‘They sell you a dream’: tech workers protest Clooney event for Clinton

After working in Silicon Valley for years, Morgan Quirk felt good protesting outside the home of a venture capitalist who funded tech startups and fundraisers for Hillary Clinton. He was part of a new splinter group of the liberal party: Democrats marching against Democrats in San Francisco, commuting tech workers against their bosses.

Protesters clang pots and pangs at the fundraisers. Photograph: The Guardian

“They sell you a dream at startups – the ping-pong, the perks – so they can pull 80 hours out of you,” said Quirk, a 26-year-old software engineer. “But in reality the venture capitalists control all the capital, all the labor, and all the decisions, so yeah, it feels great protesting one.”

Nearly 200 Bernie Sanders supporters gathered last night with pots and pans outside Shervin Pishevar’s star-studded Clinton fundraiser, co-hosted by George and Amal Clooney. The Sanders supporters argued corporate interests were buying Clinton that night – tickets for Pishevar’s dinner started at $33,400 (for a seat at the Fairmont hotel) and went up to $353,400 (for a seat at his house). Most of those in the streets were young, and many were in tech.

“Tech workers are workers, no matter how much money they make. The investors are what’s wrong in this city,” said 24-year-old Tom Sliwowski, one of the Bay Area Movement For Bernie organizers and a PhD student at Berkeley. “Tech workers are the face of gentrification, but they’re not the cause.

“Also, let’s be honest, you can’t blame them for ruining the Mission when Palo Alto is so boring.”

Massive protests outside Democratic fundraisers are rare in San Francisco, where most popular ire is directed at conservative events at South Bay estates. No major rallies rocked Nob Hill when Pishevar hosted Barack Obama for a fundraiser during his re-election campaign.

But today there’s a growing rift in the city, which may influence the 7 June Democratic primary. Among the tech community, as wealth consolidates, many young workers lured to town with images of striking it rich have been confronted by an increasingly depressing startup environment.

Bill Sandberg, a 29-year-old protester, said he had just been laid off from Zedo, an ad tech startup: “Bernie’s actually for the people. Hillary’s just bought and sold.”

Sanders has won over at least this set of tech workers. He’s raised $3.2m to Clinton’s $1.5m in the tech sector since February, according to the independent election data site CrowdPac. Around the state, Clinton’s still holds a lead, but Sanders is gaining. He has 39.3% of the vote to Clinton’s 48.8%, according to poll averages.

The Sanders campaign used outrage over Pishevar’s event to push for fundraising last night, asking for “small-dollar” donations that would match the price tag of a seat at the fundraiser. “Now, you know where this campaign stands on George Clooney. YUGE fans,” campaign manager Jeff Weaver wrote supporters. “But a political contribution of $353,000?!??! That’s just an obscene amount of money.”

Police near the fundraiser. Photograph: The Guardian

Before marching, the protesters gathered for a potluck on a warm afternoon in Huntington Park, at the top of the tony Nob Hill neighborhood and the epicenter of old town San Francisco. People brought enchiladas, sandwiches, oatmeal cookies. When one man rolled up with a stroller stacked with half a dozen pizzas, everyone cheered.

Sanders has become something of a cult hero to the group.

Christopher Day, 30 years old and in a “Dump Trump” T-shirt, got Sanders’ name tattooed on his wrist. Day also changed his dating app screen name to BernieBro: “I’m just embracing it.”

Has the new screen name worked?

“Really well, actually,” Day said.

Someone on a bullhorn welcomed the group: “On Washington Street [at Pishevar’s house] tonight, it’s not a potluck, it’s $30,000,” she said. “Who has that?”

Conrad Corpus, 39 years old and a tech worker, said he had come because he worried about corruption: “If I paid $33,000 for a fundraiser, I’d expect something in return.”

Bern tattoo. Photograph: The Guardian

How does it feel to be an employee for a startup, funded by venture capital, protesting outside a venture capitalist’s house? “I might feel different if it were my VC’s house,” Corpus admitted.

As policy director for the Bay Area Council, 32-year-old Adrian Covert “handles the Google buses” and says the tech industry is more politically complicated than the traditional narrative here of techie gentrifiers against the old town.

“The backlash against ‘tech’ is an inter-class war between the middle class and the poor, which is self-defeating for both of them,” said Covert, another Sanders supporter. “The average person hopping on a Google bus is not the 1%.”

Much of the protesters’ language centered on white-collar work frustrations, as the man with the bullhorn asked: “How many people here have weekends off – hands up? They have us working around the clock so they can get richer. How many of you are expected to be online over the weekend? Or get a call from your boss at 9pm?”

As the march started, the person on the bullhorn led chants: “Hey hey, ho ho, Hillary Clinton has got to go”, “this oligarchy has got to go”, “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie”. But then something strange happened: dissent.

As the group snaked through the neighborhood around Pishevar’s house, which had been blocked off by police, one man opened his window and waved a Trump sign. He shouted “Cops Lives Matter” before being drowned out with the “Bernie” chant.

A 64-year-old woman, who said she lived a few buildings down, came out to see Clinton. She was shocked to find a protest: “All these young people like Bernie? He’s a grumpy old man. You see him in debates, and he’s so tetchy. I don’t understand.”

Many of the protesters had only moved to town recently, but several said that even in that time they had seen the city change. Mark Noviski carried a sign that read: “Let them eat $8 toast! Hillarie Clintoinette is out of touch!!!”

“A couple years ago, a restaurant serving $4 toast caused a protest about gentrification,” said the 26-year-old. “And I’ve seen that toast get more and more expensive ever since.”

comments powered by Disqus