Reshma Saujani was already appalled by the positions Donald Trump espoused when he was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. But for a few short days after he entered the White House, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code believed it was worth working with the Trump administration despite seemingly insurmountable differences.
That all changed when he signed the first version of a “Muslim ban” he’d promised on the campaign trail, blocking Syrian refugees from entering the country and temporarily banning entry to people traveling from seven Muslim-majority countries. That action cemented her belief that the Trump administration was not a worthy partner, and moreover, that it should be shunned. Saujani described why in an elegant op-ed published by The New York Times on Thursday.
“I do not believe this initiative—nor any partnership with this White House—can reverse the harm this administration has already done in attempting to legitimize intolerance,” she wrote in “The Case for Shunning the White House,” explaining why she rejected Ivanka Trump’s invitation for Girls Who Code to participate in a computer science education initiative. “Indeed, collaborating with this administration, on any issue, emboldens it only further.”
Saujani—a lawyer and politician who served as the deputy public advocate in New York City and ran for the public advocate position as well as for Congress—founded Girls Who Code in 2012. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to close the gender gap in technology through free summer immersion programs and clubs that reach tens of thousands of girls with diverse racial, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.
It’s not surprising, then, that Ivanka Trump reached out to Saujani with the hope that Girls Who Code would be part of an initiative that would have the Department of Education invest at least $200 million in grant funding to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and computer science education, announced by the White House on Monday. The invitation came just days after Trump’s inauguration and Saujani had planned to accept, until the travel ban. Her op-ed was published just days after the initiative was made public this week.
“Standing beside the Trump administration on one issue makes it harder to stand up to it—and against its bigoted agenda,” she wrote. “Private sector and nonprofit leaders must no longer take the bait. To work with this administration in any capacity is to normalize it, and all of the hate and bigotry it represents.”
Saujani puts her own decision in the context of what she describes as an increasing disillusionment among business, religious and nonprofit leaders who agreed to join various advisory councils under Trump. She dubs these groups “a cynical front for this administration’s insidious agenda,” and urges those in the private and nonprofit sectors not to participate in any way.
“Resistance is not futile. Those who have recently taken a knee on the football field showed us—by the national attention they drew back to the issue of racialized police violence and the value of peaceful protest—the power of citizens who refuse to cooperate with injustice,” she concluded, referencing the fierce national debate that has pitted athletes and other protesters against the White House. What began with one football player—Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers—has ballooned into a protest that includes other players and entire teams in the NFL and other sports leagues as well as musicians, actors and other celebrities. In response, Trump has called on NFL owners to fire any “son of a bitch” who “disrespects our flag.”
“As long as extremists and open bigots inhabit the White House, there is no common ground nor common purpose to be found,” Saujani wrote. “We are at war for the soul of our nation, and that is why we must say no, on behalf of our fellow Americans who deserve nothing less than equality.”