SF protesters block Google buses

Demonstrators say private transport reflects a "two-tiered" system produced by Silicon Valley domination (Updated)

Published December 9, 2013 6:54PM (EST)


If you've had the misfortune of watching "The Internship" -- the most profound artifact of brand placement in cinema history -- you'll have been told that Google, and its ruling ideology of "Googliness," is nothing if not purportedly a warm and cozy vector of innovation, with its own internal, coddled ecosystem. For example: Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson's dopey characters are ushered to and from the tech giant's headquarters in gleaming Google buses. How convenient for these good-hearted, hardworking Google-mongers.

But in the Bay Area, the Google bus -- the transportation system used to usher thousands of workers from their San Francisco homes to their Silicon Valley home-from-homes -- is a problematic symbol of inequality produced in the area by the tech boom and its high-earning progeny. Wealthy Google (and other tech company) workers have driven up rent prices to unlivable heights in San Francisco (and, increasingly, Oakland). While a beleaguered transport system supports the Bay Area's non-Googly population, Google workers with their own company buses needn't be burdened.

A demonstration in San Francisco Monday set up official-looking blockades to hold up the Google buses. Barriers reading "Warning: Two-tiered system" bisected the street and garnered considerable attention on social media.

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Defenders of the Google bus note that the system keeps thousands of cars off of Bay Area highways. But for poor public transit users and workers, the Google buses are a symbol of Silicon Valley's domination of San Francisco, devoid of commitment or investment in its public infrastructure.

Updated: A video captured at the protest sees a Google employee jump out of the blockaded bus to shout at a protester, "This is a city for the right people who can afford it. You can't afford it? You can leave. I'm sorry, get a better job."

Updated: According to fresh reports, the shouting Google employee caught in the above footage was in fact a protester plant. As the San Francisco Bay Chronicle reported:

Various tips have streamed in that this shout-out was staged. Protest organizer Leslie Dreyer talked to us on the phone and verified that this person's identity was Max Bell Alper, a union organizer from Oakland. This person was not a Google employee, and Dreyer was not able to verify if Alper was there in the morning with the group of 20-30 protesters.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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