Amidst a global pandemic and mail in voting, this upcoming election has already proven to be unprecedented. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s recent announcement that his running mate will be Sen. Kamala Harris is undoubtedly a historical one, Harris being the first ever South Asian American woman to ever be a vice presidential nominee.
Coming from humble backgrounds, Kamala Harris is the daughter of both Indian and Jamaican immigrants who came to the United States in search of higher education. Harris’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan, immigrated to the United States to attend UC Berkeley to fulfill her dreams of pursuing a scientific major. There, Gopalan met Donald Harris, an enthusiastic economics major, at an Afro American association meeting. Their connection was instant, leading them to ultimately marry and have kids. Both Gopalan and Mr. Harris’s stories resonate with many, who also identify with having immigrant parents who came to the United States in pursuit of education and opportunity. Harris’s supporters view her political career as a testament to the American Dream, proving that anyone from any background can thrive and achieve their dreams in America.
With her diverse origins, Harris’s nomination has been a groundbreaking milestone, inspiring an emotional response from activists and people of color worldwide. Many commend her nomination, stressing the importance of having a nominee that “looked like them.” Brittany Oliver, a women’s rights activist and communications director, echoed the same sentiment, saying “She’s paved the way for women like me.” Harris’s nomination has also resonated with the African American community, particularly during the ongoing movement for racial justice, coined “Black Lives Matter.” Several Democratic African Americans celebrated Harris’s nomination, claiming that her rise to political power was a reflection of the overwhelming support they’ve given to the Democratic Party. While the outcome of our upcoming election is still unclear, it is definite that Sen. Kamala Harris’s nomination has been a historic achievement for many people of color, providing the representation they have so earnestly fought for.
A triple digit heat wave, wildfires, and choking smoke: these are all things that California has experienced within the past week. Residents woke up on Wednesday to an apocalyptic landscape as smoke from the wildfires blotted out the sun and tinted the skies an eerie shade of orange. Currently, the state is battling more than two dozen wildfires in a season that has already scorched more than 2.5 million acres of land—a record figure—and the fire season runs for another four months.
Winds have blown smoke and ash into the Bay Area, lowering air quality to very unhealthy levels. The health effects of wildfire smoke aren’t fully understood, and the particles differ from other air pollution in that it contains a mix of gases and particles from burning vegetation, buildings, and other materials that can cause health problems. Studies have shown that when waves of smoke hit, the rate of hospital visits rises and many additional patients experience respiratory problems, heart attacks, and strokes. Wildfire smoke is especially dangerous during the pandemic, as smoke makes lungs more susceptible to diseases like COVID-19.
The risks are greater for people of color, who tend to live in areas already exposed to high levels of particulate pollution. According to a 2017 study, older Black people are three times more likely to be hospitalized for respiratory conditions because of smoke. Francesca Dominici, a biostatistics professor at Harvard and an author of the study, says, “Underrepresented minorities are experiencing a much higher health burden from pollution and wildfire smoke, and, now, COVID.”
So how can you protect yourself from the smoke? The CDC recommends limiting exposure to smoke by staying indoors with windows and doors closed and running air-conditioners in recirculation mode so that outside air isn’t drawn into your home. When outside, wearing N95 respirators are recommended, although these are in short supply. An alternative: wearing a mask made from different layers of fabrics, in particular tightly woven cotton and silk together, which can provide good filtration if the mask is closely fitted to your face. Ultimately, there’s only so much an individual can do to protect themselves. And unfortunately, as warming temperatures due to climate change have led to longer and more devastating fire seasons in California, these smoky conditions may become the new normal.
As COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket in California, one of the largest culprits of this recent incline in pandemic cases is mass partying. Particularly in Southern California, recent social gatherings held by popular influencers and media personalities have made headlines, with unmasked partying and rampant drug and alcohol use. While these raucous parties are characteristic of Southern California culture, these irresponsible social gatherings have caused a sharp increase in disease transmission. Most of these parties are attended by local teenagers and young adults who are at low-risk of fatality from the virus. However, as these groups continue to disregard social distancing standards and face little repercussions, they become “super spreaders” of the virus, fueling California’s recent increase in COVID-19 cases.
Local Los Angeles authorities have begun to crack down on massive social gatherings, starting with the media personalities at the center of these bashes. Popular TikTok Stars, Bryce Hall and Blake Gray were recently charged for throwing a large, non-socially distant party in their Hollywood Hills mansion. In emerging videos of this wild gathering, unmasked attendees are seen closely dancing amongst one another, while sharing cups and beverages. Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, released a public statement addressing the blatant disregard of California’s social distancing orders. While he did not mention the TikTok stars by name, Garcetti claimed “he would disconnect the utilities of anyone who hosted large gatherings.”
While other countries are slowly beginning to emerge from the devastating effects of the pandemic, the US is still experiencing inclining pandemic cases with fatalities increasing on a daily basis. Recent disregard of quarantine and social distancing protocols pose the question as to whether the US will eliminate the virus once and for all or simply adjust to the new norm.
Over the past six months, COVID-19 has upended all of our lives, but low-income individuals and families are the ones who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. One area where effects are being felt the most: the digital divide. According to the Pew Research Center, 53% of Americans say that the Internet has been essential during the COVID-19 outbreak. Unfortunately, many parents with lower incomes say it’s likely their child will face digital obstacles when trying to do their schoolwork at home due to lack of Internet connection or lack of access to a device. Here at Bridging Tech, our mission is to help provide access to technology by donating laptops for learning to children in homeless shelters. But what are other nonprofits across the nation doing to help?
EveryoneOn, a nonprofit dedicated to creating social and economic opportunity, is helping to bridge the digital divide by connecting low-income families to affordable internet service and computers. Since 2012, it has helped connect more than 784,000 people to the Internet and donated thousands of computers. Connect2Complete, their flagship program for K-12 students, provides affordable internet service to qualifying families, and is offered in partnership with leading cable companies including Cox Communications and Mediacom. In response to COVID-19, EveryoneOn has provided updates on their website on what Internet service providers have done to ensure that low-income families can stay connected, and offered a service to find low-cost internet service and computers in one’s area.
Another nonprofit, National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), has taken a different approach to bridging the digital divide. A unified voice for home and public broadband access, personal devices, and support programs, NDIA combines grassroots community engagement with knowledge of tech to work for digital equity. Rather than donating devices or Internet services, NDIA hopes to bridge the digital divide through legislative change. The nonprofit supports digital inclusion practitioners and advocates, advocates for local, state, and federal policies to promote digital equity, works to educate lawmakers, media, and potential partners about the need for digital equity, and conducts, supports, and promotes data-gathering and research that can inform the public of the urgency of the digital divide. During the pandemic, NDIA has facilitated virtual community meetings to share information, acted as a messenger to relay digital needs to the media, advocated fiercely for more local, state, and federal resources, and provided a list of free and low-cost internet.
Now more than ever, it is so important to donate to these causes. Students are already back in school, and some still don’t have an adequate device or connection to the Internet, and these things that are needed in order just to have an opportunity to succeed.