I grew up in Australia. I moved to the US in 1996 for the same reason that most immigrants do. We come seeking a better life for ourselves and for our families.
In my case, I was an economic migrant. I entered on a work visa — a H1B. I followed a great boss who had moved back to America to start CitySearch, a first generation internet company. Over time, through hard work, enterprise and a great deal of luck, I realized the American dream. I married; I have a family that loves me, a good house, a good job, a good life.
I like to think that I’ve also given something back. As a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, I’ve led the first institutional round of investment in companies that have created thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of enterprise value. You may have heard of some of them, or even use their products — they include Snapchat, The Honest Company, Giphy and Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes. My wife and I have also played a role in making San Francisco an easier place to raise a family. We helped to start an elementary school in SOMA, and led an effort to build and donate a playground to the city, located across from the Ferry Building.
For a long time though, I thought of myself as an Aussie, not an American. I still cheered for the Green and Gold at the Olympics. I said “you” instead of “we” when talking about America.
The first time I truly identified with America was on September 11, 2001. I lived about a mile from the Twin Towers, just above Canal Street. I will always remember standing on my roof that afternoon, watching the smoke spiraling into the clear blue sky where the towers once stood. I will always remember the sirens throughout the day as the fire engines came in from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and further afield to help with rescue and recovery. Those first responders, and the ones who ran towards the fire, they represent all the best of America.
That night, I carried an American flag for the first time. I joined my neighbors on a candlelight vigil, visiting the empty Firehouses in my neighborhood that had lost so many of their people. Like many others across the world, I was a New Yorker that day first and foremost, and an American. I visited the 9/11 memorial this weekend and it still brings back chills.
Time passed, and it became more and more clear that my future was in America, but still I resisted the urge to become a citizen. I thought about it when I first qualified, three years after I got my green card, but I didn’t do it. I thought about it again eight years ago, when the first black man ran was nominated by a major party for President, but still I didn’t do it.
My hesitation wasn’t because I don’t think that America is the greatest country in the world. I do. It is an exemplar of freedom and democracy. It is a place where anyone can rise. It wasn’t for tax reasons (my worldwide income is all in the US as it is). My hesitation was simply driven because I didn’t see the need.
I finally felt compelled to become a citizen, to vote in this election.
Because this election feels different.
I live in the People’s Republic of San Francisco, in an already reliably blue state, where arguably my vote would be only symbolic. But on both national and local stages, major issues are at play. In the Presidential election, perhaps my vote will still be symbolic, but it is a symbol that is important to me. In the local elections in San Francisco, perhaps my vote will matter more.
In both the National and Local elections, the issues come down to whether you believe that life is zero sum or not. On the national level, the key issues are around trade, immigration and security. On the local level in San Francisco, the issues are around development, and how the city can accommodate its burgeoning population without remaining the most expensive city in the country in which to live.
Ironically it is the Right in the national race, and the Left in the local race that want to keep the status quo, go back to the “good old days,” and use regulation to hold back change. This is the politics of grievance, the mindset that the past was better than the future.
I reject that world view.
Everyone is a prisoner of their own experience. I work in technology. I fund startups for a living. William Gibson said that the future is already here, it is just unevenly distributed. My job is to find those pockets of the future, and to support the entrepreneurs who are working to bring that future to everyone. I’ve seen time and again that you can never go back. You can never turn back the tides of change. You can only go forward. You must accept the change that is happening in the world.
Everyone is a prisoner of their own experience. I grew up in Australia. Like America, it is also a great country, and one that works well. It has gun control. It has socialized medicine. The state subsidizes university education. There is no capital punishment. Women have the right to choose. Australia is not universally liberal. There is no marriage equality and the country’s treatment of refugees borders on the inhumane. But it is a high functioning society.
Everyone is a prisoner of their own experience. I saw Australia weather the global financial crisis without ever dipping into recession. I saw the standard of living soar. This happened through open borders, through trade, through market forces, through immigration.
Everyone is a prisoner of their own experience. I have friends who are immigrants, some undocumented. I have friends who are Muslims. I have friends who are women, who are Mexican American, who are African American. I know them as professionals, as academics, as entrepreneurs, as venture capitalists. I know them as people, all adding to the richness of this country — of America. I will not abide prejudice that would limit anyone’s rights or opportunities.
I get that I’m a caricature of a coastal elite. But these are the experiences that inform my world view. And these are the experiences that inform my vote in my first U.S. election.
I believe in the American dream. I live the American dream. I recognize that I had many advantages through education and class and race and gender. I recognize that I had a great deal of luck. I want others to have the same opportunity to realize the American dream.
If that means higher taxes, I’m OK with that. If it means that carried interest is taxed as current income, I’m OK with that too. If it means more skyscrapers in San Francisco, blocking my views, shading my home, reducing the sky-high appreciation levels of San Francisco real estate, I’m OK with all of that.
I’m not a knee jerk Democrat. I thought that Kasich and Romney had some interesting things to say. But by now you will have inferred that #ImwWithHer on the national stage. On the local stage, I’m voting with the moderates in SF and along the SPUR guidelines on the ballot initiatives.
I am not trying to convince you to join me. By now you probably know how you’ll vote. I am not trying to convince you to vote at all. Enough people whose opinion you hold in higher regard than mine have tried that already.
But I am proud and excited to be casting my first vote in a U.S. election. The first of many.