SAN FRANCISCO -- Joe Green, Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard roommate, is famous for having turned down an offer to move to Silicon Valley to join Facebook.
Instead Green finished his college degree and worked for 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime payday.
Now he’s reuniting with his college pal on a project that straddles two worlds for which he has great affinity: technology and politics.
Green, 29, is the founder and president of Fwd.us., a new political advocacy group funded by Zuckerberg and other prominent Silicon Valley executives to press for immigration reform and other technology industry causes.
The group, which launched Thursday, is the result of months of conversations between Zuckerberg and Green on how the technology industry can have a meaningful impact on the causes it cares about.
“I am extremely proud to see one of the top business leaders of our generation Mark Zuckerberg take a bold stand on what our country needs to do to lead in the world in the knowledge economy,” Green wrote on his Facebook page. “I believe this transition from the industrial to the knowledge economy is the single biggest challenge our nation faces, and I am so proud to see the tech community taking the lead.”
Green’s interest in political and community activism dates back to high school in Santa Monica. He ran for the local school board when he was 17 and campaigned for a living wage for Santa Monica hotel and restaurant workers.
At Harvard, he studied with Marshall Ganz, who helped spark a resurgence in grass-roots organizing in Democratic campaigns, including Obama’s presidential run. He later worked as a field organizer on Kerry’s presidential campaign.
Green tried to persuade Zuckerberg to create a social network for politics but Zuckerberg started Facebook instead. Green was the sixth person to join Facebook. In 2005, Green started Essembly, a nonpartisan social network that helped connect people with others who shared their political views.
Zuckerberg introduced Green to former Facebook president Sean Parker. Together they decided to use social networking to incite activism on a broader scale. Causes, which helps nonprofits raise money through social networking, launched in May 2007. From Causes, Green jumped to NationBuilder, which is trying to make online political organizing tools more accessible to all campaigns.
Fwd.us got off to a shaky start. Green last week had to backtrack from a memo leaked to the website Politico that claimed the technology executives would use their companies and their control over distribution networks to support the group’s causes.
The group is climbing on the shoulders of previous generations of Silicon Valley leaders who have worked to get the industry’s collective voice heard on Capitol Hill.
“They are building on the pioneers from the years before them. Like the smart people they are, they are learning lessons faster,” San Jose political science professor Larry Gerston said.