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From Apple's Shareholder Meeting: Conquering the Genius Bar, the FBI and Whiteness

It actually wasn't that dull! We promise!

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Shareholder meetings are usually pretty boring affairs. Executives rehash corporate PR points that have usually already been fleshed out in earnings reports and conversations with the press. Not very exciting!

Apple’s annual shareholder meeting on Friday was sort of different. Yes, it was boring and dull and scripted. But because it’s Apple, and also because Apple is currently locked in a mammoth legal battle with the federal government over encryption, there were signs of life that shone through through the tightly choreographed affair.

It was held in a hall at 4 Infinite Loop, a building in the company’s sprawling Cupertino, Calif.-based office complex. Former Vice President Al Gore (who occupies an Apple board seat) and Rev. Jesse Jackson were among those in the crowd, as were a bevy of Average Joes and Josephines who own Apple stock and usually compose the majority of attendees.

Running through the agenda items, there was no controversy or surprise, and the votes went pretty much as expected. CEO Tim Cook briefly addressed the privacy and safety issue, blatantly tiptoeing around the topic in order to get an audience laugh. When he got serious, however, he reaffirmed Apple’s moral obligation to fight a court order to force Apple to let the FBI hack into an iPhone used by one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino mass shooting.

“These are the right things to do,” Cook said. “Being hard doesn’t scare us.”

Cook spent a good amount of time dealing with issues of diversity and inclusion. When Cook broached the subject, the camera operator of the live feed in the press room cut to Rev. Jackson, which was especially funny because he aggressively called out Apple on its remarkably un-diverse staff composition at last year’s shareholder meeting.

Cook noted that women at Apple make 99.6 cents for every dollar that a man makes, and that non-white employees in the company make 99.7 cents for every dollar a white employee makes.

When he opened up the meeting for Q&A, the first question went to civil liberties advocate and Electronic Frontier Foundation chief Cindy Cohen, who didn’t ask a question but instead read a statement praising Apple for taking a stand against the federal government.

The second question went to Rev. Jackson, who also did not ask a question, but instead went out of his way to praise Tim Cook for his efforts to improve diversity at Apple and his stand against the federal government.

“You’re a man of integrity and character,” Jackson said to Cook, before comparing Apple’s opposition to “unprecedented government overreach” to the fights waged by civil rights and labor leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez.

Jackson also compared the government’s efforts to crack Apple encryption and access user data to earlier surveillance and censorship actions, like Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist Congressional witch hunts and Richard Nixon’s “Enemies List.”

In a lighter moment during the Q&A, a shareholder in town from Boston said that he had lost a lot of music on Apple Music and he has had trouble using iCloud. If you’re looking for a way to skip the line at the Genius Bar, this is perhaps a great way to go about it. Tim Cook, without missing a beat, said that Apple representatives would be in touch with him as soon as the meeting ended.

Not too long after that question, Cook fielded a query about whether Apple is, in fact, working on electric vehicles as has been widely reported. Cook joked that he wished he had called on someone else, before saying that the speculation was “gonna be like Christmas Eve for awhile.”

As the meeting let out, the shareholders headed to their cars and a few watched Jackson banter with the TV people in front of the cameras. Second-time attending shareholder, Don Wexler of Lake Tahoe, said that the meeting was “fantastic” and that he plans to return next year.

Ann Blankenship, an attendee who says she has been an Apple shareholder since 2008, said that she felt “kind of” positive about Cook’s remarks.

“I felt it was a standard office meeting. Cook didn’t address a lot of issues, it was aggressively scripted,” she said. “My main issue is diversity. I can invest six figures in Apple, and my biggest concern is that the world is changing, and they are not.”

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