Protesters who attempted to demonstrate outside the TechCrunch Disrupt conference Wednesday afternoon found themselves disrupted instead, after TechCrunch organizers called security—who then called the police—to shoo away the protest.
A group of around 20 disgruntled San Francisco citizens gathered outside the main entrance to TechCrunch Disrupt yesterday afternoon, calling on San Francisco techies to support ballot initiatives intended to stop home evictions and raise the city’s minimum wage. Both are big issues in San Francisco, where skyrocketing rents—thanks largely to the tech boom—are pricing out many long-time city residents.
While the protesters waved signs and chanted along with megaphone-wielding leaders, the TechCrunch closing awards celebrated the winner of the event’s startup-battle competition: Alfred, a personal butler that manages on-demand services like housecleaning and laundry.
But the protest only lasted for 40 minutes. According to Shum Preston, a campaign strategist for Raise the Bay who helped coordinate the demonstration, TechCrunch asked police to remove the protesters from the parking lot outside the event.
I contacted TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Tsotsis for comment. After some back-and-forth via email, she provided me with the following statement, which she asked me to attribute to “TechCrunch”:
There were people intimidating our guests and blocking them from leaving parking spaces. We were asked if our security could manage this situation, and we said yes. The property managers took this one step further and asked the police from Giants stadium [where a baseball game was underway] to come by and assist (without our knowledge).
We did not request, nor authorize any removal of protestors from property to which the public has the right to access. The only thing I was interested in was protecting the safety of TechCrunch staff as I would in the normal course of business.
We did allow the DisruptDenial people to hang out in the parking lot and peacefully distribute coffee and talk to our guest. They actually parked a trailer there without asking and we allowed them to continue doing what they were doing.
Shum said the group was approached by a San Francisco police officer who asked them to disperse. “We told him we believed it was public property, which he said was possible, but we complied,” he told me by email.
Why The Protest?
Claudia Tirado, who joined the protests with her son Valentino, is fighting eviction from a building recently bought by Google executive Jack Halprin. In June, Tirado crashed Google’s I/O developer conference to call attention to the pending eviction of Halprin’s tenants.
Tirado, a veteran 3rd-grade teacher in the San Francisco public schools, lives with her son and partner (who, by the way, drives for Uber to help support the family). If evicted, she said, they’ll have to move away from San Francisco, where the average rent is $3,200 per month.
“We have to adapt to this technology and we struggle every day to make it and keep our family together,” she said.
Preston said that the activists came out to Disrupt to ask attending technologists to support fair wages and housing to “disrupt economic inequality.”
“It’s an effort to get the tech industry to support and come out in favor of raising the minimum wage and asking them to support Prop G which will provide economic incentives to stop the quick flipping,” Shum said, referring to the way landlords buy property at a low price, then evict tenants and sell it for much larger sum. “Is it the perfect solution for housing? Obviously not.”
But it is a start, he says.
Tech And The SF Housing Crunch
The San Francisco Bay Area has seen a number of anti-tech protests this year. There was a spate of demonstrations against the buses that shuttle employees from San Francisco and Oakland to Silicon Valley throughout the year, including one at which protester intentionally vomited on a Yahoo shuttle in April.
TechCrunch itself has covered both the protests and the underlying issues, most notably in a 13,000-word piece on the San Francisco housing crisis by the site’s Kim-Mai Cutler in April. Cutler even moderated a panel on the subject on Tuesday at … TechCrunch Disrupt.
Though the protest was small, Shum said he was pleased with the turnout. “Inside they were feting virtual butlers, while outside, sure, the execs were ignoring the poor and middle-class folks who are getting squeezed by this economy,” he said.
Update 3:40 p.m.: After publishing, TechCrunch responded with the following statement from COO Ned Desmond.
TechCrunch supports the right to peaceful protest and the right of our Disrupt attendees to move freely in and out of the Pier 48 during our show. When the Pier 48 property manager asked a group of protestors to stop obstructing cars and guests at the show entrance, they refused to cooperate. At that point the property manager requested help from the police.
Images by Selena Larson for ReadWrite