Re-Booting the Silicon Valley Dream

As the Silicon Valley economy once again starts to surge, Raj Jayadev says this time the notion of the Silicon Valley dream, and who has access to it, should be expanded and democratized. This piece originally ran on The Left Hook.

Housing rights advocate Sandy Perry leads a rally just outside the Google campus, calling on the tech giant to pay its share of taxes.

Silicon Valley is heading into 2014 armed with something many thought we would never have, and perhaps didn’t deserve — a second chance. The rebooting of the overall economic picture after years of slumping has ignited an optimism of the potential of our region that we have not seen in a decade. The message from iconic tech giants like Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter as their campuses expand and their stocks surge is clear – the valley is back. But with the accumulation of new wealth and an ever higher cost of living, every other barometer of economic health has suffered –  homelessness has swelled, evictions are rampant, and more people are on food stamps since the early 2000’s.

The truth is, I could have written this blog ten years ago, and the general spirit of growing disparities would have looked the same – a picture of opposing financial trajectories for those on the top of Silicon Valley and those who make up the rest of the region. But this is a new era where Silicon Valley frontline responders – housing advocates, labor, and civil rights leaders – are already battle-tested. Those who should have advocated for a Silicon Valley model that floated all boats, not just raised some to astronomical heights while others drowned, were caught flat-footed the first time around. This time, we know the rest of the story of allowing the tech economy to operate with out any social contract. It’s why we have tent cities of homeless only a handful of miles away from Apple, and why we have under-resourced schools and only half-way open libraries in a region that boasts its ability to generate unprecedented wealth. It’s also why in SanFrancisco and Oakland they are now stopping Google and Apple buses to highlight displacement, and why homeless residents marched from East San Jose to the campus of Google in what they called “March to Heal the Valley” to start a dialogue on economy, fairness, and community a month ago. It’s why groups that the first go around didn’t work together are now seeing their common fates, and joining forces – like the SEIU union who partnered with the Community Homeless Alliance Ministry as one is trying to improve working conditions for tech firm security guards, and the later is advocating for housing rights for all.

And as the economy rebuilds, it is more important now then ever that progressive advocates reshape the ambitions of a new Silicon Valley. Think of this time as the molten lava period – when an economy is hot and malleable, before it solidifies into what it may stay static and fixed for years. And this time, we are less insecure. As cities and counties before bent over backwards to give tax breaks to tech firms, we know now how valuable our region is. We know that there is an undeniable value added for these firms to exist, operate and prosper here in Silicon Valley. Offshore tax havens for the Apple’s and Google’s while those on fixed income are seeing rents triple just is no longer tolerable.

To call on the tech industry to contribute is really a matter of responsibility as a Silicon Valley stakeholder. I heard one recent pundit say Silicon Valley needs to increase its philanthropy to address this mounting tension of the haves and have nots. I would frame it differently. What is needed in this rebuilding of the economy is reciprocity. If a company is going generate wealth in Silicon Valley, they are also beholden to ensuring the Valley is viable, and has a fully functioning public infrastructure, if only for their own self-interest.  It’s not about condemning the Silicon Valley dream, it’s about democratizing it.

About Raj Jayadev

Raj Jayadev is the coordinator of SV De-Bug and coordinates the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project, an organizing model for families and communities to impact their local court systems. He is an Ashoka Fellow.

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Im am so excited. Cant wait to get back 3 to 4 weeks. Right on Debugg and sandy perry crew.

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