"I didn't see how I could stay on the sidelines"
It took a “nightmare” presidential election for Dex Torricke-Barton to leave what he described as his “dream career” in Silicon Valley.
The former head of communications for SpaceX, the rocket company helmed by Elon Musk, announced this week that he had left his job to focus on promoting social change. “We are seeing increasingly harsh social divisions emerging in the United States and in Europe, and I believe this poses a really fundamental threat to the future of our society,” Torricke-Barton told Fortune. “I didn’t see how I could stay on the sidelines.”
Torricke-Barton, the son of a refugee, said he had been considering a career change for a couple of years. In the 65 million refugees worldwide, he sees his late father, who was a refugee from Burma during World War II. The challenges his father overcame, he said, “are the things that millions of people around the world right now are experiencing.”
The events of the U.S. presidential election this year helped solidify Torricke-Barton’s decision.
“This has been an election marked by repeated attacks on immigrants, minorities, women, and many other communities,” Torricke-Barton wrote in a Facebook post announcing his departure. “I have always believed in an America that is confident and outward-looking, that works hard to drive the world to action on what matters most. Now, the loudest voices are calling for building walls between people.”
“There are a few moments in our lives when in the midst of darkness we are called to rise and act,” he added.
Throughout his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump drew criticism for discriminatory proposals and inflammatory rhetoric that disparaged women, Muslims, immigrants and people with disabilities.
Torricke-Barton said he now plans to work on grassroots efforts to bridge social divides across the country—divisions made more apparent since the election due to anti-Trump protests and racist incidents fueled by the President-elect’s message. He said he would support existing activist groups and perhaps eventually establish his own. He’s also planning to write a book, sharing the stories of people he meets in the communities where he travels, primarily throughout the United States.
For some unhappy with its outcome, the election has turned into a moment of reckoning. Torricke-Barton thinks it could prompt more of his peers in Silicon Valley—which leans Democratic, and did so especially during this election year—to reevaluate their careers.
“Silicon Valley and people who work in innovation are often very unfairly, I think, caricatured as not caring that much about the rest of the country and the rest of the world,” he told Fortune. “Precisely because I think folks in Silicon Valley often want to work on the biggest projects possible—advancing the biggest change in the world—with this election, with the extraordinarily divisive impact it’s had on life in this country, I think they are going to increasingly want to work on change closer to home.”