After “disrupting” — as the tech parlance goes — just about everything else in America, Silicon Valley is now trying to hack Washington. Joe Green, the founder and president of FWD.us, a group formed less than a year ago with the backing of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and other boldface tech names, thinks his organization’s approach will help get comprehensive immigration reform across the finish line this year.
After House Republicans last week revived the prospects of reform, which had been left for dead in the fall, Green’s group spent $750,000 on advertising to thank and support them. Unlike most other advocacy groups, FWD.us works with both parties and employs staffers who have sometimes fought against each other — which can create awkward moments around the water cooler. National Journal caught up with Green to discuss immigration, technology, and what happens when a Republican operative in cowboy boots meets the seven varieties of trash can in a tech company’s office. Joe Green of FWD (Brian Ach/Getty Images for TechCrunch)
We’re all entrepreneurs, and that means a culture of taking risks and accepting failure. Entrepreneurs from around the world want to come here to start their companies because of that culture, which comes from being a nation of immigrants. We’re people who refused to accept what we had and wanted a better life. So we really identify with the immigrant experience, and that doesn’t just mean people with graduate degrees.
We’re very new. There’s this kind of Silicon Valley hacker mind-set: Let’s try to look at things as they are now and see where we can add value. For one, we’re political, but we work on both sides of the aisle. And second, because we do come from the tech community, we’re able to bring a lot innovative solutions, like Push4Reform, a smartphone app that allows anyone to see where their member of Congress stands on immigration reform and then contact them easily on several different platforms. That came out of a hackathon with Dreamers who knew how to code, because who better to build the tools to communicate reform than the people whom it will help?
It’s been a huge year for immigration reform. I think we were able to play a really critical role in getting the Senate bill done and moving things forward. We set up an organization that is able to work on both sides of the aisle and is seen as a productive player by people who have been doing this for a lot longer than we have, even though we’re the new kid on the block.
In terms of lessons, we came out of the gate really, really quickly. We started cooking this [up] in late January, early February, and by early April we had ads on the air and had hired a bunch of staff. We didn’t have nearly the time we would have liked, but I think we’ve done a better job of that since. We’re big and new and disruptive, and it’s important to communicate who you are when you come on the scene.
There are certainly challenges and an inherent tension, and there have sometimes been kind of comedic moments in the office. We’ve got folks who have been on the opposite sides of each other for decades, even literally on opposite sides of specific races. It’s always amazing how much they actually like working together, even though there are hilarious things that go down.
For instance, you’ve got [former National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director] Rob Jesmer, this tall, cowboy-boot-wearing Republican, and Alida Garcia, who’s a short Mexican-American from L.A., who ran Latino vote outreach for Obama. Just the picture, right? Jesmer’s been amazed, going to a bunch of tech company offices and seeing all the amazing food and the seven different kinds of trash cans.
That new ad is indicative of our strategy. You’ll continue to see us make major media buys; you’ll continue to see us do grassroots advocacy among the tech community. You’re going to continue to see us throwing everything we’ve got at getting legislation the president can sign.