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FWD.us Unwelcome at Netroots Nation, Says Conference Head

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Friday, May 3 2013

FWD.us, the Silicon Valley advocacy organization now focused on immigration form, is at least nominally pursuing a grassroots strategy.

But it won't be welcome at one of this year's biggest and most influential grassroots political gatherings, Netroots Nation — even though the event will be in the heart of Silicon Valley.

"So what we want to do is take members of the tech community, not just in New York, not just in San Francisco, but all over the country, and get them to directly tell their representatives in Congress, that the tech community in their districts support them in taking the tough vote in Congress in favor of immigration reform," Joe Green, FWD.us' president and founder, told the attendees of TechCrunch Disrupt earlier this week in New York. "You know these people hear a lot from these anti-immigration groups. We ought to make sure that they hear from us as well."

The group has subsidiaries reaching out to both the right and the left — but Netroots Nation's executive director, Raven Brooks, says the new advocacy organization hasn't contacted his conference about coming to the progressive event, and it's unlikely FWD.us would have been welcome to propose a panel anyway.

"We probably wouldn't have taken it because Silicon Valley's interests and idea of immigration reform doesn't really track too well with where the rest of the [progressive] movement is anyway," Brooks said. "They're not in it for the cause like the rest of the activists who have been in this for years."

FWD.us is pushing for more H-1B visas, which Brooks says underpays workers — a beef that the labor movement has also had for many years. Similarly, FWD.us wants to make it easier for foreigners to start companies in the United States and to change science and technology education. Elsewhere on the left, people are more interested in immigration policy that recognizes same-sex relationships or in issues related to border security.

And the Netroots executive director has clashed with Green in the past. The FWD.us founder is a co-founder of NationBuilder, a nonpartisan political organizing platform. Because Green went nonpartisan after working for liberal causes like John Kerry's 2004 presidential run, Brooks suggests NationBuilder is offering Republicans the benefit of experience gained on Democratic campaigns and has asked for people on the left to boycott NationBuilder. (This is not a universal view among progressives.)

Netroots Nation has in the past drawn complete rosters of Democratic presidential candidates vying for the party's nomination in the primaries in past election cycles. And at RootsCamp, a gathering of progressive online-organizer types put together by the New Organizing Institute last fall, White House special adviser Valerie Jarrett made an appearance and a slew of Obama for America alumni hosted panels, walked the halls and generally took a victory lap.

FWD.us has yet to respond to a request for comment.