SF Class War 2.0 – Activism is iterating

By Dan Raile , written on May 30, 2014

From The News Desk

The “class wars” that erupted in a series of Google bus blockades over the winter seem to have subsided somewhat, or perhaps have just ceased to generate the click-rates to feature prominently among daily reader-chum.

This relative silence is music (presumedly not the kind one makes with bullhorns and hand drums) to the ears of the tech industry and elected officials who’d prefer to be the glove to the industry’s hand.

But forces are gathering in the quiet, and a new chapter will soon be written – this time with less weaponized vomit and leaflets that recall mid-century fascist propaganda. One interesting aspect of the next stage will surely be that the activists will demonstrate more sophistication in terms both of their ‘actions’ and their media strategies. Surely, because its already being seen.

I wrote last month of press-release canvassing that resulted in an overwhelming number of media representatives at a bus blockade in the Mission. Earlier this month, some of those same homegrown activists joined forces with national watchdog groups to bring a proposal to the floor of Google’s annual shareholder meeting, asking for Google to disclose details of its lobbying efforts to shareholders.

<Digression> Jesse Jackson, on behalf of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, was also at the meeting and introduced a proposal that Google disclose information regarding the demographic makeup of its employees. On Wednesday, Google acquiesced to that proposal and released data confirming that its workforce was mostly white and male. The company has been roundly applauded in the press for this act of “groundbreaking” transparency, but has kept mum about the amount and purpose of the moneys it puts into the pockets of groups such as ALEC. </Digression>

One of the leaders of continuing efforts to hold the industry’s feet to the fire and draw attention to the unseemly side of San Francisco’s housing crisis has been the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (AMP). We’ve written before about the group’s leadership role in various actions and its online maps documenting the distribution of Ellis Act evictions.

And recently, they’ve been on a tear. Last week they launched a crowd-sourced map where people can share their personal experiences of gentrification. Yesterday, they released the results of their own research into the campaign financing behind the California State Assembly race between current SF Supervisors David Chiu and David Campos, in the form of some nifty charts on their website, mainly concerned with the amount of donations coming from real estate interests. According to the charts, both men have received 26% of total direct donations from real estate concerns, though Chiu has raised roughly twice the amount as Campos.

In the coming weeks, they plan to release a new filterable map that incorporates oral histories of the evicted. But they haven’t abandoned the street: They’ll be on hand for Monday’s WWDC at the Moscone Center, wielding the bullhorn.

Pando aren’t the only ones to take notice. Earlier this week, Business Insider profiled AMP co-founder Erin McElroy, noting that “[h]er critique of how tech companies are reshaping San Francisco is much more complicated than you think it’s going to be,” confirming its finely tuned sense of its readers prejudices.

The AMP’s use of the tools of the tech trade (filtered maps, snazzy charts, Big Data, continual iteration) to chronicle San Francisco’s housing problems represents the “sides” of the debate inching slowly closer together.

And yesterday there is news out of Sacramento that is likely to delight both the activists and key elements of the tech community alike. A bill authored by Mark Leno that would allow San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors to amend parts of the Ellis Act has passed the Senate and will move on to the Assembly during the summer. The bill, SB 1439, had been voted down earlier this week, but narrowly passed yesterday with Leno’s agreement to make certain amendments. It incurred predictably potent opposition from real estate interests. What’s unpredictable is that both Ron Conway’s and the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project were instrumental supporters. I wrote last month about’s support, here. And the AMP helped produce a report that reached lawmakers in the state capital.

San Francisco’s housing woes are a problem without easy solutions. By chronicling the progress of gentrification by doing original research and presenting the data with tidy visualizations, the AMP represents a wing of “anti-tech” activism that is being creative, strategic and advancing the conversation. While we’re not likely to see Erin McElroy and Ron Conway high-fiving over the Ellis Act victory, here’s hoping we do see a lot more of this pragmatic approach in the months to come.