Techie scum (me) attends anti-tech protest meeting, does not die

By Dan Raile , written on March 31, 2014

From The News Desk

If you’ve been out walking in the Mission in the past couple of weeks, you may have noticed some posters around exhorting passersby to “Fight Back Against the Tech Takeover.” The posters announce that there will be a “week of actions March 28 - April 5.”

The group behind these posters is Defend the Bay Area, a new-comer to the local outrage landscape, though I hesitate to call it a start-up.

On Friday I attended the kickoff event at the historic Redstone building, just a skip away from the 16th St. BART station.

Before the meeting, there was a mingling-session in the BART plaza. Like any good community activism gathering, this anarcho happy-hour featured the ever delicious and free vegetarian offerings of Food Not Bombs. A wifi enabled cone speaker affixed to the handlebars of a fixed-gear bike blared a playlist of conscious hip-hop, rocksteady, Mexican banda and Stevie Wonder. A temporarily naked man (not affiliated with the gathering) danced and harangued the air, and was treated politely by all.

The crowd was close-knit and congenial as they discussed with dead-seriousness the incursions of the gentrifiers. There was a table of literature that consisted mostly of self-published anarchist zines and stickers with feel good slogans like “Die Techie Scum” and “Fuck Techies.”

Across the street, a cadre of six police officers leaned and hawed and looked on. The convenience store shopkeeper by the corner said he was happy to see the Defend the Bay Area crowd, if only because normally there is minimal police presence in the area and “a lot of bad shit happens right out there.”

As the crowd finished wolfing down their greens and beans, and strolled en masse to the Redstone Building, I chatted with a French student who was studying the movement as part of his sociology program.

After climbing the stairs to the third storey and piling into a windowless, beige room, some 80 people sat in chairs and on folding tables in a rough approximation of a circle. In the crowd were many longtime Mission community members, a handful of San Francisco natives and several veterans of the Occupy campaigns from both sides of the Bay. I’d tell more, except for what happened next.

After a prolonged bit of unstructured chatter, the group was called to order by one of the three representatives of Defend the Bay Area.

“Before we start,” he said, “Are there any members of the press here?” Your correspondent scanned the crowd and meekly raised his hand, alone among those assembled to do so.

“Is everyone comfortable with him being here?” The leader asked.

There were a smattering of ‘no’s’ and a general murmur of dissent. Your correspondent squirmed a bit under the scrutiny of 80 pairs of eyes.

I was asked to state my case for being there, and did. On the second go round, the group democratically and unanimously consented to my staying. On one condition: I couldn’t write anything about what happened over the course of the two-hour meeting that followed, nor could I identify any of the participants. So for now, that’s all the wider world can know about the intentions and make-up of this group.

At risk of rupturing the good faith of the agreement, I would like to offer readers a few instructive examples of what didn’t happen there: there was no shouting, no calls to violence, no plots hatched to disrupt the service of employee transport, and really very little talk of the tech world.

According to its website, Defend the Bay Area seeks to be a hub for the various Bay Area organizations and individuals who would fight back against the social and economic forces that are changing the face of the region.

According to the group’s website:

“We are issuing a call for all individuals and groups that are concerned with issues of rent, gentrification, surveillance, the police state, real estate development, and the destructive impact of the tech industry on people's daily lives.”
Rather than pursue legislation, their chosen praxis is one of Direct Action. Their website includes a calendar of upcoming “actions,” including tonight’s Crypto Anti-Surveillance Training courtesy of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I’ll be there and will report back what I hear, irony notwithstanding.

[Photo credit: Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures]