Istanbul, Shanghai, Berlin or San Francisco. Metropolitan flair, international inhabitants and diversity are certainly one of the first associations that come into ones mind when thinking about these mega cities. But they have something more in common than these brandings, something less attractive. Almost every big city and other places in the world are affected by the phenomenon of gentrification and have to face the arising problems.
Silicon Valley and the Bay Area of San Francisco are particularly affected by gentrification in its highest form. The gap between the “normal” citizens and the tech-experts is continuously growing and it seems as if the companies are going to take over the entire area. According to a study from the Brookings Institute, San Francisco has the second highest gap between rich and poor in the United States.
A group of anarchists, that calls themselves after a resistance group of a novel by Thomas Pynchon “the Counterforce”, got active in issuing the problems that arise with the big tech firms such as Google, Yahoo, Amazon or Apple.
In general, the group accuses the mega concern to gentrify the Bay Area of San Francisco, which causes an increase in rent prices and subsequently the displacement of long-term residents. The privatization of the area and the firm´s private bus shuttle system that only transports respectively Google, Apple or Amazon employees has developed to be the symbol of the arising problems and is the center of the actions. Also, it stands for the growing gap of the society and the exclusion of non-tech citizens. Instead of subsidizing the public transport system, the firms created a special status system, which is only accessible for their employees. The activists blocked these busses to make the public aware of that problem. The conflicts escalated when some activists smashed stones at one of the driving busses. This action is on the one hand a violent attack, but it also shows how deep the anger is rooted and how desperate the activists must be in fighting against the big firms.
On a flyer they distributed, they state more problems they have with Google in general, since the bus shuttles are just the side-effect of the gentrification process:
„Our problem is with Google, its pervasive surveillance capabilities utilized by the NSA, the technologies it is developing, and the gentrification its employees are causing in every city they inhabit. But our problem does not stop with Google. All of you other tech companies, all of you other developers and everyone else building the new surveillance state–We’re coming for you next„
This makes clear that the roots of the problems lie deeper and that the gentrification is only the peak of a series of events. They do not only protect their area but also draw attention to the firms hidden or at least not so obvious businesses.
Gentrification Follows the Monopolistic Power of High Tech Companies
A further indication for gentrification that is also visible in the Bay Area of San Francisco is the creation of new jobs and job opportunities. At first glance this seems to be a positive side effect of the firm´s expansions. Even a survey has shown that each new technological employee or entrepreneur in the Bay Area creates five new jobs that are not related to the technological sector directly. But the so-called tech-support consists of babysitters, food-deliverers, gardeners or cleaning staff and all of them are dependent on the hegemonic/monopolistic powers.
Solution by the Counterforce
“To this end, we now make our first clear demand of Google. We demand that Google give three billion dollars to an anarchist organization of our choosing. This money will then be used to create autonomous, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist communities throughout the Bay Area and Northern California. In these communities, whether in San Francisco or in the woods, no one will ever have to pay rent and housing will be free. With this three billion from Google, we will solve the housing crisis in the Bay Area and prove to the world that an anarchist world is not only possible but in fact irrepressible. If given the chance, most humans will pursue a course towards increased freedom and greater liberty.”
Whether or not this demand is an effective tool to solve the problems in the Bay Area is a matter in question. But that the gentrification and the growing disparities in the Bay Area have to stop somehow and that Google and the other firms have to integrate other civilians instead of further excluding them, is an important and necessary duty for the future. Since the image of Google and similar firms lacks of credibility anyway, they could take the chance and perform as forerunner for comparable happenings in the world.