Google will never be a "good neighbour"; we need to be our own best hope

Article about Google and the continuing gentrification of San Francisco.

Submitted by Cindy Milstein on June 27, 2014

Pictured here is some of the dark side of the Star-Wars-themed demonstration, "Google: Don't Be Evil," on Wednesday, June 25, outside the incredibly well-attended, $900 per participant Google I/O code development gathering at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Organized by Eviction Free SF, SF Jobs with Justice, SEIU-USWW, San Francisco Rising Alliance, and San Francisco Rising Action Fund, the rally involved maybe a hundred people -- a generous estimate -- at its peak, coming face-to-Google-glass with thousands and thousands of the prototypical -- or is it androidish -- app-happy new generation of elites and wanna-be elites, meaning mostly white/Asian males under thirty with a sprinkling of white/Asian females under thirty.

The protest could have illustrated the systemic logic of Google as exemplar #1 of a neocapitalism that's creating global ungated cities for the rich, displacing and impoverishing millions worldwide, setting up suprastates capable of profoundly deep as well as expansive surveillance, destroying any sort of safety net with its cruel joke of a "sharing economy," restructuring human communication and culture for the worse, and perhaps, likely, increasingly dehumanizing us all, among other transformations now in light-speed process.

But too many of the comparatively tiny group of eviction resisters, tenants rights folks, and labor organizers were chanting and speaking about an "evil" versus "good" Google, as if it's simply a matter of a few bad eggs. Too many were asking Google to be respectful, to do the right thing, to "develop a conscience not an app," as if it were a person who had briefly strayed from the path of goodness. Too many were asking the same force, the same lord and master, that is ruining most of the planet in the interest of power for the few to suddenly, somehow, create a world for us all, with food, homes, health care, dignity, etc., for all. Indeed, the overarching demand for this protest was, "We call upon Google to be a good neighbor," as if cozy coexistence with some of the greatest power consolidation in human history, and greatest inequality and injustice, is the neighborly aim.

I am, perhaps, overstating how disturbing it was, but it honestly felt embarrassing to be at a demonstration with such a naive demand. It's far more "utopian" in the caricatured sense of the word to ask that top-down power hand over the goods it is amassing (including its power) than it is to demand (and work toward) the much more possible utopia of things like collective rent strikes, land and building occupations, autonomous communities, collective eviction resistance, land trusts, expropriations and encampments to stake out commons, neighborhood assemblies, experiments in the cooperative redistribution of wealth and resources, and things that emanate from our own power-together. Hard as that is to imagine in a quickly vanishing San Francisco, it's a lot more likely than Google (or its actual neighbor, capitalism!) "reforming" itself, which would mean abolishing private property and giving up hierarchy, patriarchy, racism, ableism, ageism, . . .

Things are only getting worse. We are losing ground, homes, and lives by the day, by the hour. We're losing almost faster than we can comprehend. It's dispiriting enough to bear weakness, and harder still to be a participant in that loss. It's near debilitating, moreover, to be awake to the precariousness and suffering all around one on a daily basis in this city in a city, where one half sees only what it wants to see within its comfy, self-insulated digs -- say, the awesomeness of money, quirky-delicious luxury food trend, or excitement that the next android will be called lollipop, since it is, after all, brain candy! -- and the other half is written off, dehumanized to the point of being expendable garbage; where one half are thoroughly pampered and babied, and the other half are driven mad. Each insult adds extra injury. Examples are abundant, even if housing isn't. It's troubling, to say the least -- or should be -- to watch Google give away some of its charity crumbs to outfit a former Google bus into a mobile shower unit so that the homeless can bathe once a week after being made and/or kept homeless through entities like Google in particular -- one if the key infrastructural players in the eviction epidemic in San Francisco and elsewhere.

But it's downright depressing to live in a la-la land of thinking that megamonsters like Google can be shamed into being nice. Capitalism is shameless by definition, and it is dynamic as well as creative in continually reinventing itself. It's just as glad to put a smiling face on itself, or a caring/sharing one, even as it wrecks havoc for most of the human and nonhuman world. That's why it keeps winning, and why thousands crowded eagerly, unabashedly, in Google glasses and munching their free Google doughnuts, with tablets, smartphones, and other new devices in their hands as well as app ideas swirling in their heads, into a convention center boasting an enormous "I/O" on its sleek-glass exterior. Techies, in fact, understand themselves to be "a force for good," to already be doing "better" for the world precisely through their inventions, entrepreurial spirit, and start-ups. The magic of today's capitalism, particularly in the Bay Area, is that this do-gooder ethos, its ethic, draws from the progressive, ecological history of subcultures and social movements, bringing it into the brutal logic of commodification, alienation, and appropriation that makes capitalism a recognizable system that only, always, benefits a small segment of the population, and increasingly wants to displace, erase, and even kill off the rest.

Where is our dynamism and creativity, not to come up with easy answers or tired, impossible themes and slogans, but to boldly envision new, collective strategies of solidarity, mutual aid, care, and especially, being our own best hope to and for each other?


A shining star of the Google I/O protest, in contrast, was Claudia Tirado, who braved the thousands-of-techies-long line, armed with a donated entry pass, to get into the Moscone Center -- by herself -- in order to single-handedly disrupt the keynote talk. As all attendees' eyes were on her, she stood up to talk about Google lawyer Jack Halprin's eviction of the seven apartments of people -- including her (an SF teacher) and her two-year-old son -- from the huge house that Halprin recently bought on Guerrero Street in San Francisco's Mission. More than ever, it seems to me, caring women hold up the world, and are courageous and clear-eyed enough to boldly contest its many injustices. Bravo, Claudia! (For one news story, among many, on her direct action, see

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(Photo by Cindy Milstein, protest sign outside Google I/O, Moscone Ceneter, SF, June 25, 2014.)

Note: This piece was originally published on Fireworks, a Bay Area anarchist newspaper, at



8 years 4 months ago

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Submitted by Soapy on January 5, 2016

I am not too familiar with the situation in San Francisco, have no particular knowledge of what is occurring, and although I of course put no stock into any notion that developments in tech are somehow benefiting people in an egalitarian manner, I do find some things that you are writing to be pretty far fetched.

For instance, can you please elaborate on what you describe as "neo-capitalism"? Are you referring to neoliberalism? The current manifestation of the financial sector? The new developments in the tech sector?

Also, can you explain how technology is "dehumanizing" us? This country was founded on genocide and the slave trade killed probably about 8 million Africans, not to mention the slavery that endured throughout the South until WWII. This while the white working class suffered enormously and were massacred frequently when they tried to organized themselves.

Long before people checked their email while waiting for the rush hour train John F Kennedy launched a war in which the United States government would slaughter about 4 million Vietnamese/Laotians/Cambodians, destroying the peasant societies of those countries, leading to the rise of Pol Pot in Cambodia (who the US later supported). I don't think you accurately portraying the history of the US when you claim that now we are entering a "dehumanizing" phase of existence, as if it is any worse than what has preceded it. Not to mention that it is at best unclear how constant access to the internet is affecting our humanity negatively.

I do not think that teenagers getting too obsessed with their facebook profile signals that technology is "dehumanizing" a society characterized by extreme violence against its own population and the world itself.

As a side note, I would like to see what you have to say about what I have heard which is that housing prices in San Francisco have exploded because the residents of the city refused to build high rise apartments to accommodate the new workers moving in to staff the tech companies. This led to a massive shortage of supply for a highly increased demand. A more pragmatic approach might have been more appropriate.

I'd like to know what your thoughts are on this.