SXSW 2017 Interactive Preview: Some of Our Must-Attend Sessions

From Planned Parenthood’s CEO to former VP Joe Biden, here are some of our most anticipated SXSW interactive sessions.

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CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 05: President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Cecile Richards speaks on stage during day two of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 5, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It’s going to be hard to top last year’s South by Southwest interactive programming. Since 1994, the interactive sessions have served as a platform for the movers and shakers across industries. And last year, it hosted the crown jewel as the entire conference: then-President Barack Obama kicked off the conference with a keynote discussion on the potential for technology to help solve government issues.

Interactive sessions often respond to the current issues in the news cycle, and this year is no different. On Friday, the opening day of interactive, SXSW will host a conversation between Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (and Ann Richards’s daughter), and David Karp, the founder and CEO of Tumblr.

Planned Parenthood has been in Republican crosshairs across the U.S. On February 16, the U.S. House of Representatives progressed in its efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. A bill, called HJ Resolution 34, would potentially allow states to withhold Title X funds from organizations that also provide abortion services, and Planned Parenthood falls directly in that category. Title X funding helps provide uninsured and low-income patients with family planning and reproductive health services such as pregnancy tests, pelvic exams, cancer screenings, and birth control. Abortion, which does not receive any federal funding, does not fall under Title X. Prior to the House passing the resolution, Tumblr—a site known for it’s progressive users—raised $80,000 in support of Planned Parenthood.

That means that the plan to gut funds for Planned Parenthood moves closer to the desk of President Donald Trump, who stated that defunding Planned Parenthood was a top priority during his campaign. On a state level, the effort to defund the organization stalled in late February when a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on the basis that Texas had no grounds for kicking Planned Parenthood out of its Medicaid program. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton already stated that he would appeal the decision.

On March 10, you can join Aminatou Sow, the editor-at-large at Racked and a University of Texas at Austin alumna, in conversation with Karp (who is also on the board for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America) and Richards as they discuss the next steps for activism. The session is called Activism, Allyship and Where We Go from Here and will take place in the Austin Convention Center Ballroom EFG at 3:30pm in the afternoon.

Here are other SXSW Interactive sessions you won’t want to miss this year:

Covering POTUS: A Conversation with the Failing NYT
March 12 at the Austin Convention Center Room 18ABCD, 9:30 a.m.

Certainly you’re aware of the Trump administration’s, er, strained relationship with mainstream media outlets. If you missed the president referring to CNN as “fake news,” perhaps you heard him calling legitimate news outlets “enemies of the people.” New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet will explore ways that outlets can continue operating in the time of actual fake news, Wikileaks, and a new administration. The title alone is hint that this should be an interesting conversation.

Convergence Keynote: Jessica Shortall
March 12 at Austin Convention Center Ballroom D, 2:00 p.m.

Earlier this week, hundreds gathered at the Texas Capitol to provide testimony on Senate Bill 6, otherwise known as the “bathroom bill.” After nearly thirteen hours of testimonies both for and against the bill, the Senate State Affairs Committee passed the bill onto the rest of the Senate. Texas business leaders have been rather vocal opponents of the bill, claiming that it could hurt Texas’s business options, using similar legislation that affected North Carolina as an example. Jessica Shortall is the managing director of Texas Competes, a partnership of more than 1,200 Texas companies dedicated to furthering LGBTQ inclusion in business.

The Urgency of Now: Launching the Biden Cancer Initiative
March 12 at Austin Convention center Ballroom EFG, 3:30 p.m.

After President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama graced the SXSW stage last year, former Vice President Joe Biden is following suit. During his session, Biden will discuss progress made with the White House Cancer Moonshoot, his initiative to eradicate cancer once and for all, along with his future plans in continuing the fight. Details are few, but you can expect that his talk will involve an exploration of how technology can help provide solutions to cancer prevention and treatments. Biden will be introduced by his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.

Mark Cuban & Tech Execs: Is Govt Disrupting Disruption?
March 12 at Austin Convention Center Ballroom D, 5 p.m.

This isn’t Mark Cuban’s first SXSW rodeo. Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and your favorite Shark Tank investor, is back at the conference to talk about the ways government regulations may be interfering with business growth. A notable—and fitting!—example of this is the absence of Uber and Lyft in Austin for this year’s conference after they clashed with local government, and later with local voters, on regulation standards and left the city. Joined by other business leaders, the session will explore how businesses have worked with and against government.

Research Universities Should Be Better at Startups
March 12 at Austin Convention Center Ballroom EFG, 5 p.m.

The concept of universities, especially large public schools like the University of Texas at Austin, operating as a launching points for startups is challenging. But the campus setting has the unique potential to foster innovations among both students and faculty. UT President Greg Fenves will discuss the possibilities of creating “inoversity” environments on research campuses with UT Professor of Innovation Bob Metcalfe.

The Future of Connection
March 13 at JW Marriot Salon 5-6, 11:00 a.m.

You might not be familiar with Whitney Wolfe, but you’re almost certainly aware of the two popular apps she’s helped create: Tinder and Bumble. Both apps have changed the way people date and connect romantically. After leaving Tinder, Wolfe moved to Austin and founded Bumble, an app that empowers women to be more proactive in the app by leaving initiating any conversation up to them. Since then she’s launched BumbleBFF and BumbleBIZZ for friendships and businesses, and there’s potentially more for the Bumble brand.

Tower Recall: How UT Shooting Changed the Media
March 14 at Hyatt Regency Austin, Texas Ballroom 5-7, 11 a.m.

The UT tower shooting was the first mass shooting of its kind. Not only did it kick off a disturbing trend at college campuses, but it also changed the way news was reported. In the five decades since the shooting, the way we consume news and real life violence has changed drastically. Join Neal Spelce, a reporter who was at the scene of the tower shooting, as he discusses the past and present of news with the Austin American-Statesman’s Digital Managing Editor Zach Ryall.

WEXIT: Why Women Exit Tech and How to Fix It
March 14 at 11 a.m.

Uber’s had a rough year so far. After a former female Uber engineer published a blog post detailing sexual harassment and an unhealthy cutthroat work culture, other former female employees have come out to share similar stories. What’s followed have been conversations, both inside and outside the company, on how to improve culture in the tech world. According to Haley Hughes of IBM, “culture is a slippery word,” but figuring out how to create and nurture a healthy work environment can be the key to retaining female talent.

Refinery29 and Kesha Discuss Reclaiming the Internet
March 14 at Austin Convention Center Ballroom D, 3:30 p.m.

Online harassment is a consistent problem for women on the internet. Women, particularly those who are women of color or openly identify as LGBTQ, are often subjected to harmful comments, emails, and tweets, and it seems like there’s no sign of relief. Twitter, for example, has come under frequent criticism for either failing to provide adequate measures to combat online trolls or for casting too wide a net and punishing innocent bystanders. Pop star Kesha will talk with Amy Emmerich from Refinery29 about the ways in which women manage to create and maintain rich and supportive communities in a hostile online environment.

Immigration and Innovation: The Future of H-1B
March 16 at JW Marriot Salon C, 2 p.m.

Tensions have been high since the Trump administration began issuing executive orders on immigration. One recent decision will halt “premium processing” of H-1B visas next month—visas often used for foreign employees of tech companies. In the state of sweeping and changing immigration reform, leaders from the Economic Policy Institute and Marketplace will discuss what that could mean for the future of tech with Vikrum Aiyer, a former Obama tech policy advisor.

Texas Monthly will be on the ground covering the entire SXSW conference, soaking in the ideas, films, and music that will affect Texas. Have something you think Texans need to know about at the conference? Email [email protected]

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  • Al Ligator

    Cecile Richards — America’s Top Baby Parts Salesperson. She’ll be running specials during her event. Wish I could make it, but … well, I can’t.