Of course I follow Brianna Wu on Twitter. She’s witty, intelligent and posts musings on technology and gaming (v. relevant to my interests). Plus she stood up to Gamergate, which makes her a badass. So when the FBI released its heavily redacted report on how it investigated GamerGate (or, ya know, not), Wu was livid. She took to Twitter to tell us just how angry she was that the FBI appeared not to have followed many of the leads they handed over. I nodded along with each progressing Tweet. And then she dropped Tweet number 7, last in the thread:
7/ When I am elected to Congress, we're going to make sure the federal government never fails women like this again. It's a disgrace.
— Brianna Wu (@BriannaWu) January 27, 2017
Congress! I reached out to Wu immediately. Here’s what we talked about.
Ali Osworth: Okay, so my biggest question: how did you arrive at running for Congress?
Brianna Wu: I’ve always suspected that one day I’d be run for office. Yes, it’s my first time with my name on the ballot—but I’ve worked in politics on and off my whole life. Constituent services, fundraising, canvassing, producing ads—this is not my first time to the rodeo. I’ve worked every major presidential election since 2004.
I expected to go back to my office in Boston and develop our next game after election night. We were in the middle of a big expansion. And, I was just in shock after Trump won. I kept asking my husband, “If I don’t run now, when?” It’s pretty similar to why I stood up to Gamergate. Something terrible was happening, and it’s not my nature to sit out a fight.
AO: Is this something that sprang organically from the FBI documentation release, or were you approached? How have you begun the process of running for office?
BW: I knew if I called the local Democratic party and told them I wanted to run for office, they’d steer me towards local races and tell me to wait my turn for congress. Like all institutions of power, the Democratic party is most interested in maintaining itself, and they’re not going to encourage one of their house members to get primaried.
I’m about to use a word a politician probably shouldn’t, but the hell with that. The guy I’m going against is everything broken in the Democratic party. He’s a 62-year-old white guy that’s spent most of his career fighting gay rights and women’s rights. Do you know he once introduced an amendment to give people that committed hate crimes against LGBT people a get-out-of-jail-free card if they were found to have acted “lasciviously”? This is the guy I’m supposed to wait to get bored in the Trump era? Give me a break.
In the Trump era there’s no room for benchwarmers. Seven out of nine of our representatives are white men in a supposedly progressive state. I think we can find room for a feisty feminist.
AO: We have a lot of readers who want to get more involved in political life and talking about your roadmap thus far might prove helpful!
BW: I ran it like I would one of my startups. We got a legal expert to look at all the FEC rules, filed our paperwork, and are working on fundraising. It’s not that hard—it’s just filling out a form. I know I’ll have to raise at least a million [dollars] to compete, so it’s my focus right now. Too many liberals run for office and have an idealistic vision of winning that doesn’t involve fundraising. I’m a pragmatist, and I’m in this to win.
We’re going to go hard left on him, but also do our homework and have enough of an organization to really drive out voters. Between giving a true progressive message and being fresh blood in a district sick of the status quo, I definitely think we can win! Ultimately, I expect to only need 10,000-20,000 votes or so.
AO: One of the drums I continue to beat is legislating for a digital age. We cannot shoehorn much of modern technology into laws that were conceived in the 18th or 19th centuries because the authors of those laws had no concept of what we’d be able to do. If elected, how do you plan to bring your digital expertise to lawmaking?
BW: This is such a good question. I am a software engineer and tech analyst, and our tech policy is simply inept. You see it in things like Gamergate, where the FBI didn’t take it seriously. But you see it potentially catastrophic things too, like last year’s Mirai Botnet. This shut down a good portion of the US technology infrastructure, and congress basically shrugged in response. The truth is, we need people of the digital generation making tech policy—because the boomers are letting AT&T and Verizon write the laws they want.
AO: What do you see as the future of lawmaking in a society where so much of our reality takes place digitally?
BW: It’s past time for us to pass an omnibus privacy bill, which I’m proud to be working with Danielle Citron on. Remember the Meitu photo app that exploded in popularity last week? Well, it’s basically giving China complete access to your Android phone. You can’t solve security issues with the marketplace because neither the consumer nor the developer is interested in paying for it. Reasonable regulation has a role to play in keeping us safe.
AO: Something that puzzles me is the interaction of the “alt-right” and the nerdosphere. So much of nerd media is concerned with a resistance of some kind, usually against a fictional stand-in for fascism. In your personal nerdspaces, how have you seen the “alt-right” and nerds interact?
BW: They come up to me pretty often at my college talks. They seem to fit a pattern—white, male, 20-something, undersocialized. These are the guys that never got past the cheerleaders that rejected them in high school. They live in a fantasy world where women already have equality, so discussing structural sexism makes them angry. They correctly feel the era of their primacy slipping.
The best of them seem well-intentioned, but just missing a lived experience. The worst of them have left me genuinely fearing for my life, and I’ve had to bring in security. One of them made a hobby of harassing women online and shot up a mosque in Canada yesterday, You have to take them seriously.
AO: What has surprised you as these groups seem to coalesce more and more? Or is it not surprising at all?
BW: It’s not surprising. It’s predictable. Toxic masculinity, low empathy and unchecked anger is a very dangerous combination. But it’s worth asking how we got here.
I’m a woman software engineer, a rarity in tech. Most of the systems we use to communicate were invented in an age where women were included even less than today. Men made the rules, men made the norms that work best for them, and that’s the environment these people are being radicalized in. If women had been involved in designing Twitter, it would look very different—and abuse never would have become this huge a problem.
AO: Lastly, Laura Mandanas, Contributing Editor and columnist behind “Notes from a Queer Engineer,” would like you to know that she loves your podcast and has a question regarding Nerf guns. What are your product recommendations for a pair of girlfriends who want to begin a Nerf gun collection with the aim of having Nerf gun fights like you and your husband do?
BW: Ha! You know, if I am elected to Congress, I’m probably going to be the first member that’s spent a lot of time modding Nerf weaponry.
I really love the Nerf Rival Apollo, which is just $25. It’s an extremely accurate design, and the mods are a blast to do. I have a return spring that cycles the cocking mechanism for the next round. I also added a sensor to the trigger that works like the Pulse Rifle counter in Aliens, and it’s been silenced by deadening all the internal parts that rattle. Love that blaster! When the Nerf Rival Nemesis comes out soon, that will be the most powerful blaster ever released – 100 rounds dumped into a hopper that feeds with a conveyer belt. I’m not sure it will be good for my marriage but I expect it to be fun.
Since this is Autostraddle, I’d love to throw in one last thing? It’s true that I’m married to a guy, but I grew up queer in Mississippi—which is growing up queer on hard mode. I’ve had a lot more girlfriends than boyfriends—so, statistically, ending up married to a guy was surprising to me.
It’s hard to overstate the value of having LGBT people in Congress. I will fight for you in a way the rest of them won’t. I hope some of your readers that are just as mad as I am run for office alongside me.
To read what all else Brianna Wu intends to do if elected to Congress, hit up her website, Brianna Wu 2018.