Industry blog TechCrunch and its reporter Kim-Mai Cutler hosted a private, off-the-record event in San Francisco last Wednesday night, and it wasn’t a startup party. It wasn’t a pitch contest or an angel-funding roundtable or even a panel on the future of cryptocurrency.
It was the first secret meet-and-greet between technologists and a hodgepodge of concerned citizens and Google bus-blocking activists. And it was the premiere of a new short movie about the conflict. Made by Stateless Media and called “You Can’t Go Home Again,” the film was inspired by Cutler’s April 2014 piece on the city’s housing crisis.
About 100 people — from Y Combinator partners to nonprofit housing advocacy workers — showed up for the evening, which was held at the modern Bloomberg offices along the Embacadero waterfront in San Francisco.
“People in tech have been asking me for a long time to just help them understand what’s going on,” Cutler said. “They have very basic questions, like, ‘Why can’t we build more houses,’ or ‘Why doesn’t the BART run all night,’ and ‘What can we do to improve the public school system.'”
Anger against the booming tech industry reached a fever pitch this summer in San Francisco, as evictions rose to historic highs, income inequality grew faster than anywhere in the country, and activists began blocking the private luxury Google commuter-shuttle buses, using tactics like vomiting on a Yahoo bus and smashing Google Glasses. And this fall, scenes like a group of male Dropbox employees kicking children off a neighborhood soccer field haven’t helped the tension.
TechCrunch, a “pro-entrepreneur” and “not objective” tech industry news blog, as its reporters have described it to me, has taken up the cause to humanize (and secretly educate) its readers.
First of all, Cutler said, the techies alone didn’t cause the problem but rather a long set of policies to prevent construction in the Bay Area did.
“There are trade-offs with our growth control policies — and we should be intellectually honest about what those trade-offs are,” she said during an interview with me. “We talk about all the things that are possible in the tech industry, like self-driving cars and cryptocurrency, but maybe there are some things that aren’t possible anymore, like public school teachers being able to live in these communities.”
Stateless Media CEO Peter Savodnik, who spent June and July in San Francisco filming the 10-minute movie, said he had been surprised by the rage he found against tech.
“I was aware of the fact that everyone I know who is in San Francisco laments how expensive it is — I don’t think I quite appreciated the intensity of the debate. The Google bus protests, the talk of SF losing its identity,” Savodnik said. “Things are much more white-hot than I expected.”
He hopes the movie humanizes the technocrats.
“I don’t think anyone can walk away and say the tech people just don’t care — they’re good people, they’re decent people, they’re thoughtful, and they have the gall to be part of a fast-growing company.”
The movie begins with a text overlay: “After many years in Silicon Valley, tech is moving into San Francisco. Prices are going up. Longtime residents are moving out. Regulations, demographics and widespread resistance to change are compounding a housing crisis decades in the making.”
It opens with shots of San Francisco — city, sunsets, fog — that suddenly break to a shot of someone’s hands, close up, typing. Zoom out and it’s two stereotypical-looking tech bros typing. But they’re good bros! They work for a company called Cozy that is helping people find apartments, and they eat at local restaurants. Then we meet an artist, Christine, who shows off pictures of when she was a member of a punk band called Urge. Christine has been evicted and has 60 days to put her stuff in storage before she has to move out of her apartment.
Activist Erin McElroy shouts over a loudspeaker at a line of tech people: “Why you working for Google? Do you need to make more money?”
“I do not work for Google! No one in this line works for Google!” one of the young men says back.
As McElroy talks about technocrats turning San Francisco into “their play city,” we see people wearing Google Glass. More Google Glass than I’ve ever seen in the wild.
“Perhaps they want to frequent the newest, hippest restaurant, but they’re not necessarily going to go to a community meeting,” McElroy says.
One of the Cozy guys says: “From non-tech people, there’s a perceived arrogance from Google or tech people.”
Another Cozy guy chimes in: “A cluelessness that shows up as arrogance.”
As he says that, the camera focuses on a young man with a name badge, a smartphone and a backpack, looking lost.
The end of the film shows someone taking Google Glass video of one of the protests. He finger-swipes and taps his white face computer as protest activist McElroy stands in front of a giant map of tech-boom evictions.
After the screening, Cutler said that she’ll do more non-TechCrunch affiliated meet-and-greets between the sides — stereotyped as either cold capitalist technocrats or deranged anarchist street protestors — but that they’ll stay secret for a while.
“Income inequality means that people are coming to the table from increasingly different places, and it’s hard to keep the conversations empathetic, so we’re keeping the conversations private for now,” Cutler said. “We’re just trying to make sure that everyone sees each other as people first.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.