14 November 2017

The Evolution of ICT4D and My Career

A Simple Website Started It All
In keeping with the stereotype, as someone of Indian origin, I've always been naturally oriented to technology. Over the years, I've taught myself graphic design, how to code in HTML and (some) CSS, how to wireframe and prototype, and how to use content management systems. Unlike a lot of Indians/Indian-Americans, however, my passion for technology was like a bag of dry seeds - unless I found the figurative water, the interest wouldn't sprout.

I discovered what that water was in my undergraduate education. I satisfied my parents demands of being a doctor or getting an MBA by enrolling in one of the easiest majors of the business school. Instead of immersing myself in marketing consumer products to people, I took my lessons learned and ran a sort of small business of my own - our university's International Relations Organization (IRO).

At IRO, we hosted conferences that turned a sizeable profit and gave the students of the depressed part of the state new opportunities. We we took up causes that few of our classmates had heard of let alone cared about, including the crisis du jour of the time - Darfur, Sudan. Our crowning achievement was sending six students - myself included - to work with a microfinance organization in Togo, a small West African nation.

The MFI, HELP Africa, in Lomé, Togo

Tech, the Global State of the World and My Master's ThesisSomewhere along the way, I realized how important it was to digitally document everything we did. When reporters from the campus newspaper wanted to run a piece on us, they had all the background information they needed on our website. Several high school students cited our work as the main reason they wanted to come to our university. Having a comprehensive website of our work may not have been groundbreaking in 2006 on the global scale. It was through IRO, however, that I understood innovation in technology is usually not being the first ever, but being the first that works in a particular context.
After finishing my undergraduate degree and living in France for a year, I ended up at The New School in New York City for my Master degree in International Affairs. One of the main reasons I chose the school was to work with a woman named Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, who had been the head of the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Reports. The HDR quite literally summarizes the state of the world through a particular thematic lens. The 2001 edition was titled Making New Technologies Work for Human Development. From that report alone, I knew I had to work with this woman.

My wish came true through my thesis; Sakiko agreed to be my advisor. Before I understood what confirmation bias meant, I charged in knowing that my thesis would show the world how great information communications technology (ICT) had been for India. After all, nearly my entire family in the city of Bangalore had greatly benefitted from the ICT boom. Surely there were others.

After a number of discussions with Sakiko, I landed on the idea of comparing Indian IT to Senegal. I would evaluate how India's models of business process outsourcing, service delivery, and calls centers had impacted the local population and see if those models could be replicated in West Africa for the European market, much like Indians call centers largely serviced the United States and Canada.

I proposed doing field research for my thesis and won a grant to allow me two weeks of evidence gathering in Bangalore and the surrounding areas. I spoke to everyone from IT business owners, to local activists to management consultants. I went to nearly a dozen government agencies and tracked down population and statistics reports that were only available in paper form. It was exhausting and rewarding at the same time, especially at the end of my second week when I got an email from a leading researcher on the global tech industry confirming that from the best of her knowledge, this kind of work had never been done before.

Outside Vishtar, one of the NGOs I visited in Bangalore, India

One thing I could have never expected was how radically different my conclusions were from my starting assumptions. Business leaders and local activists alike told me that the only people who were hired for these well paid jobs already had relative wealth, as poor people did not have the soft skills - interpersonal communication, good hygiene, body language - needed to work at multi-national corporations. IT business owners told me international companies that started an office in Bangalore received incomprehensibly large tax breaks, often paying zero percent corporate tax for 10, 15 or even 20 years. This meant people who were forcibly displaced from their land to make room for the tech complexes received no compensation. No tax revenue from the tech industry went into the government system or services, property prices skyrocketed and priced out locals, wealth inequality grew exponentially, local resources were strained and the majority of the profits went to international companies.

While this cycle of gentrification due to the tech industry is common knowledge now, back in 2010, it was jarring to understand what was happening in India. What I thought had been the saving grace of India was actually hugely destructive for most local people. There's no doubt that the IT industry benefitted millions, but a disproportionate gain went to those who already owned property in the city and could get the needed education. My family's good fortune was anecdotal, it was not the norm. The barrier to technology adoption was a key point in the 2001 HDR Sakiko oversaw. I didn't realize until my thesis that applied to the industry as a whole, not just the individual products.
Using Tech and Finance for a More Resilient Africa
How tech reinforces inequality stayed with me. I decided to make a career out of making tech work for more people. A few years after finishing grad school, I walked into the New York City office of the United Nations World Food Programme. Ironically, being one of those lucky people with access to a good education, I landed a job as a Programme Officer on WFP's African Risk Capacity, which combined finance, insurance, physics, tech and data to create the first pan-African drought risk insurance mechanism at the national level. For the first time, the same insurance modeling techniques that allowed a commercial farmer in Iowa to receive millions in compensation for a bad crop yield would be applied to help the poorest farmers in sub-Saharan Africa receive near-immediate assistance if their crops failed and they could not afford to feed their families.

On a team retreat in South Africa

Working on ARC taught me a lot about the bureaucratic overload of the UN system, what a truly interdisciplinary team can look like, and how large data/big data can work for a greater good, at least in theory. It also taught me about what was then being formulated as a new-ish discipline called UX design. Living in New York, most of my friends worked in the private sector and two in particular were working in "user experience" or "user-centered design". This translated into building digital tech products that fit with how people already think. It was a radical departure from the method the UN did and mostly still uses: build it, force people to use it, pray it works. I started using the phrase, "The UN likes to build a lot of bad online tools that no one ever uses."

While UX design had brilliant potential, what was disheartening to me was how much time and effort went into building digital tech products that were ultimately for the purpose of making people buy more stuff. For a lot of companies, a poorly designed online platform means a customer ends up with a product they don't want. On the other hand, I was working on a tool that if not intuitive, might result in hundreds of thousands of people not getting the assistance they need to not die.

The same was true for a lot of other industries. At the time, my brother was working for an electronic medical records company and my father was dealing with terrible EMR platforms for his patients. Key in the wrong code, and the patient may not receive the right medicine. Similarly, what happens if a social worker couldn't distribute food stamps, or a fire department couldn't locate a burning house, or a student couldn't apply for financial aid to go to university? So much was being spent on getting someone to buy something, but those same principles were not being applied to life saving services because only a select few companies could afford the investment. We're now seeing the result with the Netflixes, Amazons and credit card companies of the world operating like fine-tuned machines while half of the global HIV/AIDS patients are being treated using digital services designed 10+ years ago.
Extreme Poverty in Burundi
After I left ARC in 2013, I embarked on the road of independent consulting broken up by a stint with UNICEF in Burundi. One of the lessons I have learned over the years is that most Americans think of the massive continent of Africa as a monolith of poor people and underdeveloped villages. In reality, the majority of black billionaires in the world are from and live in Nigeria, some of the fastest Internet connections in the world are in Kenya, and Cape Town, South Africa is probably the most beautiful city I have ever seen.

Burundi was not one of those African economic success stories. By the time I went there, I had worked throughout the African continent, but the poverty of Burundi was still hard to comprehend. It was my job to implement and deploy a platform called RapidPRO to help the Burundian Ministry of Health plan and track health services and commodities. It was also the first time in my life in which I had no idea where to start. In every other country I had been to, there was a real ICT ecosystem - telecom providers, millions of consumers, thousands of small and large business, hundreds of non-profit organizations, events, digital communities and even sub-cultures of techies. In Burundi, save a small website design company and a few self-taught coders UNICEF had recruited, the only thing that seemed to be keeping the ICT industry afloat were a handful of European telecom companies.

Burundian Health Center

I made it my mission to connect with all of the telecom companies and to see how they managed to stay in business. The simple answer was that they were losing money. In fact, all three were either charitable missions of a for-profit company or they were funded by the Aga Khan Foundation. One of the heads of engineering told me that their companies set up operations in part to stabilize the country, as the region overall was turning a huge profit. If Burundi went into another civil war that produced millions of refugees, neighboring countries would bear the brunt. So telecom companies decided to step in and provide a service everyone needs in hope it would help the political landscape. These companies understood the security risk of poverty. American companies did not.

Burundi was particularly challenging because as someone smarter than me pointed out, you can't innovate the basics. My boss and others responsible for funding the project had thought things through well. They had procured some ambulances, computers and medical supplies for local health centers because they understood even if tech made the system better, a more efficient system distributing nothing is still helping nothing. When I suggested bringing on an intern who was an electrical engineer, my boss agreed. But at the end of the day, we were left with the same fundamental problem. You needed grounded electricity, running water, roads, transportation and other infrastructure for things to work. You need the majority of the population to understand the fundamentals of a technology. Though it's possible to tackle one small piece of these issues in a project, no one project or organization can do all of these things at once. Just like in India, I saw how governments have to be able to provide basic services because the private sector will only to do something if they see a profitable gain. Of course. Technology can make something more efficient, but no technology can innovative around having the basics.
Good and Terrible Recognition Being an Author
For a number of reasons, I decided to leave my job with UNICEF Burundi and come back to New York City, where I threw myself into the marketing campaign and book tour of my debut novel. I had long known aspects of my writing career and working in ICT4D were tough to reconcile, including that it's impossible to do book events being based in a lot of Africa. Telecommuting in can be impossible when electricity isn't consistent and the time zone difference means finding a safe and secure spot in the middle of the night. So I was determined to take advantage of my time back in NYC and perhaps start an entirely new primary career.

Ironically, it was my marketing efforts that steered me back to ICT4D. One of the golden children of the modern-day tech era was social media. Millennials were and are famously cited (again, as a monolith) to care more about the social impact of a brand than the brand's products. Marketing campaigns have to connect on an emotional level with consumers or the brand seems heartless. Bearing all of this in mind, I set up book events in five different cities, authored articles and did interviews that spoke to this emotional message. And for good reason - I wrote an emotionally charged book.

My efforts worked. Within a year, I landed myself on the front page of USA Today, CNN India and The Advocate. Video clips I did ran in syndication and were viewed around the country, some even around the world. Dozens of people reached out with their own story, hundreds of people came out to the events, and thousands of people read my words.

Filming for a web series at USA Today

Then came the death threats. The first was in French and was an email sent directly to me. By the phrasing and from the IP address, I saw it originated in West Africa, probably Senegal. The next few threats came in English by email as well. Soon, in true viral form, the threats had spread through to Twitter, or as I started to call it: The Internet's Best Bullying Ground. Some were in graphic detail, others were probably bots designed to mimic the essence of a threat. Some had references to sexual violence. All of them were completely and totally disturbing.

By the time the last one came through, I had emailed 20 friends living within a 5-mile radius of me to distribute everyone's contact details in case the threat of violence turned into actual violence and someone needed to contact my family. I added an online security system to my website, and I turned down two high-paying jobs in areas I thought would put me at further risk. I gained weight, I stopped going out, and I felt like my life had careened out of control. It was only through the support of my friends, my brother and an ex that I made it through.

I did a lot of research into the possible courses of action against the people who threatened me. It didn't take long to figure out that there are few if any laws governing online abuse originating from other countries. Even within a jurisdiction like Palo Alto or San Francisco - where many of these technologies are born - there aren't many protections for those who face online abuse. Around this time, The Guardian published an article about online abuse, and it came at no surprise that their journalists who faced the overwhelming majority were a woman who writes about women's issues, an openly gay black man, and a brown woman.

Despite my efforts to move away from ICT4D, I had a project idea that I wanted to move forward. I connected to my ICT4D network only to hear many of my colleagues were dealing with the same existential crisis I was, albeit in different forms. In one case, a social media project meant to bring young women together was infiltrated by a sex trafficking ring. Several of the participants were tricked into meeting in person, abducted and sold into sex slavery. Another colleague was looking at initiatives to get students who were good at STEM to take on careers in coding apps, only to find out Google Play and Apple stores do not support work in most African countries, leaving the students with skills they could not use and a lot of wasted time they could have spent earning money. A third colleague did a study about online learning modules and concluded young girls were bullied so frequently that most felt they could not participate. Slowly but surely, we were all coming to the conclusion that beyond the hype, digital tech and specifically social media were doing a lot of damage.
Superficial/Substantive Tech
Somewhere in the deep throes of all things terrible about digital tech, I found a lot of glimpses of hope, namely, the number of people who thought my project idea had great merit and the audience I had cultivated for my book, neither of which would have been possible to find without the Internet. I thus decided to get a certificate in UX design and solidify the skills that I had been using for all of those years before. I made my ICT4D project idea my final project for the UX course.

The course itself was a great experience overall due to a smart class and an insightful, open-minded instructor. I had to admit that there were a lot of well-reasoned, thoughtful people working on the products that I had dismissed as unnecessary. The course made me pause every now and then and appreciate how some of the work presented in the class was helping people who didn't have the same means or motivation I have been lucky enough to have.

Unfortunately, a tech bro then arrived. On the first day of evaluations for the final projects, the day on which I presented, the panel of judges consisted of three white men, a hallmark of the homogeneity that plagues the tech industry. All three of them had made careers working on products that they themselves admitted were commodities for wealthy people. Among the worst was a motorcycle helmet that would allow the driver to watch TV while driving. I'm not joking.

Admirably, many of the students in my class chose to focus on problems that are actual issues, including homelessness in New York, children who have nightmares most nights, and a better system of understanding school choices in a particular neighborhood, especially low-income areas. Watching the panel criticize the projects, on the other hand, was hard to witness. According to their feedback, the context involved in the project didn't matter, the technology restrictions facing users didn't matter ("They should just upgrade their phones" was the advice I got), and the potential funding constraints were ignored. It was as though focusing on the user experience of a motorcycle helmet with a TV screen was more important than the fact that having a motorcycle helmet with a TV screen is a stupid and dangerous idea. It was as though being an active thinker who looks outside of the perceived norm has to ignore the real constraints of a society or an audience.

In the summer of 2016, I fortunately had the opportunity to channel some of those thoughts into a project I came up with as part of Art-A-Hack, a creative collective. The project was called "Superficial/Substantive" Tech. Our team of ICT4D professionals and coders spent a week discussing how to frame the project, and eventually made these two conclusions about the tech industry:
  •  A deep understanding of superficial problems overshadows real societal problems being addressed.
  • A superficial understanding of real societal problems overshadows real solutions being addressed.

Our Final Art-A-Hack Presentation
The parody project consisted of a VR experience, a fake app and a pitch deck for a fake company. The fake company "Pump It Up!" had people customize parts of a water pump through the app and "send those parts to Africa". The VR experience would then allow a user to take the parts sent and build a water pump. The project focused on the user experience of the app instead of the actual problem of water scarcity. The fake pitch deck reduced Africa down to a singular place that had easily solvable problems. Our commentary was on the tech community focusing on consumerism, using language like "solving problems" that gives importance to inane "needs", and reducing complicated issues to a few statements in a PowerPoint. To say the least, it was a cathartic project to put together, especially after my UX course project evaluation.
The Near-Present and Not Really a Conclusion
By the time I landed a job as a Solutions Designer and Insights Manager at a London-based NGO, I was ready for a reset in the industry. I needed to be excited again about the work I was doing, the impact it was making and potential good my work could have. In some ways, I was able to achieve this through focusing on UX and user centered design. I don't know if UX design is the panacea to a better and brighter tech world that the industry makes it out to be, but I do think it's a really great way to get teams talking to each other and to bring out opinions of people who normally don't want to or don't feel comfortable offering their opinions. If the team is paying attention, I also think that UX design can highlight when a team is dangerously homogenous.

The world has gotten smacked around with the past 18 months of the global political landscape - Brexit, Trump and the two referendums in counter protest have showed us how bad the situation, and how divided the United States and Europe have become. More and more people understand that it's dangerous to only care about the opinions and progress of a select few. Even if that hasn't quite yet made it to the mainstream's understanding of the tech industry, it doesn't decrease the importance of capturing diverse opinions now. In some small way, user centered design allows me to practice what I preach by including beneficiary opinions into the tools being created to help beneficiaries. It allows me to counteract the echo chamber that got us here.

One major concern still floats around in my mind, however. In the first class I ever took with Sakiko, she said a lot of the international development "industry" focuses on one kind of solution, then decides the solution was terribly misguided, then tries to undo what was done in the previous generation. The Millennium Development Goals were a prime example.

I can't help but wonder if ICT4D is this generation's solution to undo. For all of the promise that tech was supposed to offer, it seems as though many of us working in this field are on some kind of damage control. And it's not just us in ICT4D. Private sector companies are spending an increasingly large fraction of their budget on security to protect the users of the tools they created. Is that what we are doing? Will it be enough to use a new method of designing and making pre-emptive risk analysis the new norm? Or will we have to go one step further and actually discourage organizations that are not equipped for the possible fallout from working in ICT4D? As an industry, do the risks outweigh the gains? Or does it matter? Do we have a moral obligation to keep trying to make tech work for more people because tech will continue to evolve regardless of whether we try to make it more equitable?

To be honest, I don't know. And I don't think anyone else does, either. As a minority in several ways, I can say from my own personal experience that tech would be a lot scarier if I did not have the support systems I do to help me overcome the risks it poses. But that would never prompt me to discourage anyone else from using tech as a means to a better life. It would, however, prompt me to help them understand the potential consequences as best as possible.

All I can say is that for anyone concerned with the direction tech is taking our society, pay attention to what we do in ICT4D. So many ICT4D practitioners have been thinking about the fallout of tech longer than the tech companies themselves. It stands to reason what we learn in our work will shed light on the kind of world we'll all see in the future.

Find out more about my work at http://malakumar.com.

23 November 2016

“Identity Politics” is a Really Good Way to Address Poverty

Assuming that the electoral college dooms us all on December 19th by confirming Donald Trump as President, who at last count had 2 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, there is going to be a long and bitter existential debate on the left. The current mode du jour is that liberal “identity politics” is what tanked the Electoral College count. While I don’t deny the merit of that specific argument, it would be remiss of me to not call out one glaring issue with dropping identity politics from the discourse of leftist politics: Identity politics are a great way to address poverty.

If our ultimate path to winning an election is winning the economy, and if we have a moral obligation to ensure no one goes hungry or homeless, how poverty is addressed must be at the center of the political conversation. In 2015, four out of the ten countries with the highest quality of living also placed in the top ten in terms of gender equality. One of the countries with a top ten gender equality score — Rwanda — is one of Africa’s fastest growing economies and has one of the highest quality of living in the continent. No sh*t. Women are more than half the population of most countries, so of course empowering women to live safe, productive lives benefits everyone in the country. But in order to get to that point, something has to be done to address the root causes of the problem. In Rwanda’s case, the “solution” was tragic — the country went through a genocide in which a massive portion of the male population was killed, so women were a large part of the reconstruction effort. Fortunately those attitudes of gender inclusion have largely prevailed, and women make up more than half of the Rwandan Parliament.

Other than genocide, how can we address the cultural barriers that prevent women, ethnic, racial, gender expression or other minorities from achieving economic prosperity, thereby lifting everyone in the country? Identity politics, plain and simple. If we as a society are scared to address the myriad of cultural factors that affect segments of our population, how can we expect to propose real solutions? Bringing jobs to the rust belt isn’t enough if women, black people and Hispanics in the area are prevented from the same employment opportunities as white men. Identity politics allows us a lens into what is working where and for whom, and that lens is critical to advancing economic well being of the overall population of any country.

Identity politics also provides another valuable lens to economic health, one that Bernie Sanders has been shouting about for 40 years — income inequality. The overwhelming majority of economic growth in the past decade has gone to the top 1%, and the majority of that wealth has gone to white men. The ten wealthiest people in the country are all white men. With the exception of Warren Buffet and (arguably) the Koch brothers, all of them made their money in tech. The tech industry has boomed in the past decade, with venture capital (VC) funding doing the heavy lifting in early funding of companies like Uber and AirBNB. The breakdown of VC funding through the identity politics lens is telling: statistically speaking, black female-led tech companies raise 0% of all VC funding, despite a 300%+ increase in the number of black female-led companies since the 90s. Look at the numbers and try to make the argument that identity isn’t hugely relevant to addressing economic growth in America. I dare you.

I will be the first to admit that we on the left cannot have it both ways. There are undoubtedly problems that disproportionately affect the white majority. If we want to continue to use identity politics as a way forward, we can’t be afraid to address issues facing specifically the white community, especially if the current the demographic shift means they will go from the majority to the plurality in the next generation.

Moving beyond the merits of identity politics in economic well being is the issue of messaging. Messaging on “white issues” obviously must be handled respectfully for both white and non-white people, as there is rarely a single community in America in which white people do worse than PoCs, and given that America was largely built on the backs of black slaves. Despite the possibly explosive implications, we need to recognize that though “white culture” in America is loose and charged construct, it does have implications that need to be addressed.

The most common argument against identity politics I hear from the right is that they are “divisive” and “exclusionary.” Divisive to whom? To white people, mostly. Until this point, the left has not done a great job of articulating the majority of any population doesn’t need to be specifically addressed like the minority. For decades, if not centuries, minority needs barely made it to mainstream politics or media. Solutions were built for the majority and minorities were left to figure out how to make it work in their own lives. Arguably for the first time in American history, the needs of people outside the majority are featured. But in that amazing phenomenon, much of the majority felt like they were left out. Seeing that the new right is the alt-right is white supremacy, I’m going to take a wild stab and say it’s thus up to the left to figure out how to properly message “majority inclusion”. Again, I argue the solution is not to drop identity politics, no matter how tempting.

I could probably write a dissertation on this topic, but I’ll leave my last point as something I have long been arguing — America needs to get better at embracing nuance. It is shameful that large swaths of our population find a cultural penchant to being uneducated and/or poorly informed and/or incapable of understanding details. America has been responsible for some of the greatest achievements in nearly every academic, professional and technological domain. We should not relish in not knowing things. We should collectively embrace that most things require some understanding of math, history, education, and overall context. We should collectively embrace that is our moral obligation to remain aware of who we are, where we are and how our actions affect others. It is the assault on intelligence that is our problem, not using identity politics to better understand our world.
We have a long way to go and, with Donald Trump in The White House, a lot of damage control to do. If and when we get a second to stop and breathe, I hope the political left continues to embrace higher thought, adopts better messaging and with that, one of the best tools we have in bettering America — identity politics.

31 July 2016

Rebuttals – Support for Hillary


If you haven't already, 
register to vote! Find out how here.

If you need help convincing people in your life to vote for Hillary, I'm here to help.


From the Right

If you are on the right/conservative/Republican, check out this list of high-ranking Republicans who have endorsed or expressed support for Hillary.
  • Voting for Hillary because she is a woman is sexist.

Let’s pretend for a moment that you are a high school guidance counselor. One day, one of the best students in your high school comes into your office and tells you that he has been struggling with classes lately. You ask him questions about his life at school, home and his part-time job. After a few minutes, he reveals that his grandfather – with whom he was very close – died a few weeks ago, and he hasn’t been able to concentrate on anything since. Other than that, everything else in his life is the same as before.

Clearly the death of his grandfather is the reason why your student isn’t doing as well. But instead of helping him cope with the death, you tell this student that he just needs to work harder. Other kids are doing well in the same classes, and so should he. He needs to spend more hours studying, work more closely with teachers, and spend less time socializing. His grandfather dying has nothing to do with his performance, you tell him.

Sounds stupid, right? Well, that’s also one way to look at systemic discrimination, including patriarchy. Patriarchy is the idea that males dominate society. Indeed, by every measure, America always has been and is still a patriarchy. Everything equal other than sex/gender, men are paid more for doing the same job as females. Women are the disproportionate victims of domestic violence and sexual assault that males commit. (Male victims of violence are overwhelmingly victims of other men, not of women.) Women account for 51% of the American population, yet there are significantly more men in Congress. Every single one of our 44 presidents have been male. Women only received the right to vote in 1920, meaning that men had a 144-year monopoly on political governance in America.

When women or men talk about the significance of Hillary Clinton achieving her success as a woman, they are not saying that men don’t matter. What they are saying is that considering the history of patriarchy in America, what Hillary Clinton has done is remarkable. When women and men take pride in Hillary Clinton being a woman, they are acknowledging her success at breaking down systemic discrimination, and in this case, that discrimination is patriarchy.

Going back to our example, acknowledging the role of patriarchy is important for the United States to progress as a country. If you as the guidance counselor of that student ignore the big and obvious problem of his grandfather dying, are you doing him any good? Does it do any good to tell him to work harder? No. Should you encourage him, his family, his teachers, and his friends to address the problem that is holding him back? Of course. Likewise, we need to acknowledge the significance of Hillary Clinton achieving what she did because it is addressing a systemic problem in our country. It is not sexist to acknowledge the significance of Hillary Clinton being a woman.

As for the idea that people are only voting for Hillary Clinton because she is a woman – that is simply ridiculous. She started her career as a civil rights advocate for disability rights of children, and essentially helped rewrite how the law perceives kids with disabilities. Her work on this issue has been used around the world. She brought to light systemic and violent discrimination of women in international law. She was an agricultural and educational transformer, advocating for small farmers and all children in Arkansas. She attempted the first comprehensive, universal healthcare reform for all Americans. Literally every other industrialized nation has already implemented universal healthcare for their citizens. When a Republican Congress blocked her plan, she compromised and expanded healthcare to 8 million children, a program that still exists today. She was then a Senator for eight years and Secretary of State for four years, and has popular support among colleagues and staff from both parties in both positions. Most of her current fiercest critics started criticizing her during this election.

Saying people are voting for Hillary Clinton only because she is a woman is like saying Serena and Venus Williams are hugely successful tennis players only because they are black. People are voting for Hillary because she is incredibly well qualified, just like Serena and Venus won a lot of Grand Slam titles because they are really talented players. Hillary being a woman is inspirational for a lot of people, sure. Serena and Venus being black are inspirational for a lot of people, absolutely. Hillary’s sex is not what qualifies her. Serena and Venus’ race is not what qualifies them.

It’s no coincidence that the countries that have the most equality between males and females also have the highest quality of life, meaning everyone lives longer, healthier, less stressful, safer and more fulfilled lives. If you ignore your student’s problem and let his grades slip, his opportunity dies. If you do the same thing to other students, collectively, everyone suffers. Similarly, if patriarchy and unfairness towards women – again 51% of the American population – continues, then everyone will suffer.

Acknowledging the accomplishment of Hillary Clinton as our first female nominee for President from a major party is not sexist. It’s acknowledging the struggle of women in a historically patriarchal society. People are not voting for women because she is a woman; they are voting for her because she is extremely qualified, the best candidate, and because they are inspired by her achievements in a society that has always discriminated against women professionally and politically.

  • I like Trump because he says what he means.

Let’s say you’re a small business owner and you’re looking to hire a new office manager. You have two candidates – one is a guy that has a lot of the same interests as you. The other is a woman you don’t have a lot of things in common with. The guy seems like the kind of person you’d be friends with, so you consider offering him the job. But before he leaves, he says to you, “You’re f*cking ugly, this office looks like a piece of sh*t, and I’m the only one who can fix this.”

Would you hire him? Of course not.

Like every social, professional and personal relationship, we have to be decent and tactful when we say something. Shouting at everyone does nothing except turn people off. Why would we ever allow President of the United States be an exception to this basic rule of decency? How would our kids react? What will our allies abroad say? What would people who do not agree with Trump think? Why would intentionally hurting people ever be a good idea?

Trump is allowed to have opinions. But as a Presidential nominee, he cannot be allowed to say whatever he wants however he wants. Not even your office manager can do that. Why should your president?

  • Hillary wants to take away my guns and repeal the 2nd amendment.

Her actual words in her DNC Convention acceptance speech, “I am not here to repeal the 2nd amendment. I am not here to take away your guns. I just don’t think you should be shot by someone who shouldn’t have had a gun in the first place.”

Her platform reflects exactly that. She’s for reasonable gun control measures, not for taking your guns away.

  • Hillary wants to let terrorists into the country from Syria. 

No, she doesn’t. The overwhelming majority of victims of terrorism are Muslims. Hillary wants to let refugees from Syria into the country. The process to enter the United States as a refugee is long and extremely thorough. In 2015, Hillary said she wanted to allow 65,000 Syrian refugees, which is about 1% of total Syrian refugees (people forced to live outside of Syria) and about 0.6% of the total Syrians that have been forced to leave their home. That means America will have a massive selection pool to ensure those who come here are neither terrorists nor have a history of violence. 10% of Syria’s 22-million population is Christian. Half of all Syrians have been forced out of their home, so it’s even possible (not likely, but possible) that all Syrians that come to the States are Christian.

Hillary obviously doesn’t want innocent people to die because of terrorists. Plus, the topic is so controversial that Hillary would destroy her own career if any refugees that settle in the States were terrorists or violent.

  • Why won’t Hillary and the Democrats say radical Islam?

There are more than 1 billion Muslims worldwide. Muslims live in every country in the world and are of every race, including white. According to the US State Department, which keeps track of all known terrorists organizations, a high estimate of terrorists worldwide is 132,000. Even if you were to double this number, and assuming that all terrorists worldwide are Muslim, the total number of terrorists is less than 0.03% of the entire Muslim population. Remember, these are not based on biased media figures. These are based on the best data the US government has.

Meanwhile, a very common theme among people who commit acts of terror against Western countries – from the Boston bombers to the attacks in Paris – is that racism and discrimination push men (only 1 known terrorist attack in the West was committed by a woman, who was a San Bernardino shooter) in the States and Europe to radicalize and join a terrorist organization. Further, the French government has estimated that 50% of the people who have left Europe to join ISIS or another terrorist group in the Middle East identify as Christian or atheist.

So, what good does referring to terrorists as “radical Islamists” do? Not much. People who identify as part of a religion commit acts of violence all the time. Non-Muslims kill far more people in mass shootings in the States than Muslims. But monitoring all non-Muslims doesn’t help identify potential mass shooters because the percentage of mass shooters among the total non-Muslim population is too small. Likewise, monitoring all Muslims in the States or worldwide is pointless when the number of Muslim terrorists is so tiny compared to all Muslims. In saying the phrase “radical Islam”, you are equating terrorism as a version of Islam, even though statistically, the chance any given Muslim in the world is a terrorist is zero, and even though Muslim religious leaders around the world have condemned terrorist violence. Meanwhile, no one is saying “extremist Christian” to refer to the many mass shooters in America who identify as Christian. It is actually more correct to assume any given Catholic priest is a pedophile than to assume any given Muslim is a terrorist.

The term “radical Islam” also has a big negative effect. As already mentioned, people who grew up in Western countries and then become terrorists are often subjected to extreme racism and discrimination where they grew up. The term “radical Islam” equates a very tiny portion of the total Muslim population as representative of all Muslims. It denigrates the 1 billion+ Muslims who are not terrorists and it makes Muslims in the West feel isolated. This has repeatedly shown to help the appeal of terrorist organizations grow.

So the reason Hillary Clinton and Democrats don’t say the phrase “radical Islam” is because they want to defeat terrorists groups. Republican politicians and pundits use the phrase to appeal to conservative, uneducated constituents, not because there is any evidence it helps us identify terrorists.

  • We should monitor all Muslims and not let any more Muslims into the country.

One of the founding principles of the US Constitution is freedom of religion. A ban on people based on their religion is a direct violation of the Constitution, even if the ban is temporary. Enacting any legislation that bans Muslims for any period of time will be struck down in any federal court. Were Trump to enact legislation that that violates freedom of religion, other amendments in the Constitution are fair game, including the other parts of the 1st amendment (freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to peaceably assemble) and the 2nd amendment (the right to bear arms).

Even if it were constitutional to monitor people based on their religion, there is no clear way on how to do so. Muslims are from every country in the world, are of every race (including white), and speak every major language in the world. So determining who identifies as Muslim in America based on nationality/origin, appearance or affiliation is impossible. Monitoring or surveillance of a person is also a complicated, as there are new encryption methods and apps that encrypt end-to-end invented on a daily basis. The sheer amount of time and resources it would take to monitor all Muslims in America makes the very idea completely logistically unreasonable.

Like all groups of immigrants, Muslims contribute a lot to this country. As much as 5 percent of all Muslim-Americans are doctors; Muslim immigrants/Muslim-Americans fill in major gaps of professional services required and demanded in the States that are not met through its local/non-Muslim population alone. Glossing over the critical contributions of Muslims in the States not only demeans great members of American society, it deters future immigrants that fulfill a need that cannot be met at home.

  • Hillary and the political correctness war is killing America.

To some people, saying something “politically correct” may be annoying and stupid. To others, it’s just being polite and accurate. No decent person goes around calling black people the N-word, so what’s so different about learning how to better communicate in a diverse society? Cars today are much more complicated than cars in Henry Ford’s era. More goes into a car, and there are therefore more words we use to describe different parts of a car. It’s a car mechanic’s job to learn the names of these different parts, not stop at the number of parts of a Model T car. So how is learning better language to describe different people any different? We have more races, religions, and ethnicities of people in America than ever before. We are a more advanced society that understands more about bigotry and human rights than ever before. Our language should reflect that. It’s everyone’s responsibility to be decent and learn how to refer to one another properly.

Political correctness goes both ways. Democrats don’t refer to the base of Trump’s constituency as “Fat, gross, uneducated white people that turn to heroine because they are too lazy to go to college and get a real job.” They don’t refer to the base of Ted Cruz’s constituency as “People who are too stupid to think with their brain instead of the Bible”. They don’t do that because it’s disrespectful, hurtful and doesn’t address the real challenges facing real communities. Trump, on the other hand, loves to insult people, places and companies. He could come for you next.

  • Only the political elites like Hillary.

Based on the endorsements at the DNC Convention alone, Hillary supporters include average people, Michael Bloomberg (who is 10+ times richer than Trump and a truly self-made billionaire), Republicans and 90+ percent of all Bernie supporters, the overwhelming majority of whom are not part of any elite establishment. Though they are heavy political influencers, it’s important to note The Washington Post is keeping a list of Republicans supporting Hillary.

There’s clearly a racial and class divide that has permeated the American political right in the past few decades, as one Republican intellectual explained, starting with the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964. After years of appealing to people motivated by racism, sexism and bigotry, yet not addressing concerns of poor white people in America, Donald Trump found fertile ground to make his campaign and appeal to disaffected white people. One of his initial campaigner advisors explained that the strategy was based on the rhetoric the far right (many of whom were self-proclaimed white supremacists) has used in recent years. This is where ideas like building a wall between the US and Mexico, banning Muslims in America and emphasizing “law and order” came from, even though all of these are unconstitutional and/or have no policy backing.

What’s especially worrisome is that a significant portion of the American population (perhaps even half) has seemed to disown the ideas of having even a basic understanding of the major issues, and accepting scientific reason and intellectual thought. Since its inception, Fox News has been widely criticized for “dumbing down” the news and intentionally misrepresenting information, because the network knows its viewers are the least informed and the least inclined to research anything further. While it’s understandable to not want a small elite of the country run the entire political system, it’s also the responsibility of the American people to actually take the time and stay informed. As President Obama famously said, “Ignorance is not a virtue.” It’s shameful to be purposely misinformed or under-informed, especially considering the vast amount of information and analysis that is available online for free.

  • Trump is a man of God. Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine push policies that are against God’s will.

Not a single public figure of faith has confirmed Trump’s claims he is or ever was a regular churchgoer. Considering how much he loves media attention, we can safely assume he would have had a public figure of faith in his life were he ever religious.

In contrast, Clinton was raised Methodist, regularly held Bible studies during her time as First Lady of Arkansas, and had three priests speak at the DNC, all of whom have a personal relationship with Clinton. Kaine is a devout Catholic and has attended the same Richmond, VA church for 30+ years. Many members of his church confirm he is a regular attendee and attended very consistently long before he became a figure in national politics.

There is no single way to interpret the Bible or any religious doctrine. As one priest who spoke at the DNC Convention said, recurring and prominent themes in the Bible are the importance of people taking care of others, ensuring no one lives in poverty, and being kind to one another. With policies that place poverty reduction, economic prosperity and dignity for all, the Clinton/Kaine platform fulfills these important lessons of the Bible.

From the Far Left, Bernie Bros, and Third Party Supporters

  • Hillary is a war-mongering war criminal who should be in jail. She destroyed countless lives in Syria, Libya and Honduras, among others.

No doubt that a lot of Hillary’s decisions at Secretary of State had immutable negative effects. Instead of denying questionable policy decisions, we should acknowledge them and do better in the future.

The problem of US foreign policy goes far beyond the executive branch of government (i.e. the President and their cabinet), however. The military and the industrial complex that surround the military permeate nearly every facet of American life, including the core of every election – jobs. With a budget of $601 billion and about half of all US federal discretionary spending, there is no way to have a discussion about US foreign policy without recognizing the military’s role in American economic life. One presidential vote is not going to dramatically alter these relationships. In fact, every president in modern history has succumbed to these power dynamics. A President Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson would not have been exceptions.

In order to alter the relationship between the military and American economic life, one thing that has to happen is jobs that use the same skills the military employs en masse must be created – high-skilled manufacturing that cannot be automated, engineering, research and development, logistics, and security. One possible industry is clean energy – researching, designing, creating, deploying, maintaining and monitoring solar panels, wind farms, etc. Thankfully, Hillary has a comprehensive clean energy plan as part of her platform.

President Donald Trump would be devastating for foreign policy, causing mass instability abroad and, inevitably, many more wars. Trump is highly likely to suppress domestic human rights, freedom of speech, disregard good governance and rule of law, all of which will destroy progress, and law and order Stateside. History has told us that once a human right is realized, countries become highly unstable if that right is revoked – look at what is happening now in Turkey and what happened in Iran in the 1970s. History also tells us that gross income inequality and a population with a high opportunity cost in staying complacent leads to civil war. That is exactly the situation we’ll have if Trump wins the election.

Meanwhile, Hillary has the most progressive social platform in the history of the Democratic Party and really, the history of American politics. People may not agree with her policies, but there will be no coup or civil war under her presidential term(s). There is so much left to do for comprehensive foreign policy reform, and for this election, your only viable option to have a real, responsible and safe discussion is to elect Hillary.

  • Hillary supports fracking. She’s bad for the environment.

Keep fighting to make the Democratic platform more environmentally friendly!

Based on her debates leading up to the convention, saying Hillary supports fracking is an incomplete statement. She supported fracking only in areas that passed strict environmental requirements and that had popular support among local constituents, which equated to nearly no current or foreseen fracking sites. Further, Bernie made it clear that the work of he and his supporters have swayed Hillary to a stronger position against fracking.

Regardless, there is no disputing Hillary is a waaaaaay better candidate on the environment compared to the vague policy statements Trump has ever said. So far, he said he will shut down the EPA (as Bush did in the early 2000s). He also said he will try to revive the coal industry, which while extremely unlikely, is demonstrative of how willing he is to put aside environmental concerns for short-term gains in the polls.

  • Hillary cheated her way into the nomination. She shouldn’t have won the primary. The DNC is a corrupt machine.

By no empirical measure did Hillary lose the primary. She won the most votes, she got the most delegates and she got the most super delegates. (Watch Samantha Bee’s explanation and defense of the super delegates here.) In 2008, the margin by which Obama won over Hillary was bigger; Hillary conceded earlier, threw her support behind Obama and campaigned for him after she lost the primary, just like Bernie did for Hillary on Tuesday, July 26th.

The DNC made some mistakes, sure. The leaked emails exposed bias among 7+ staffers, and there is of course a chance if the leak were bigger that it would have exposed more bias. But to call the entire primary “rigged” or “institutionally corrupt” based on mostly those emails is presumptuous. By all means, if you want to do the hard, repetitive and gritty work of reforming the system, please do. We will get more diverse candidates and a better understanding of our constituents with a more transparent, easier to understand primary process. But do not equate Hillary’s thorough understanding of the existing system, ethical use of earned relationships within the party and among constituents, and a well-mobilized campaign as the same as corruption, especially considering Bernie has been in Washington for nearly two decades and had plenty of time to reform or better master the primary system. Ultimately, Bernie’s platform did not win popular or delegate votes among Democrats, period.

  • Hillary does not represent my views. I’m for a socialist economic system.

Hillary and Bernie overlap on the overwhelming majority of the issues, no matter how you dissect the ideas. In terms of policy, Hillary already had expanded social safety nets in her platform. Bernie said that he and his supporters were able to further expand those as part of the official Democratic platform. He also confirmed she agrees Citizens United should be overturned and that the nation’s biggest banks that use monopolistic and predatory lending practices will be reformed and/or broken up.

Hillary is a strong advocate for equal pay for equal work, meaning no social construct (i.e. gender, sex, class, race, orientation, etc.) can unduly influence workers’ compensation, which will further empower marginalized voices. As a lawyer, Arkansas state advisor, US First Lady and Senator, she also has a strong lifelong track record of actual implementation of social equity that Bernie cannot claim through the results of his Congressional record.

To realize Bernie’s idea of a socialist society, the vast majority of the American public needs to be convinced. Just eight years ago when Obama ran in his first presidential election, the word “socialist” continually tested as one of the most negative, toxic and poisonous words among the general electorate. Many people still feel that way.

Bernie continually cites Scandinavia as an example of an ideal economic society. Obviously, the US is not Scandinavia. Of the two biggest countries in Scandinavia, Sweden has a population of about 9 million people; Norway has about 4.5 million. Convincing an American populous of 310+ million people and that by every measure is more diverse that an economic system in Scandinavia will work for the States is a massive task. It’s a fundamental cultural shift. It would not have happened even if Bernie had been elected. By increasing voters rights (i.e. power of collective voice), tackling economic and social discrimination, and addressing long-standing gender inequality in this country, Hillary is working towards a future in which a serious discussion on economic restructuring would be an option. Don’t underestimate what she will do for the long game in achieving a post-capitalist society were popular consensus to be achieved.

From Moderates and Disillusioned Voters

  • I don’t support either candidate. I won’t be bullied into voting for Hillary. I won’t be motivated by fear, and neither should you.

You’re not motivated by fear at the thought of a President Donald Trump? Really!? What the f*ck is wrong with you!? The ACLU called this man a “One Man Constitutional Crisis. He doesn’t understand the basics of The Constitution. Every gross misstep he makes he attributes as “semantics”, “sarcasm”, “media bias”, and “elitism”. He openly mocks and demeans women, minorities, the disabled, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, and the military. And that’s all within the past three months. You should absolutely be fearful of the worst qualified candidate in American history, a person doesn’t even have a basic comprehension of the rule of law, foreign policy, domestic human rights and international conventions.

One of the worst aspects of this election is taking the electorates’ ability to argue real policy and social justice concerns. Parts of the black community have repeatedly raised grievances of past Clinton policies. Tim Kaine’s unabashed use of his time in Honduras is enraging for US-Latin American social advocates. These are issues that should be debated during an election, but now the primary focus has turned to defeating a demagogue baboon from taking over the most powerful head of state position in the world and causing global chaos.

Ironically, our only choice is to vote one of the two major party candidates into office and work from there. It’s a less than ideal situation for a lot of people, but due to so many failures of our political system and of the American people’s level of engagement and understanding of the country and world, it is our reality. The choice of who to put in The White House is clear – we must vote for relative sanity, stability and for world order. We must vote for Hillary Clinton.

  • Both Hillary and Trump are corrupt. I can’t vote for either.

If you don’t vote for Hillary, this may be the last time we all vote for a US President, period. The ACLU has called Trump a “One Man Constitutional Crisis” and is already mobilizing lawyers around the country to challenge Trump’s unconstitutional policies and decisions should he be elected. Whatever your grievances for Hillary may be, the choice between the two candidates is too stark to even debate.

  • I hate Trump but I’m not inspired by Clinton/Kaine enough to vote.

No one is asking you to love the Clinton/Kaine ticket. We’re just asking you to help us avoid the apocalypse. If we recover at all, it’ll take decades to undo the damage Trump does. At most, it’ll take you a few hours to vote.

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  • The son of Khizr Khan and his wife died while serving in the US military in Iraq. In response, Trump said he’s also sacrificed a lot for his country. Neither Donald Trump nor any of his children ever served in the military. Trump has also made fun of John McCain because he, “got caught [in war]” and called the US military a “total disaster”.
  • Trump doesn’t know how many articles are in the US Constitution.
  • Less than a third of the House and a fifth of the Senate happily endorses Trump.
  • Trump keeps promising West Virginian and Pennsylvanian coal mining areas he’ll revive the industry, even though it’s highly improbable that’s even possible.
  • Trump has called for the violation of international law on multiple occasions by saying family members of terrorists should die and the US military should reinstate torture.
  • Trump said he hopes Russia “finds the other 30,000 emails” of Hillary Clinton, essentially advocating for international cyber crime against the States. When questioned, he said he was “obviously not being literal”.
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