The Crunchies are a San Francisco-based dog and pony show for the tech industry, hosted by technology business news site Tech Crunch. But amid rising San Franciscan anger, this year's Crunchies took on a decidely different tone.
At the outset of last night's [Mon/10] awards ceremony, big-time investor and noted "Godfather of Silicon Valley," Ron Conway, asked a question. "Raise your hand if your company is located in San Francisco," he asked the tech employees gathered in Davies Symphony Hall.
Hundreds of hands rose across the audience. That's San Francisco's point of pride, and point of contention. Techies bring jobs and growth, supposedly, to the city, but also all the side effects thereof: a housing crisis, mass evictions, overpriced toast, rising unrest. Even the Crunchies' opener and host, comedian John Oliver (of Daily Show fame), took it to the techies of the city.
"You're no longer the underdogs! It's very important you realize that," he said to the crowd, roasting the attendees who still laughed anyway. He even brought the Google buses into the mix. "Now you're pissing off an entire city, not just what with what you do at work but how you get to work. It's not easy to do that!"
Cue the Crappies, the awards ceremony for the rest of us. Hosted on the sidewalk just outside the Crunchies, the Crappies highlighted folks in tech most responsible for turning San Francisco into a playland for the rich, as opposed to a hometown for families, and put them on blast.
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo was named Best Tax Evader of the Year, in honor of the now estimated $55 million Twitter local tax break championed by Mayor Ed Lee. The man who confused attacks on the 1 percent with Nazi Germany, Tom Perkins, was honored for Diarrhea of the Mouth. Google was honored for driving a Bus in a Bubble. Ron Conway, the angel investor who invested early in companies like AskJeeves and Twitter, was named Angel of Death.
— Joe Fitz Rodriguez (@FitzTheReporter) February 11, 2014
Understandably, none of the actual folks awarded came to pick up their colorfully painted plungers, the trophy Crappy award winners were handed. Local activist Tony Robles dressed in a cape, reminscent of a vampire. People posed as their favorite tech evil-doers.
Attendance was sparse at about 50 folks or so, but the political theater played just outside Davies Symphony Hall, well within view of tech employees lining up for their gleaming, red-carpet ceremony.
"I think they were confused and didn't want anything to do with what we were doing," Erin McElroy, a tenants rights activist and event organizer, told us.
An audio interview with protest co-organizer Erin McElroy.
Inside the event, techies dressed in bowties and lavish dresses posed for pictures. Camera in hand, this Guardian reporter was mistaken for an event photographer, and we started to ask attendees (after clarifying we were a reporter) what they thought of the protest outside.
The opinions were decidedly mixed. There were certainly sentiments shrugging off the protest as typical San Francisco antics, but tech workers from outside San Francisco tended to be more sympathetic.
All companies should be civically minded, said Shinta Dhanuwardoyo, CEO and founder of bubu, a tech oriented ad agency. "It doesn't have to be just tech," she said.
Tech isn't responsible for all the city's ails and ills, another attendee told us, but maybe there's a middle ground. "Just paying attention, help and not just trying to make cool stuff, maybe they should," said Aryo Ariotedjo, CEO and co-founder of footwear design website Project Shoe.
But still, some tech folks still aren't getting the message. They reduce protests to simple ideas, like tech hatred, or think that tech is already doing more than enough to help. Silicon Valley news site Venture Beat said the anger against Conway, for example, was misplaced.
"Meanwhile, inside Davies Symphony Hall, Conway delivered a heartfelt speech about the need for tech companies and employees to give back to the community, and pledged $12,000 in matching funds for a fundraiser for nonprofits," they wrote, calling out the Crappies for not recognizing his civic-mindedness.
Its thesis that $12,000 towards nonprofits could make up for the lost homes of hundreds of San Franciscans, or the painful cost of living increases for middle and low income families affected by the tech boom, is questionable, to say the least.
A protester holds a sign asking the tech industry to take responsibility for their impact to San Francisco. Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez.
At the end of the day, demonizing tech was not the goal protest organizer Erin McElroy worked towards, she said. Put simply, she just wants tech workers to wake up, to pitch in, and become part of the community.
"We're really not trying to pivot ourselves against tech workers, but it's up to those workers to open their eyes to what's going on," McElroy told us after the event. Displacement and rising costs are tied to tech's presence, and they should pitch in where they can, she said.
"They could protest with us, or come to a tenants' rights meetings," she said. "They could make conscious efforts not to move in where someone was evicted. There's so many things they could do, and that's one of the things we're trying to convey."
The conversation between tech and the community is evolving, and soon there may be hope of real solutions. The Mission District has played host to a series of dinners allowing dicussion between tech and long time residents, and an upcoming Tech Workers Against Displacement Happy Hour touts its goal to "create an open discussion on how improved communication and collaboration can affect reforms needed to stop involuntary displacements of longterm San Franciscans and ensure sustainable, cohesive and diverse communities."
One can only hope tech workers get the message: join the cause. Unite with the communities of San Francisco, and work together to stop displacement.