Category: Social Justice

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!

Data ScienceHistoryMigrationPoliticsSocial Justice

Back to Mississippi: Black migration in the 21st century

The recent election of Doug Jones to the U.S. senate in Alabama — thanks largely to African American turnout — got me thinking: What if the Black populations of Southern cities were to experience a dramatic increase? How many other elections would be impacted?

Does that seem far-fetched? Over a tenth of the Black population of the U.S. left the South during the first half of the last century.

They moved from the rural South to the North and West, hoping to escape race-based terrorism and find economic opportunity. The featured image, from the U.S. Library of Congress, is an infographic made in 1950 by the Census department about the migration. My grandparents were part of this movement — they left oppression in small town Georgia and Alabama hoping to find a (slightly) better situation in Atlanta.

As the U.S. census figure infographic below indicates, this migration — one wave in 1910 – 1940 and another wave coming 1940 – 1970 — was epic. Isabel Wilkerson’s book The Warmth of Other Suns is a gripping history of this Great Migration.

020_blackpop_northern_cities_horiz-01

The Great Migration, 1910 – 1970 from: US Census Bureau. (2012). Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/dataviz/visualizations/020/

 

A trend towards a reverse migration back to the South has been noted recently. In a 2011 story, the New York Times reported that in 2009, of the 44,000 people who left New York City, over half moved to the South. A more recent report by the Times, provocatively entitled  Racism Is Everywhere, So Why Not Move South? explores some of the rationale behind this movement. The sentiments echo the recent paper Individual Social Capital and Migration by Julie L. Hotchkiss and Anil Rupasingha.  Improved social capital — the sense that you are a somebody in the place that you live, that your life matters (or could matter someplace) is a powerful catalyst for movement.

The LinkedIn Workforce Report for January confirms that Southern cities are gaining workers at the expense of Northern cities, and this Redfin analysis reports that there has been some North to South migration. According to the LinkedIn Workforce Report, southern cities are still among the top ten in terms of job migration (at least amongst LinkedIn members). Thriving African American communities in cities like Atlanta and Jacksonville, lower costs of living, and the rise of these cities as technology centers are powerful draws.

To look at the potential political impact of a new reverse migration, I ran a few simulations. I assumed a similar reverse migration rate of 2% per year over out ten years. In my simulations, I assume that the main states from which African Americans migrate are New York, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, and California — the main destinations of the Great Migration.  I assumed that the main destinations of the new migrants are among the states that people left during the initial Great Migration: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina. I could have arguably added Tennessee to this mix. I used a Dirichlet distribution to model the allocation of migrants to various destination states.

Let’s first revisit the 2016 election map

newplot (6)

Below are a couple of illustrative outcomes from my simulations. In most of the outcomes, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are the states in which the political outcome of the migration are felt most.

newplot (8)

Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are impacted the most

newplot (7)

There’s still hope for Mississippi

Again, I let 10,000 simulations play out, sampling the allocation of migrants to destination states from a Dirichlet distribution.

To make the point a bit further, below is a bar chart showing the number of outcomes for each state over the 10,000 simulations in which Black voters had a decisive impact upon the presidential election (i.e. allocation of electoral college votes) for that state.

election_outcomes_nicer

The point though is not really predicting the dominance of one political party or the other, it is understanding the implication Black voter empowerment — how Black people are empowered to participate in decisions regarding the health, education, policing, and economic viability of their communities. Further, beyond just Black and White, it speaks to me as an opening to think about participatory multi-racial democracy. After all, there was a flash of time between the Civil War and the enactment of Jim Crow racialist laws  in which Citizens of Color of the South were actively involved in governance.

Although these are speculative simulations — for me they contain the seeds of a certain kind of hope. Perhaps the future is the past — but maybe we can mold the future in ways that are universally empowering.

MathematicsPoliticsSocial Justice

Mathematicians, rock the vote!

Can the resistance inspire a new generation of mathematicians?

Samuel Hansen thinks so. In his recent post on The Aperiodical, he describes how the recent avalanche of math-informed court decisions on gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are putting mathematics in the spotlight.

It is really heartening that discrete geometry and other branches of advanced mathematics can be use to preserve democracy — much in the spirit of the 1964 voting rights act (being signed in the featured image).

Tufts University mathematician Moon Duchin has done a lot of work in this area, leading the effort to train mathematicians to be expert witnesses in gerrymandering cases. Duchin’s Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group page has a lot of useful resources.

Consider registering for one of the gerrymandering trainings if you’re a mathematician, statistician, or data scientist based in the Bay Area!

 

HistoryinclusionMathematicsPoliticsSocial Justice

Black history month is Black mathematicians month — in the UK

In the US, the African American scholar (and February 1st Google doodle subjectCarter G Woodson began working in 1926 to establish “Negro History Week“, for in Woodson’s day the contributions of Black people were  “overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.” Woodson’s Negro History week evolved into today’s US Black History Month thanks to the efforts of student activists of the 1970s.

My partner, Dr Gayatri Sethi, reminds me that the aspiration of marginalized and minoritized peoples to be heard, to enter into equity in whatever place they call home is universal.

With that in mind, it is no surprise then that Black History month has been celebrated in the UK for the last 30 years in October. This October a group of mathematicians at University College London — and  — decided to make October Black Mathematicians month.

During the month they presented interviews with UK mathematicians starting with Dr Nazar Miheisi who does research in Analysis at King’s College. The Aperiodical blog also ran pieces highlighting Black mathematicians, among them Dr Caleb Ashley who gives this Numberphile segment on the fifth postulate.

Building an equitable mathematics community, or better yet an equitable world, should not be confined to a single month — it is an undertaking that will require continuous and deliberate effort. But it is encouraging and inspiring to see many hopeful signs on a global scale.

Do you know of similar efforts in other countries to encourage the participation of marginalized peoples in science and mathematics? If so, please leave a comment or drop an email!