It Can Happen Here

Valerie Aurora and Ka-Ping Yee, Never Again pledge

Portrait of Valerie Aurora and Ka-Ping Yee, by Gretchen Röehrs Valerie Aurora and Ka-Ping Yee, by Gretchen Röehrs

On December 13, 2016, the day before Silicon Valley’s top executives made the pilgrimage to Trump Tower to sit down for a summit with the president-elect, the Never Again pledge went live at http://neveragain.tech. The pledge is a public declaration by tech workers that they will refuse to build a database identifying people by race, religion, or national origin. So far, the pledge has accumulated nearly 3,000 signatures, and has helped pressure several big tech companies to state publicly that they will not build a Muslim registry—after months of equivocating on the subject.

The pledge’s themes remain as relevant as ever. The Trump Administration needs the tech industry to implement its repressive agenda. Sadly, Silicon Valley has proven more than willing to play along.

We spoke to two co-organizers of the Never Again pledge, Valerie Aurora and Ka-Ping Yee. Valerie Aurora is a tech diversity and inclusion consultant at Frame Shift Consulting, and Ka-Ping Yee is a software engineer at Wave. We discussed the origins of the pledge, and how tech workers can organize internally to demand an ethical commitment from their companies.

What is the Never Again pledge, and how did it get started?

The pledge is a public commitment by individuals in the tech industry to resist, prevent, and refuse to participate in assisting the US government in targeting people for deportation or discrimination by religion, ethnicity, or national origin. The commitment includes refusing to create databases of personal information for such purposes, demanding legal process before turning over personal data to the government, blowing the whistle on unethical misuse of personal data in their companies, and resigning if forced to engage in such misuse.

The pledge was initially drafted by the lead organizer, Leigh Honeywell, and then edited collaboratively by approximately thirty contributors into its final form. Leigh and co-organizer Ka-Ping Yee gathered the initial list of signatories for the launch. Then they worked with Valerie Aurora, Liz Fong-Jones, and many other volunteers to coordinate the launch itself and manage the process of accepting and verifying signatures.

Did the big response meet your expectations—or did it come as a surprise?

The enthusiastic response from signatories greatly exceeded our expectations. Word spread quickly, and many people expressed that they were proud to sign. Over 1,000 people requested to sign within the first two days, and our team of volunteers had to work day and night to verify each signature before it could be published on the site. We ended up with just over 2,800 verified signatures. We were thrilled to see so much support throughout the tech industry community for these values.

“Never Again” has emerged as a protest slogan for anti-Trump protests, but what is the resonance of the phrase specifically within the tech industry? What’s the history that you’re hoping to draw attention to, and how useful is that history in organizing tech workers against Trump?

We want people in the tech industry to recognize two things: that they have a special responsibility because technology and data processing are necessary for committing injustice at a massive scale; and that they have power as individuals to resist, create accountability, and cause change within their organizations even if their leaders are unwilling to take a stand.

We want everyone to understand that information technology was an instrumental part of historical atrocities such as the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese Americans. The pledge was written, and its name was chosen, to explicitly draw a connection between Trump's calls for mass deportation and religious targeting, and instances of targeting and mass deportations in history that have precipitated genocide.

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This has been a free excerpt from Tech Against Trump, a new book by Logic chronicling the rising tide of anti-Trump resistance by tech workers and technologists.

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