On Monday, February 10th, a small group of people blocked a Microsoft Connector shuttle in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.
One bus was initially blocked as people unfurled two banners and began handing out fliers.
In the shadow of a new luxury apartment building, Microsoft employees stood in the rain waiting for another bus. However, when another bus arrived, the group blocked it in.
With fifteen minutes, another three buses had arrived, completely throwing off the Microsoft commute schedule.
In total, five buses were blocked for 45 minutes before the authorities arrived, at which point the group dispersed.
What follows below is an explanation of the action.
The Dark Lords of Microsoft
A long time ago, Microsoft was the evil empire, the dark colossus that every free-thinking engineer and programmer gravitated away from. Their hierarchical and competitive corporate culture was a nightmare to be avoided at all costs. Apple and Google frantically developed in directions that would take them away from the monopolized markets controlled by the Redmond based corporation. These competitors succeeded in breaking Microsoft’s grip on the marketplace, only to become precisely what they had been rebelling against. Google now circles Redmond like a vulture, with offices in Bothell, Kirkland, and Seattle, waiting to devour Microsoft’s corpse should it collapse.
As it stands, Microsoft is alive and well within the city of Seattle. For decades, Microsoft has spread its wealth throughout the metropolis, often under the guise of philanthropy and benevolence, but always with the aim of making itself essential for the functioning of the local economy. Youth centers, grants, interest-free loans, scholarships, and other civic projects constitute the philanthropic arsenal of Microsoft. Beyond this, the Gates family is embedded within the structure of the University of Washington (UW), with Bill Senior serving on the Board of Regents and Microsoft products on every campus computer.
Through this graciousness, the corporation hopes to insulate itself from potential attacks and prove to the world that Microsoft cares about the region it calls home. However, it has been quite clear for some time that Microsoft will do whatever is necessary to protect its image and trick the public into thinking it is something other than what it is: a greedy corporation with growth and profit as its ultimate objectives. Like every corporation, Microsoft will use its power and influence to maintain this illusion through manipulation, deceit, and trickery.
Get Off The Bus!
At the time of this writing, there is currently a job opening at Microsoft for an individual who is able to begin “managing facilities operations and space allocation utilization for Microsoft Research.” This person will organize existing office space and help acquire more as it becomes necessary. Microsoft Research is the branch of the corporation developing the new technology that is meant to give it a lead over Google and Apple. Whoever ends up with this job will have the privilege of taking the free Connector Shuttle from the Redmond campus to wherever they choose to live.
With their $100,000-plus salary, this employee will find it easy to afford any of the new apartments available on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately for them, certain housing developments on the Hill have no vacancy. The Brix Condominiums, developed by Schnitzer West, has been entirely purchased and filled with residents. Condo construction has stopped, with developers now erecting giant apartment buildings across the neighborhood in the hopes of making higher profits.
Condos, unlike apartments, have a single purchase price. Apartment rents, on the other hand, fluctuate with the market, allowing speculators and developers to make more money over time when demand is high. Most of the condos on the Hill were built during the recession when developers wanted a sure bet for their investment. But now that the money is flowing again, the condos have been forgotten and new apartment buildings are rising across the Hill. Thus, for $1500 per month, a new Microsoft employee can now select from an ever-expanding array of bland one-bedroom apartments.
Whereas a Microsoft employee would have been turned off by the prospect of working in Redmond and living in sprawling suburban Issaquah, that employee now has a free ride to and from work to any Seattle neighborhood they choose. Starting in 2007, when the glut of condos had begun to appear in Capitol Hill and Ballard, Microsoft launched the Connector Shuttle. These shuttles are equipped with WiFi, turning the once torturous commute into productive work hours for the company. Over the past seven years, the Connector has helped fill the vacancies within these new buildings, built largely for high-paid tech workers and their peers.
Without the Connector Shuttle bringing these employees to Capitol Hill, Ballard, South Seattle, and the North End, the hyper-gentrification we now see would not have happened. Microsoft currently employs more people in the Seattle area than Amazon, Google, and Adobe combined. So it is not unreasonable to place the blame for the drastic restructuring of our neighborhoods largely on Microsoft and the developers who built according to their needs.
Whenever a tech worker pays the inflated rents the developer charges, they embolden those same developers and encourage them to build more exorbitantly priced apartment buildings. This cycle only leads upwards, and the baseline of $1,500 a month will only increase as more buildings are added to the landscape. The city considers paying $1,000 a month for a one bedroom to be “affordable.” Those of us who cannot afford to rent some of these “affordable” units must leave the neighborhoods where our friends and family live. The Connector Shuttle only facilitates this process and for this reason deserves to be disrupted and dismantled.
Join the rebellion!
The only way to effectively counter their plans is to first become fluent in their development schemes, technological aspirations, and guiding philosophies. From this pool of information, we can constitute a counterforce against them. Their plans have long been materializing all around us, restructuring our interior and exterior worlds. Just as our neighborhoods are becoming alien, so too is the territory of social relationships. Everywhere you look: more and more boxes.
Since its inception, the corporation started by Bill Gates and Paul Allen has pushed for the privatization of education, helped recruit young men and women into the military through the X-Box, collaborated with Monsanto in creating GMO crops, and helped the FBI and NSA monitor the internet for any signs of subversion. These simple facts, carrying the full weight of their own particular horror, cannot be denied by either Microsoft or its defenders. Any curious party can easily determine the validity of our claims.
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The situation in Capitol Hill and Ballard, two neighborhoods selected by the city government for high-density housing, is a situation that can inspire depression and dread. However, we are tired of falling prey to these emotions and instead make the first steps to address this very specific aspect of the Microsoft leviathan. The Connector Shuttle has directly impacted our lives and the lives of those around us. It is simultaneously a symbol of and a concrete component in the process of hyper-gentrification.
We have been inspired by actions against Google in the Bay Area and choose to propagate the Counterforce. We view it as a concept borrowed from Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow. The title itself refers to the shape a rocket traces when shot into the air. There is the initial thrust of the rocket that delivers the technological evil into the sky, followed by the fuel cut-off, followed by the descent. The counterforce kicks in once the rocket has reached the apex of its ascent. It is the force that brings evil crashing back down to Earth. The counterforce is as natural as gravity.
We will fight every evil empire wherever it emerges. Feel free to organize your own actions. We are taking the simplest actions for now, but imagination and initiative are all that is necessary to expand the rebellion. Feel free to bring the struggle wherever you see fit and communicate your intentions clearly. Fight their future! Join the Counterforce!