At 8:15 this morning, four masked activists blocked a Microsoft Connector shuttle bus at the intersection of 23rd and Madison for forty minutes, stretching "Gentrification Stops Here" banners across the front and back of the vehicle. The driver nudged forward, bumping one of them once, then killed the engine and got on the phone. After a few minutes, several passengers—apparently tired of waiting—got off the bus and hurried off. I caught up with one, a Microsoft employee who didn't want to give his name, and asked him what he thought. "I see both sides of the issue," he said, still walking away. "I don't hate them." When a police car approached, the activists walked off and the shuttle vehicle pulled away.
This is the third time masked activists have targeted local tech companies—first it was a Microsoft bus on Capitol Hill, then a tram servicing Amazon's employees in South Lake Union. Again, the activists claiming responsibliity only identified themselves as "The Counterforce."
"You can either become reactionary and indignant (an utterly typical move) or you can take all this seriously and begin thinking of ways to address what you and your peers have done to the Central District," the flyer they handed out today says. "We hope you make the right choice and join the struggle against capitalism and the ravages it brings."
One of the masked protesters identified himself as a 28-year-old, born and raised in the Central District. "We're putting a spotlight on gentrification and the displacement of people," he said. According to census data, the African-American population of the historically black Central District has plummeted by thirty percentage points over roughly the past two decades. "Microsoft is directly involved. They were one of the first corporations to penetrate the CD, starting in Madison Valley and working its way south." I asked what Microsoft and its employees should do differently. "At the very least," he said, they should take public buses instead of relying on their own private system. Microsoft, mind you, like other big corporations, is an expert tax dodger.
The action drew out one angry bystander, who called the activists "fucking stupid" repeatedly and blamed them for blocking traffic, as well as a few supportive honks. A red-haired woman named Samantha, waiting for the 11 bus nearby, told me the Counterforce is on to something. "I see the Microsoft bus coming by just about every morning, and often it disrupts my own bus," she said. She said they seem wasteful, because she sometimes sees just three people on board. "I'd love for more of a discussion to happen, because it's not only the Microsoft folks who are gentrifying, but a lot of the young folks moving in who don't know the history of the neighborhood—and it does have a really negative impact on the community."
The timing of this action is pitch-perfect. Last night, King County voters rejected taxes that would have saved dozens of Metro bus routes from deletions or cutbacks—among them, Samantha's 11 bus, which runs from Madison Park to downtown Seattle.
You can read more about gentrification in the Central District—in particular, the last black-owned nightspot that's still fighting to stay open—in today's story about Waid's Restaurant and Lounge.