Remote Chances

Let Congress Zoom; How to last in civic tech, now; whither street protests; and much more.


Civic tech responds: Human rights organization Witness has launched a new COVID-19 Response Hub “to support vulnerable communities worldwide using video and technology to expose the unseen impacts of the pandemic, as well as counter lies, mobilize action, and preserve vital evidence that will help advocate for justice in the months to come.”

Here’s a great primer on ethical tech innovation for COVID-19 response, written by Rakesh Bharania, Salesforce’s director of humanitarian impact data, and Evan Paul, its director of global impact data. Like the Greg Bloom essay we cited recently, Bharania and Paul argue against solutionism and urge would-be responders to carefully scope the problem they are hoping to solve, avoid duplicative efforts and make sure they do no harm as they engage.

Drawing on our conversations with and survey of 30 founders and executive directors of civic tech organizations that have survived and thrived for more than ten years, Matt Stempeck and I have posted the write-up of our TICTeC conference talk, “How to Last in Civic Tech (Especially Now).”

Say hello to Congregate, a new virtual conferencing platform that makes it easy for users to break off into small groups, built by a team of Harvard students who were frustrated by Zoom’s lack of that functionality.

Say hello to the Health Worker Data Alliance, a new, confidential, HIPPA-compliant, web-based app collecting self-reporting data from frontline health workers in weekly intervals.

BetaNYC is offering a free online workshop in using NYC open data this Friday from 12:30-2:00pm.

More than half of US state government unemployment insurance websites have crashed in recent weeks, and 86% of them fail at least one basic test for mobile page load speed, mobile friendliness, or accessibility, Michael McLaughlin and Daniel Castro of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation report. They recommend that any future stimulus package should include funding to modernize this infrastructure. 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last four weeks.

Tech and politics: Here’s a great piece by our friends Daniel Schumann of Demand Progress and Marci Harris of PopVox on why and how Congress could shift to remote proceedings and voting. With all legislative action on hold until May 4th, pressure is growing on Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle to make this change, as Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports for The New York Times. Not only would remote proceedings be safer for Members and their staffs, it would allow Congressional committees to conduct vital oversight. Plus, long-term, allowing Members to participate from home would reduce the power of lobbyists and also enable more women to serve in office. (Hmm, maybe that’s why they don’t want to take this path?) The website Continuity of Congress has lots of useful background material on the issue.

With physical gatherings off-limits, many liberal groups are shifting their protest efforts to digital, as this run-down by Elizabeth Culliford and Makini Brice of Reuters details. The Poor People’s Campaign’s June 20 march is now an online gathering. Health Care Voter’s planned 30-city bus tour is now a series of digital events, including one on March 31 that got 400,000 views. Meanwhile, National Nurses United continues to hold street protests, but only with small numbers of members all standing at least 6 feet apart, and the Detention Watch Network has been organizing “honking actions” where protestors drive their cars to encircle ICE facilities.

On the right, a car protest in Lansing, Michigan against Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order featured many people exiting their vehicles and crashing the front lawn of the capitol building, changing “Lock her up” and “We will not comply.” As Meagan Flynn reports for the Washington Post, the #Operation Gridlock protest mirrored similar efforts in North Carolina and Ohio, and suggest that the response to COVID-19 is becoming dangerously politicized.

While we wait to see if US election officials will shift to vote-by-mail solutions for 2020, the national elections in South Korea, which just took place, show that a country with an effective public health system can also hold physical voting—just with everyone spaced apart, wearing masks and state-supplied gloves and passing temperature screening. Turnout was expected to top 70%.

Looking ahead: If you want to read only one thing about what the next several months are going to be like, make it “Our Pandemic Summer” by Ed Yong in The Atlantic.

If you want to go deeper, read this new Johns Hopkins study, titled “A National Plan to Enable Comprehensive COVID-19 Case Finding and Contact Tracing in the US.”

End times: Whatever you do, watch out for the wall.

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