Civicist: Bed-Stuy Strong: Scaling Mutual Aid During COVID-19

On Tuesday evening, several dozen Brooklynites gathered together in one of the only spaces available to us right now—on Zoom—to sing Happy Birthday. But the honoree wasn’t a person; it was the one-month anniversary of Bed-Stuy Strong, a mutual aid network that was started to respond to the coronavirus crisis in New York City, and to give residents in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant—where I’ve lived since 2011—a way to help and to seek help from their neighbors. Since early March, more than 250 mutual aid groups have emerged in mostly urban neighborhoods across the country, all of them undoubtedly juggling similar challenges of coordinating volunteers, needs, tasks, and money as the crisis intensifies.

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Civicist: Testing Tech for Consensus in a Purple Town

How a radical experiment in participatory democracy came to Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Over the past year, town halls across America have occasionally erupted over hot button issues like health care reform. Rep. Tom MacArthur was shouted down during a five-hour meeting in New Jersey last May; later that summer, a Californian said they hoped Rep. Doug LaMalfa would “die in pain”; and Rep. Ron Blum was called a liar by a prescreened audience in Iowa. A town hall in Bowling Green, Kentucky, last month had none of the shouting or vitriol that made those events national news, but it was the site of something even more elusive: the search for consensus in an increasingly divided nation. Read more…

Civicist: Hearing on Algorithmic Transparency Reveals Rift in NYC Tech Community

In a packed room at City Hall on Monday, Council Member James Vacca heard testimony from city officials, technologists, and civil rights advocates on his proposed legislation for transparency in the use of algorithms for city services. Vacca said that the legislation is, to the best of his knowledge, the first of its kind in the United States. Although most of the testimony was in favor of the proposed legislation, the hearing revealed a schism between the tech community as represented by the trade nonprofit Tech.NYC—whose dozens of members include giants like Facebook and Google, as well as smaller companies like Meetup and Civic Hall—and the technologists who testified as individuals. Read more…