After a moment of stunned silence, Silicon Valley is now frantically mobilizing in response to Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the US presidential election. SpaceX executive Dex Torricke-Barton, the son of a Burmese refugee, announced that he quit his job to do grassroots work to fight the Trump “nightmare.” Venture capitalist Shervin Pischvar made an impassioned plea for California to become its own nation. And CEO Matt Maloney of Chicago-based GrubHub asked employees who embraced Trump’s ideology to quit.
Meanwhile, venture capitalist Dave McClure had a meltdown on stage at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon, Portugal, last week. “If you’re not fucking pissed right now, what is wrong with you?” he yelled to the audience. “I’m pissed off, I’m sad, I’m ashamed, I’m angry.”
McClure, the cofounder of 500 Startups, reiterated that on Nov. 16 at The Next Web event in Brooklyn, New York, and later told Quartz that Silicon Valley has every reason to be worried. “If we take [Trump and his supporters] at their word, we should be concerned,” he said, referring to the proposed Muslim registry system. “The best case scenario is that they might be lying. I hope they’re lying.”
After a long stretch of relative political apathy under a president who gave unequivocal support to the tech industry, there’s now a sense of urgency among VCs and founders to contend with the reality of the incoming administration. McClure is responding in a way that only techies would: by sponsoring a “Debug Politics” hackathon in San Francisco, hosted by 500 Startups portfolio company founder Jesse Pickard. Its objective: “Find one specific thing about the election cycle you were dissatisfied with and build something to fix it.” It begins at 7 pm PST today (Nov. 18) and goes through Sunday. More than 550 people are planning to attend so far, said a 500 Startups spokesperson. The event will begin tonight with a kickoff discussion and team-forming, and hacking will take place all day tomorrow and most of Sunday. Debug Politics describes itself as a “nonpartisan hackathon for anyone dissatisfied with the 2016 election cycle. Transform your dissatisfaction into a unique idea.”
McClure says the industry’s apathy will quickly become a thing of the past. “We have gone from this progression of not caring about politics, to caring about politics, to supporting politicians we want to make things happen, to,” he predicts, “becoming the politicians that we want to make things happen.”
Silicon Valley has been criticized for solving small problems, with on-demand apps that service more affluent segments of the population. In a June 2016 Medium post titled, Silicon Valley has a ‘problem’ problem, a tech CEO wrote: “If we continue to pitch our perk-based products and services as ‘game-changing solutions to global problems,’ we will only demonstrate to the rest of the world how out of touch we are.”
To be able to focus on the small problems is a luxury. Now is an opportunity—and as many would now say, an obligation—for Silicon Valley to shift its focus to solving bigger problems. A political hackathon is a start.