I’ve written a bit about power before. In my last talk, I used a tiny design detail, a drop cap, to show how easily our decisions can exclude people from accessing our work—even when we don’t mean to exclude them. For better and for worse, that’s a kind of power.
Today, as I write this, over two dozen people who work on the New York Times’ publishing tools called out sick. They did so to protest the publication of an opinion piece written by a sitting United States senator, in which the author advocated for widespread military violence against American citizens. (I will not link to it.) Update, 5 June 2020: Another virtual walkout is in progress, with over 400 employees of the New Tork Times participating.
On Monday, Facebook employees staged a virtual walk-out to protest Mark Zuckerberg’s inaction over violent posts from the president of the United States, with approximately 400 people participating. One Facebook engineer resigned publicly, saying that he “cannot stand by Facebook’s continued refusal to act on the president’s bigoted messages aimed at radicalizing the American public.”
These, too, are kinds of power.
The tech industry is complicit in some of the worst abuses of racism, surveillance, and violent policing. Google’s devices have been cited in aiding “geofencing warrants,” using imprecise location data to identify devices that may have been near a crime scene. Amazon’s facial detection software has been roundly criticized for its ties to law enforcement, and for its racist analysis. More recently, Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke announced that the company is donating $1 million to address the “sheer injustice” of racism, despite the fact that Shopify continues to host white supremacists on their platform.
I hope the people I know at these companies are actively organizing against these actions. Heck: maybe you work there, and you’d like to take action. Maybe you’re concerned about unjust behavior your employer is taking; maybe you’d like to see your company make its hiring and promotion practices more equitable; maybe you’d like your employer to institute a new company holiday; maybe there’s something about your working conditions that feels unsafe, unfair, or unequal.
Maybe you’re not alone in feeling that way.
Talk with your coworkers. Listen to them, and hear what they’re concerned about. Talk amongst yourselves about changes you’d like to see at your work, and how you might organize to make those changes happen. I spoke to one person this week, who worked alongside their coworkers to get their employer to restart corporate donation matching. Individually, there’s little we can do; but collectively, there’s not much we can’t.
There’s a power to be had there, too.