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Do Anti-Tech Protestors Have an Extremist Problem?
Scott Lucas | Photo: Courtesy Business Insider | April 14, 2014
A journalist in the Mission gets Glass-mugged.
Let's put this out there before we go any further: The anti-gentrification activists who block tech buses, crowd into Board of Supervisors meetings, and picket in front of properties where evictions are taking place are well within a venerable San Francisco tradition of civil disobedience and political agitation. You might quibble with some of their arguments, but they're pointing to a real problem.
That said, they also seem to have a bit of an issue with extremists in their ranks committing acts of violence. And that's not helping them—or anybody.
The latest round of brutishness happened on Friday, when a journalist covering anti-eviction protests in the Mission was mugged because he was wearing a pair of Google Glass. Business Insider's Kyle Russell writes that a "colleague and I were on our way to the 16th Street BART station—I'll note that I wasn't using any device at the time—when a person put their hand on my face and yelled, 'Glass!' In an instant the person was sprinting away, Google Glass in hand. I ran after, through traffic, to the corner of the opposite block. The person pivoted, shifting their weight to put all of their momentum into an overhand swing. The Google Glass smashed into the ground, and they ran in another direction."
And though Russell subsequently bent over backward in his post to excuse the attack ("My love for gadgets makes me look and sound like one of the people whom residents of the city have come to feel oppressed by."), these aren't the kinds of actions that make anybody want to agree with you.
The assault—which we can only assume was politically motivated given that the Glass was destroyed, not resold on the face-computer black market—is only the latest in what has become a string of anti-tech attacks, including rock throwing at and vomiting on buses in Oakland, as well as a (likely provoked) bar fight in the Haight. And while none of these incidents rise to a significant level of danger, the pattern is clear: There are some hooligans in the protesting ranks.
Many political movements have the same problems: Occupy had its Black Bloc of anarchists who smashed windows and confronted the police. Anti-abortion activists have their own violent members as well. The real test isn't so much whether or not the fringe element exists, it's what the rest of the group does about them.
Which is why the reaction—or silence—of self-styled progressive voices is so troubling. Local progressive media like is more than happy to cover the political demonstrations, yet often turns a blind eye toward the violence. They cover the protests—but not the undercurrent of violence.
Over on Twitter, the reaction was raw: "Who cares? Glass makes you look like an asshole." or "I'm going to shove your pathetic nerd body into a locker."
These aren't the actions, or the responses, of a political movement that's worth taking seriously—or one that's winning. Because if your cause is all about "San Francisco values," it might be worth remembering that non-violence is one of them.