These are my notes from the inaugural New York Tech Solidarity event, held on December 18, 2016. If you'd like to participate in future NYTS events, please email me or contact me on Signal (415 610 0231).
—Maciej Ceglowski, December 22 2016.
This event is held under Chatham House Rule. Everything you hear is public, but please don't attribute comments, or identify participants, without permission.
Three goals of the meeting.
The first is to make good use of the time we have. There's about a month before the Inauguration; let's not wait for bad things to happen before we begin coming together. I think face-to-face meetings are important, and we have to get in the habit of doing it.
The second reason is that many of us work for companies that are sitting on huge piles of personal data. Let's figure out how to lobby internally to make this less dangerous. We know that not all of it has to be retained; we know that there are ways to anonymize a lot of it without affecting business models. What's missing is the will.
Last week we saw our top executives go in to Trump Tower to meet with the President-Elect and his children. No one confronted him on his racism, his threats to deport immigrants, his unconscionable treatment of women. They just sat there and took it.
At the same time as the meeting, people were signing the Never Again tech pledge, where they promised that they would quit their jobs rather than work to build a Muslim registry. Nearly 3,000 people have signed this, including employees at every company that was up in Trump Tower.
It's easy to dismiss this pledge. People in this room know how easy it would be to build a database to track the 3 million US muslims. You could probably run the thing off an Excel spreadsheet.
As Thomas Ptacek points out, we already *have* a Muslim registry—it's called Facebook. Along with Google and probably a half dozen other companies that have datasets rich enough to identify every US Muslim who uses the Internet.
This misses the point. The pledge matters, because people who sign it also commit to "responsibly destroy high-risk datasets and backups". It shows people are taking responsibility, and are serious about taking a stand. It matters because it's the first step to collective action.
This is the first time since SOPA that the tech industry has come together around a political issue. And it's the first time I can remember that we've done it in defiance of our own management.
As soon as people started signing the pledge, all our companies were falling over each other to issue statements that they wouldn't build a Muslim registry. You couldn't squeeze a peep out of them before, but suddenly they couldn't wait to get on the record.
What we've seen this week is that our management is spineless. They will bend to Trump, and they will bend to us. The only question is who can apply the most pressure.
Collective action is the most powerful weapon we have, and we are going to use it, up to and including forming trade unions at Facebook and Google. So today we'll hear a lot about labor law, and our rights and responsibilities as we start to organize.
Lastly, we're here to meet and hear from some people already doing important work in our community. Too often in tech we try to solve things at scale, from first principles. I think we benefit if we listen to the people already engaged in important problems, learn from them, and find out how we can help with our money, volunteering, expertise, or something else.
So let me introduce our speakers! We'll hear from each of them for ten minutes, then have three-minute 'lightning talks' from people who signed up, then a moderated discussion.
My family came from Argentina in 70's, fleeing dictatorship. Phew! That worked out well!
My job involves organizing around low wage workers, immigration, LGBTQ. I started working in Washington in September.
I'd like to take a step back, talk about where we've been. One point is that in the US, immigration and immigrants have been under attack for decades. Nothing really new is happening there.
Since 1996 the big picture is that we've been creating a merger of immigration law and criminal law, or "crimigration". We've been trying to create a world of bad immigrants and good immigrants. When we talk about building a wall, are they talking about immigrants that look like me? If I'm in Arizona and people are looking for someone who looks undocumented, that law was one where you could stop people based on suspicion that they look "undocumented". Who do you think they going to stop?
Over the course of the Obama administration we have deported 2.5 million immigrants, more than any other administration. Every day you have a kid going home unsure if their mom will be there, if their dad will be torn out of their house during the night by an ICE raid.
Immigrants have been fighting back. There are amazing groups fighting here in NYC, across the country, pushing back against these awful things. The NSEERS Muslim registry. A coworker was recently talking about his experience being taken into an interview to register. Someone asked him in news reports how his fellow friends being interviewed had felt, he said he doesn't know, because everyone else got deported.
Immigrants have been doing amazing work around the country. Here in NYC there is the "ICE out of Rikers" bill that stops Rikers from handing over immigrants to ICE. A lot of times you're handed over even without a conviction. Maybe you're stopped under stop and frisk, racial profiling, you don't have to have a conviction to be put into deportation proceedings.
In '96 we passed mandatory detention. If you are stopped and apprehended and not here lawfully present, it is the law that they have to hold you in detention facilities until your case is adjudicated.
People have bounced around prisons for as much as 7 years, at taxpayer expense—$164 dollars per person, per day, with 35,000 people held in detention. Even though many people have done studies showing that if your purpose is to make sure people show up, it's no more effective to hold someone in prison than to use alternatives, like community programs or ankle bracelets. We're not thrilled about those, but they're better than prison.
Amazing work has been done to stop law enforcement from asking about immigration status. NYPD has realized it doesn't help them do their job if people are scared to come forward. If I am a witness, I'll think twice out of fear I'll be deported. Here in New York and across the country, they realize it's good not to be involved in the business of deportation.
Now they're trying to make every cop an immigration agent. Every time an immigrant sees a police officer, they're seeing immigration. Here in New York we've really fought against that.
Access to higher education: Undocumented people can't apply for student loans, you can't receive many scholarships. There's lots of work around access to higher education. All of that said, there's been a program here that funds legal access to those in immigration proceedings. People don't have access to counsel. Having access is crucial to making sure you have a chance to stay. Many people get deported who might have had a chance to stay with an adequate lawyer.
1/4 of NY state is farmland! People care about GMO, how local their food is. No one ever asks "who picked this food? who grew this food?" People spend so much time being foodies. Yet we still don't have a farm workers' bill of rights. No right to overtime, no sick leave. Worker organizing on farms is important in New York State, and you have an obligation... but who here has contacted an elected official about passing a farm workers' bill of rights?
What's the future? we don't know. On November 9, I ripped up my work plan for the next year. A list of things we anticipate: a Muslim registry, repeal of DACA which was created through executive order in 2012, undocumented youth who would have been eligible for the Dream Act (that didn't pass in 2010) to get work authorization and relief from deportation.
In NYC, [because of DACA] 60K people could suddenly have jobs. Many are in the tech sector. At workplaces across the city when the Trump announcement was made, people facing the fact that their coworkers on day 1 may not have work authorization anymore. It won't be immediate due to procedural obstacles, thank goodness, we will try to slow it down through our legal work. But DACA is probably going to disappear. Putting 800k people in peril.
The return of immigration raids. They will be relentless, in workplaces and homes. We are anticipating a culture of terror. Tax issues—immigrants of course pay taxes, they get a raw deal since they don't get services that citizens get.
There are many more things that we anticipate happening. Support the work being done, support Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP), a million different groups.
Also groups outside of New York. We're lucky here, what are the places that are really struggling?
The tech sector needs to stand up for undocumented employees. You need to stand up and fight!
On data sharing—helping with legal issues. We do want apps to report raids, those things need to be done in partnership with community groups. Tech groups produce apps that are completely useless because they forget to partner with the groups. Have the groups be at the forefront. Speak out and be vocal.
It's easy to lose hope, but important to come together.
CAIR is the largest Muslim civil rights group in the country, but I'm their one lawyer in New York City. The Muslim community lack the resources needed to meet the coming challenges, unless allies step forward. What do Muslim Americans face? Since the election, there has been a dramatic rise in bullying, discrimination, and harassment, but that’s measured against a baseline that was already dramatically elevated in 2015.
Muslim students are twice as likely to be bullied on the basis of faith than average students are for all reasons put together. And then Muslim students also face bullying for all the other reasons children are harassed in school. One in five Muslim students report being bullied or harassed by teachers or staff. We hear from people all around New York State who are facing this problem.
In the case of the recent Uber driver attack, difficulty convincing police that it was bias crime—they put it down as a misdemeanor. Because the victim threatened to bring in a lawyer, now there are DNA tests, felony investigation, subpoenas to Uber.
The biggest difficulty we see in advocating for victims is that official statistics are very misleading. They leave out so much of what we hear about every day. Part of this is because Muslim Americans are less likely to report incidents.
I can remember two days in the city when it was very quiet—the day after 9/11 and the day after this election. To Muslim Americans, the parallels are similar. The difference is that people at highest levels of government are normalizing islamophobia and bigotry.
After 9/11 we saw the president hold hands with an imam saying that we as a country stand for religious freedom of all Americans.
I don't expect Trump to go to a mosque anytime soon, or hold hands with an imam. We are facing something unprecedented. When we think about these challenges, we need help from the tech sector and others. We need monetary support to scale up, data support to collect accurate data about what Muslim New Yorkers are facing. This is a local issue. New York City has some of the most extensive surveillance of its Muslim community of any place in the world. The NYPD is, for all intents and purposes, an intelligence agency. According to an Inspector General’s report issued in August of this year, 95% of the NYPD’s intelligence investigations are directed at Muslims.
We already have a Muslim registry in New York, we call it the NYPD. On a national level, the “Muslim registry” is not completely new either. For nearly a decade our country implemented a program called NSEERS. That program required men from countries who “just happened to be majority Muslim” to register. In the process of that registration, thousands of Muslim men were detained, swept away without due process and often with no notice to their family. We need to create resources to help people going in to these registration interviews, if they are resumed.
After 9/11, we were caught off guard. Eventually we started using paper lists, so someone could call the interviewee's family if they didn't come out of the registration interview. Now we need a platform to provide emergency notice if Muslim registrants go in and don't come out.
A second issue is the huge number of harassment incidents that are not reported. We saw in NYC how a prominent attack turned out to be a hoax. That one hoax has silenced many people. People who would have gone to the cops before, won't go after. We need a platform to document these incidents more effectively than just taking a photo and putting it on social media. We need a platform that will put this in the hands of social activists. Harassment documentation and NSEERS detention alerts are two platforms we need.
We also have a major challenge in that the area where the tech sector is strongest is reaching people on social media, Native English speakers. Those are the people you have the easiest time reaching. We need to think how to reach people who are not digital natives, don't use social media, who are first generation immigrants, people whose lives are offline.
These are big challenges, but the great thing about having so many people outside the civil rights and government space is that you get a lot of ideas. I hope we can come up with creative approaches.
Let me leave you with one story. The Friday after the election, as I was doing civil rights training at NYU, a young woman in tears raised her hand. She had spoken to Mike Honda, the Japanese-American congressman who grew up in an internment camp. When she asked him if was possible there would be Muslim internment camps, he said yes.
What I said to her is that there's nothing in our laws or Constitution that prevents such a policy. What will prevent it is the people of this city, state and country. In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, there were no protests or meetings like this.
We are the deciding factor for whether this country will repeat one of its greatest mistakes.
We would be wrong to think there’s no danger of such a constitutional catastrophe, and we would be foolish to think it's a foregone conclusion.
The National Domestic Workers Alliance is a national organization fighting for human rights and fair labor standards for domestic workers, nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers. These are the invisible workers, often times we don't see them when we talk about NYC being a global city. Without them, many people wouldn't be able to go to work, to earn the millions that allows a city like this to thrive. And yet domestic workers are always first impacted and last talked about.
The NDWA is affiliated with 60 organizations in 37 cities and 20 states. New York City was the first to pass labor laws for domestic workers 6 years ago. Domestic and farm workers are the only workers excluded from major labor laws.
Domestic workers are mainly women who look like me, who are often times undocumented and who are immigrants. They uphold not just the structure of the homes but the societies they work in. NYC could not function without domestic workers. Wherever there are rich employees who hire domestic workers, cities wouldn't function without them.
We've all been hearing rhetoric about undocumented immigrants being deported. I too am an immigrant, I too am impacted, I too work with undocumented people. We have to help this community face their fears, understand what none of us understand. Workers as early as the day after the elections were calling me about being terminated from their jobs. It could have been a coincidence, or it could have been post-election.
We're constantly getting calls from workers who are terminated. This will continue to increase. After January 21, we know this will increase. I don't have the answers to give these workers.
Post election we held a space for healing where people could just talk. We understand firsthand the impact that this election is having on our community. Our workers care for children, and care for the elderly. If they're not well in their beings, it's hard to ask them to perform the service that's needed. They need to switch on and switch off, leave their election trauma at the door, show up and function normally, whatever normal means now.
As we're thinking here about the connections we can make, some of what comes on line is how workers can access technology, and how we can track these domestic workers more effectively than just using an Excel spreadsheet. These workers are often working in isolation across the country. It's hard for them to find us, and hard for us to find them, beyond parks, playgrounds and libraries. We really want to let them know we're here as a community, that we're creating a space for them. Thinking about immigration spaces, documents, work permits, everything A-Z. This was not on our plan, but now it is after the election.
We need to partner with other organizations, so we're not re-creating the wheel. The urgency is here, it's time for all of us to come together, in providing a space of support.
I am not speaking about my employer today. I want to talk about how to change your company using internal activism. I also want to thank everyone I work with on organizational activism, whom I can't name but am grateful to.
Five different things:
1. When you feel you are upset about something, it's important to separate venting from problem solving. When you're venting, it's difficult to engage with you and figure out what is persuasive.
2. Don't shoot the messenger. If there's a team at work doing something you don't like, remember they may not be directly in control, and they may feel the same way you do. You yelling at them is not going to make anyone feel better.
3. Never say anything in writing that you don't want to see on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Find a friend, vent privately, find people who can advocate for you. If you need to, put your own oxygen mask on, step away, and come back when you are ready.
4. How to craft a persuasive argument. There is a technique for managers when changing individual behavior, called "Situation, Behavior, Impact". For example, you might say to someone "Hey jenny, in the meeting last week, you talked over people. When you did that, people didn't feel valued. If you change your behavior, they will feel like you are listening to them."
The same applies to product decisions. Don't frame it as 'I'm upset", but rather "here's the impact on our users, here's the impact on our business".
In the heat of the moment, you may think that someone made a bad decision because X. Do discovery, figure out what the actual motivations are, why they make the decisions they make. Context is critical—what were people trying to achieve, and how did they get there?
5. What action do you want people to take? "I want you to stop doing X and start doing Y." How does that impact the original person who made the decision, the users, the organization? Communicate that you've thought through the alternatives, that they are better than anything that they're doing now.
So you have the arguments. Now how do you get the leverage? It's important to find the right decision maker to make sure you're being maximally effective. Assume good faith. In most cases, people are not trying to be jerks. Of course, you can write people off, but don't do it right away. Figure out—who do they listen to? They might listen to other VP's, other directors.
You may have a closer working relationship with people around a decision maker than the decision maker themselves. Cultivate good working relationships once you start working with someone. If they start being persuaded by you, congratulations! You've made a good working relationship, they may come to you in the future.
But they only do that if you don't undermine their trust. If you leak irresponsibly, it causes negative press and makes people defensive. If the press starts calling and pressing, it creates pressure on people to stand their ground. Don't be irresponsible with leaking.
Once you have a set of working relationships, keep your ears to the ground. It's easier to change things you find out about early, rather than things that have been published and implemented, so changing them requires a highly visible 180º turn.
Listen to colleagues and managers for both emotional and rational content. Separate people looking to vent from search for solutions. Know which mode you're engaging in. Band together with other people. Your voice works better when it's collected together with other people's.
If you have a large group, 100 or 1000 people, don't have all of them hassling one decision maker. This causes people to feel defensive. No one wants to be on the receiving ends of a mass of pitchforks. Proxy your communications through a small group of liaisons, half a dozen at most, who can channel frustration into specific talking points so people don't feel like they're besieged.
The Never Again pledge is a useful starting place. You can find colleagues on the list of signatories, talk to them, start having these discussions, recruit other colleagues who agree with you. If you're the first person on that list and someone comes to you, talk to them, offer your support. You're taking an important leadership role.
If all else fails, break glass. Petitions can be effective, but only if they're easy to follow and carefully worded. Colleagues can spare one or five minutes to find out what you want; the same goes for busy executives or vice presidents. I have a wonderful colleague who taught me that any missive you send to a large audience or executive should contain 3 talking points/key sentences, and one thing you want them to do. Keep it pithy.
If you have 5% of your company dissenting openly, that is enough to persuade people to take you seriously. It is very easy to accomplish compared to rallying 30% or 40%. If you can just get 5% to say "I do not support doing this thing", it is very powerful.
But this only works if the company tolerates internal dissent. Luckily, a majority of us in tech work for companies that *do* listen.
Finally, if you feel you're not making progress, and you can't abide, you can vote with your feet. Or if your company is doing something illegal or unethical, responsibly whistle-blow.
Coworker.org is a digital platform for coworker voices, and a decentralized platform for workers to make changes to policies. We mostly work in the retail and service sector, companies like Starbucks, Uber, and Wells Fargo.
First, an overview of your rights under the National Labor Relations Act. I'll read this from a lawyer's document.
Then how we think enforcement will go under Trump, and the National Labor Relations Board, then we'll talk about how we've seen other groups of employees run campaigns that are about more than wages and benefits.
First, the National Labor Relations Act, or Wagner act, passed in 1935 is the legal framework for forming unions or collective organizations.
Section 7 protects employees who:
1. act together to protect wages and working conditions
2. in a way that is not reckless or malicious. You can't malign your product, reveal trade secrets. It has to be productive greater good campaign.
3. acting together to improve the workplace through in-person meetings, or through Facebook, blogs, any way you can find to form a collective of 2 or more people.
This point about 2 or more is very important. One dissatisfied worker is considered a "gripe".
The most common form this has taken is labor unions, collective bargaining. This is what you do when you're negotiating a contract.
But section 7 offers a lot of other protections. We are helping people to form other kinds of collectives that can push on companies and decision makers. We know that it's very difficult to form a union; it takes many years. We need to provide people with other levers before they have to get together in the traumatic experience of forming a union.
Unlawful retaliation under Section 7: your employer can't fire you or discharge you, threaten you with losing your job, and they can't promise you a reward or bonus for stopping your action. So that's an overview of the law as it protects you.
Two other caveats: Section 7 does not apply to independent contractors, or to supervisors. So it's important to think about how your employment status outlines your classification in the company.
That doesn't mean you can't organize. You can form collectives, get your voice heard. People get intimidated because the Wagner Act covers so few people, but there are lots of alternative ways.
I want to share a case that is analogous to the data retention issues you're facing.
Three years ago, there was a Wells Fargo campaign on coworker.org around their crazy sales goal. They were coercing people to buy bad products, open bad accounts, engage in quasi-fraudulent behavior. And as soon as bank tellers met a goal, it would be increased.
Employees didn't like it, and they were also concerned about the ethics of it. Little old ladies were being sold products they didn't need. It caused employees lots of stress. Employees would cry in their cars. Ethics issue were actually impacting their working conditions. Stress about the pain you're inflicting does affect your working conditions (IANAL).
So we did data collection, surveys, got lots of media attention, and this summer there was a huge change in WF policy. Wells Fargo admitted that they had started investigating fraudulent accounts and sales goals. The CEO had to step down after Elizabeth Warren called him to testify before Congress. These are a bunch of low-wage bank tellers who over three years took down the CEO of a bank.
So when I think about what they've been able to do, please feel emboldened as to what you're capable of in terms of pushing your companies. And we have a company launching tomorrow on coworker.org! They are responding to their own CEO's willingness to collaborate with Trump.
We're the open door to the labor movement on the Internet. We will find you a lawyer, we will get the media involved, we will work with you!
About ten people spoke for three minutes each. I've grouped the notes thematically:
Beta NYC is a civic org dedicated to improving lives through civic design, technology and data. We envision an informed public who can leverage this stuff. Able to get seven pieces of legislation through city council over four years. Very active going to all 5 boroughs to find people's digital needs. Next year is a mayoral election, where half the city council is divvied up, and the comptroller and city advocate will run and probably be re-elected. March 4th is anniversary of city's open data law (see NYC School of Data).
#DATAREFUGE Project. Seven climate change deniers already appointed to the Cabinet, lots of talk on gutting NASA's climate change research, national labs, the EPA, Department of Energy. Scientists are frantically trying to archive all data sets before the new administration takes office. The project is #datarefuge.
Democratic Socialists of America. We need to acknowledge the political power we have in our workplaces. DSA and similar orgs offer a framework for common socialist goals. A few examples of DSA work: the labor branch was heavily involved in the Verizon strike, one branch worked with Standing Rock, racial justice committee is working on the Right to Know Act in NYC. DSA has experienced a ton of growth since election, we have a lot more energy and resources, have to decide how to organize and direct that.
NAVA—engineers first pulled in to fix healthcare.gov, then formed a public benefit corporation that works with and redesigns, 30 people now working to improve access to social safety net, working with veterans affairs, medicare. We work in a context filled with code names. T4NG is a contract vehicle, not a fandom group. The "Total Technology Next Generation Contract Vehicle", or DHS's "Flexible Agile Support For the Homeland"
Though we can sign pledges it will all come to nothing unless people are in the room who are advocating for and building these services in the right way. Work with Federal agencies to build systems that decentralize identity, bring in research to guide decisions. It's incredible to see how people in government are responding to these efforts. Without deep technical knowledge, too often databases are centralized out of simplicity, keyed off of social security numbers. This is not done out of malice, but it will be. It will take all of us, from coders to resisters, to change it.
Process of unionization: 51% of workers sign cards, you deliver cards to your boss, your boss is supposed to recognize the union, have a workplace-wide election to have the union be your bargaining agent.
Before card drop, you find a union organizer and union that you trust. The process takes 5-10 years, sometimes faster. A lot of digital media groups were able to organize faster because employers were sympathetic.
Timeline of organizing/working within your organization: Reversing an established decision can take on the order of years; fighting a proposed change can take days to weeks. The more practice you get, the better you get. Practice to become effective.
Big tech companies use in-house and get commissions based on who they recruit. If you tell them you won't work for company X on ethical grounds, that will bubble up to management. It's a very cheap way to make an impact, say "I'm not going to work because of that guy on your board". This tactic works even if you weren't going to work there anyway.
Local Democratic parties are desperate for bodies to come and do the work. A volunteer working in Somerville was asked on their third day to run for local office. Even in a staunch Democratic stronghold there are not enough people engaging local issues. Check out local party organizations, city council, school boards.
NY voting laws are terrible. There's no absentee voting without cause, New York has some of the earliest registration deadlines, the voting systems are mechanically inadequate (i.e., broken machines). This is a key moment to do work in anticipation of 2018 elections, given the time available.
New York has political clubs that are delineated by county (which means borough), each one has its own structure of political clubs. Find your local one, they'll push you to run for office.
Consider the Working Families Party of New York, they do a lot of work. Because of fusion voting they can run their own candidates.
League of Women Voters, not just for women but one of the biggest forces for change.
There is tension between data minimization and data retention. Non-profits want to collect *more* data—how do you secure that against government seizure?
In the case of CAIR, people are trying to *report* incidents to authorities, so hiding it from the government is not the issue. The apps used so far are very buggy and not adequate in the moments when people are most vulnerable.
Other organizations moving in the direction of clearing everything, saving less data.
One example of where tech can help: technical assistance around drivers' licenses and civil liberties. How it was done in SF: a tech company actually prints ID cards on site that did not include address. They have printers that make a municipal ID without address [something about printing and then immediately shredding legally mandated proof of address?].
Internal controls are important. Encrypt all you like, but if you don't have technical controls to protect data against a person who HAS access to the encryption keys, then you're in trouble. Make sure that any sensitive data requires multiple people to access.
Lot of great groups doing this work that are VERY small. The lawyer for CAIR is also their web admin. No resources or idea how to secure these systems, yet they are an essential part of maintaining client confidentiality. We need to educate people on securing communications.
Non-profits need strong encryption with redundancy so when a key employee leaves, everyone else isn't locked out of their systems. One volunteer has been fighting for months to get someone to move passwords from Excel spreadsheet to KeyPass. It's hard to realize just how bad it is in the non-profit space.
From the tech side, we need to move the framing away from "how do we make information available to non-profits" to "how do we send people into an organization to help them constructively."
The next New York Tech Solidarity meeting will be on January 22, 2017. Contact [email protected] (Signal: +1 415 610 0231) for info on how to participate. All are welcome!
There are action items on the NYTS wiki. Go there and act!
Other upcoming Tech Solidarity meetings: