Activists in the quickly mobilized effort to oppose Uber were celebrating Thursday evening after their message finally broke through.
Less than a week after a massively successful social media campaign using the hashtag #DeleteUber implored users to ditch the ride-sharing app, the company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, announced he would step down from President Trump’s economic advisory council.
The campaign sprang up Saturday night, after Uber turned off surge pricing to and from JFK International Airport, where thousands were protesting Trump’s executive order temporarily banning entry for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Dan O’Sullivan, a Chicago-based writer, was the first to tweet the hashtag in response to Uber’s move, and at one point Saturday night, #DeleteUber was the No. 1 trending topic in the country as social media users screenshotted images of themselves deleting their accounts.
In a message to The Daily Beast on Thursday, O’Sullivan called Kalanick’s decision a “crushing victory” but said it was only a first step in mitigating Uber’s other problems.
“This is a crushing victory for a company that only a week ago, saw its CEO, Travis Kalanick, smugly assuring the world that his role advising Trump was in everyone’s best interest,” O’Sullivan wrote in a direct Twitter message to The Daily Beast. “Evidently, something has changed in the past week. The difference was consumers, laborers, and activists coming together to, in some small way, make sure that any corporation collaborating with Trump to enhance their own business interests—off the backs of vulnerable refugees, Muslims, and migrants—will pay a price.”
#DeleteUber was just one of many elements of recent protests, both online and in person, of Trump’s agenda. Just Thursday, a number of Yemeni-American bodega owners shut down their stores to protest the implementation of Trump’s executive order.
And this mass mobilization of people—from the enormous Women’s March just one day after Trump’s inauguration to thousands rushing to stand in solidarity with individuals trapped at airports—appears to be having an early impact in the nascent administration.
“I think the #DeleteUber was an admittedly modest attempt to assist these protests, and put a price tag on any corporation’s collaboration with Trump,” O’Sullivan told The Daily Beast. “Harley Davidson already canceled a planned appearance by Trump in Milwaukee because they were concerned about protest. If the goal here is to frustrate Trump’s agenda, isolating him and making it costly to the bottom line of any corporation mulling a relationship with him seems like a pretty good tactic to me.”
In a memo to Uber employees obtained by The New York Times, Kalanick said he had spoken with Trump on Thursday and told him he would leave the council.
“Earlier today I spoke briefly with the president about the immigration executive order and its issues for our community,” Kalanick wrote. “I also let him know that I would not be able to participate on his economic council. Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that.”
Prior to the announcement, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance had planned a protest at Uber’s New York headquarters, saying on its website: “As massive protests continue calling for an end to this inhumane and bigoted executive order and as the movement grows stronger and broader, Trump customs and border control continue to violate the Federal injunction.”
“Meanwhile, Uber’s CEO is picking out which suit to wear to his first meeting on Trump’s advisory council,” the alliance said. “This is after setting up a phony fund while his army of lawyers fight wage theft and minimum wage cases brought forth by workers across the country.”
A representative for the alliance did not respond immediately to a request for comment from The Daily Beast. But a tweet from the alliance’s account said Kalanick’s move is not the end of the fight.
The alliance had announced last Saturday that it would strike for a limited period of time during the protests in solidarity with the immigrants affected at JFK.
Jim Conigliaro Jr., the founder of the Independent Drivers Guild, which represents and advocates for nearly 50,000 Uber drivers serving New York City, released a statement praising Kalanick’s choice to leave.
“This is an important show of solidarity with the immigrant drivers who helped build Uber and number over 40,000 in New York City alone,” he said in the statement, which was provided to The Daily Beast. “We are heartened that Uber has listened to the drivers and the community on this important issue that is so integral to the promise of the American dream.”
For O’Sullivan, Uber’s problems stretch beyond its initial compliance with the Trump administration. He said that despite Kalanick’s letter, it’s not yet time for users to redownload or start reusing the app.
“This is bigger than Travis Kalanick advising Trump as a crony, and thus advance Uber’s business interests,” O’Sullivan told The Daily Beast. “Uber operated blithely during the NYTWA work stoppage at JFK, because it would never occur to a company like Uber to put people and principles before making a buck. I personally don’t see why anyone would want to use such a service.”
“As for their treatment of their own drivers, the independent contractor scam, and their usurious means of keeping drivers poor and in hock to the company, [those] need to be changed, now,” he added.
But for now, Kalanick’s departure from Trump’s council is an encouraging start.