There was a protest in my neighborhood yesterday. The president's in town, fund raising for the DNC. He's staying at one of the city's most expensive hotels in the heart of downtown San Jose, and the people gathered in the public square facing the hotel - La Plaza De Cesar Chavez - to demonstrate against the Keystone XL pipeline project at the behest of Credo Action Network. About two hundred people eventually showed up, cordoned off well away from the hotel until the president's motorcade arrived. Once he got there, dozens of protesters bum-rushed the front door, desperate to gain access to the event taking place inside. Countless others howled and chanted in the plaza, waving signs and banners proud and fierce. It was a spirited event, demonstrating once again that, if you manage to achieve the right combination of numbers, hostility, and bravery bordering on recklessness, a spark will be lit and a story will be made to tell.
It's shame that this one will serve only as a footnote in the history of the protest movement, as much for those who demonstrated yesterday as for the causes they were demonstrating against. Today, La Plaza De Cesar Chavez is empty, and the president is gone. But there is still so much to fight for.
I don't want to make light of the fact that climate change is arguably the biggest issue of our time. The #noKXL movement has been the most successful push against the anti-science front thus far, drawing tens of thousands of people from across the country, and deserves all the respect it has earned thus far. But the fervor of the climate change movement has failed to resonate well across other issues across Silicon Valley, whether related or otherwise.
The natural gas industry is encroaching on the lands surrounding our homes, searching for shale deposits and rapaciously gobbling up fracking rights. Where are the demonstrations? We have the largest homeless population in the country, tens of thousands living under bridges, in the sewers, or in abandoned buildings. Where is the effort to strengthen the social safety net? A huge wage-fixing cartel was just discovered among the Valley's most prominent tech companies. Where are the picket signs?
The Silicon Valley's climate change reformers, however noble their sentiments may be, tend to be people with too much to lose to devote time, energy, or money to issues that require them to either descend into the bowels of the city's everyday litigation problems, small and large. It's a polite, bourgeois revolution, providing a shiny, feel-good abstraction that doesn't involve exposing themselves to more localized accountability or responsibility. Civic duty just isn't sexy, nor is it especially innovative or visionary. It involves getting your hands dirty, literally and metaphorically. You have to abandon the safety of the Internet, and you have to do it regularly. You also have to know that you, too are being exploited, and, like the partygoers of Edgar Allen Poe's “Masque Of The Red Death,” not only are you far from immune to the vagaries of corruption, they already walk among you.
Author Mark Ames, commenting on Silicon Valley's wage-fixing cartel revelations, provides our epitaph:
“What’s more important is the political predicament that low-paid fast food workers share with well-paid hi-tech workers: the loss of power over their lives and their futures to the growing mass of concentrated power in Silicon Valley, whose tentacles are so strong now and so great, that hundreds of thousands of workers around the globe...have their lives controlled and their wages and opportunities stolen from them without ever knowing about it, all the while being bombarded with cultural cant about the wisdom of the free market, about the efficiency of free knowledge, about the need to take personal responsibility and to blame no one but yourself for everything that happens in your life and your career.”It's time to bury the myth of Tomorrowland that the Silicon Valley promised America. It's killing us faster than climate change ever will.