Brianna Wu Faced Down the Alt-Right and Now She's Running for Congress
By Denene Millner
The #Gamergate cyberattack against Brianna Wu, in which an Internet mob terrorized the software engineer after she spoke out against sexism and misogyny in the gaming industry, was tactically elegant in its launch and spectacularly cruel in its delivery. At its height in 2014, she saw her home address and personal information scrawled across the Web, and received more than 180 death threats on her social media accounts. Among the most vile were promises to rape her with military-grade weapons. Wu knows that threats like these led some women to quit the business and likely discouraged many others from entering altogether. But she continued to speak out.
Now the 40-year-old video game developer is launching herself into a different kind of firestorm: She’s running for Congress in Massachusetts’ Eighth District on a platform crafted, in part, from her experience facing off against white-supremacist groups, which, she notes, have been against not only women gamers but also public policies that benefit anyone not white, heterosexual, and male. Her goal is economic and political parity for women, LGBTQ Americans, people of color, and the working poor. “All these forces are tied together,” Wu told Glamour from her headquarters in Walpole, Massachusetts. “The system is not working for any of them.”
The idea that the system is broken has motivated thousands of women to launch political campaigns; eleven thousand have told She Should Run, a nonpartisan group that offers resources to women interested in seeking office, that they are actively planning to run for office. Founder and CEO Erin Loos Cutraro says this new crop of political talent is “sick of not having their voices and perspectives represented” and recognizes “the impact they can make at all levels of government.”
Wu, a self-taught engineer who started programming at age eight and took university classes at 14, is planning a campaign that’s social media–savvy and based in door-to-door canvasing. She’ll need every tool in her arsenal to pull off a Democratic primary win against incumbent Stephen Lynch, who’s heavily backed by the state’s party. (“I see a Democratic party that’s not standing up for us,” she says.) If elected, she pledges, “My first mission is to make investments in the economy to help people just be able to live.” Also on the docket: cybersecurity legislation to protect online privacy.
Wu’s liberal convictions may be surprising given her roots in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where she grew up in a conservative household with a steady diet of Fox News and, she says, regularly heard conversations disparaging people of color and Jews. She got her first political experience interning for former U.S. Senator Trent Lott (R–Miss.), but in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, when the Bush administration declared war on Iraq, she felt she was on the wrong side.
“I haven’t talked to my family since I went home with a John Kerry for President bumper sticker on my car,” Wu says. “It hurts me every single day.” But she refuses to keep her mouth shut and her head down, especially after seeing white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Boston in August. The rallies, she says, “just made me double down.”
Wu knows that stepping into politics could make her a target again. “Of course there’s fear,” she says. “But ultimately, I am an American, and I love this country. I can live with knowing that running for office puts my life in danger. What I can’t live with is doing nothing.”�