Protesters Block Google Buses in San Francisco, Citing ‘Techsploitation’

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Protesters used scooters to block at least a dozen tech-industry buses Thursday in San Francisco.CreditDavid Streitfeld/The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — They’re back.

Anti-Google protesters blocked at least a dozen private buses for tech industry workers on Thursday morning in their first significant demonstration here in several years.

About 15 activists clad in white Tyvek coveralls dumped scooters in front of the buses at an intersection in the Mission District, a formerly low-income, mostly Latino neighborhood whose rents are now punishing.

The scooters, owned by tech start-ups who see the ride-sharing company Uber as a role model, have become the latest flash point in the simmering anger against the tech industry in its hometown. The scooter companies want to use the sidewalks as a place to store their vehicles until the next customer comes along.

The sidewalks in the Mission and throughout much of the city are increasingly home to the homeless. London Breed, a leading candidate in next week’s mayoral elections, has promised to sweep the streets of homeless encampments within a year. Ms. Breed is the candidate favored by the tech community.

To the activists, privileging the scooters over the homeless is another example of what they call “techsploitation.” “Sweep tech not tents,” was one of the rallying cries of the blockade. Another sign: “They call it ‘Disruption.’ We call it displacement.”

The first bus protests began in late 2013. They were a reaction to the fact that the big tech companies — Google but also Facebook, Apple, Yahoo and others — had campuses in Silicon Valley but their employees preferred to live in San Francisco. The buses, paid for by the companies, allowed even more employees to live in the city, which pushed rents higher. The fact that the buses used the city’s bus-loading zones was a further aggravation for critics.

The protests were generally small and nonviolent, although when the actions spread to Oakland a tire was slashed and a window broken. An episode in which a demonstrator vomited onto the windshield of a Yahoo bus in Oakland quickly entered the annals of famous Bay Area moments of street protest.

On Thursday, someone sprayed a vulgar message on the side of one bus but otherwise the mood was largely respectful and inclusive. Aside from the buses, traffic continued to flow through the intersection. A microphone was passed around and people from the community spoke briefly.

“We’ve got lives and we don’t got nowhere to go,” one young man said. Another, addressing the workers in the buses, said, “Each one of you has taken the space away from someone who belongs here.” A third said the tech industry wanted “more money out of each square inch, and people are pushed out the sides.”

Some of the workers got off the buses and left. Others filmed the action on their phones. A half-dozen of the buses were Google’s. At least one was for employees at YouTube, a division of Google. Other buses belonged to Facebook.

Gina Scigliano, a spokeswoman for Google, said the company was a good corporate citizen.

“Google has contributed over $250 million to the Bay Area in the areas of homelessness, economic opportunity and education,” she wrote in an email. “And since 2014, specific to San Francisco, we have given $63 million to these causes.”

Facebook declined to comment.

The blockade was not publicized beforehand, so only a handful of people were present. After an hour, there was a prayer and the blowing of a conch. The action disbanded, the scooters went back to the sidewalk and the buses were able to move on.

(Submitted by Adrienne Fong.)

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