power is a mood

a conversation with ifeoma ozoma about what actually makes change + some thoughts on basecamp

  
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When a NYT op-ed by Emi Nietfeld went viral a couple of weeks ago (the Wide-eyed Googler Falls Out of Love with Google, Will Never Love Quite the Same Again, She Says is so familiar now it feels like monomyth, heh), my friend Yona texted me, “Do you think any of this touches Google?” “God no,” I replied reflexively, “not at all.” They don’t care, bad press is no real threat to their power, and anyway, corporations are like gorgons who, when struck, just regenerate new and spikier limbs with which to remind us of our smallness and their omnipotence. My what’s-the-point mood was compounded later that week by reading an article about big tech whistleblowers (Ifeoma, Timnit, Aerica, Chelsey, Jack Poulson—the whole sick crew!) and the emotional and professional grimness of taking on The Power™. I think all the time about Chelsey Glasson, two+ years into fighting Google over pregnancy discrimination at a nauseating cost to her life/livelihood. “It almost seems like they’re trying to make an example out of her,” iconic legal scholar Veena Dubal said recently, noting the particularly punishing way Google has drawn out Chelsey’s case (a fun contrast to the cozy treatment and/or money Google has typically given harassers!). 

Going up against the system is, in brief, way too much for individuals to shoulder, which is why it’s bothered me a lot that the Google union hasn’t done anything to fight the most recent egregious firing—that of Dr. Margaret Mitchell—or picked up the mantle for all the other people Google’s made an example of, though it’s recently found the time to rename itself (honestly, if some young Fed were to confess to me over drinks that the whole thing is a psyop to siphon off and manage the emerging tech worker revolutionary energy, I’d be like “ok”). 

Enter IFEOMA, whom I spoke to recently for the Techworker podcast. What a retroviral tonic of a person. She blew the whistle on pay discrimination and retaliation at Pinterest last year and has since been pairing pro-level corporate bullshit-calling-out (I’m especially fond of the way she names and shames the managerial villains in her story at every available opportunity, Arya Stark-style 😍) with actual policy work—she just co-wrote and sponsored a piece of legislation to cancel NDAs/expand protections for whistleblowers, for example—if you live in California, tell your state senator to support this bill! (Can’t help but contrast her tour de force past year with my first year post-Google which I mostly spent in the fetal position weakly crooning, “She’ll be blowin’ the whistle when she comes (yee-haw)” to the tune of “Comin’ Round the Mountain” to my small sons...).

To me, Ifeoma really embodies the spirit of change. We don’t speak out because of some calculation of success or progress penciled out (though, damn, in Ifeoma’s case there actually was a discernible domino effect—her whistleblowing both inspired Pinterest’s “top woman” Francoise Brougher to come forward with her story AND enabled her legal team to build a whole case around Pin’s culture of discrimination which resulted in them paying out $22.5M...to Francoise...ok, not karmic/fiscal justice, but a step forward in one way or another). We speak out because character is defined in moral choices and actions that are rooted in love and solidarity and belief that the world should be a less f’ed-up place (and/or due to societally-necessary shit-disturbing personalities, like Ifeoma’s, which we must partially attribute to growing up in Alaska). 

Anyway, Ifeoma reminded me of what we are building and why, even if we have no idea where the story is going (even if it will likely end in species annihilation due to capitalism’s structural inability to rescue humanity from the overlapping existential crises of our times [inequality, climate change, and public health to name a casual few!!]), we have to keep fighting, that is to say speaking out and building solidarity and hoping that it thickens into a mass movement that confronts/reverses the annihilation etc enumerated above. But let’s not worry about that right now, and focus on what we can do—let the tea flow, sisters!

here’s a pic of us, the light in us honoring the light in y’all 😇

Things referenced in the pod: The Silenced No More Act, legislation in California to expand whistleblower protections and roll back the power of NDAs, which Ifeoma co-wrote and co-sponsored, and her accompanying NYTimes op-ed “An NDA was designed to keep me quiet.” Janice Min’s Time Magazine profile of Ifeoma, Aerica Shimizu Banks, and Francoise Brougher. The work of Octavia Butler, whose novel Parable of the Sower inspired the name of Ifeoma’s consultancy, Earthseed. Sophie Zhang, Facebook whistleblower, tells the story on her terms. Power causes brain damage.

Some other stuff:

  • I’ve been on the g.d. edge of my seat following the Basecamp trainwreck over the past week, and my take boils down that this isn’t really about politics/wokeness at work at all, but about the astonishing smallness and fragility of the people in charge. The initial manifesto from the co-founders is really a work of art/parody/terrible management (from the inscrutable Huxley quote, to getting rid of peer reviews on the grounds that they’re too positive, to banning questioning their decisions, to cutting a few random benefits while they’re at it, it is truly a “We, the Men, Are Shook” starter pack). There are so many telling, damning moments (the story has been reported with spectacular richness by Casey Newton), but if I had to pick some favorites, they’d include the co-founder “DHH” rummaging through chat logs to find a “gotcha” moment to flame a subordinate in a company-wide discussion (just breathtaking pettiness! also wow does that guy have time on his hands), him thinking that specifying that “just 6” of the 78 entries of their “funny customer names list” “appear to be asian” was a good data point to report at this stage in the crisis or ever, and finally him calling into the company crisis all-hands from literally under the covers. While I’ll grant that surely leading any organization rn is challenging work, especially for the emotionally-stunted and empathy-bankrupt, with all due respect, Jason and “DHH”—grow a pair!

  • An impeccable essay about the regressive politics of emotional intelligence, which I especially appreciated as an alum of the Goleman-branded meditation course at Google, “Search Inside Yourself” (I will never forgive myself for being unable to muster a critical perspective of this stuff at the time). Related genius / reassurance that you’re not crazy, the world is + interesting Jonah Peretti backstory: the buzzfeedification of mental health.

  • “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office” —> literally riveting analysis of AOC, “the AOC generation”, and whether “the parasocial bonds uniting AOC and her millions of followers can be translated into more durable political structures—new party forms or labor movements”. But no pressure, Ms. Congresswoman, lady sir!

  • 100 days into Biden, Rebecca Solnit gives us: How Donald Trump wanted the end of history

  • ICYMI, “Scott Rudin, as told by his assistants” is really something. let this flood of assistant stories never cease!

  • With a heavy heart, announcing that I’ve reached my saturation point of Harry Styles Tiny Desk concert viewings (linking again for old times sake, my eyes brimming with tears as I feel no urge to click myself)—thank you for respecting my privacy during this delicate time. I’m sure I’ll find my way back to it someday, and it’ll be a sweet reunion, but now I’m just an open vessel drifting between trivial diversions, which this week included young girl “slapping the bass” to Dua Lipa’s Hallucinate, Gwyneth Paltrow reflecting on outfits, Drew Barrymore’s show is unhinged, John Mayer’s tiktok has that certain je ne sais quoi, I’m sorry I don’t make the rules.

  • A friend’s instagram story (ty Kate Perkins) tipped me off to this song and it has since completely replaced my inner monologue. I understand that your name is probably not Claire, so it won’t work the same for you, but I dunno, maybe? Don’t waste your life, Clehhh! Baxter Dury - Claire

a parting tweet…stay blessed, keep sticking it to ‘em!