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Google Bus Protest Organizer: "We'll Take It to Their Homes"

Could the protest turn violent? "We'll do whatever tenants need to do to win," said Fred Sherburn-Zimmer.

Nellie Bowles

After blocking a Google bus and protesting outside the company’s head of e-discovery in San Francisco’s Mission district this morning — but before rallying 300 people in a planned protest outside the sites of attempted evictions — organizer Fred Sherburn-Zimmer sat down at Borderlands Cafe for a cinnamon roll.

Sherburn-Zimmer — who works at the Housing Rights Committee, is a member of the Heart of the City art and politics collective and regularly speaks at the rallies she organizes — said the past couple of weeks marked a turning point.

“You’re going to see fewer Google bus protests,” she said. “We’ll be doing other actions. We’ll be more targeted. We’ll take it to [housing speculators’] offices. We’ll take it to their homes. There are times when we’ll physically blockade people inside a building [if the sheriff is coming to evict tenants].”

Will there be violence?

“I can’t predict where the movement will go, but we’ll do whatever tenants need to do to win,” she said. “There’s already violence being done. It’s not, ‘Oh, isn’t this sad someone has to leave.’ It’s killing people. At a certain age, you’re twice as likely to have a heart attack if you’re forced to move.

The protest organizer doesn’t like it when people suggest that the public actions are against tech workers.

“I protested banks a lot, and nobody said, ‘Why do you hate tellers?'”

And she feels that tech companies themselves need to take a stand.

“Except for Salesforce and Ron Conway, the tech companies have been entirely silent on Ellis Acts [evictions],” she said. “How hard is it to come out against the Ellis Act? Why hasn’t Google?”

Sherburn-Zimmer, who is 37, has gray-green eyes and wore her hair in a messy bun, grew up on the East Coast until her parents, a janitor and an English teacher, moved the family to Alameda, Calif. — she still has a New Hampshire accent. While studying education at Humboldt State, she had to move frequently because landlords kept raising the rent, “which is basically like eviction.” She moved to San Francisco again in 1998 and worked as a deck hand on a ferry, but with rising rent, she couldn’t find a place to live. She came back again in 2004 because there wasn’t enough work in Humboldt.

“We’ve all been able to feel the eviction crisis this year,” she said. “And then all of a sudden, like, a switch went off.”

Tenants who come to the Housing Rights Committee’s Mission District office, which just went from four to seven full-time employees, feel empowered because of the protests, she said.

“People used to walk in saying, ‘I got this [eviction] notice. How long till I have to move?'” she said. “Now they’re like, ‘I got this notice, are you the guys organizing the protests?'”

For Sherburn-Zimmer, the solution is to “take housing out of the speculative market” and ban house-flipping.

Next up on her calendar is a protest on Tax Day outside a tax accountant and housing speculator’s office (and then at his home the following Saturday). They’ll have a large rally outside City Hall on April 26, at which protesters will bat pinatas and bowl — the pins will have the faces of real estate speculators, but the pinatas won’t, because “we don’t really want to hit them with sticks.”

She lives in the city’s Bernal Heights neighborhood, and her landlord recently tried to evict her.

Sherburn-Zimmer and her friends dropped banners out the window of the house.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know if you understand. I’m the protest organizer.'”

She was not evicted.

There is no central leader for the current bout of protests, she said.

“You could gun down six of us, and the movement would still be here.”

Would Google do that?

“Okay, you could send six of us on a tropical vacation, and the movement would still be here.”

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