It’s difficult not to at least consider the recent vandalism of bikes in the Ford GoBike program in San Francisco Bay Area neighborhoods as a backlash against the continuing corporatization of our culture and local gentrification, which has helped create the housing crisis.
I don’t support the vandalism because there are others way to protest, if it’s a protest, but large corporations have invaded our living space to the point in which virtually everything has or will become commodified, and the housing crisis here—the dearth of affordable housing—reveals the central problem of local income inequality.
It’s just bicycles, right? Sure. But bikes have a special meaning in a place like the San Francisco Bay Area where driving is nearly always a hassle and is also bad for the environment.
The Ford GoBike program is an offshoot of Bay Area Bike Share, a bike rental service. It became Ford GoBike when the company donated money to get its logo plastered on each bike as companies like to do. Riders can get a bike to ride from racks placed throughout the area. The plan is to increase the number of bikes available for use.
But according to media reports, some of those bikes have been vandalized in recent days. This includes some bikes in a rack in the Mission District in which tires were flattened. Bikes have also been vandalized in Oakland. One bike was found in Lake Merritt.
The question is whether the acts of vandalism are political acts or just simple street hooliganism. It would be my guess that it’s a bit of both. I wonder how many people here would really endorse the idea of thousands of people rising bikes emblazoned with the Ford logo on them throughout the city. It shouts “sold out” to the rest of the world. I’m sure many people don’t even care. Corporations count on that complacency.
Large corporations have been successful in placing their logos just about everywhere they can in our lives and this trend continues. Just look at our sports stadiums and arenas here and across the country. What they try to buy is loyalty to a brand in ways that have nothing to do about their products but everything about visceral manipulation.
The relationship between cultural “appropriation” by corporations and the housing crisis here is implicit, but it’s part of how neoliberalism works. As long as companies can get away with suppressing basic wages to give larger incomes to fewer people, then ordinary people will continue to have a difficult time paying their rent. It’s one part of the story. Another is that landlords—the ownership class—can feast on the large demand for housing and rent to the highest bidder.
The beauty and weather of the Bay Area, the intellectual center of Silicon Valley and the embrace of diversity here call people throughout the world to this place, which will lose its character and essence if only the wealthy, riding around on bikes emblazoned with the Ford logo, can afford to live or even visit here.