Is it really a walkout if you barely… walk out?
Google offices around the world protested sexual harassment and workplace discrimination at the company on Thursday. But in Los Angeles — a center of the #MeToo movement, thanks to Hollywood — Googlers staged a more staid, internal affair than the rabble-rousing actions of their co-workers worldwide.
The protests came in the wake of the New York Times report of Android creator Andy Rubin’s 2014 departure from the company due to a hushed up sexual harassment allegation — and his $90 million exit package.
In New York, thousands of protesters filled a park by the Hudson river, where what Gizmodo described as an “impassioned crowd” chanted and yelled their demands for change. Employees in Dublin San Francisco, and Silicon Valley flooded the streets with public displays of thousands.
At the Google offices globally, the message was loud and clear: Googlers are mad as hell, and they’re not gonna take it anymore.
But in Los Angeles, the message was more restrained, and the walkout consisted of a 50-foot collective crossing of the street, from one enclosed Google courtyard to another.
At 11:10 am, the appointed time for the protest in every timezone, the doorway below the Frank Gehry binoculars of the Google Santa Monica office was empty. What could have been a public, dramatic show of the need for change — below an iconic landmark! — never happened.
Instead of walking out into the streets, employees gathered in an internal courtyard, separated from the press and onlookers by a metal fence and the hammocks and playthings of the Google office.
A crowd of a few hundred gathered in the courtyard. An organizer spoke about why they were there. She invited employees to come up and share their own stories. But from the looks of it, no one answered her call.
After a 30 second chant of “no justice, no peace,” an organizer asked, “are you ready to walk?!” To which people cheered.
Then a stream of hundreds of employees walked out of Google… quietly crossing the street via a crosswalk to another enclosed, apparently Google-owned compound.
In the new gathering space, employees chanted “Time is up.” Finally, once again supervised by Google security guards, they crossed the street back into their offices.
The LA office protest was organized and polite, not impassioned. But credit where credit is due: any sort of protest to make change on behalf of women and equality is bold, and admirable.
Additionally, perhaps the LA Google protesters were intimidated by the high expectations, and by the press; media propped cameras and microphones over the fence, and a news helicopter circled above the orange tree-filled Google courtyard, drowning out the mini-megaphone the organizer used to demand change. Plus, the Google Los Angeles office is much smaller than its New York and Bay Area counterparts; these employees did join with their coworkers worldwide, leaving their posts to demand change.
And as a whole, the Google walkouts represent a potential sea change at Google, and CEO Sundar Pichai is clearly listening.
It’s possible that some Googlers view this as an internal affair, not for view by the public.
But that’s not what a walk out — something that is inherently public — is.
The actions of the Google employees in Los Angeles represent a certain hesitance for unrestrained criticism within the tech world. That may be due to the strong company culture that has been deftly critiqued in the press and even by shows like Silicon Valley.
One man, who was one of very few protesters who was willing to comment, replied to a reporter’s question about why he was protesting, with the answer “because we’re family.” That’s a nice sentiment, even if it’s not actually true; Google, and other tech companies, are multi-million-dollar corporations that, oh, pay their sexually abusing executives to go quietly with a golden parachute.
That reality hasn’t seemed to catch on entirely at Google, yet.
The restrained LA protest shows that company loyalty, and the impulse to close ranks, remains at Google — even if other protests may indicate otherwise.