I am Fred Stevens-Smith, CEO of Rainforest, a software startup in San Francisco. Given the current political climate in America, and the concern it has created for our team and their families, we are choosing to share our perspective publicly. Prior to publishing this letter, we first shared it with our entire company. We discussed it as a group, and everyone had a chance to provide feedback. It represents our collective point of view.
Rainforest is a collection of 62 people, and over 169 partners, children, and family members. Our team is comprised of 45 US citizens and 17 non-citizens, living in 13 countries, with heritage from over 33 countries. We are Christians, Muslims, Jews and atheists. We are Chinese-Americans, and we are Chinese-Chinese. We are English and Irish. We are Pakistani and we are Austrian. We are men and women. We are old and young. Without intent, we ostensibly are a reflection of the ‘American Melting Pot.’
My cofounder and I are also immigrants. And though you might imagine it’s easy to emigrate from our home country of England to the U.S., I can verify it was the opposite. The process was confusing, time-consuming, filled with uncertainty and very expensive. Remember, also, that English is our first language, and we could afford to get assistance in the process, unlike many others. So, after tens of thousands of dollars in government and legal fees, dozens of round trip flights and many hundreds of hours spent filling out forms, we finally hold valid visas.
America today is dangerously polarized. And while the new President is the figurehead of this crisis, exacerbating tensions with his style, it’s clear that the underlying problem stems from deep, growing feelings of inequality. These feelings have been building for decades, and they have come to a head. The 2016 election is just a symptom of this underlying issue.
A key factor is that American identity is changing. According to Pew Research, within forty years time, "no ethnic or racial group will be a majority in the U.S." While some appear to be resisting this change, labeling it as dangerous and destabilizing, we choose to embrace it.
Our reason for feeling this way is simple. Rather than focusing on our differences, we choose to focus on what we believe all humans fundamentally want. We all want to belong. We all want to be loved. We all want to feel safe. We all want a life free of suffering. We all want opportunity. We all want happiness. We all want good health. We want enough money to pay the bills and enjoy life. And most of all, we all want those things for our loved ones and our children. These are universal values, and this is where we choose to put our energy.
Our company has adopted values that work for us as a diverse company within America. And it is our belief that what makes Rainforest great is exactly what makes America great: people from different ethnic, ideological and religious backgrounds all having access to the same opportunities. No doors are closed based on the color of your skin, or the religious beliefs you hold. Nobody is telling you "no, people like you can't do that." The only limit to a Rainforester's success is their own talent and work ethic. What makes us great is our commitment to diversity and equality of opportunity. And to see the country that we call home promote a different spirit, a different set of values is deeply troubling.
So then how do we get through this as a society? We directly address the problem. We confront the hard questions. We learn to respect and love the people that scare us. We learn about their cultures, about their lives, about their hopes and fears. We come together. We see that we are far more alike than our politicians, our media and our own communities have allowed ourselves to accept.
How do we fail as a society? By choosing the easy way out. Hate is the easy way out. Don’t understand something? Just hate it, unfollow it, unlike, unfriend, delete, ban it. Racism is the easy way out. Giving into fear is an easy way out. Just like every nationalist leader in history, the current administration has found a (number of) scapegoats to blame for this inequality. A quick list: ‘the media’; ‘Mexicans’; ‘Muslims’; ‘ISIS’; ‘Washington,’ etc. It’s so much easier to hate something than to try and understand.
We recognize that with emotions running high, much of this is easier said than done, and infinitely harder to achieve across the United States than within our own small company. At this moment, with fear, anger and feelings of disenfranchisement running high, this is what we must first focus on. Our disagreement with the current President is with his divisive and zero-sum mentality. That is simply not America. This is simply not the globalized world we live in. We all want the same things for ourselves and our children. And we believe we can all have just that.
This Great American Experiment, the shining city on the hill so many around world look to as a beacon, requires participation. The founding fathers laid that out, and we must participate to keep the experiment going. To that end, Rainforest is choosing to participate in the following ways: - We are building a coalition of developer tooling companies to offer our services free-of-charge to leading pro-democracy and pro-environment organizations. This is a long-term effort but we have some very exciting participants, and we will be making a joint statement shortly. - We are offering two months of engineering time to the ACLU, a bipartisan, nonprofit that defends individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the U.S. by the Constitution. - Inspired by Josh and Gusto, we are matching employee charitable contributions up to $10k. - Over the coming weeks we will be sharing the personal stories of Rainforesters whose lives have been impacted by the tremendous diversity of America.
As a company, Rainforest believes in equality above all. We will continue to strive to be a haven of diversity and equal opportunity forever. In this way, we believe we are building a better future for America and ourselves. We hope you join us.