Silicon Valley Wants To Dust Off The Democratic Establishment : All Tech Considered During the Obama years, Democrats got comfortable and Republicans gained a digital advantage. Now, the liberals of Silicon Valley want to change that.
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Silicon Valley Wants To Dust Off The Democratic Establishment

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Silicon Valley Wants To Dust Off The Democratic Establishment

Silicon Valley Wants To Dust Off The Democratic Establishment

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's widely believed that Silicon Valley has a political bent, that the coders and digital marketing folks at Facebook and Google are for the most part liberals. A new startup in San Francisco is betting on that bias. It's recruiting tech professionals to help Democratic candidates win elections. NPR's Aarti Shahani reports.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Jessica Alter says she would always vote Democrat, but she was not into politics.

JESSICA ALTER: I did not know what the DCCC stood for in January.

SHAHANI: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee - it's this very important body that's supposed to help Dems get elected. When President Trump issued the ban against travel from majority Muslim countries, she was beside herself. She lost family in the Holocaust, and she says her grandmother was part of the Belgian resistance. Alter imagined grandma telling her...

ALTER: This is going on, and all you're doing is posting on social media. And I just was not OK with that. And I knew she wouldn't be either if she were alive.

SHAHANI: Alter is a tech insider who sold her own startup and also earned a nice chunk of cash when another startup she was in went to AOL for $850 million. That weekend, she had an epic texting session with a friend about how outraged so many young liberals in Silicon Valley were at the Trump agenda but also how the right solution for them is not door-knocking or phone-banking.

ALTER: A very small percentage of them are actually going to quit their jobs and be involved, especially as step one. But a lot of them want to do something, and they're highly skilled.

SHAHANI: She and that friend soon launched Tech For Campaigns, a nonprofit that recruits the best online marketers and website developers from Google, Airbnb, Slack and puts them to work part-time, pro-bono, exclusively for Democrats. Alter says her startup is designed to move fast, unlike the party. In her opinion, this is a crisis moment. And legacy institutions like the DCCC - they are crawling ahead.

ALTER: I was at a meeting actually in March convened by important Democratic entity.

SHAHANI: She doesn't want to name the entity and burn bridges. Point is, she flew out to this powwow with the very top pollsters and operatives to dissect the lessons of 2016 and talk strategy. This was just a few weeks into her caring about politics, and it was less than inspiring.

ALTER: No outcomes, no plan of action to move forward and a lot of people being self-congratulatory about just attending.

SHAHANI: Altar has a take. At the level of presidential campaigns - Howard Dean, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders - Democrats kill it with digital strategy. But that does not trickle down. The party isn't spending money to teach smaller campaigns how to really use Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat. Meanwhile, Republicans are.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: Welcome. This service is provided by freeconferencecall.com.

SHAHANI: Alter lets me listen in on a confidential campaign call for a candidate for Virginia House of Delegates.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We should be waiting for one more person on my team to join, but...

SHAHANI: Leading the call is Michael Landsberger, who also happens to be at airport security, traveling for his high-powered day job.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL LANDSBERGER: Any chance you could tell us a bit about yourself after that?

SHAHANI: Leah Rappaport with Thumbtack, the gig work site, is explaining to the Virginia team that digital ads are very different from TV. On TV, if you run a negative message bashing the incumbent, everyone sees it. But online, you can pick and choose and test to see if it works.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEAH RAPPAPORT: We can target to specific people. So yes, there is that permanency of putting anything out there. It could come back to you.

SHAHANI: This call is happening days after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Alter recalls over the weekend, people were emoting on social media, tweeting outrage, clicking emoji - sad face, angry face. She slipped a link to her startup into other people's conversations. She says today she's recruited 3,000 tech volunteers. Aarti Shahani, NPR News, San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF HUDSON MOHAWKE SONG, "FUSE")

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