some full-blog essays and blog posts about the incidents, and the issues they raise, that are well worth a read.  Some excerpts follow:

Heather Akers-Healy, Random Acts of Journalism

“When I say “give back to the larger community”, I’m not talking about charity. I’m talking about reaching out and getting to know your SF and Oakland native neighbors. Step out of the tech bubble. Participate in events like Occupy. Feed the homeless with Food Not Bombs. Become a community activist. Get off the private bus and take muni. Go to the laundromat and do your own laundry.”

Rebecca Solnit, writing in the London Review of Books, has a powerful–and lengthy–essay about class, privilege and tech work.  A quote about San Francisco (but becoming as true for Oakland as rising prices and displacement increase in the East Bay) has special resonance for me:

“In the same spaces wander homeless people undeserving of private space, or the minimum comfort and security; right by the Google bus stop on Cesar Chavez Street immigrant men from Latin America stand waiting for employers in the building trade to scoop them up, or to be arrested and deported by the government. Both sides of the divide are bleak, and the middle way is hard to find.”

Davie Taylor, a young–and admittedly privileged–techie living in Oakland published an essay on Medium called Which side are you on? that splits the hairs of the issues right down the middle:

“So now I live in Oakland, riding the next wave of gentrification. My own experience has taught me that gentrification is not something that a person can really choose or not choose to participate in unless they are real estate speculators. Working people, even working people who work at Google are forced into this system. We are all victims, most of us are perpetrators and those us that are not are pretty much just fucked.”

How do I feel about all this?  On one hand, I feel very strongly that tech businesses, and businesses that use tech as part of their utility suite, are essential to Oakland’s economic health and growth. On the other hand, we all need to work together to make sure that education, networks, access and community ensure that our Oakland residents–adults and youth alike–are employed in these newly founded or relocated companies, and that our neighborhoods are not colonized and transformed by new people with no understanding or respect for what came before.

Maybe it is very Oakland to want to embrace growth and do it in an inclusive and values-driven way, but that is exactly how I personally feel–and how many people I am talking with in Oakland also feel. What we need to do is convene and align not only around opportunities, but around values–and programs that support those values–and translate them into reality.

About The Author

Susan Mernit is editor & publisher of Oakland Local (oaklandlocal.com) a news & community hub for Oakland, CA. A former VP at AOL & Netscape, & former! Yahoo Senior Director, Mernit was consulting program manager for The Knight News Challenge, 2008-09; was a 2012 Stanford Carlos McClatchy Fellow; and is a board adviser to The Center for Health Reporting at USC, Annenberg School of Journalism. She has consulted with many non-profit organizations on strategy, product development and social media/engagement, including Salon.com, TechSoup Global, Public Radio International and the Institute for Policy Studies/Economic Hardship Reporting Project, led by Barbara Ehrenreich.

42 Responses

  1. joo

    So much hatred these days. The Duck Dynasty dude and his anti-gay comments, and now these so-called activists and their xenophobic anti-tech comments.

  2. Kevin Woolley

    What a great idea Oakland. We want our unsafe neighborhoods and crappy schools! Leave our city to the gangs and addicts! Lets run out the educated and the employed! Ron Dellums would be proud.

  3. R2D2II

    It’s not the fault of Google or Google’s employees that much of Oakland is economically-deprived. It’s the fault of an incredibly uninformed and incompetent City Council and Mayor.

    The protests might well be focused on getting rid of the current City Council and Mayor in the next election. And electing some responsible, thoughtful people who can do something about the local economy.

  4. ПЯШ҂

    All this says about Oakland’s future is that occasionally, a few over-educated idiots in black hoodies are going to do something obnoxious.

    These testosterone-addled white transplant anarchists will get more attention than the street violence that kills scores of poorer Oaklanders every year, because, ironically, they know how to use the social media platforms created by the tech companies they think they hate. One broken bus window wouldn’t have made the news without Twitter.

    The Black Bloc is gentrification. They just don’t know it yet. Half of them will leave, the other half will get good paying jobs, marry, have kids, save money, pay taxes, and maybe buy a house in Fruitvale the next time the market crashes. And so it goes and so it goes, generations upon generations, until the sea rises and takes it all away.

  5. len raphael

    Can’t blame tech employees for income and wealth inequality. As if they had any say in or influence over the economic and politcial forces that create that inequality. Go ahead and blame them, but it’s even more of a waste of time than smashing local branch bank windows.

  6. doug little

    People living in detroit in the 70’s had the same opinion. People listened and moved. Did it help? Idiots.

  7. frank

    Survival of the fittest. Protestors need to quit protesting and go get an education or work hard. This obamacare mentality and pro unions is hhh4 not healthy. The gov should quit the handouts and rent subsitities and rent control. Let them forever perish and in the ashes your children or grandchildren will actually contribute to society. Your time has come. Adapt or die.

  8. Worrisome Joe

    Here’s what irks me the most. Google, by offering free shuttle services for their workers is laughing all the way to the bank. By providing free transportation with wifi they are basically turning urban areas into new hip suburbs and keeping their neighborhoods free of anything other than the elite rich. Of course, when these young techies decide to have kids, they will likely move their families to safer, quieter suburbs and the cities will quickly go back to decay.

  9. Susan Mernit

    Brillant comment:
    The Black Bloc is gentrification. They just don’t know it yet. Half of them will leave, the other half will get good paying jobs, marry, have kids, save money, pay taxes, and maybe buy a house in Fruitvale the next time the market crashes. And so it goes and so it goes, generations upon generations, until the sea rises and takes it all away.

  10. Matt of West Downtown

    Oakland embraces growth? Often I feel those with a voice in Oakland embrace close mindedness, and extremism. I don’t want to support Occupy because they support violence, vandalism, and vigilantism -none of which are historically successful methods for changing society for the better. I feel like the point of view of this blog entry exhibits all that is wrong with Oakland politics -a lot of hand wringing, a lot of blaming the other, a heep of BS, and no progress!

  11. Marc

    It’s funny because most of the discussion surrounding the blockades has been about gentrification–which is real–but google and tech companies are contemporary points of conflict for far more wide-reaching reasons. And this conflict actually points to a real different trajectory than all the garbage that passes for politics. I’m making bank, 30 something, and still donning the black mask. This isn’t about tech workers just being rich. Google isn’t only gentrifying oakland–they are constructing a world that is totally in tune with police science from the early 19th century and molecular government. Google glass means anything seen is potential police data. Mobile devices mean real time mapping of individuals and so-called networks. Recitivist technologies today mean environments governed by algorithms, and each of us mapped by our desires, past, and present qualities. Have y’all read the new digital age? They are talking about a world with no distinction between daily techniques of government and the flows of the economy where the agent isn’t even a subject (man, worker, cop, black president etc) in the traditional philosophy of the west, but is a system of feedback loops. If you liked the NSA surveillance scandals, you’ll love the new economy!

    Hell yeah, we should block the tech busses! But I think y’all got it twisted on really what’s at stake. Like every uprising we’ve seen in that last 5 years, the fact so eloquently posed by a NYT oped “how to die in the anthropocene?”: our civilization is already dead. The catastrophe is already here. The question of our time is how do we go farther than the occupations, block the function of all this, and find out how to live together. If it starts with vulgar class tensions, so be it, but we gotta understand what’s really at stake.

  12. OaklandNative

    I see it as poetic justice.

    African Americans felt pushed out of Oakland by these people shown wearing the black hoodies.

    The people wearing the black hoodies have created a community more attractive to the tech workers.

    So the tech companies come.

    So now the people in the black hoodies feel they are being pushed out by tech workers. And the people in the black hoodies protests sound like the same as the African Americans’ protests.

  13. Oakland E

    Misdirected anger, as usual. Accountability forever remains with those who have the power and influence to actually do something. Namely, the Oakland City Council and Google big shots. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this city was staffed by a bunch of 20-something rookies. It’s an embarrassment. Here’s an idea right off the top of my head; how about if Google has to pay the City of Oakland a special tax, based on the number and frequency of their busses that are clogging up our traffic, polluting our air, etc., etc. That tax goes into a secured fund that is used only for – fill in the blank – affordable housing, free employment services for the unemployed, free/reduced rate transportation services for the needy, you get the idea. The city council has the power to implement this stuff, but they don’t.

  14. Susan Mernit

    Elizabeth and Oakland E, your comments make a lot of sense to me. What a great comment” The people wearing the black hoodies have created a community more attractive to the tech workers.”
    And Oakland E, this is an idea with some merit–“How about if Google has to pay the City of Oakland a special tax, based on the number and frequency of their busses that are clogging up our traffic, polluting our air, etc., etc.”

  15. Strobe Fiscbyne

    FYI: Rebecca Solnit’s name is misspelled. (She’s a good writer, and that’s about all you can say for her. She sells a watered-down anarchism to high-end liberal publications while saving her garden-variety insurrectionary stuff for the anarchist press.)

  16. Len Raphael

    Oakland E, if the city were to impose a fee for Google and assign them dedicated stopping points, shouldn’t that be done for say Kaiser or UCSF that runs scheduled shuttles with scheduled stops in Oakland? Wouldn’t you want to encourage Google and Kaiser etc. employees to use buses instead of cars or car pooling?

    Trying to moderate income inequality by imposing very indirect fees and taxes on certain employers who don’t even have physical offices here is no substitute for a city income tax and leads to arbitrary taxation. A city income tax would require a change to the state constitution.

    There might be a way to do that indirectly, that would require legislation and enforcement at the state level: if each business above a certain size were required to report telecommuter info by city, there might be a way to impose the city business tax on a portion of the businesses gross revenues.

    The main tax problem is that Oakland has become more and more of a bedroom community for SF and SValley.That’s a tax revenue losing proposition.

  17. Km

    This is such a joke. Seriously?! You can’t have a good job tha pays well without getting harassed in The Town? I love it here but this is disgusting. So tired of the Occupy idiots that poison Oakland. Get a f*#king job and shut up!

  18. OaklandNative

    I don’t know if that’s apples and apples.

    Kaiser and UCSF hired people who lived here. They also provided low-cost medical services for the community. So they directly served the community.

    However, I don’t know if they get tax breaks (UCSF is a public institution, BTW).

    People measure the value to a community by different things. When I see African Americans being impacted, that adds into the measurement of benefit.

  19. OaklandNative


    All things being equal, I would agree with you. But this is reality. All things aren’t equal, and if you’re going to be here in Oakland, you will have to deal with it.

  20. R2D2II

    So much fundamental ignorance here in the article and in comments regarding social history and political economy. One commenter doesn’t know whether Kaiser and UCSF are nonprofits.

    If only these people who evidently spend so much of their time on line would actually read a book from time to time and then reflect on what they have read. And then, hopefully, seek out internet fora where participants actually discuss the history of capitalism and the corporation in the U.S. How about making an attempt to define exactly what “gentrification” is? Usually making a clear decision about exactly what you are talking about is very very helpful.

    Rebecca Solnit is hardly an anarchist. Someone needs to know: 1. What an anarchist actually is. 2. What Solnit has actually written about.

    These questions need to be at least recognized, if not answered, by the writers here: what are the sources of economic and social inequality in the U.S. over the past 150 years and, perhaps particularly, over the past 40 years? Does the words “neoconservative” and “neoliberal” have any useful meaning?

    Has anyone ever heard of someone called Karl Marx?

  21. Eric E

    1900 tech companies in SF and blocks of for lease signs in downtown Oakland. Instead of arguing about buses and whether Google should or should not be in Oakland, let’s recognize that buses are here but no Google. Oakland is a notoriously difficult city to do business in/with. Inefficiencies, nickel and diming, bureaucracy are restraining economic development in the city.

    Creating jobs, tech or not, in Oakland will support local businesses and reduce commute congestion if people from the east bay can commute 15 minutes instead of 50.

    This is an ignorant and ill-informed quote “tech, with its tradition of founders hiring their friends, can be a closed network.” It’s frankly not possible in terms of pure numbers to only hire friends. And founders have both a responsibility to their company and have to answer to their boards and investors for key hires. Companies hire the best, qualified people they can find. And it’s damn hard to hire well.

    Lastly, a word on “techie” diversity. Most successful companies are comprised of a mix of roles – not just highly trained engineers. Designers, sales people, support, account management, marketing, writing, HR, legal. With the hoodies come the Dockers. These roles are no easier to earn than the engineering slots, but generally the qualifications are more widespread from the potential hiring base.

  22. OaklandNative

    Eric E,

    If Oakland specifically makes it easier for tech companies (or any business) to come to Oakland, what do we get out of it?

    We’ve heard they bring jobs. Are they hiring citizens of Oakland? I meet many people who transferred here for tech jobs. So why should an unemployed Oaklander care if a high paid newcomer has to commute 15 minutes or 50 minutes?

    We’ve heard they pay taxes. Are they paying their share of taxes here? Do their taxes pay the cost to recruit them? If their employees move here, their employees demand changes and services just like anyone else.

    Then there are the other cost not easily measured. Are they coming to be a part of the community or do they feel they need to “improve” it? Are their “improvements” the same as our “improvements”? Are your “economic developments” the same as ours?

  23. OaklandNative

    I hope my response to your comment about UCSF/Kaiser was not belittling.

    For the record, I will say that I respect your different experiences and ways of seeing things. At times, your point of views have enlightened me.

    We have all read different books. We may even read the same book and come out with different opinions on those books. That’s why scholars come up with theories. So can you be more specific about how your reading has informed your opinions on this issue?

    As far as defining Oakland gentrification, that has been debated over and over on here.

  24. Strobe Fischbyne

    R2D2II might share what it is that keeps Solnit from being an anarchist, which is to say someone with the faith that the State is simply the result of people having faith in authority, and that if people give up this belief, State institutions will cease to exist and then allow “spontaneous order” to arise.

    I don’t know much about Marx, but I’m sure I know more than Solnit. I’m not being facetious when I say I often skim Solnit’s books when in the bathroom of a liberal friend who keeps them there. Solnit is careful not to use this terms or “spontaneous order” or “mutual aid,” but writes much about how disasters such as earthquakes demonstrate that state institutions are unnecessary. And I recall her using her liberal credibility to lift anarchist David Graeber (her “favorite author”) into liberal respectability.

    If this doesn’t show her to be an anarchist read what she wrote in an attempt to revive the dead Occupy movement in an article titled “Mad Passionate Love and Violence: Occupy Heads Into the Spring.”

  25. Dominic Benchilio

    All of them – ALL OF THEM – operate under the same premise: I must have more than I did before, and anybody that gets in my way is a jerk, gentrifier, racist, Democrat, Republican, socialist, plutocrat, etc. You can’t change other people’s values – only your own. So start there before you do these half-assed antics. You don’t have the balls to do something real, just like America doesn’t have the balls to fix its problems because it requires too much sacrifice. Why don’t you attack the Google execs instead of these lowly CSRs? Oh right, that means you might get hurt or go to jail for real. Hey, we all can’t be a Mandela, right?

    I think we can sum up Oakland’s problem like this: there is a complete breakdown in the flow of respect. All of you think you should GET respect from everyone else instead of GIVING it to everyone else, but when you all act like that guess what? Nobody gets respect!

  26. A

    “If Oakland specifically makes it easier for tech companies (or any business) to come to Oakland, what do we get out of it?

    We’ve heard they bring jobs. Are they hiring citizens of Oakland? I meet many people who transferred here for tech jobs. So why should an unemployed Oaklander care if a high paid newcomer has to commute 15 minutes or 50 minutes?”

    There’s a compounding effect that goes along increased amount of working people. Those workers will spend money in Oakland, which then increases business growth in the surrounding areas, which in turn increases demand for workers here, etc.. Also, there are a lot of support jobs that they bring which people in Oakland can and do work at.

    To actually work at those tech companies really depends on the people who are qualified. All because you live in Oakland doesn’t mean you’re entitled to get a job or have a job created for you without having qualifications for the job. Oakland is not an island where it can just isolate itself from the outside.

    “We’ve heard they pay taxes. Are they paying their share of taxes here? Do their taxes pay the cost to recruit them? If their employees move here, their employees demand changes and services just like anyone else.”

    How much does an unemployed person or a person working a low wage job pay in taxes here in Oakland? I’ve done volunteer tax services and I can tell you not much. Heck, a lot of people qualify for earned income credit which means they were paid more than they put in. This isn’t even counting the services they get if they are on public assistance.

    Now compare that to a highly compensated person who works/lives in Oakland. They pay more because they can spend more and if they buy a place here in Oakland, they will pay more in taxes. Of the two groups, who is actually paying their share of taxes but gets less of the services? Why shouldn’t a person who is paying more in taxes not demand changes like everyone else?

    “Are they coming to be a part of the community or do they feel they need to “improve” it? Are their “improvements” the same as our “improvements”? Are your “economic developments” the same as ours?”

    Do you not agree that there are too many Oakland’s communities that are stagnant (not in a good way) or worse, downgrading? What have these communities done for themselves over the past 10-20 years? It seems like from what you imply is that you want the resources to improve these areas but are unwilling to accept any change from the people who are the ones putting resources and effort into them. You can’t have it both ways.

    Also, when these current communities displaced the residents who were there before them, did they consider these same questions that you’re asking now?

  27. R2D2II

    “If this doesn’t show her to be an anarchist…”

    Sorry, Rebecca Solnit might best be described as a social/cultural observer and critic. A very positive, creative and thoughtful writer.

    Skimming books while on the shitter hardly makes you competent to deal with what she writes about.

    If classification of persons must be made, I think it best that people be allowed to define their own political interests. Rather than assigned some sort of defamatory moniker by someone who takes pains to exhibit his or her ignorance.

    To offer you some of your own medicine, the tone of your remarks suggests that you are some sort of fascist or Nazi. I wonder how and why your “liberal” acquaintances put up with you, or allow you to use their shitter.

  28. Strobe Fischbyne

    @R2D2II: Leftists can find anarchism unconvincing and counterproductive too, and more do as anarchist antics continue. Nor are we obliged to keep quiet the absolutist belief system informing much of her thought.

  29. OaklandNative

    If the tech company follows the already-established laws/rules for coming to Oakland, then they will hire who they want. The minute the City of Oakland gets involved in retaining them, then the City of Oakland is entitled to something back. That includes giving preferences to Oakland citizens.

    Even you must agree that we have been taught to believe in the myth of merit.

    As far as your opinion that people in certain neighborhoods were doing anything with their communities, I disagree. Were they renting? Were they less privileged than you and so had different priorities than you?

    There is no city income tax. Do higher salaried people pay more sales tax? Do they pay more property taxes than the landlords?

    As for your “compounding effect,” that’s pure theory. But has it happened in reality? Isn’t that what these “hoodies” are protesting?

    And as for your last question, yes, African Americans complained about being pushed out. However, people used your arguments to dismiss them.

  30. r2d2ii

    @Fisch–I think there’s very limited (next to zero) utility in the attempt to see other people as defined by their position along some sort of horizontal (left to right) political spectrum according to your own personal scheme and bias.

    Most political thinkers combine both liberal (progressive and tolerant) attitudes along with some very conservative perspectives, at the very same time.

    If someone defines himself or herself primarily as a “progressive” or an “anarchist” or as a “libertarian” or a “conservative” this suggests to me some intellectual shallowness as well as experiential immaturity. We’re all much more contradictory and conflicted than we are likely to admit until we’ve been around the block a number of times.

    I am sure that all Oakland elected officials consider themselves “progressives” and many, if not most, Oakland citizens the same. I’m fine with that, but I think it’s self-deception and essentially dishonest. Oakland is, I think, essentially conservative or even reactionary. It doesn’t change; our elected officials and much of our electorate are committed to doing things as we have in the past. They haven’t worked in the past but we, largely, insist on doing the same useless things over and over again.

    I don’t think Rebecca Solnit is in any way an anarchist. I have never seen her describe herself as such. In fact, she strikes me as an unusually competent intellectual with a highly-evolved experience of life and ideas. She writes about governmental failure, but critical thinking about what government can or cannot do well is not at all the same thing as what most people would describe as “anarchism.”

    Since you seem to be obsessed with “anarchism” you might provide your definition of it. Do a little reading first, it’s quite a complex topic.

  31. Strobe Fischbyne

    @r2d2 We won’t agree about Solnit and have probably lost the interest of others. But again, non-anarchists are allowed to form opinions about anarchism, including negative opinions. I’ve made my definition of anarchism available to this comment board, where with a little added effort you can find some of the books that inform my thinking.

  32. R2D2II

    Fisch–I’ve just looked at your blog. My perpective as a non-anarchist (which means in my case simply that I do not identify myself as an anarchist and definitely not that I am obsessed with anarchists) is that you are involved in a very deep emotional relationship with anarchism.

    In such an emotional state what we usually call “thinking” is invariably distorted, unclear, unproductive. Like being in love, being in non-love with anarchism can ruin your life. Your mindset is much more akin to that of your foes than you know.

  33. R2D2II

    Fisch–Not to leave you alone with a (suggested) diagnosis, I would like to make a suggestion for broadening what thinking you may be capable of, in the hopes that you might lessen your obsession and join (or perhaps rejoin) the community of the non-obsessed (and quite possibly still non-anarchist).

    Look up the topics of libertarianism and freethinking which historically have been closely associated with anarchism. Keep in mind how old these perspectives are (Godwin from the 18th century for instance) and how deeply ingrained they are in Enlightenment thought and thus the political history of the U.S.A. You might find yourself a bit sympathetic.

    Sympathy can lead directly to tolerance which is much healthier emotionally than obsession and hatred.

  34. Alex Castro


    Man, I am not often impressed with the intelligence of eloquence of posters on this blog, or frankly, most blogs. But I have to admit, you have a way with words and I’m impressed with the intellectual horsepower evident in how your explain your positions. Well done, Sir. Well done.

  35. Marcus

    I “googled” this story and after reading it, support their cause…

    but then again I use google and my job with my employers and the school my kids go to are funding by the taxes googles pays….uh, i’m confused.

    i’ll call my friend on my Andriod phone to prepare the next rally!

  36. Marcus

    Google doesn’t need to get the f’ out, you guys need to get the f’ out of Oakland.

    Oakland Landlord

    (I actually own some of Oakland and Pay property taxes to Oakland).

  37. Andrew berg

    Not the brightest bulb, eh? Of course Oakland, and any city, wants good schools and safe streets, but to allow the juggernaut of the Tech Industry to replace all of the residents to those ends is not okay.Oakland needs to pass defensive housing laws, so that nobody looses their housing to rich, mostly White young men (that’s White with a capital “W”) and tax any new industry at a rate which equals the economically disruptive effects of a speculative industry such as Tech.

  38. Andrew berg

    ironically, that attitude is the one that evolution extinguishes in humans.


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