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Have Sympathy for the Techies, Mimes Say

Mimes with a lot to say, sing.

San Francisco Mime Troupe

Tech workers are just cogs in the system, and fighting each other only gives corporations more power.

That was the basic message from the San Francisco Mime Troupe, which has been performing non-mimed political theater in the city since 1959. The hour-long show about tech and displacement in the Mission District’s Dolores Park on Friday kicked off its summer schedule.

But the tone and approach to the issue was quite different from those of some of the younger activist groups in the city (who do performance pieces like vomiting on Yahoo buses). In the Mime show, almost every character — the tech worker who invented a surveillance tool, the landlord evicting a small business owner, the beauty parlor owner who displaced an activist — came off as deeply sympathetic.

Every character, that is, except the tech corporation, Octopus, and its founder.

Our heroine, Jeanine Adenauer, programmed surveillance technology into cellphones, but she did so just to watch over her wandering grandmother, who emerges and walks off stage in a bonnet. When the Octopus founder hires her, he turns her technology into an elaborate surveillance scheme, eventually selling it to the government. Adenauer is horrified.

In all the discussions around the negative impact tech is having on the city, activists have vilified tech and tech workers (a sign at a recent protest was simply "Tech=Death").

But the Mime Troupe members said they were bringing it back to an issue of workers’ rights, freedom and quality of life. They evoked the activism of the 1960s and the tone of union organizers. Several times, members of the audience raised their fists in solidarity while a character recited, "By any means necessary."

Ellen Callas, one of the group’s 12 managing collective members, who was on her 28th year, was selling Mime Troupe t-shirts from a booth by the stage.

"Our job in SF is to hold a mirror up to this city — to show what’s going on here. Starting with Vietnam and civil rights and now displacement, but it’s always been about the class struggle and workers’ rights," she said. "It’s not like we’re anti-tech, we’re pro-worker. A lot of tech workers are bussed to work, stay and work long long hours, live in micro apartments and never get out, never engage with the community. You know what that is? It’s just another kind of slavery."

See for yourself. Here’s "My Cubicle, My Cubicle" by the San Francisco Mime Troupe:

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