Hey, did you guys see that thing in SF today? You know, the thing all over the twitters?
Yea! This Thing:
In case you missed it, a Google Bus was stopped by activists this morning protesting its use of city bus stops to transport tech employees to Mountain View without compensating the city for use of the stops (whew). I was stoked to read about this. Yes, there is apparently something, “in the works” to regulate these buses as some blog commenters have pointed out but nothing has been done up to this point. And even when a deal is reached its hard to imagine it not greatly benefiting the tech firms. Unless, of course, the people speak out.
Honestly, my first thought was, “what took so long?” In a city known for its activism, its been really quiet around here. Aside from a pathetic “anti-gentrification” rally were a small crowd beat up a Google bus pinata, there haven’t been a lot of organized protests on the matter. Which is surprising given that every other article I read about now has to deal with evictions, rising rents and a City that is rapidly losing its character. “When do we reach our boiling point?” I wondered. Occupy SF wasn’t that long ago, I’ve seen what happens when people get pushed too far.
So finally, today we get a well organized protest with a clear message. And then this happens:
Man was I pissed! What an asshole, right? Twitter sure was pissed, too. Facebook was pissed once it heard the news from Twitter. Everybody’s pissed everywhere.
Then this happened:
Fake Google Employee Was An Actor, Union Organizer, And Occupy Mainstay
A staged event! Holy shit! Well, I got all pissed off at this guy. So did Twitter and Facebook. The blogs who reported on the guy were extra pissed because they felt they were deceived. We’re all still pissed but now for different reasons!
Luckily for me I have a friend in Guarantor. While I like to believe I’m a reliable left-wing guy who shows up at his town hall meetings and supports activism, I really know very little about protesting and how it works. For example, I never knew that there is the occasional theater act. Protesters like Max Alpern, the real name of the fake Google employee, will act out the scenario that they are protesting against. This theater is obviously an act to those who are watching it. Being a comedian, I immediately got this. This guy Max was putting on a show and the media being the dummies they are thought it was real and reported it as such. Or maybe they knew it was fake and reported it as real anyway for the added exposure. After all, the Guardian was the paper that uploaded the video of Alpen and distributed it as fact despite their having interviewed Alpen as a member of Occupy a couple of years ago.
Not everyone gets to have Nato explain things to them, though, so the chorus of, “this guy ruined the protest” is still ringing out. The online news sources are really butt-hurt; the SF Weekly felt the need to write an article chastising his actions. Everyone seems to think that Alpern should have turned around after his performance and acknowledged it was theater. If what Nato tells me is true this is absurd, it would be like me saying, “just kidding!” after every joke. I’m doing comedy, you get it – he’s doing theater, you should get it. But then I read a comment by Boots Riley that made me think even a bit further. Responding to a friend of mine who made a point about the theater getting all the attention rather than the protest, Boots wrote, “Few would have heard about it if not for the theater.” He’s right. He’s so right that I wondered, “What if Alpern did really try to dupe everybody into thinking he was a Google employee? Would the end justify the means?” Since that is what happened regardless of his intent (for the record, I believe he had no intent to fool anyone) I think the answer is yes.
I’ve learned that protesting has a lot to do with visibility and disruption. Not long ago I was one of those people who didn’t understand Critical Mass. “All it does is clog traffic and piss people off, what’s the point,” I’d think. Well, that’s exactly the point, dummy. Without the big show no one pays attention to these causes. I read some comments about the bus protesters stating that they’re just holding up traffic and keeping people from work. They’re being a nuisance, not solving a problem, etc. This argument is silly when you get right down to it. If not the disruption, what’s the alternative? Ask politely? Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it? Everyone did ask nicely, a whole lot of times. And nobody listened. So now we are stopping your bus or filling your traffic lanes with bicycles until you do listen. If part of that noise is a guy impersonating an antagonistic figure, so be it. The attention to the issue is what matters.