|Courtesy Leslie Dreyer|
This post started out as an exploration about recent changes and resistance in the bay area. But now I am finishing it on Valentine's Day. So, it must be about love too.
There has been a lot of talk about Google buses recently. Some demonstrators have held rallies at the bus stops, and in one extreme case, a demonstrator broke a window on a bus. The city of San Francisco has begun charging a small fee for the use of public bus stops. But this anger towards Google is real. Where is it coming from?
I have been remembering the many Occupy camps I visited in 2011. Although those camps are gone, the idea that the one percent are running everything has stuck in the country’s consciousness. That is victory. A foundation was laid.
San Francisco is changing and quickly becoming unaffordable for anybody who makes less than six digits. Some of the resistance to this change has to do with nostalgia, a form of NIMBYism. Some of it has to do with large buses crowding small streets. Some of it has to do with working people being evicted by developers buying small buildings to convert them to TICs (as a friend of ours recently experienced). Some of it probably has to do with envy too! And some of it has to do with Google becoming Big Brother and cozying up to the evil NSA. (“Do no evil” indeed.)
At the same time, a project proposed on the Embarcadero, 8 Washington, was recently voted down at the ballot box. The idea of putting every possible development project up for the ballot is questionable, but there were people whom I respect on both sides of the argument. I am of at least two minds (typical). On the one hand, I am not crazy about another housing project for the one percent. But on the other hand, it is a higher use than a private swim and tennis club that benefits the affluent with little contribution to the city. I have to say, I rather liked SOM’s design too.
But both of these events (and dozens of others, including the development proposals adjacent to Crissy Field) bring up issues about urban development and class warfare, or at least potential class warfare. Right now it’s class conflict. Organizations ranging from the big (SPUR) to the small (Storefront Lab) have been doing a good job talking about density, development, transit, and regional planning. But right now, I am thinking about class conflict turning into class warfare. The Google buses (which provide non-single-occupant-vehicle transportation for well-paid middle class workers, not members of the ruling class—remember, those are the ones with drivers and private jets!) are a symbol, as much as 8 Washington is a symbol. The one percent are taking over the city, much as they have already taken over the society. The difference is that in San Francisco, it has become more visible. At the national level, the elite of the one percent have done a good job of staying hidden.
The underlying conflict here is the one discussed in Robert Reich’s recent writings and his documentary Inequality for All. His main point is that the growing inequality between the very rich and everybody else is destabilizing our democratic society. And he’s right.
I think the choice is clear. We either move towards voluntary redistribution of wealth downwards or risk an involuntary redistribution of wealth accompanied by violence. It is in the long-term interest of the one percent to start reshaping society so that they don’t concentrate so much wealth in their camp. I mean, honestly, how much better can one’s life be after the first few million?
Revolution will come when the aspiring middle classes see their path cut off. And as Reich points out, research all over the country shows this happening. Occasionally, I hear people complain about welfare cheats and Section 8 recipients, and while I don’t condone anybody stealing from the government, what poor people are going to do, legally or illegally, is a drop in the bucket to what we, the middle class, are paying to subsidize the wealthy corporations through direct government transfers and indirect tax breaks. We have a welfare state—it happens to be welfare for the rich. When the government supports the rich, as has done most intensely since 9/11 and the dramatic growth of the military industrial security complex, it is called capitalism. When it redistributes the income so that the poor and middle class can survive the chicanery of the one percent, it is called socialism.
So I don’t mind a street protest that calls out Google for colluding with the government, for concentrating wealth, for creating secrecy instead of transparency, for doing evil when their credo says they won’t. But don’t bust the windows. Don’t stop the middle class workers (albeit the well-paid middle class workers) from going to work. Vote against 8 Washington if you think it’s really going to hurt the city. These are still sideshows to the main event. We have to take to the streets and the airwaves to urge the one percent to support initiatives that give people healthcare, housing, food, and a voice. We need to protest the Koch Brothers, their ilk, and their level of influence! This is the future of Occupy, and it is our children’s future. Let’s restructure capitalism with intentional action rather than violence. Let's remember love as we resist.