Good Friday. It is also Veteran’s Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in Canada. Sending gratitude to all service members and their families.

As promised, I met with NAACP Senior Vice President of Strategy and Advancement Jamal R. Watkins yesterday, who looked remarkably fresh after a long week of midterm drama. Even if the “red wave” did not occur, neither did the typical shift of political power away from the party in the executive branch. It was a statement of the times, he said. “I think the voters were sick and tired of voter suppression on January 6thth [the attack on the U.S. Capitol]and all of that.” And now, referring to the close races and potential runoff in Georgia, “we have options.”

When I asked how the mapping collaboration with Esri we discussed on Tuesday went, he called it a game-changing alignment of justice and technology.

“One of the things that has been a focus of this cycle has been leaning into voter protection and countering disinformation, disinformation and supporting voters facing barriers in targeted communities,” she said. Opportunities are always many, but this year they were particularly important.

The result was a new voter protection hub that helped them monitor issues in real time. On the front end is a problem complaint form, a familiar tool used by voter advocates such as Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition of organizations dedicated to voter access and security. (NAACP is on the steering committee). fix the problem and follow it up that way.

The hub has enabled backers to create a heat map of verified issues, reducing the time it takes to investigate complaints to a fraction of the spreadsheet method.

“Maybe people are saying on Twitter or Facebook, ‘I see people with guns and, you know, guns around these safe deposit boxes.’” On the one hand, Watkins said, it’s just online chatter. “But when you have 10 to 15 people fill out a form and put their name and their contact information and say, ‘I witnessed this,’ that’s a problem.” At that point, election supporters can contact the appropriate authorities — perhaps the Justice Department, the state attorney general or a judge — and provide them with the evidence they need to greenlight immediate countermeasures.

It has also helped them address issues that prevent people from voting, such as when a polling place didn’t open on time in Brooklyn, or a perception problem, such as when an excessive presence of uniformed police at polls in Georgia caused fears to voters that there was a problem at their polling station. Using the reports, they were able to ask late-open polling stations to stay open later — which usually happens in rural, Black, immigrant, or otherwise underprivileged communities — and ask police departments to replace officers with plainclothes staff, which helps quell nervous voters. But the big problem is why they need the map in the first place. “The current [voting] system is inherently suppressive,” he noted. Lockboxes, mail-in ballots, and extended hours and weekends are possible. “The data and infrastructure are there to make voting easy and safe for everyone.”

The work is continuing in many ways.

“We launched a project with the Brookings Institute called the Black Progress Index,” Watkins said. She begins by mapping data on life expectancy and noting how the numbers change based on where people live. “Is life expectancy decreasing? How come? Is there a “cancer alley” in your state? Is the heat index now so high that it puts a strain on the physical body? Aren’t there any grocery stores?” The maps will give advocates the ammunition they need to better fight for policy change. “If you live in a community where life expectancy is low because crime is high , there are no jobs and the environment is unhealthy, you should vote for all the people who will give life to those interventions and policies that will overturn those conditions”.

Here’s something I didn’t know: The NAACP is considered an NGO by the UN. This creates a significant opportunity for the work they’re doing with Esri to scale globally. There is currently a team at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP 27, in Egypt focusing on access to water and security issues, and delegations visited Ghana and Israel this summer. “From a place-based perspective, how can the environmental, climate and justice policies we advocate here in the United States actually have a global impact?” And they continue to partner with national groups dedicated to progressive ideals and help them better align their work around place-specific strategies. “Back in 2019, when we started playing Esri high, we were actually giving away free licenses to community groups to see what they could learn about how well the communities they’re serving.”

Watkins also has a message to the corporate world, which is one part promise and two parts accountability: Map out your Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) commitments because the NAACP will.

“The mapping work we are doing will help shape those ESG strategies,” he said. “We’re really expanding that because we know our communities are much more focused on how to use tools and technology to hold companies and businesses accountable.”

Wishing you a weekend of location-based possibilities.

Ellen McGirt
@ellmcgirl
Ellen McGirt

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ashley Sylla

On the verge

Midterms may not have been red, but they were certainly inclusive, which led to moments of true joy. Several states have their first elected female governors, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders in Arkansas, Kathy Hochul in New York, and Maura Healey, the first female and openly lesbian elected governor in Massachusetts. Wes Moore is now the first black governor of Maryland and only the third elected black governor in US history. Representative Summer Lee is now the first black woman elected to Congress from Pennsylvania. And 25-year-old Maxwell Frost became the first Gen Z member to serve in Congress when he won his race in Florida’s 10th district. Win or lose, diversity has left its mark. “What is striking about 2022 [is that] a record number of blacks ran as a Republican, even though only a few won,” Brown University professor Katherine Tate said in a panel discussion. “The new diversity could lead us away from Trumpism.”
NPR, Richmond Free Press

A place of medical torture becomes a place of memory and meaning. J. Marion Sims, once revered as the “Father of Modern Gynecology,” was restored to his rightful place in history when overlooked studies showed he often performed gruesome medical experiments on enslaved women. Now, artist and activist Michelle Browder has purchased her former facility in Montgomery, Alabama, to turn it into a museum and teaching clinic with a focus on the reproductive health of black women. The clinic will also help train doulas and midwives. “It’s a museum that teaches the history of gynecology, but it also has a primary care unit upstairs where medical students from all over the country can come,” Browder said. “If there are some uninsured women who need support, we will be able to give it to them.” Last year, Browder created a park in honor of three female slaves known as Lucy, Betsey and Anarcha, who were tortured by the Sims.
Advertiser Montgomery

Spend some time with Stevie Wonder about 50th anniversary of his historic album Talking book. It marked Wonder’s full arrival on the music scene: a rousing success that was deeply felt, an unapologetic mix of genres, social consciousness and soul. Find out why it mattered, and more importantly, who it mattered to – everyone from Dionne Warwick to David Sanborn to Esperanza Spalding. “It’s the lack of concealment in the music; the heart is really on the surface,” said artist Corinne Bailey Rae New York Times. “There are classic arrangements and harmonies, and then what he brings with his folky, psychedelic take on jazz. It’s such an honest love song,” she said.
New York Times

Farewell words

“The black man in the black community needs to be re-educated in the science of politics so he knows what politics should bring him in return. Don’t throw any ballots away. A ballot is like a bullet. You don’t throw ballots until you see a target, and if that target is out of your reach, keep the card in your pocket.”

—Malcolm X, Detroit, 1964

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