Tech's SXSW festival takes on Trump

Tech's SXSW festival takes on Trump
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Tech's most prominent gathering of the year is getting political in the Trump era.

The South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin has long attracted the industry's biggest names, along with an all-star lineup of musicians and artists.

But with many in tech worried about President Trump's agenda, the festival is rolling out the red carpet for some of his high-profile critics and holding a series of talks on how the new president will affect the industry.

The festival's chief programming officer, Hugh Forrest, said the event had to change after Trump's election.

“There is definitely a degree of politics or political focus that may not have been there in previous years,” Forrest told USA Today.

“We hope people walk away with a little better understanding of issues and the players driving the issues.”

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Political figures from both parties have spoken at the festival before, including then-Texas Gov. Ann Richards in 1991 and more recently former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaImmigration is top issue facing country: poll Airbnb is doing the Democrats' dirty work Obama puts out call for service on MLK Day: ‘Make a positive impact on the world’ MORE and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

In 2016, Obama even held his own “South By South Lawn,” event at the White House, featuring musical acts and talks with tech and political officials.

But this year, the political events are taking center stage at the Austin Hilton in downtown, closer to the festival's center than in years past.

The focus of the discussion is also clearly about taking on Trump.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) used his speech on Friday to blast the president.

“I’ve never seen in my lifetime an atmosphere of fear as I’ve seen now,” Booker said. “I feel a sense of pain about my country right now.

"[Trump] isn’t backing away from his rhetoric. But if we don’t engage, we are the source of the problem, not the elected person we don’t like,” he added.

The centerpiece of the panel discussions is a series titled “Tech Under Trump.”

The tech industry strongly backed Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPavlich: Mueller’s indictment of the media Poll shows 36 percent support Trump's reelection, 43 percent prefer generic Democrat How the Clinton machine flooded the FBI with Trump-Russia dirt … until agents bit MORE during the presidential campaign. There were some efforts to thaw relations between Trump and Silicon Valley after his victory. But since then, relations between the two sides have again chilled over a number of issues, including Trump's orders on immigration and transgender rights and worries he will cut down on visas for high-skilled workers.

Forrest said that after the election his team had an open discussion about how to address the country's political divisions at SXSW.

The "Tech Under Trump" panels aren't pulling any punches.

NPR reporter Sam Sanders is hosting an event titled the “2016 Election: How We Got it Wrong!,” reflecting on his experiences covering the 2016 presidential race.

Another discussion titled "Building Bridges When Others Want to Build Walls,” is intended to highlight the uncertainty facing immigrants. One panel is discussing “From Trump to Trolls: How Muslim Media Fights Back.”

Some of the panels aren't Trump-focused, but do highlight the tech industry's policy priorities, including a discussion titled “Can You Hear Me Now? The Rural Broadband Debate,” featuring Rep. Vicente González (D-Texas) and Information Technology Industry Council President Dean Garfield.

Even the festival's art and music events are taking on a stronger political tone than in years past.

One music showcase is titled “Contrabanned,” and will feature acts from countries including Libya and Somalia, whose citizens are banned from entering the U.S. under Trump’s travel executive order.

But despite SXSW targeting Trump, a number of Republican lawmakers are still taking part in other festival events.

Issa and Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnBarr hearing marks first time Senate Judiciary has GOP women serving on panel Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Overnight Defense: Appeals court sides with Trump on transgender military ban | Trump threatens years-long shutdown | Trump floats declaring national emergency to build wall with military MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairwoman of the House Commerce subpanel on communications and technology, will both speak during tech-focused talks.

Forrest said in November that the festival would be committed to progressive values, and so far it appears he's living up to those words.

“I’m still grieving about the HRC defeat,” he wrote after the election,

But he added, “I’m very excited about the kind of role SXSW will play in paving a more progressive path to the future."