Shortly after Donald Trump won the presidential election, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty wrote him an open letter, congratulating him on his victory and offering to work with him on his economic goals. Within hours of reading it, Elizabeth Wood, an IBM employee, had decided to resign.
“It felt like this was just a sign of what’s to come,” said Wood, a former IBM senior content strategist who disagreed with Trump’s attacks on immigrants and wrote her own open letter to Rometty. “Normalizing someone who has demonstrated so much contempt to people is irrational. I just think that’s irresponsible.”
Now the 31-year-old New York City resident is doing similar work as a freelance writer and editor for websites including Contently, where she hopes to write more about the intersection of technology and social progress. And because Wood is self-employed, she felt comfortable traveling to Washington, D.C. to protest Trump during his inauguration and participate in the Women’s March that followed.
“There would’ve been a concern about being too political” if she had remained at IBM, Wood said. “For me, I definitely feel freer to make these sorts of decisions and voice my concerns.”
Job turnover is not unusual at the start of a new presidency, when outgoing White House staffers clean out their desks for the incoming administration. But Trump’s transition has also sparked career changes for private citizens, some of whom used his rise as motivation to quit and pursue different careers, forgoing job security in favor of their political and social values.
“For me, principles are nonnegotiable,” said Dex Torricke-Barton, who opposed Trump’s campaign and left his job as head of communications for aerospace company SpaceX shortly after the election to focus on promoting social change. “I would not have been able to go about my existing job—or any job, I think—outside of the political sphere over the next few years with a straight face.”
Torricke-Barton, 31, made headlines in November when he announced he would travel to different communities in the U.S. and around the world to learn about social divides and eventually write a book.
“I’ve had well over a thousand people who I’ve tracked who have emailed saying, ‘I would love to host you in my home or church group or veteran’s association, and we just want to talk to you about why we are worried for the future and about why we voted for Donald Trump,'” he said.
“That was pretty much it for me,” said Polisner, who first joined the company in 1993. “I am at a place in my career where it actually was doable for me to leave with a little bit of reserve and try to find something that really—especially at this point in time, in what I view as a fairly dark political time in America—to do some work that is more in line with my values.”
Polisner, 56, has since thrown his energy into creating civ.works, a social networking site devoted to connecting people across the political spectrum and guiding them toward effecting tangible change.
Others have started to consider a more direct entry into politics with a run for elected office. Molly Sheehan, who researches bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, is weighing a bid for a U.S. congressional seat, citing an “animosity in politics toward science,” which she thinks will grow under Trump. She has received help from 314 Action, a nonprofit group that encourages people with science and technology backgrounds to run for office.
“It’s definitely a risk,” Sheehan said. “It’s not the most comfortable thing I could do right now. I’ve been planning my career as a professor since I was a child, but I’m open to redefining where I’ll have the most social impact.”
Sheehan believes lawmakers with backgrounds in science could provide valuable insight to debates over health insurance, environmental regulations and scientific funding.
“If we lose funding, we lose everything,” said Sheehan, 31, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biophysics. “Discontinuity in research can destroy decades of progress, so I don’t think this is the time to sit back and keep doing research.”
Those interviewed by Fortune were quick to acknowledge that they were able to leave their jobs because they had a strong safety net, including financial savings and family support.
“I wouldn’t recommend that everyone quit their job. I’m not a role model for that, but in this particular case, I think it’s given people inspiration and hope,” said Polisner, whose kids encouraged his decision to switch gears. “I refuse to allow my silence to be purchased twice a month.”