Occupy Silicon Valley, 'Wall Street of the West'

Occupy Silicon Valley, 'Wall Street of the West'

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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The One Percent are not only the bankers and traders on Wall Street — they're alive and thriving in Silicon Valley. And yet no one is encamped outside of Google in Mountain View or in front of Facebook. The protestors have rather targeted Wall Street and the government. But the new super rich of Silicon Valley have managed to come up in an economy that has shed jobs and houses and social safety nets — and their money allows them to set its rules.

President Obama flies to Silicon Valley and is flattered by the company of the valley's One Percent. Steven Jobs even famously criticized the way the president was doing his job. And the president took it.

At the southern end of Silicon Valley, in front of San Jose's City Hall, there are dozens of Occupy San Jose protesters, championing the call to action that originated with New York's Occupy Wall Street. But at the Martin Luther King Library around the corner, a young rapper named Ookie is showing a photo essay on the impact of closing youth centers and libraries. It's the image of a baggie stuck on a fence of a closed city community center that raises the most anger in the audience. They held an event called "Growing Up Poor" where young people — through photo, video, spoken word — are sharing to a group of policy-makers, advocates, and media what their Silicon Valley looks like in a time when family poverty has climbed to unprecedented levels, and in a place with such a high cost of living, the impact is even more acute.

In San Jose, the city that used to promote itself as the capitol of Silicon Valley, city budget cuts have either eliminated or dramatically slashed hours for youth sanctuaries like libraries and community centers. And for young people, libraries had been the only public spaces left where they could shelter themselves from the fall out of the economy — the escalating violence on the streets, cops, the cold — and as one young poet from a neighborhood in East San Jose that has seen multiple stabbings and shootings in the past few months shared, "A place where you can read James Baldwin before you die."

After Ookie's photo display, the event becomes an amped up strategy session; everyone is ignited to save the libraries and centers. They shout about taking over library commission meetings, or marching on City Hall. But the truth is, City Hall is still part of the 99%, and is broke too.

San Jose is different than all the other Occupy's across the county. For us, the 1% are just up the street — the 101 to be precise. Those tech giants exist in the same Silicon Valley that cannot even keep its library doors open. Why have they not given? Why have we not demanded?

In Silicon Valley, the 99% demanding from the 1% is not hypothetical; we can literally knock on their doors, or more in the spirit of the moment, occupy their space.

Occupy Wall Street has inspired the world in what it started by lifting the veil on a corrupt economic setup. And the general strike at Occupy Oakland turned that protest into an action so real it literally disrupted the flow the economy when it shut down the ports. But an Occupy the 101 movement -- protesting the high-tech firms along California Highway 101, the bastion of Silicon Valley -- might be able to accomplish the most tangible result of all, even if it sounds less revolutionary. It could keep our library doors open. And what's more radical then allowing kids to read Baldwin?

Raj Jayadev is director of Silicon Valley DeBug, a multi-media platform for covering San Jose and the South Bay communities such as youth, immigrants and low-wage workers.

This article appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.