Raj Jayadev was working on the assembly line at the Hewlett Packard Plant in Northern California when the dot.com explosion was at its peak. The successes of Silicon Valley were creating overnight billionaires and attracting worldwide attention. But no one was paying attention to the low-wage workers who were trying to support their families on $8 an hour with no health insurance, no job security and no hope of advancement -- no one except Raj.
In 2001, he and his friends founded Silicon Valley De-Bug , a local newsletter meant to give these forgotten workers a voice. Since then,
De-Bug has grown into a hub for community organizing and criminal justice reform, as well as a multi-platform media organization.
How did Raj do it? With a brilliant open door policy.
“Our staff is made up of those who walked through our doors and committed to us, as we committed to them. Greatness can be found in anyone if the organization is willing to see it.”
De-Bug’s current art director was an undocumented teen graffiti writer; its lead organizer is a mother whose son was facing a prison sentence; and its youth director serves as a condition of his probation.
“We are not weaker for being inclusive,” Raj says. “In fact, everything good our organization has done has come out of a spirit of inclusion.”
Members of De-Bug bring their own dreams and gifts to the organization, becoming entrepreneurs by collaborating with a diversity of others in their community. Among many projects, they run a T-shirt company, a radio show, a documentary series, a website and a magazine.
“I want them to feel transformed in what they see is possible with their community and who they see is part of their community; that they walk away with an expanded sense of community. There is more possibility and potential by being with others and by being in concert with others.”
De-Bug has also initiated and led successful social justice campaigns to advance the rights of youths, workers, immigrants and those impacted by the criminal justice system using a unique approach called ‘Participatory Defense.’ Raj sees De-Bug as a community of members who are seeking liberation.
“Some are trying to free their loved ones from incarceration, some are trying to start a business, some are trying to challenge economic inequality in Silicon Valley, some are trying to get over an addiction.
The point is that the journey to liberation need not be a solitary one.”
And while Raj isn’t getting rich on his Silicon Valley startup like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel, he is reaping intangible rewards.
“This is more than just a job or work. This is sort of the purpose of my life right now.”