Democracy While Distancing

Voting by mail, remote legislating, organizing rent-strikes via Google Docs, and much more.


This is civic tech: Say hello to All-Hands.us, a project of Cultivate and Higher Ground Labs that is working with coalition of a dozen organizations looking to match project, engineering and data tech talent to groups engaged in progressive organizing.

The ad-hoc network #NYCPPE has crowdsourced the funding and delivery of about 45,000 N95 1,000 face shields, 1,000 surgical masks to frontline healthcare workers at 86 different hospitals, nursing homes and EMS teams around NYC since its launch in early March, organizer Christina Xu reports. If you want to support their work, here’s their GoFundMe page.

The number of people who have tested positive after either voting or working the April 7 election in Wisconsin has now climbed to 19, Kate Riga reports for Talking Points Memo.

Many local governments are moving to enact their own vote-by-mail plans, including Milwaukee, WI; Allegheny County, PA, Broward County, FL, and the state of New Hampshire, Rachel Cohen reports for The Intercept. (By the way, in Tuesday’s First Post, when I wrote that NY Governor Mario Cuomo had announced plans to mail ballots to all registered voters in the state, you knew I was talking about his son Andrew, right? Sorry about that brain burp–when he does really liberal things I must think he’s his dad.)

Here’s a useful explanation of why states have to get moving now if they want to be ready to mail out tens of millions of ballots by next fall, courtesy of Tierney Sneed of Talking Points Memo. A clue: it starts with something called the National Association of Presort Mailers.

Remember when we had a (semi)functioning representative body? Congress remains in limbo because of COVID-19, though here in hard-hit New York City, the city council held its first-ever virtual meeting, via Zoom, on Wednesday, as Jeff Coltin reports for City and State. City residents had some fun discovering the quirks of some city council members, like our friend Ben Kallos and his enormous cat.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has gotten out in front of his colleague, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), calling for the House to shift to “voting by the use of video-conferencing technology that millions of Americans now use to conduct business.

A Zoom Congress would be perfectly constitutional, law professor Deborah Pearlstein writes for The Atlantic.

The Congressional Management Foundation is recommending that Members of Congress hold online town halls with their constituents during this time of physical distancing.

Civicist is going live! The truth is Congress could, and should, start working remotely. To help us understand the issues at stake and some of the historical precedents when Congress has found ways to work despite national emergencies, join me next Wednesday April 29 noon-1pm EDT for a Zoom conversation on “#OpenCongress? How Congress Can Work Remotely During Emergencies” with Daniel Schuman, policy director for Demand Congress, and Marci Harris, founder of PopVox. Advance registration is required.

Attend: Our friend and colleague Sasha Costanza-Chock, who is leading a research project for Civic Hall on emerging technologies, is doing a conversation about their new book Design Justice with Data & Society’s Rigoberto Lara Guzman, next Wednesday at 6pm.

Tech and politics: Just in time for Earth Day, it’s #FlattenTheClimateCurve.

Alas, when tech bros venture into opining about politics, boy do they tend to stick their feet in their mouths. Here’s VC Jason Calacanis attacking journalists who have pointed out that the gifts from tech zillionaires aren’t really all that generous.

With bans on public gatherings widespread, protests movements worldwide have gone quiet, Vivian Wang, Maria Abi-Habib and Vivian Yee report for The New York Times, but new grievances fueled by the pandemic have generated public clashes in places from the suburbs of Paris to the outskirts of Lima, Peru.

Likewise, here in the US, “the coronavirus crisis is threatening the civic resurgence the Trump presidency inspired, transforming marches, town halls and door-knocking from the building blocks of liberal organizing into potential vectors for disease,” writes Ian Prasad Philbrick for The New York Times oped page. Organizers are shifting to digital get-togethers, but it’s far from clear how well those will keep local groups going.

On the other hand, if you want to see how graduate students at Columbia University are using Google Docs and Twitter to rapidly organize a rent-strike and work-strike starting tomorrow, check this and this out.

Brave new world: Here’s a new interactive “story-map” of where Amazon locates its warehouses across America, and why, produced by GoodJobsFirst.

With more than 10 million gig workers in America, The Century Foundation’s Julie Kashen and a team of colleagues has taken a close look at what Congress has done so far to address their needs during the Great Pandemic, covering  worker misclassification, health coverage, paid leave, unemployment insurance, paycheck protection, cash assistance, and nutrition assistance.

School-children who don’t have reliable internet access at home can try sitting in a library parking lot to get WiFi, according to guidelines released by the School District of Philadelphia, Michaela Winberg reports for BillyPenn.com. (After Winberg’s story was published, the recommendation to use parking lot WiFi was removed from the district website.)

Media matters: Fox viewers who watched COVID-19 skeptic Sean Hannity rather than the more prudent Tucker Carlson in February and early March were less likely to adhere to social distancing rules, and areas where more people watched Hannity relative to Carlson have had higher local rates of infection and death, according to a new study by a group of economists using polling of Fox News viewers and publicly available data on TV-watching patterns, Zack Beauchamp reports for Vox.

End times: Online learning is going really well for some teachers.

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