Voting In San Quentin

Juan Haines and Kevin Sawyer are both incarcerated journalists who wrote for The Guardian about a simulated election at San Quentin prison in California. In cooperation with Solitary Watch, a non-profit which aims at documenting and advocating against solitary confinement, they helped with this mock election. Solitary Watch sent 1600  ballots to the prison by Express mail. But the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, CDCR, never delivered them. So they improvised and some 150 ballots were handmade and passed out and later 170 more were smuggled in with the explanation that since CDCR had not delivered the sent ballots, they had to improvise. Although there were some votes for Trump, Biden won. The ballots had a place for them to say why they were voting and why they voted for their candidate. What comes across, which is why I wanted to write about this, is that inmates are no different from ordinary people. They want to vote, want a voice in their elected officials, want to be good citizens, wan to participate.  “ I want to be heard” one man wrote on the back of his makeshift ballot. Another wrote, “I’d like to feel like a citizen; feel like I am important too”. In California as in many other states people in prison and on parole  cannot vote and they are still disenfranchised when they finish their sentence. The U.S. has the largest proportion of its citizens in prison, and as a whole the prison population is greater than just about any American city. Of course as the authors noted, they didn’t have to worry  about violence at the polls or even social distancing, but still they were very aware that their vote would not count. Most inmates will eventually be released and be part of the society. I’m among those who believe allowing them to vote would help create a sense of belonging, of engagement with their communities and we would all benefit.

Living With The Virus

As we know the virus has altered more activities and affected more economic sectors than we can quickly recall. One is the movie industry searching for how productions could safely resume. Universal Studios latest sequel to Jurassic World can perhaps now set an example, or at least answer some questions. The $200 million production spent $9 million making sure cast and crew would be safe. It issued a 107-page manual and involved the cast in the preparations something that is usually not done. They rented a hotel, and the staff is tested.  The cast and crew are tested Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The sets are restricted in the same ways they usually are when intimate scenes are shot. The cast puts on their own microphones. The set is sprayed with sanitizer daily and contacts are minimized in all ways possible. It’s not the details I found relevant, although most of us do enjoy a peek behind the scenes of movie making. What is relevant to all of us is that they did it. They found ways around the norms in order to be safe and do what is necessary to keep the virus at bay. And they did it in a way that is not as expensive as one might think. The cost added less than 5% to their budget.

I chose this article to base my post upon because it’s a reminder and a harbinger. Despite the demands and lack of social distancing inherent in movie production, the measures taken in this case bode well for the economy, certainly, but even more important, bode well for virus protection. They point the way for us to find ways to adjust. Many are rebelling, in denial or complacent, and here is a concrete example to help us accept that normal is now different, and most of all, an example that says yes, we can live with this virus!

Racism and Public Health

Early in July the city of Memphis unanimously passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. In 1866 Memphis was the site of a massacre where dozens of black people were raped and killed by white terrorists and in 1968 it was where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, thus drawing a line from the past to the present at a time when coronavirus is disproportionately affecting Black residents. Over 50 cities have passed similar resolutions declaring racism a public health crisis, these cities are in urban centers, as well in in rural areas, with various sizes and demographics,  such as a cluster of small towns in Connecticut, and contain surprises such as the Douglas County Board of Health in Nebraska.

In June an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine addressed the health effects of being subjected to racism and discrimination and declared that they can lead to brain disease, “accelerate aging and impede vascular and renal function” thus drawing attention to the stresses and difficulties affecting African Americans and other minority populations. The resolutions are not binding, yet their impetus being inspired by the research of scientific journals nevertheless make them one step on our journey to redress the wrongs of racism.

Talk of Changes

Prompted by the protest, ideas for needed changes are being talked about, written about and thought about. Here are three examples.

The NYT has been running a series called The America We Need. In that vein, a recent editorial by David Leonhardt addressed new research documenting the wage gap between blacks and whites since the gap is as large now as it was in the 50’s during segregation. Several ideas are being put forth by economists and others: Raising the pay for all working families, asking the wealthy to let go of legacy college admissions and favorable tax treatment, which among other things increase inequality, or even adopt profit sharing plans.

The Chamber of Commerce which has become a powerful conservative lobbying group, has published a report on the opportunities gap that hinders black Americans. It highlights that for blacks unemployment is twice that of whites. Blacks represent 12% of US workers but only 9% of business owners and have a much harder time obtaining financing. The Chamber has held events trying to find solutions.

Meanwhile the BBC carried a piece by Tara Westover where she calls attention to the changes needed to build a world where we can be one people, she talks about how Covid-19 has affected minorities disproportionately and asks us to rethink changes in education, so that we can end up in a world where class, education and profession do not divide us.

It’s hard to know what the results will be but it’s encouraging that talk of changes is coming from many different sources.