Dan O'Sullivan admits that he had a "lame-ass excuse" for skipping the protests on January 28 at O'Hare International Airport over President Trump's executive order on immigration: household chores. But as he quietly folded laundry at his Chicago apartment, the journalist and self-described "idiot with a keyboard" sparked a viral #DeleteUber campaign on social media that doubled as a possible blueprint to those who want to resist Trump by putting pressure on corporations that associate with the president and his administration. (Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is on Trump's economic advisory board.)
The anti-Uber campaign sprang from the demonstrations that began last Saturday afternoon in several American airports in opposition to Trump's executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. (Later that evening, a federal judge granted a stay on deportations for people who arrived in the U.S. with valid visas but were detained on entry
.) A nonprofit union that represents New York taxi drivers announced a one-hour work stoppage at JFK airport in solidarity "with all of our peace-loving neighbors against this inhumane, cruel, and unconstitutional act of pure bigotry." While browsing Twitter, O'Sullivan was struck by Uber NYC's tweet
that it was suspending surge pricing on rides from JFK and perceived it as an attempt to undercut and profit from the taxi drivers' demonstration.
"It was revealing. This is the kind of business these guys are in," O'Sullivan said yesterday in a telephone interview. "They've exploited tragic events in the past, and here they were making money off of refugees being banned while their CEO collaborates with Trump."
O'Sullivan replied on Twitter
: "congrats to @Uber_NYC on breaking a strike to profit off of refugees being consigned to Hell. eat shit and die."
The response earned thousands of retweets, and he followed up the initial post with a series of tweets using the hashtag #DeleteUber that called for conscientious consumers to boycott Uber because of its "exploitative anti-labor policies, Trump collaboration, and now profiting off xenophobia."
The hashtag quickly spawned hundreds of thousands of mentions and jumped to the number one trending topic in the country on Twitter. Among those who took up O'Sullivan's call to delete the popular rideshare app: Susan Sarandon, Lena Dunham, Internet celebrity lizard MacGyver, and Madeintyo
, the Atlanta rapper whose viral track "Uber Everywhere" became an unofficial commercial for the company.
Perhaps it's no surprise that so many were ready to throw shade at Uber.
Less than two weeks ago, on January 19, Uber agreed to pay $20 million in penalties from the Federal Trade Commission
for systematically deceiving drivers about their earnings and the terms of a lease deal it offered to help them acquire cars. The company advertised an income of $21 per hour in Chicago, for example, but according to a study by Princeton economist Alan Krueger
, UberX drivers in Chicago made between $15.60 and $16.20 per hour, depending on how often they worked—and that didn't take into account driver expenses, which Uber does not reimburse. Uber is certainly no stranger to criticism, which it's received for everything from sabotaging the competition
to threatening journalists
to allegations of sexism and misogyny
to employing lobbyists
to oppose further government regulation on the rideshare industry.
"That's why I think this [campaign] was so effective," O'Sullivan says. "Uber flouts the law and are essentially bullies—they're like the Donald Trump of rideshare companies."
An Uber spokesperson, reached by phone this afternoon, would not respond on the record to O'Sullivan's comments or questions about the #DeleteUber campaign.
After Lyft took advantage of its chief rival's bad PR, decrying Trump's order and pledging to donate $1 million to the ACLU, Uber leaped to its own defense on Saturday night with a tweet denying the company had intended to break the taxi strike. Uber also linked to a statement by CEO Travis Kalanick
, in which he said his company was supporting drivers impacted by Trump's "unjust immigration ban" and announced Uber was creating a $3 million legal fund to help drivers with immigration and translation services. Kalanick also attempted to deflect criticism of his position on Trump's economic advisory board, saying he would broach the subject of the ban with the president during a scheduled board meeting on Friday. "We've taken the view that in order to serve cities you need to give their citizens a voice, a seat at the table," he wrote.
O'Sullivan says he doesn't buy Kalanick's argument that the CEO or any of the corporate oligarchs on the board will somehow force Trump's hand.
"The arrogance and lack of self-awareness is mind-blowing. He's saying he doesn't like the executive order, which is unconstitutional, but he's not going step down [from the economic advisory board]. It's preposterous," he said. "What he could do is resign, but these tech guys, they're on the board to advance their business interests. At the end of the day, they don't care enough about this issue to change their bottom line."
What's encouraging to O'Sullivan is that the #DeleteUber boycott offers another framework for a popular resistance to Trump.
"It shows another way of how to deal with this guy. You don't give him anything. If that means pressuring senators to say no, that's a thing. Or telling your union not to meet with him. If it's boycotting companies that do business with him, that's another thing. Even if we're playing defense," he says, "we have a lot of ways to retard his agenda as much we can." v