WATCH: The 2020 Census & Race(ism)

WITF presents an important, must-watch conversation on the struggle for a complete & accurate Census ... & one that isn't weaponized against people of color

a WITF feature

Special insights heard daily at #RealityCheck on WURD every Mon - Thur, 10am - 1pm ET LIVE at wurdradio.com or WATCH the 8.13.20 edition on WURD TV at facebook.com/forwurd or LISTEN each day by WURD app. Also: wear your B|E today!

WITF’s series of virtual community conversations hosted by Charles Ellison addressing systemic racism and injustice in Central Pennsylvania and beyond. MORE at witf.org/racialjustice

THIS WEEK we examine the 2020 CensusPeople of color are regularly undercounted, and circumstances this year further complicate an accurate count, with delayed in-person visits and an shortened counting schedule.

We’ll examine why it is important for everyone in our community to be represented and explore the ways this once-a-decade count directly impacts our community, including funding for education, housing and other topics we’ve discussed throughout the Toward Racial Justice series.

Panelists include:

  • Leonard S. Brown — Partnership Specialist, Philadelphia Regional Census Center, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Census

  • Norman Bristol Colon — Executive Director & Governor’s Census 2020 Complete Count Commission, PA Department of Economic Development

  • Kimberly Corbin — Chief Financial & Administrative Officer at the Greater Washington Urban League

  • George Fernandez — CEO, The Latino Connection

Plus: Harrisburg high school junior Lunden McClain presents her original poem “Brown Girl” from the play “Voices of the Eighth.”

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WITF | Live Inspired

Becoming Our Ancestors' Wildest Voting Dreams

We need a conversation that completely drowns out & shuts down the "not voting" crowd

Publisher’s Riff

Special insights heard daily at #RealityCheck on WURD every Mon - Thur, 10am - 1pm ET LIVE at wurdradio.com or WATCH the 8.12.20 edition on WURD TV at facebook.com/forwurd or LISTEN each day by WURD app. Also: wear your B|E today!

Black Voters Continue to Face Voter Suppression 155 Years After ...

There’s been a lot of conversation around the value of the vote and, in particular, “why the vote matters for Black people.” It’s a peculiar and toxic question because it is exactly the wrong kind of question and the last conversation we should be having at an urgent time like this. Yet, it is being promoted by not only Trump/MAGA/Republican-backed (with Russian infodemic support) bots on social media - created to spread disinformation and actively depress Black voters, especially younger Black voters - but, also by people in the community claiming to represent community interests. Even after clear lessons seen and learned in 2016, many potential voters are allowing themselves to get trapped into this mindset again. Interestingly enough, that debate has reached a fevered pitch this week after the selection of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate pick.

That’s not at all surprising and is very intentional. Biden opponents - who are, by all measures, active white nationalists - are finding every way imaginable to suppress or block Black voting. One way is by making many of them doubt and question one of the most fundamental, rite-of-passage activities Black Americans have always engaged in.

It’s sad because, for one thing, it’s not really difficult to do …. absent the systematic voter suppression designed to make many of us stand in line uncomfortably for several or more hours to do it. But, we sometimes do that, anyway, when waiting to buy the next big new product or to have our digital devices serviced or standing in line to get tickets for a blockbuster movie or a major entertainer’s concert - and whereas voting is a free, no-fee exercise, those activities above are things we have to sometimes empty bank accounts for. So, what’s the problem if we’re forced to do it in this instance when democracy and our very lives and the fate of the planet depends on it?

People cannot claim to advocate or engage activism for issues like reparations, or “defunding the police,” or environmental justice or fixing climate change or ending poverty or ending food insecurity or creating a livable wage or ending systemic racism … and then not want to vote or actively discourage their fellow activists, colleagues, friends and family from voting. That’s not smart. That’s not empowering. That’s just self-sabotage, plain and simple. None of the above issues are resolved unless we’re all voting on them.

It’s imperative that all of us resolved to vote actively eliminate the conversation that’s attempting to keep our communities from not voting. That should not even be a conversation entertained, it should be non-negotiable. There is no wiggle room for young potential voters, for example, who are on the fence about this. There is no fence with respect to Black people and the right to vote. That should always be the standard. Hinting otherwise is counter-productive and, ultimately, merely perpetuates and buys in to “white supremacy.”

Hence, not voting is the most white supremacist thing a Black person could ever do. We need to be very forceful and final about that. There is no “oh, I get it, oh I understand why some people are not voting.” No: there is no understanding. It’s either do or die on this. It’s either you’re in the fight or you have punked out of it. Not voting is open disrespect of our ancestors who sacrificed greatly to ensure we had this basic act to do.

Voting should be a standard rite-of-passage exercise for every Black family and household. Voting and civic participation habits should not only be formed by protesting, but by taking our children, at the youngest possible age, to the voting booths with us and even allowing them to participate in the act with you if an election judge allows it and the child is behaved and quiet enough to do it. The first action on the 18th birthday of every young Black individual should be filling out a voter registration form. Parents and grandparents should actively accompany their young people to the polling precincts on local, state and federal election days every time until they are comfortable enough to do it by themselves.

We hear this line every four years: “the election of a lifetime.” Always high stakes. Always been life and death. The choice for president always a desperate de-harmification exercise, especially for Black people. There is never a good choice; merely a choice between “the lesser of two evils” as the famous cynical adage goes.

But, this time, indeed, perhaps for the first time, is that election. It’s really here, y’all. Political High stakes, electoral life-and-death finally arrived. We really do see the proverbial Death Star hanging above our planet in the form of an orange haired narcissist draped in a scourge of resurgent white nationalism that’s plotting nefarious election takeover schemes from Eastern Europe to the state of Georgia. There is no “lesser of two evils” this year. There is an epic battle between good and evil; this is now Darth Vader (Trump) versus Obi Wan Kenobi and Princess Leia (Biden and Harris). We could go on for days about the state of hot mess we find ourselves in, but no need since we’re living it: blatant corruption as open-air as the corner mixed with genocidal pandemic fueled by criminal negligence in the White House and on Capitol Hill, all seasoned with doses of destructive regulatory rollbacks on housing rights, labor rights and environmental protection.

The world is, literally, on dumpster fire.

The fire extinguisher is, simply, everyone that can voting en masse. Maximum turnout. People will need to vote as if their life depended on it - because it, simply, does. And, really, there was never such a thing as any change in a civic democratic society without a vote. Looking to deconstruct systemic racism? Well, the first empowering step in that long-game process is exercising your right to vote.

Now 55 years after the passage of the historic Voting Rights Act, the people with the most at stake should be the last to harbor doubts about its worthiness. It works - especially when it’s followed up with the harder post-election work of tireless advocacy, lobbying, pressure and persistence. The changes you want never crystallize without public policy.  Demands made in the protest heat of the moment must materialize from the meticulous crafting of bills, resolutions, ordinances and laws painstakingly negotiated by presidents, Members of Congress, Senators, state legislators, City Councilors, Mayors and others elected, hired, paid and tasked to channel public needs. Policy is thereby shaped by election winners. Election losers will stand on the sidelines and continue to gripe.

The extent of that election win, however, goes as far as the eligible people who did turn out and vote.  Did you vote in the last election even when you had a chance? If the answer is no, you then left it to the few who did to make decisions for you. Voting was never the end-all-be-all of any process, but it is a manifestation of power. It is the fist in the fight. It is the first, big step toward fulfilling community obligations and honoring ancestral duties. “Voting is one of the Holiest things we can do. It affirms our equality. Those who suppress it are stifling our power & limit our potential. Voting affirms our humanity," said AME Church Bishop Adam Jefferson Richardson during a broadcast of Reality Check on WURD.

Yes, people did die so we could, at least, do that. It is free, it only costs you time, the occasional long line and slight irritation that you never pick the perfect candidate. And, so let’s become our ancestors wildest electoral dreams. Let’s honor them. Let’s vote.

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The 2020 Census & Race

WITF Public Media presents, WURD's Ellison hosts another installment in its Toward Racial Justice series

a WITF feature

How the U.S. census has measured race over 230 years | Science News

WITF’s series of virtual community conversations hosted by WURD’s Charles Ellison addressing systemic racism and injustice in Central Pennsylvania and beyond continues Thursday, August 13 at 7pm LIVE on WITF’s YouTube channel.

Join us as we examine the census. People of color are regularly undercounted, and circumstances this year further complicate an accurate count, with delayed in-person visits and an shortened counting schedule.

We’ll examine why it is important for everyone in our community to be represented and explore the ways this once-a-decade count directly impacts our community, including funding for education, housing and other topics we’ve discussed throughout the Toward Racial Justice series.

Panelists include:

  • Leonard S. Brown — Partnership Specialist, Philadelphia Regional Census Center, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Census

  • Norman Bristol Colon — Executive Director & Governor’s Census 2020 Complete Count Commission, PA Department of Economic Development

  • George Fernandez — CEO, The Latino Connection

And Others!

Plus, Lunden McClain will present her poem “Brown Girl” from the play “Voices of the Eighth.”

Share your personal experiences or ask questions that we can address during this conversation. Email us at discuss@witf.org or share your story using #RacialJusticePA.

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WITF | Live Inspired

We Finally Got a Black Woman Running Mate

So, now what?

Publisher’s Riff

Special insights heard daily at #RealityCheck on WURD every Mon - Thur, 10am - 1pm ET LIVE at wurdradio.com or WATCH the 8.11.20 edition on WURD TV at facebook.com/forwurd or LISTEN each day by WURD app. Also: wear your B|E today!

Joe Biden chooses Kamala Harris as his VP - Los Angeles Times

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced his running mate today after what some were anxiously describing as a much-too-long, exhaustive process. It is Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA).

Previous game theory on this selection is now obsolete, which was expected. Biden, however, has a nice dream team of preliminarily vetted Black women to put in key positions if he's elected. He has put himself in a position to let Black women run things.

First: Biden was in a corner. He had no choice but to pick a Black woman running mate. All signs pointed to a self-depressed Black voting electorate in which a large chunk was on the cusp of just giving up and not voting altogether. This pick should help with resuscitation.

Initial thoughts on politics: reportedly Trump is nervous about Harris, her selection makes him uncomfortable. So, any decision making Trump politically uncomfortable is a sound decision. Any thing to get under his skin. Indeed, there is a thought out there that he could go wild cat (which is his style) and boot VP Mike Pence from the ticket in favor of another woman of color such as former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

But, back to Harris, the Senator from California did do well in hypothetical polling match-ups against Trump when she was in the Democratic primary. See Real Clear Politics from back in November 2019 …

Aside from the fact that she is a Black woman, this helped make that decision easier: two names on the top Democratic ticket who both ably defeat Trump by a combined average of more than 13 polling points, see Biden

In addition, Harris has celebrity that Biden does not have. He needs that. She also has natural fundraising skill and campaign trail stamina that can easily surpass and outmatch Biden - which is what Biden wants.

He’s only doing one term, as he’s said. There is always the possibility that he may feel comfortable enough stepping down midway through his first term and then pass the reigns over to her. So, he’ll need relatively youthful energy and star power - which she has much of - to hit the ground running and to keep the trains moving into 2024. Someone who will know how to also campaign against predictable Republican electoral vengeance in 2024 if Biden is elected. And in terms of policy: Harris seems mostly aligned with Biden on all his fundamentals and is already a familiar face in Washington. She is decently progressive enough and capable on key domestic issues - from racial justice to childcare to, yes, criminal legal/policing reform, shaping/crafting legislation & producing in Senate. Progressive enough, but not too far to the left so as not to turn off moderate White voters. She has also been known to grill the Trump administration relentlessly on oversight and she can rally rank-&-file Democrats. She has the ability to go instantly viral on social media in a way that Biden does not. He needs that.

Culturally: yes, she’s a Black woman. But, Biden gets the best of multiple cultural worlds with a true “woman of color” story that can excite those in not only the Black community, but the Black Caribbean community (since she’s of Jamaican descent) and the Indian community as well as other South Asian communities in the U.S. who might view her as a friendly extension of their diasporas. Those communities also know how to unify, pull resources together and fund raise (even during times of financial crisis).

Still, Harris has some negatives she’ll need to be wary of and prepared for. Despite her large public profile (including 1.4 million followers on Twitter, for example), not all Black voters were in to her when she was running for president. She has to, if she hasn’t already, find a better way to explain and ably summarize her record as a local & state prosecutor. She was way too wobbly during the primary over that record to the point where few could understand what it really was about. She also needs to show counterpunches that are better and more swiftly and mercilessly on the VP debate stage & campaign trail. Harris has always been known to throw big punches, but she always seemed to shake a bit when challenged.

Now for the silliness: detractors will resurrect her as "Kop.” And some in the #ADOS hardline “Black American” community will stupidly say "she's not Black enough" ... which is straight up silly, but it will be there. Some Black men will point to "her White husband" ... again, all insanely silly, nasty and self-defeating, but it's coming. That recent 100 Black men letter in support of a Black woman pick may help, though, even though Harris wasn’t specifically named. But, the brothers who signed on to it can’t back out now.

In the end: it’s a solid pick. This is what Black voters asked for, this is what the Black commentator class constantly bugged the Biden campaign about. This is Biden reading the room in the Black Lives Matter moment. The Black woman running mate is finally here. Black voters can't, after all that, get picky now. No getting in your feelings and relitigating an antique crime bill you never read, no talking about "no vote." This is it. Time to mobilize. Black voters, for the most part, better have minds made up and be ride-or-die electorally with Biden. It can't be any widespread grumbling, doubting and equivocation. It’s either all in for Biden-Harris or it’s a descent into complete and utter dystopic chaos if Trump is re-elected.

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Murky Blends of Truth, Lies & Beliefs

Disinformation campaigns and lessons from the pandemic

Kate Starbird | The Conversation

Special insights heard daily at #RealityCheck on WURD every Mon - Thur, 10am - 1pm ET LIVE at wurdradio.com or WATCH the 8.10.20 edition on WURD TV at facebook.com/forwurd or LISTEN each day by WURD app. Also: wear your B|E today!

The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned an infodemic, a vast and complicated mix of information, misinformation and disinformation.

In this environment, false narratives – the virus was “planned,” that it originated as a bioweapon, that COVID-19 symptoms are caused by 5G wireless communications technology – have spread like wildfire across social media and other communication platforms. Some of these bogus narratives play a role in disinformation campaigns.

The notion of disinformation often brings to mind easy-to-spot propaganda peddled by totalitarian states, but the reality is much more complex. Though disinformation does serve an agenda, it is often camouflaged in facts and advanced by innocent and often well-meaning individuals.

As a researcher who studies how communications technologies are used during crises, I’ve found that this mix of information types makes it difficult for people, including those who build and run online platforms, to distinguish an organic rumor from an organized disinformation campaign. And this challenge is not getting any easier as efforts to understand and respond to COVID-19 get caught up in the political machinations of this year’s presidential election.

Rumors, Misinformation and Disinformation

Rumors are, and have always been, common during crisis events. Crises are often accompanied by uncertainty about the event and anxiety about its impacts and how people should respond. People naturally want to resolve that uncertainty and anxiety, and often attempt to do so through collective sensemaking. It’s a process of coming together to gather information and theorize about the unfolding event. Rumors are a natural byproduct.

Rumors aren’t necessarily bad. But the same conditions that produce rumors also make people vulnerable to disinformation, which is more insidious. Unlike rumors and misinformation, which may or may not be intentional, disinformation is false or misleading information spread for a particular objective, often a political or financial aim.

Disinformation has its roots in the practice of dezinformatsiya used by the Soviet Union’s intelligence agencies to attempt to change how people understood and interpreted events in the world. It’s useful to think of disinformation not as a single piece of information or even a single narrative, but as a campaign, a set of actions and narratives produced and spread to deceive for political purpose.

Lawrence Martin-Bittman, a former Soviet intelligence officer who defected from what was then Czechoslovakia and later became a professor of disinformation, described how effective disinformation campaigns are often built around a true or plausible core. They exploit existing biases, divisions and inconsistencies in a targeted group or society. And they often employ “unwitting agents” to spread their content and advance their objectives.

Regardless of the perpetrator, disinformation functions on multiple levels and scales. While a single disinformation campaign may have a specific objective – for instance, changing public opinion about a political candidate or policy – pervasive disinformation works at a more profound level to undermine democratic societies.

The Case of the ‘Plandemic’ Video

Distinguishing between unintentional misinformation and intentional disinformation is a critical challenge. Intent is often hard to infer, especially in online spaces where the original source of information can be obscured. In addition, disinformation can be spread by people who believe it to be true. And unintentional misinformation can be strategically amplified as part of a disinformation campaign. Definitions and distinctions get messy, fast.

Consider the case of the “Plandemic” video that blazed across social media platforms in May 2020. The video contained a range of false claims and conspiracy theories about COVID-19. Problematically, it advocated against wearing masks, claiming they would “activate” the virus, and laid the foundations for eventual refusal of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Though many of these false narratives had emerged elsewhere online, the “Plandemic” video brought them together in a single, slickly produced 26-minute video. Before being removed by the platforms for containing harmful medical misinformation, the video propagated widely on Facebook and received millions of YouTube views.

As it spread, it was actively promoted and amplified by public groups on Facebook and networked communities on Twitter associated with the anti-vaccine movement, the QAnon conspiracy theory community and pro-Trump political activism.

But was this a case of misinformation or disinformation? The answer lies in understanding how – and inferring a little about why – the video went viral.

The video’s protagonist was Dr. Judy Mikovits, a discredited scientist who had previously advocated for several false theories in the medical domain – for example, claiming that vaccines cause autism. In the lead-up to the video’s release, she was promoting a new book, which featured many of the narratives that appeared in the “Plandemic” video.

One of those narratives was an accusation against Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. At the time, Fauci was a focus of criticism for promoting social distancing measures that some conservatives viewed as harmful to the economy. Public comments from Mikovits and her associates suggest that damaging Fauci’s reputation was a specific goal of their campaign.

In the weeks leading up to the release of the “Plandemic” video, a concerted effort to lift Mikovits’ profile took shape across several social media platforms. A new Twitter account was started in her name, quickly accumulating thousands of followers. She appeared in interviews with hyperpartisan news outlets such as The Epoch Times and True Pundit. Back on Twitter, Mikovits greeted her new followers with the message: Soon, Dr Fauci, everyone will know who you ‘really are’.”

More recently, Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns or operates 191 local television stations across the country, had planned to air an interview with Mikovits in which she reiterated the central claims in “Plandemic.” In airing this program, Sinclair would have used the cover and credibility of local news to expose new audiences to these false – and potentially dangerous – narratives. The company is reconsidering its decision after receiving criticism; however, the interview was reportedly posted for a time on the company’s website and was aired by one station.

This background suggests that Mikovits and her collaborators had several objectives beyond simply sharing her misinformed theories about COVID-19. These include financial, political and reputational motives. However, it is also possible that Mikovits is a sincere believer of the information that she was sharing, as were millions of people who shared and retweeted her content online.

What’s Ahead

In the United States, as COVID-19 blurs into the presidential election, we’re likely to continue to see disinformation campaigns employed for political, financial and reputational gain. Domestic activist groups will use these techniques to produce and spread false and misleading narratives about the disease – and about the election. Foreign agents will attempt to join the conversation, often by infiltrating existing groups and attempting to steer them towards their goals.

For example, there will likely be attempts to use the threat of COVID-19 to frighten people away from the polls. Along with those direct attacks on election integrity, there are likely to also be indirect effects – on people’s perceptions of election integrity – from both sincere activists and agents of disinformation campaigns.

Efforts to shape attitudes and policies around voting are already in motion. These include work to draw attention to voter suppression and attempts to frame mail-in voting as vulnerable to fraud. Some of this rhetoric stems from sincere criticism meant to inspire action to make the electoral systems stronger. Other narratives, for example unsupported claims of “voter fraud,” seem to serve the primary aim of undermining trust in those systems.

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History teaches that this blending of activism and active measures, of foreign and domestic actors, and of witting and unwitting agents, is nothing new. And certainly the difficulty of distinguishing between these is not made any easier in the connected era. But better understanding these intersections can help researchers, journalists, communications platform designers, policymakers and society at large develop strategies for mitigating the impacts of disinformation during this challenging moment.

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