Friday, December 13, 2013

Citizen Stand-In

Last Monday, some protesters stopped a Google bus at Valencia St. and 24th. My first reaction was, “Excellent,” but I know out-and-out war in the Mission would not be good, though protesting and public actions can be part of bringing attention to an issue, the way that Critical Mass is part, but not all, of the pro-bicycling movement.

I was reading the comments on sfgate.com after work and was struck by an imbalance in tone that reminded me of the difference, generally speaking, between Democrats and Republicans. People on one side were saying things like, “We don’t want our city remade into a playground for the rich,” while some of the others were saying, “Don’t you whiny losers have jobs to go to?” I undoubtedly bring bias to this that I’m blind to, but it did seem that the pro-money crowd, if we can call them that, was much more likely to hurl insults and use vitriolic language.

Some of the comments boiled down to, “If I can afford something, who else’s business is it?” Quite so—if it weren’t for the racism and sexism that persist in our country, making it very likely that the person able to afford the luxurious dwelling and superb amenities is white and/or a man, and this effect trickles down from generation to generation. The children of the rich white man are more likely to end up studying at Harvard and having fancy careers than the children of the African American or Latino on public assistance. There are many exceptions on both sides, but they prove the rule.

The former should be grateful for their nice lives and enjoy them—it doesn’t help anyone not to enjoy what you have—but they should also demonstrate awareness that the deck was and remains stacked in their favor. Saying, “Boy, there’s a lot of haters of successful people out there. What’s wrong? The art degree didn’t work out for you?,” does not demonstrate that awareness. The demographics of the high-tech industry are a matter of record. It’s white and male.

The Google buses are symbolic of something well beyond Google itself, but they in particular use municipal bus stops without having paid any fees or made any formal arrangement with the city, and they evidently languish at the curb waiting for people to show up instead of stopping, picking up whoever might be there, and leaving. Tom has fumed over them many a time for blocking the bike lane on Valencia. Anyone else who parks illegally in a municipal bus stop is courting a nearly $300 ticket.

There are in fact other ways to get from San Francisco to Mountain View, such as Caltrain. The bus is an amenity for these workers and obviously the company has the right to offer it and the workers understandably wish to take advantage of it, though, as has been pointed out, if it weren’t offered, maybe the workers would live closer to their jobs, which would be the more environmentally friendly choice. Also, it would be great if the money and ingenuity of the tech companies and their employees went into improving mass transit for all, instead of simply abandoning it and setting up a much nicer parallel system that only certain people get to use.

Someone suggested that it would help if they lost the tinted windows—it’s like having a gated community rolling through the neighborhood. You know special and important people must be behind those windows, but you are not worthy of resting your eyeballs on them. But one commenter found that a horrifying idea. To paraphrase: “Goodness, no one wants to be stared as if they’re a zoo animal!” But as another commenter explained, people on the public buses can indeed be seen through the windows and they are not “zoo animals.” We refer to them as “citizens.”
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