Want to Resist Trump or Make America Great Again? These People Switched Careers
A marketer at a Silicon Valley start-up left his job to wrangle voters in swing states. A New York baker ditched her oven to help organize the Women’s March. And an entrepreneur in Georgia decided to walk away from his business and run for the House of Representatives.
The election of President Trump has provoked elation, outrage and self-reflection among Americans across the political spectrum. For some, it has even prompted something more drastic: a career change.
In the last few months, professionals across the country have decided to leave conventional jobs and get involved in politics or activism.
“It feels like we are in this existential crisis of democracy,” said Matt Ewing, who abandoned a career at SolarCity to join Swing Left, a group hoping to get out the vote in competitive congressional districts in 2018. “Going back to work in my comfortable corporate job didn’t make sense anymore.”
Here are a half-dozen Americans — Republicans and Democrats — describing how the election has changed the arc of their careers.
‘I’m in the middle of history now’
Breanne Butler, 27, New York
Breanne Butler became an integral part of the team putting together Women’s March events, and is now winding down her baking business to continue working with other organizers full time.
An accomplished pastry chef, Ms. Butler has cooked for a Michelin-star restaurant, worked in the kitchen of Facebook’s New York office, and started her own business making expensive edible jewelry.
Before the election, Ms. Butler said, the closest she got to politics was when she baked sweets for a Hillary Clinton rally hosted by the fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. But after the election, a creeping sense of dread set in.
“There I was teaching people how to make gluten-free cookies,” she said. “But it seemed so petty and meaningless when all of this was happening.”
Ms. Butler found an outlet a few weeks later, when she saw a Facebook post from a friend, Bob Bland, a fashion entrepreneur. Ms. Bland was helping to organize the Women’s March on Washington, and Ms. Butler volunteered to help.
In the weeks that followed, Ms. Butler became an integral part of a team putting together the Women’s March events, and is now winding down her baking business to continue working with Ms. Bland and the other organizers full time.
“I’m making a transition from pastry chef to activist,” she said. “I’m in the middle of history now.”
‘I needed to participate’
David Abroms, 33, Atlanta
David Abroms, an entrepreneur, had avoided politics, but is now running for office and financing the campaign himself.
As a successful entrepreneur, Mr. Abroms mostly stayed away from politics. He trained as a public accountant, then started a company that converted vehicles to run on natural gas.
But for Mr. Abroms, a Republican in a solidly Republican state, the election of Donald J. Trump was no cause for celebration. He found Mr. Trump’s commentary offensive, and many of his positions incompatible with traditional conservative values.
“I don’t see President Trump as a conservative,” Mr. Abroms said. “He’s more of a nationalist, a populist.”
Mr. Abroms supported Senator Marco Rubio in the primaries and ultimately voted for Evan McMullin, an independent, in the election.
After the election, Mr. Abroms was disappointed by the continuing partisan rancor. But then Tom Price, Mr. Abroms’s representative in Congress, was nominated as Mr. Trump’s secretary of health and human services, and Mr. Abroms decided to run for office.
He is financing his run with $250,000 of his own money and says he is committed to staying involved in politics, even if he doesn’t win Mr. Price’s old seat.
“I enjoy business,” he said. “But this country is in such crisis that I couldn’t just sit on the sidelines. I needed to participate.”
‘Programming friends are still making fun of me’
Mark Hansen, 26, New York
Mark Hansen started Hey Mayor, a bot he hopes will bring 311 systems to small cities. “This election was a reaction to people not being heard,” Mr. Hansen said. “A lot of that is the failure of state, local and federal governments to communicate with people.”
As a student at Rutgers University, Mr. Hansen majored in American studies and volunteered for various community organizations. But after graduating, he was drawn to the tech scene and learned how to code.
By last year, he worked for Shotput, a supply chain logistics start-up based in Oakland, Calif. Backed by the hit-making incubator Y Combinator, Shotput offered Mr. Hansen a good salary and access to the Silicon Valley elite.
But the election rekindled his latent passion for civic engagement. He quit Shotput and decided to devote himself to repairing the country’s frayed social fabric.
After moving back home with his parents in New Jersey, he found a cheap apartment in New York and started Hey Mayor, a bot he hopes will bring 311 systems to small cities.
“This election was a reaction to people not being heard,” Mr. Hansen said. “A lot of that is the failure of state, local and federal governments to communicate with people.”
Mr. Hansen, who walked away from a nearly six-figure job to develop Hey Mayor, has not yet figured out how to pay himself. “My programming friends are still making fun of me,” he said. “They think I’m insane.”
His parents, too, have their doubts. “They’re constantly telling me to get a job at Johnson & Johnson,” he said.
‘Former paydays are now days of mourning’
George Polisner, 57, Lincoln City, Ore.
George Polisner worked at Oracle for decades, but decided to get involved in politics. He founded Civic Works, a nonprofit that aims to get citizens more engaged in issues like health care, education and climate change.
Mr. Polisner worked at the software company Oracle for decades, moving up to manage cloud computing accounts, and eventually earning about $200,000 a year.
He had always dabbled in liberal politics, organizing fund-raisers for local Democrats, but that was about it.
That changed after Oracle’s co-chief executive, Safra Catz, joined Mr. Trump’s transition team. Mr. Polisner immediately quit in protest, announcing his decision on LinkedIn.
“I am not with President-elect Trump and I am not here to help him in any way,” he wrote. “Therefore I must resign from this once-great company.”
Initially, Mr. Polisner didn’t know what he was going to do next. He figured he would apply for a job at Google or Salesforce.
But after reflecting on what led him to quit, he decided to get involved in politics and founded Civic Works, a nonprofit that aims to get citizens more engaged in issues like health care, education and climate change.
“People are getting frustrated with petitions,” he said. “We want to provide the opportunity take lightweight actions to heavyweight actions.”
Mr. Polisner’s children are grown, and he and his wife have decided to curtail their expenses while he builds Civic Works.
“Former paydays are now days of mourning at my house,” he said. “But I would rather do something of high value to society and earn less money than I would have my soul purchased every two weeks with a big check.”
‘It was the first time I voted in this century’
John Carney, 44, New York
John Carney, an editor at The Wall Street Journal, admired Breitbart, the conservative website that supported Donald J. Trump’s rise in politics. He left The Journal and joined Breitbart to lead a new finance and economics section.
As an editor at The Wall Street Journal last year, Mr. Carney watched admiringly as upstart media outlets, including Breitbart, the conservative website previously controlled by Steve Bannon, a Trump adviser, channeled the energy behind Mr. Trump’s political rise.
“Breitbart was one of the few places that seemed to understand the pulse of the nation and the direction we were going better than much larger news organizations,” he said. “They saw what was going to happen more clearly than everyone else.”
In the aftermath of the election, Mr. Carney decided that he should do more than simply read Breitbart; he should work there. In January, he left The Journal and joined Breitbart to lead a new finance and economics section.
Mr. Carney said he didn’t believe Breitbart was an inherently pro-Trump publication. “They’re standing by him so long as he stands by the center-right populism and nationalism that got him elected,” he said.
But Mr. Carney, a Republican, was solidly in Mr. Trump’s camp through the election, voting for him during the primaries and in the general election. “It was the first time I voted in this century,” he said.
This isn’t Mr. Carney’s first foray into the political arena. He worked for Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign in 1996, and saw echoes of Mr. Buchanan’s populism in Mr. Trump.
Mr. Carney’s last day at The Journal was Jan. 20, the day Mr. Trump was inaugurated.
‘We need to get more citizens more engaged’
Dex Torricke-Barton, 31, Los Angeles
Dex Torricke-Barton quit his job at SpaceX and put up a website called Onwards, which he hopes to turn into a nonprofit organization focused on rebuilding trust in government.
After graduating from the University of Oxford, Mr. Torricke-Barton immigrated to the United States and secured a series of influential jobs.
He wrote speeches for executives at Google, became Mark Zuckerberg’s speechwriter at Facebook, then joined as head of communications SpaceX, the private rocket company founded by Elon Musk.
Over the years, Mr. Torricke-Barton had never been very political. But last year, he watched in dismay as Britons voted to leave the European Union. His shock doubled after Mr. Trump’s victory.
“I couldn’t see myself sitting on the sidelines with a straight face while this is going on,” he said.
Mr. Torricke-Barton didn’t have a plan when he quit SpaceX. But he wrote an open letter on Facebook, put up a website called Onwards, and started collecting email addresses. Within two weeks more than 50,000 people had signed up.
Soon after, he helped organized a rally to protest the White House’s first immigration ban, drawing thousands of people to San Francisco City Hall. Now he is turning Onwards into a nonprofit organization focused on rebuilding trust in government.
“We need to get more citizens more engaged with these institutions,” he said.