A collection of Silicon Valley executives, engineers and activists are quietly plotting a progressive counterattack against President Donald Trump, a sign of the industry’s growing anger at his election victory and actions on immigration.
Through a new organization tentatively called Win the Future, or WTF, the likes of LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Zynga founder Mark Pincus are teaming up with former Sierra Club President Adam Werbach to connect political organizers and shore up progressive candidates and causes ahead of the 2018 midterm and 2020 presidential elections, according to three sources familiar with the plan.
Their early efforts will include building a platform to connect activists and, potentially, a website similar to the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to fund progressive initiatives, one source said.
The initiative is still in its formative stages, the sources cautioned. But the planning has picked up pace since Trump signed an executive order last week curbing immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. While companies like Amazon and Expedia have thrown their support behind a lawsuit to overturn the order — and Uber pulled out of a business council advising Trump — the new organization points to a desire by the liberal tech industry to channel its outrage into a broader, more organized resistance.
“When we gathered a couple of weeks ago for dinner, Trump had not yet assumed the presidency,” Werbach wrote in a Jan. 29 email to participants obtained by POLITICO. “At the time, some pundits were saying that we should calm down and what to see what happens.”
“The first weeks of the Trump presidency have confirmed our fears,” he continued. “This list is long: banning Muslims from 7 countries, green lighting the keystone and Dakota access pipeline, defunding affordable healthcare, removing all mention of climate change from the White House website. He’s moving quickly, and we need to move quickly as well.”
Their frustrations extend beyond Trump to Democrats and their future electoral prospects. Werbach said he and a “small group” had visited an event featuring new candidates to lead the Democratic National Committee but left the affair feeling that the party is in “complete disarray.”
Pincus and Hoffman did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and Werbach declined to comment.
Pincus and Hoffman come to the effort after a 2016 election season in which both executives — much like the rest of Silicon Valley — donated generously to Trump’s Democratic foe, Hillary Clinton. At one point, Beltway insiders believed that Hoffman, who had met with senior Clinton aides, would serve a tech advisory role on her transition team.
With Trump in the White House, however, the Valley’s most prominent companies and executives find themselves in precarious political territory.
Apple, Facebook, Google and other tech titans must engage the new administration if they want to influence a tax overhaul in their favor or clear a regulatory path for initiatives like delivery drones and self-driving cars. But the president’s rhetoric and his stances on issues like immigration are anathema to many the Bay Area, including the engineers who make up the tech workforce — a dynamic that’s prompted tech executives to criticize the White House’s actions in recent days.
“We’re barely a week into his presidency, and you’ve already seen leaders in the technology industry, from New York and San Francisco … really standing up for the issues they believe in,” said Julie Samuels, executive director of Tech:NYC, a coalition of tech startups and companies that sent a letter to Trump opposing the immigration order. “And I think that’s really notable. You just haven’t seen business leaders from other industries reacting the same way.”
Business leaders will have the opportunity to share their concerns with the president on issues like immigration as members of Trump’s economic advisory council, which is set to meet Friday in Washington. Even that, however, has proven controversial in Silicon Valley: After days of protest, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced late Thursday he would withdraw from the so-called Strategic and Policy Forum, saying his participation was not “meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda.”
The nascent organization being assembled by Pincus, Hoffman and Werbach isn’t the only Silicon Valley group targeting Trump. In January, Sam Altman, the head of prominent startup incubator Y Combinator, began to fund a trio of engineers who created “Track Trump,” a dashboard of Trump’s policy changes.
“Many employees, I think, are pressing many companies to do direct political advocacy work in a way they have not in the past,” Altman said in an interview this week.
Tech companies and executives have at times sought to pool their resources to tackle political challenges — with mixed success. The best-known example is FWD.us, the immigration reform group backed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Valley investors and executives. For all its advertising and advocacy, FWD.us never made much a dent in partisan Washington, where immigration reform seems especially unlikely with Trump in the White House.
Trump’s presidency, however, seems to be reactivating the tech industry’s impulse to politically organize.
“I think it’s pretty clear we’re going to have to play an increasingly more vocal and maybe much more productive role in these types of issues going forward,” said Aaron Levie, CEO of the cloud-storage company Box.