IT Sector Discovers Real Political Clout in Indiana Law Protest

 
 
By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2015-04-02 Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

NEWS ANALYSIS: The tech community is now realizing the business and political power it holds when it agrees on a position for a cause and decides to act on it.

Rarely does the tech community agree on a single issue, and it's even rarer when it mobilizes for concerted action. But when it does, as it is now protesting a pending state law in Indiana, watch out.

The one thing right now that just about everybody in the tech community agrees upon is that Indiana Senate Enrolled Act No. 101, which would allow state residents to hide behind their religious beliefs to discriminate against gays and lesbians, is patently unjust and a step backward in the evolution of human rights. This perceived injustice against the LGBT community, a large component of the Bay Area and IT culture, has struck a nerve.

You can read the five-page Indiana document here in PDF format. We're not going to debate the merits or demerits of the bill here, nor will we discuss similar legislation coming up for sanctioning in other states. There's plenty of other analysis elsewhere on those topics.

What we are discussing here is how Silicon Valley, through this event, is realizing its power potential in terms of business control and, subsequently, in influencing the thinking of large numbers of voters who pay close attention to the tech community. That undoubtedly equates to millions of people, and thus it translates into tremendous indirect political power.

Reaction Against Indiana SB101 Was Instantaneous

After Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill, passed by both legislative houses (Pence certainly isn't the only one to incur wrath), on March 26, reaction from Silicon Valley was instantaneous. Two of the first movers were Marc Benioff, CEO and co-founder of Salesforce.com, and Apple CEO Tim Cook. Benioff tweeted his disdain immediately and was the first C-level executive to declare business sanctions on the state of Indiana, curtailing all Salesforce-related events and cutting business travel to and from the state.

Cook, leader of arguably the most successful company in the world, also tweeted in protest early on, and on March 29 was the first to publish an op-ed article in a mainstream newspaper, the Washington Post, describing both the business and social faults of the bill. You can read his column here.

Benioff now is offering to help any of the several thousand Indiana-based Salesforce.com employees relocate if they choose to do so; he told Poppy Harlow on "CNN Money" April 2 that he's already sent a "$50,000 relocation package" to an employee who wants to leave.

"We have employees that want to move out of the state. There are customers I've heard from all over the world. Ninety percent of all the people I've spoken to are incredibly positive toward the actions we have taken and want the law to change," Benioff said. "About 10 percent of the people are upset that we would rebuff the governor. He's a great guy, but he's made a huge mistake for himself  and for the state of Indiana. Laws like the one signed by Gov. Pence are unacceptable."

Of course, not all companies are able to spend $50,000 to move an employee who's not comfortable in his living location. But Salesforce, with billionaire Benioff at the helm, is one that can.

Benioff and Cook, along with a list of 37 other high-level executive thought leaders, signed a statement of unity and sent it to Pence and each of the Indiana legislators April 1. You can read the eWEEK story containing that statement here.

IT Driving the New U.S. Economy

IT is the multitrillion-dollar, new-generation engine that is driving the U.S. economy. U.S. software and services—and to a growing extent, computers and data center hardware—are supplying buyers worldwide. In turn, IT business leaders, such as the 39 people who signed the April 1 statement and thousands more like them, are driving that IT ecosystem.

The web of direct influence of the IT industry is vast, reaching into all sectors of the global business world: banking and finance, oil and gas, telecoms, media, health care, retail, agriculture, the military, governments—the list is as long as one could want to make it.

It's a safe bet that not many people knew that Salesforce.com is the largest IT employer in the state of Indiana. If the company were to pull all of its operations out of the state, Benioff said, it could mean the subtraction of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars to the state in terms of sales, salaries and taxes.

Salesforce.com is but one IT company. What would happen if IBM, Microsoft, Google and dozens of others followed suit? The term "high pressure" comes to mind.

At the very least, this week's show of unity among IT thought leaders and the direct action they have taken to fix a problem is a wakeup call to the industry and to the industry's ecosystem. It's a wakeup call about how much actual power and persuasion a coalition of this type can wield, if channeled correctly.

There already has been a direct reaction to the protest of the Indiana law. On April 2, new language was added to clarify it to show that it is not discriminatory to the LGBT community. Arkansas, with a similar law ready for its governor's signature, also amended its language.

So the political power of Silicon Valley has already obtained results—and in only a few days. The wheels of progress can indeed turn quickly, if the right motivation is applied.

This doesn't have to stop here. If articulate self-starters like Benioff, Cook and others set the pace, what other wrongs could be highlighted for public discourse? These become new forums of national citizenry, not conducted by Congress, which has been so polarized for years that agreement almost never happens and bills of any type rarely are passed.

Possible Other Issues IT Community Can Examine

What if the IT sector targeted other issues that have been nagging U.S. citizens for years? Some examples:

--Racial profiling and a trigger-happy approach by law enforcement that has resulted in more police-caused deaths in the U.S. in one month (111 in March 2015) than all by-the-police killings in the United Kingdom (52) since 1900;
--The emergence of unfair and restrictive laws aimed at making it more difficult for minority citizens to register to vote;
--The continuing debate about the viability of climate change due to industrialization;
--The slow but certain crumbling of U.S. physical ecosystems, including the highways, bridges and electricity grid.

We, of course, could go on. All of these noted here are directly connected to the IT industry, as well as our society at large.

It's all very intriguing, and the conversation about all of this needs to continue.

 

 
 
 
 
Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK. Twitter: @editingwhiz
Join us for our next eWEEKChat April 8: "How Can We Secure the Internet of Other People's Things?"

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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