Last night, swarm of angry protesters shouted down investor Peter Thiel at the University of California, Berkeley. Reportedly, an audience member yelled “F–k you!” and then protesters who had been demonstrating against racial injustice burst into the lecture hall (video below).
A similar anti-tech sentiment was voiced by social justice protestors last August in San Francisco, marking the second time in the last few months that racial tensions have spill over into tech rage.
At last night’s lecture in Berkeley, the crowd seemed to be chanting, “No NSA, no police state.”
Thiel took the protest in stride, saying, “This is really a classic Berkeley event today — this is so cool!” Protesters overtook the stage, and he was escorted off of the stage as a safety precaution.
The eager audience was not thrilled. In response to protesters chanting “Black lives matter,” the crowd responded with their own chant, “Peter Thiel matters!”
The story has been reported as just another example of Berkeley students being Berkeley students: overzealous activists who can be counted on to protest any and all things. But it’s not an isolated incident of social injustice protests turning antitech.
Last August, after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, I ran into a similar demonstration on the very San Francisco streets where Google buses pick up their engineers and shuttle them to Mountain View.
The protest began in front of San Francisco’s Mission District Police Department. As it progressed south on the gentrified Valencia St. corridor, the crowd went from anti-police to anti-tech. “Fuck the yuppies,” chanted the group.
“They’re just as complicit as the Ferguson police department,” one demonstrator told me. As the crowd moved past construction for an expensive new apartment complex, the chant again became anti-tech: “That is u-gly!”
Right or wrong, folks protesting social injustice see a connection to the inequities caused by the technology industry. The protesters at Berkeley could have shut down any number of lectures at the sprawling campus. Thiel was a target because he represents the tech industry and, in San Francisco, the tech industry is associated with growing inequality.
As incidents of police abuse become more public and the chorus against social injustice grows louder, the tech industry must brace for the impact on issues to which it has little direct connection. The industry isn’t just becoming a symbol for the disparity between high-skill and low-skill workers, but against all inequality.