Ron Conway says that Silicon Valley needs to get more serious about politics.
In the eyes of one of the tech industry’s most prominent investors, the challenges that Apple, Facebook, Google and other tech giants now face in Washington, D.C., are more urgent than ever — not the least because President Donald Trump is increasingly taking aim at immigrants.
To that end, he said at an event Monday, the Valley has to have “eyes wide open that we’re in a very volatile environment right now, and the tech industry has to speak up for itself.”
“If you go back five years, literally, tech companies were so apathetic about the political environment and just wanted to avoid politics,” said Conway, one of the earliest investors in companies like Google and PayPal.
“You can’t avoid politics ... It so happens we have a president named Trump who’s doing a lot of controversial things, and once again, people need to step up and represent themselves,” he continued.
Atop Conway’s political agenda is a government program known as DACA, which protects children brought to the United States illegally from being deported. Trump has set in motion a plan to scrap that legal shield, threatening the potential deportation of hundreds of thousands of so-called Dreamers next year — a move Conway called “despicable.”
Top technology companies have devoted lobbying dollars and dispatched their executives to the nation’s capital in order to save the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which benefits some of their employees. Microsoft publicly told the Trump administration to pause its push for tax reform — a tech industry priority — until it could broker a compromise with Congress over the future of DACA.
And Conway — who appeared onstage Monday at an event hosted by the Internet Association — sported a shirt that read “We Are All Dreamers.” Before promising to distribute them to the crowd, Conway urged tech executives, engineers and lobbyists alike to spread the message on social media and contact their elected officials.
Conway also said he’s “delighted,” for one thing, by the likes of Apple CEO Tim Cook, who “is holding up his hands and saying this isn’t right.”
“We have a duty and an obligation to do that,” he said of the industry’s prominent, public response to Trump, “and I think the rank and file at these companies are very proud of their CEOs right now. It improves morale.”
Some of those tech giants — like Facebook, Google and Twitter — are themselves the subject of scrutiny in the nation’s capital. From concerns that they’re stifling competition to new probes over the extent to which Russian agents coopted their platforms, lawmakers increasingly have set their sights on Silicon Valley and threatened regulation.
“If you look historically over the last five years, there are more tech people than normal being called to Congress on privacy issues, security issues, Russian hacking,” Conway acknowledged. “But my view is, the internet has become so mainstream that the number of congressional hearings that have to do with the internet is still hopefully proportionately low compared to the impact the internet is having on society.”
Some lawmakers, he said, had started intimating the tech industry is rotten at heart. But Conway rejected the notion. “They can try and poke around,” he said, “but we’re not malicious people.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.