Outrage Over Donald Trump Is Spurring Activism In Silicon Valley

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BY: Cora Currier 03.17.17

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Aatif Awan, a vice president at LinkedIn, was rallying to action a few hundred people milling around a plaza in the center of Palo Alto, California, many in bright-blue shirts with a fist and the words “TECH STANDS UP.”

“Take your phones out of your pocket, and open your calendar app right now,” he commanded. “Now look at your schedule for tomorrow.”

Awan wanted employees to pledge in meetings with their immigrant colleagues “that you will stand up for them” and fight an executive order from the president restricting entry to the United States from several majority-Muslim nations.

After the ban went into effect, nearly 100 tech companies signed onto a legal brief opposing it. But at the Palo Alto gathering, convened Tuesday to protest the Trump administration, tech workers called for more vociferous opposition.

“We want to show the higher-ups, the C-Suite, that employees are behind this movement,” said Javed Ali, a designer who has worked for several technology firms and is currently developing a plug-in that would provide “pre-made content” to battle with trolls spreading Islamophobic messages on social media.

Event organizers hoped outrage over Trump’s actions — one attendee called it “my woke-up-ness” — would stir to action highly-paid members of an industry that’s often ignored the concerns of the less fortunate.

“I’m here to get to the people who want to change the world, but who are beginning to get that that takes more than algorithms,” said Laura Impellizzeri, of Legal Aid At Work, an organization that provides free services largely to low-income workers for wage claims, discrimination, workplace safety and other issues. “I’m trying to take advantage of this moment to get money and raise awareness.”

Brad Taylor, the event’s organizer, and a software engineer at the personalization engine Optimizely, said he was also encouraged by employee initiatives putting pressure on executives, such as a petition by IBM workers against their CEO’s overtures to the Trump administration.

“The people in this industry have so much power because we’re in demand,” Taylor said. “So let’s use that to support our janitors and our baristas and let’s demand that companies who put up slogans like diversity and inclusion put them to work.”

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