Sunday, May 12, 2019

Re-engagement campaign

On Friday evening, I attended my first political fundraiser. The ticket to the event was my first donation to a political candidate.

I was very excited to vote for Obama back in 2008 (the first election I could participate in) and 2012, but have never really stuck my neck into politics. I've primarily consumed media about politics, not shared or commented. Having only lived in states that have a clear Democratic majority, I've cast my ballots into the Blue sea, voting for the frontrunner.

I am still inclined to vote pragmatically, but this year is a bit different. I had mostly checked out of political news until a month ago, when a good friend (whom I hadn't seen for six months—it could easily have been longer) asked me over dinner if I'd been keeping up with the primaries. Apparently there are now 22 major candidates running for the Democratic nomination, with many known names in the mix and some upstarts. Each candidate has their strengths and weaknesses in relation to their immediate competitors and to Trump. No one yet carries an air of inevitability.

This open field in the race coincides with me being in a phase of life where I am actually thinking about politics. That sounds terrible, but it's an honest reflection of where my head has been the past few years—deeply buried in work, trying to rise from extreme greenness to moderate competence. So I viscerally understand, at least from one angle, "young people being politically disengaged."

Another part of my re-engagement has come from experiencing a few local election cycles in which I understood the issues better and had more direct skin in the game, voted, and saw outcomes I did not agree with (which is fair, part of the democratic process). I felt the "pain" of losing more strongly because I was informed and more invested in the outcomes. The real wake-up call, though, was from recognizing that I've changed my points of view on issues as I learned more. Then I reflected on the fact that in national elections, I've never bothered to learn more...

Finally, I've come around to thinking that engaging in politics is not just a thing one does when inspired, but a humbling, necessary part of bringing about any large-scale change. An analogy that comes to mind: in the early years at Facebook, there was a saying that "Code wins arguments." It meant, instead of arguing with words, the way to win was to build the thing to prove it was possible and to run the experiment. Around 2014 or 2015, I heard a long-tenured engineer remark with wistfulness that this saying was no longer feasible—a small handful of people could no longer realistically just hack something into the main app. There were now so many potential downstream effects that it really demanded you think it through before you started, plus so many internal (technical, inter-team, etc) dependencies that to get anything meaningful done, you had to get the help of other teams and convince them of the idea. This is the story of every super successful organization—they continue to attract and retain participants, and thus grow to be worthy of such problems.

The city of San Francisco alone has a population an order of magnitude bigger than Facebook's employee base. Tack on a few more zeros for the USA. I try to imagine socializing and getting buy-in for changes across an org of this size. To ship a better incremental version of the USA, again and again.

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