Category: Social Justice

GeorgiaHistorySocial JusticeUncategorizedVoting

Who’s worse Brian Kemp or Lester Maddox?

Feeling some despair headed back to Georgia, and the U.S. generally after a month in India.

It’s about this question: Will Brian Kemp govern Georgia like Lester Maddox?

Lester Maddox became the governor of Georgia during my childhood. He was openly racist, was famous for selling axe handles with which to beat down civil rights activists, and actively fought a state memorial immediately after Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated.

Until Brian Kemp, I don’t remember any Georgia governor who so actively and openly embraced race based voter suppression and racist immigration messages.

Yet Maddox apparently went on the most aggressive hiring of African Americans in the state’s history.

I’m finding solace knowing that people of color in Georgia nonviolently sacrificed their livelihoods and their lives to end the Maddox mode of governance.

Those sacrifices opened the door for people like Stacey Abrams, Andrew Young, and Jimmy Carter.

Our grandmothers and uncles and neighbors did this with an inner soul power (to quote Dr King) that could not be suppressed by axe handles or tear gas. I find strength knowing that we can call on that soul power to do the same again.

Climate changeSocial Justice

Trail of Tears: 21st century style

It is an established fact that California is burning due to human instigated climate change, but the devastating impact of pollution upon U.S. indigenous communities is forcing Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw of Louisiana to plan relocation. According to the U.S. National Climate Assessment, the physical, psychological and spiritual impacts upon indigenous peoples will be immense unless there is immediate and joint action taken.

The deeper tragedy comes when you read between the lines of the U.S. climate assessment. The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw have had to work around legislation that has severely curtailed their ability to develop relocation plans to avoid life threatening climate impact.

Due to restrictions on the funding included within the legislation and the tribe’s lack of federal recognition, the state is managing the resettlement of the entire island community, which limits tribal authority over relocation plans. This arrangement exemplifies one way in which tribes are limited in deploying adaptation strategies when using funds that are not specifically designed to meet the unique needs of tribal communities

So y’all are wiping out their land and want them (and the existence of climate change) to disappear as well. Thanksgiving unmasked, I got you.

ElectionsGeorgiaSocial JusticeVoting

Why voting in Georgia matters: Black infant mortality

If you are an infant born to an African American mother in Georgia (also Mississippi or Alabama) your chances of making it past the first year are worse than that of an infant born in Syria. China and Venezuela also have lower infant mortality rates than the 12.5 deaths per 1,000 infants that the Kaiser Family Foundation reports for Georgia.

If you’re eligible to vote in the upcoming Georgia election on November 6, 2018, this is a PSA to: 1) vote, and 2) vote for candidates that can change the healthcare disparities impacting expecting mothers and their children.

I delved into these statistics after reading this Atlantic article and was stunned, saddened, outraged. The popular reports of life in Syria and Venezuela paint those countries as war zones, places in the throes of chaos, places where the healthcare system has collapsed and failed the most vulnerable. Coincidentally, the infant mortality rate for Black children in Georgia (the state) is identical to the overall rate of Georgia the country (12.9  deaths / 1,000) — and the democratic institutions of the two Georgias may be in similar shape. Georgia the country is making strides towards full democracy.

You might say that I’m comparing disparate populations — Black people in Georgia vs the overall population of Syria. Would you agree that a comparison of Caribbean nations to the U.S. Black populations is reasonable? All of these islands have significant African diaspora populations — equalling or exceeding the Black population of the state of Georgia. Many of the current Black inhabits of the U.S. claim Caribbean ancestry. Let’s then compare Georgia’s infant mortality with that of the most populous Caribbean countries and Puerto Rico (a U.S. territory).

infantmortality

These figures are from the Kaiser Family Foundation table cited earlier and the CIA infant mortality rankings. The United Nations and CDC keep similar statistics.

The overall impact of Georgia’s health policies — the defunding of rural health, unaddressed racial disparities, the refusal to support medicaid expansion among them — are richly detailed in this report When the State Fails: Maternal Mortality & Racial Disparity in Georgia. The results of these policies have been devastating  — a perfect storm on the life expectancy of Black women and children, and also upon those of rural Georgians of all races and ethnicities.

What can be done?

  • If you live in Georgia, please remember to vote — there are candidates on the November 6, 2018 ballot who are committed to ending health disparities based on class and race.
  • You might consider moving to Georgia (in the mode of Freedom Summer). To quote Stacey Abrams “Georgia matters to everyone. If you change the leadership of Georgia, you change the South. If you change the South, you change the country.
  • Stay informed and advocate for universal healthcare in the U.S.
  • If you’re a healthcare professional, consider getting involved in volunteer efforts in the Southern U.S.
AtlantaPoliticsSocial Justice

Vote absentee if you live in Georgia

Want to make sure your vote counts in the Georgia November election? Casting an absentee ballot may be the way to go!

Federal judge Amy Totenberg (sister of Nina Totenberg if you are an NPR listener) ruled Monday that Georgia could go ahead using insecure paperless voting machines.

Although Judge Totenberg concurred with many cybersecurity experts that the voting machines pose a credible threat of alteration of ballot counts, she decided that the last minute switch would impose a burden on voters and a logistical challenge to the state’s election commission. If you’re not up on the current events, the head of the Georgia election commission is running for governor in a highly contested election and there have been some irregularities in his management (or lack thereof) of voting records. Hmm.

There have been charges of voter suppression, a 21st century step back from a hard won right to vote — ponder the 19th century Harper’s magazine image above celebrating the democratic participation of newly emancipated peoples post Civil War.

The main concern with electronic voting machines — especially the ones used in Georgia — is that they cannot be easily audited. The National Academy of Sciences in their report recommended in fact that “Voting machines that do not provide the capacity for independent auditing (e.g., machines that do not produce a voter-verifiable paper audit trail) should be removed from service as soon as possible.” This applies to the machines used in Georgia, and Judge Totenberg effectively ruled that this should be the last election in which such machines are use.  Further, a malicious and technically sophisticated insider could alter voting records — that is “hack” the election.

Now if you cast an absentee ballot, the paper copy is preserved. Voter advocate sites like vote.org can help you get your ballot in a matter of seconds. There is an online tool that the Georgia Secretary of State’s office provides. I am not whether the online tool provides the functions that the National Academy of Sciences recommends — tracking of absentee ballot delivery and receipt.

In any case, absentee is a good way to be very present in the democratic process in Georgia.

 

 

 

AtlantainclusionSocial Justice

Avondale Estates is having a backlash

Martin Luther King feared fully expected that there would be a backlash as basic human rights for African Americans expanded. There were historic precedents for this such as the reversal of post-Civil War Reconstruction-era freedoms during the last decades of the 19th century and the rise of segregationist laws throughout the southern US during the 1950s. Ta-Nahesi Coates speaks eloquently on the last incarnation of this in his Atlantic piece The First White President.

I am witnessing the evolution of this fourth backlash wave play out where I live, just east of Atlanta. Yesterday, my family and I witnessed the incident which is the featured image of this post. A White police officer handcuffs, and humiliates a young Black man about 15 feet from us through the window of a shop were we frequently have a relaxed brunch. The shop, I should mention is owned by a Black woman, also a resident of Avondale Estates. I should have stood with my young Brother and recorded the incident — sadly I know that life will give me other opportunities. To witness is a powerful comfort and statement. The young man showed calm and grace, as many of us have learned to do in such situations (I’ve been there).

Avondale Estates, a little east of Atlanta until recently had de-facto housing segregation through special real estate covenants. The history of housing segregation in Georgia, and the Atlanta area is both fascinating and frightening. If you zoom in on the Avondale Estates area, you’ll notice interesting racial disparities. There’s more information in this 50-year look back at the fair housing act.

Avondale Estates and the small towns to it’s north and east have been notorious for the disproportionate amount of revenue garnered from African Americans being stopped for minor traffic violations.

fining_cities

Georgia cities — especially Stone Mountain and Clarkston lead the nation in the fining of Black people

I wish we knew more, but like it’s voting transparency, information on racism in policing in Georgia is hard to come by.

Although one of my close friends (also African American) purchased a home in Avondale Estates in the ’90s, anecdotally (just from informal conversation), the number racialized policing and other incidents around exclusion have continued to grow.

I’ll detail one particular issue I’ve encountered. In Avondale, several times when walking while Black, my family and I have encountered on several occasions the question “Do you live around here?” Word of caution and advice for any (non-Black) person with the bad home training to ask this question. The 14th amendment of the Constitution of the United States is generally understood as guaranteeing access to the public roads to any US citizen, “green card” holder, or basically any human being regardless of what they look like. Dear White People, it’s not your militia/Klan duty to keep American or Avondale Estates or any other space in this country White. There’s my peculiar rant.

What can done? A few suggestions:

  • Check out the hash tag #StopRacialProfilingAvondaleEstatesGA
  • When you see these incidents going down, use your phone and record.
  • Start demanding accountability from your police officers, city and county representatives.
  • Talk to your children about race, about racial profiling, about racialized violence.

Let’s end the police state together.

 

inclusionSocial Justice

Investing in empowerment

Dr King spent his last precious hours advocating for the economic rights of African American sanitation workers in Memphis. In his broader vision, this was one arm of a struggle for justice for the poor and powerless that spanned divides of gender and race.

I recently met Ryan Harrison at the Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and
Transparency  and he shared his amazing post on socially responsible or as he puts it solidarity based investing.

The post, at least for me, presents a new way of thinking about “return on investment”. In other words, the “return” is the uplift and empowerment of our communities in ways that seek to build equity for all instead of maximal profits for a few.

In our brief conversation, Ryan schooled me on bail bonds funds as one example. Since many people can’t afford the bond for minor traffic violations and misdemeanors, they end up having to do jail time, miss work, lose jobs, and thus end up in a downward poverty spiral. Since it’s not supposed to be a crime to be Black, Brown and Poor, non-profit funds such as the Bronx Freedom Fund were setup to provide a route of this particular trap. An investment in the bail bond fund is a direct investment in the economic viability of a given community — like the South Bronx.

As Ryan points out, the move away from the traditional 401k/IRA can be gradual — say 10% of your investment funds allocated to solidarity investments. It is the start of the journey that matters.

The options for where to put your solidarity dollars range from grant based investing (like bail bond funds or in local food cooperatives like the one in the featured image by Steven) to direct lending programs (like Canopy Coop in Boston) to more traditional equity investments like the Shared Capital Cooperative .

Gayatri Sethi (my life partner) is working on a education platform called Alt-College that’s based on this solidarity model.

Do you have any suggestions on efforts to invest in? Strategies that you have put into place for socially conscious investing? Please share!

 

 

AtlantaDistributed WorkinclusionSocial JusticeTechnology

Distributed Inclusion at WordCamp Atlanta

 

The Atlanta WordCamp is an annual gathering for people that use and develop WordPress sites. Although it is put on by and for the Atlanta WordPress community, I met people from all over.

I gave a talk there Sunday (4/15/18) on the state of inclusion in distributed companies. Since WordPress is maintained by a distributed company (Automattic, by employer) and an open source community, the subject is of great relevance.

Let me know what you think. There are more unanswered (and unasked) questions than answers.

Mind filling out this survey if you work at a distributed company or work remotely?

The discussion was lively and thought provoking. A few takeaways:

  • It’s important to be explicit about the excluded groups in your company. Only through getting the discussion going can progress be made.
  • Many people are still concerned about revealing their race/ethnicity/physical ability (even on EEOC questions at end of hiring applications).
  • How do we deal with the bias in reaching out to more diverse populations.
  • How do excluded groups even know where to look for positions, when even job search has build in exclusivity.
  • How can independent consultants and free-lancers be advocates in this space?
  • Is the Internet really the equalizer we think it is?
  • How do we start?

I was delighted by the inclusiveness evident in the conference organizers and attendees. One of the many beautiful things about Atlanta.

Please comment and add your questions!