When some of us (particularly those of us of means) in the United States think of places that lack access to clean drinking water, we think of certain countries on the African continent. And, it is true that parts of Africa struggle to access even the most basic of water services—nine of the ten worst countries in the world in terms of access to clean water are located on that continent.
However, I am concerned that many of us may be blind to issues of water access at home, in the United States of America. Furthermore, I am concerned that many of us may be blind about how this access to water is a racial justice issue.
Sure, a major report on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a few years ago cited systemic racism as being at the core of the problems with the crisis (Flint is a majority-Black city), but the situation in Flint is only a microcosm of widespread problems when it comes to water issues and racial justice. Consider these facts:
2 million Americans lack access to running water and basic indoor plumbing as of November 2019. Native Americans are 19 times more likely than their white counterparts to be without indoor plumbing, while African American and Latinx people have no indoor plumbing at almost twice the rate of white people.
Tap water that violates legal water safety standards in the United States is 40% more likely to serve people of color.
Rising water bills, which in turn makes it difficult for households to afford their own water, has disproportionately affected Black communities.
Without meaning to belittle the importance of making sure that people in different countries all around the world have access to clean and safe drinking water, maybe we should also look at the issues with water access and safety in our own backyard, too. And we should look at these issues through a racial justice lens because it is clear that there is a connection between race and water access/safety. To that end, water access is not just a human rights issue (because every human on this planet should have the right to clean, safe, affordable drinking water), but also a racial justice issue.
While water may not get the sort of attention issues-wise that certain other elements of racial justice advocacy may be getting right now, it is no less important. After all, if we are given water that leaves us unwell in some way, then we end up unable to advocate for the other racial justice issues at hand. As such, water access and cleanliness, while not getting the attention it often deserves, should get attention in the push for racial justice, and particularly racial justice for Black and Indigenous communities.
I should start by making this much clear: we are not in a post-COVID world. Far from it. For all of the talk of reopening things right now, COVID is still very much a factor. We are losing hundreds of Americans per day.
However, at some point we are going to be looking at the other side of this virus, and at that point, we are going to need to think about what different workplaces look like after the virus. Granted, many workplaces are already thinking about this.
Some workplaces cannot function virtually and therefore may end up looking the same as they were before the virus. There are many professions, such as many service industries, manufacturing, construction, and much more, that must be done on site and cannot be done virtually. There are other workplaces that have tried to function virtually, but with significant problems since the pandemic began—teaching comes to mind as one such profession.
However, some workplaces have discovered that they can function virtually quite well, and in some cases as well as they did before the virus. In such cases, it would be best from an environmental standpoint if work from home became a long-term condition.
In many countries, including the United States, transport is the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of said transport comes from the car, which is the vehicle of choice for many to head to work. What this means is that if fewer people needed to go to a workplace, fewer people would need to drive. And if fewer people need to drive, there’s less pollution coming into the air, contributing to the problems of dirty air and global warming.
Basically, work from home is environmentally friendly.
Now, the question of whether continuing to work from home after COVID (in industries that have been able to work from home during COVID) is going to be, in many cases, an office-by-office decision, depending on how well different offices felt they were able to function during the pandemic. Some offices may decide that they didn’t function well when they worked virtually, and therefore will head back to their offices after COVID. Other offices may feel on the fence about this question. Other offices yet may feel that they have functioned quite well from home during the pandemic and will be more than happy to work from home after the pandemic. Other offices yet may feel that they have functioned relatively well during the pandemic but would find it useful to have a combination of a combination of in-person work and working at home. However, especially for offices that are on the fence—particularly offices that are in areas where the only way to get to the location (or by far the easiest/most convenient way to get to the office) is by car, perhaps environmental considerations could also play into the thought process in such a decision.
For as much as some of us may like to think of key decisions on the environment as some far-away thing for people in some distant land to deal with, the reality is that all of us as individuals, as well as our bosses as individuals, have a role to play in taking care of the environment. And, perhaps in cases where offices functioned well while working virtually during the pandemic, the decision to continue working from home after the pandemic can be more than an office functionality decision, but an environmental one, too.
A couple years ago, I traveled to see one of my best friends get married. That was a special day for me, seeing one of my best friends marry the love of his life.
The day before and the day after the wedding, the train ride I took was very pretty. However, I experienced and learned more about how second-rate of a train “system” Amtrak, the intercity/interstate passenger rail system we have in the United States, really is.
My experience was interesting, to say the least. I was obsessed about making my train in good time because this was the only train going between New York City and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (my destination). My Pittsburgh-bound train was delayed, by as much as forty minutes at one point, because we were stuck behind two freight trains—something that wouldn’t happen if Amtrak owned its own tracks and therefore had control over which trains travelled through and when. The café car on the way back to New York had food about twice as expensive as fast food at a highway exit (and less edible than McDonald’s).
Then, there was what I learned before, during, and after my train ride. Before the train ride, I already knew that some major cities in the United States, such as Las Vegas, Nevada and Nashville, Tennessee, do not have any train service. During my visit, I learned that Pittsburgh, a city of about 300,000 people, had only three train departures a day at the time: one that left for Chicago at 11:59 PM, one that left for Washington, D.C. at 5:20 AM, and one that left for New York at 7:30 AM (the train I took back to New York). And since my train ride, I’ve learned that it’s actually quite common for trains to be delayed because Amtrak does not own many of the tracks it provides service on, therefore creating a situation where they are often stuck behind freight trains and delayed by many minutes.
It’s as if Americans are being actively discouraged to take commuter rail. And that is horrendous for the environment.
The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States is transit. These greenhouse gases, which trap heat and help make the planet warmer, make our air toxic and contribute to global warming. Considering the fact that transit is the number one cause of these emissions, it is appalling that transit’s role in damaging the environment, as well as the role it needs to play in helping the environment, seems to get discussed relatively little.
But how should discussions on transportation and the environment start? I have a few ideas:
It must be recognized that transportation is a major reason why our air is dirty and the environment is not in the shape that it should be. As I said before, transit is the biggest emitter in greenhouse gases, and until we recognize that, transit won’t be a factor that is considered seriously when reviewing environmental policies.
If the United States is serious about cutting transit emissions, the country must prioritize mass transit over cars and airplanes. Study after study shows that buses and trains are way better for the environment than cars and airplanes. Yes, ultimately there need to be disincentives for driving and flying within the lower 48 states, but if you’re in Las Vegas and have zero Amtrak service, then your only options for intercity travel are either a car or an airplane. There need to be greater disincentives for driving within cities, but if public transportation does not take you to where you want to go, then you have to drive.
Municipalities should make their areas easier to walk or ride a bike. The city kid in me always used to give a bemused chuckle when I heard people talk about needing to drive everywhere, even if it’s three minutes away, because they couldn’t walk anywhere. That needs to change. By making spaces easier for pedestrians and cyclists to navigate, we can cut down on the countless three-minute drives to schools, grocery stores, doctors, etc., that wouldn’t be necessary with good pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
We need cars and planes to burn less in the way of greenhouse gases. While cars and planes are so damaging to the environment, some people will still need to use cars and/or planes to function personally and/or professionally. Policy looking to reduce greenhouse gases coming from transit should look to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that come from a car or a plane.
After reading all of this, readers can see why I’m so mad about the state of Amtrak and public transportation in the United States in general. Sound environmental policy would work on building Amtrak into a world-class system, work on building other public transport infrastructure, and improve infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. Sadly, the United States currently does the opposite—it makes environmentally friendly modes of transport as slow, unreliable, expensive, miserable, and in the case of walking and riding a bicycle, as unsafe as possible. Hopefully, with Earth Day having recently happened, and with a concrete proposal on the table to invest in public transit at the national level, we can push our politicians to advocate for more extensive mass transit in the United States, and push ourselves away from cars and airplanes whenever it is possible to do so.
 Yes, I believe in global warming/climate change.
 While climate activist Greta Thunberg recently traveled between Europe and the U.S. by a zero-emissions yacht, those travels took a week (I think) and many of us do not have a week to spend in the ocean because of family and/or job commitments. Therefore, airplane still seems to be the most convenient mode of cross-ocean travel, as environmentally unfriendly as that is.
He hasn’t even taken his oath of office yet, and I’m already writing about a concern I have with the Biden administration. Yes, I voted for him (and even wrote a blog post about my planning to vote for him), but this doesn’t mean that I (or anyone else) should avoid holding who we vote for accountable.
The offense? President-elect Biden nominated former Secretary of State John Kerry to be Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate. Kerry, who is also a former United States senator and the Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States back in 2004, is a believer in climate change and taking measures to address it. However, people should have concerns about whether Kerry will be as bold as he needs to be (and by extension, concerns about whether the Biden team will be as bold as it needs to be) on climate change, which is a major crisis.
Why am I concerned? Just look at Kerry’s investments. I don’t know about now, but at least as of 2013, Kerry had investments with dozens of companies in the oil and gas industry. And these are not all small investments, either—at least six of those companies he had investments in were of $100,000 or more. At the very least, in the recent-ish past, he was benefitting from big oil money.
I hope that between 2013 and now, Kerry has dropped all of his oil and gas investments. If he hasn’t, then people should definitely be concerned about his investments keeping him (and, by extension, the Biden administration, potentially) from being as aggressive as he should be on the issue of climate change. That concern should be present because aggressive action on climate change would go against the best interests of what’s potentially profitable for many of these companies Kerry has invested in, and by extension for Kerry himself; because of that, it’s reasonable to be concerned that this conflict-of-interest could result in Kerry not advocating for actions as bold as they should be.
Let’s be real though—Kerry is only a microcosm of a larger issue, which is the concern that money, and particularly receiving of money from certain people or entities, could influence politicians in unjust ways.
This problem can manifest itself in many major issues, ranging from climate change to income inequality. From Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma saying odd things about environmental issues and then having the oil and gas industry as his second largest industry of contributions, to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer being criticized for being cozy with Wall Street (with Wall Street being accused oftentimes as being a big reason for our current income inequality) and then having big banks as four of his five largest lifetime contributors, there are serious concerns about money having a major influence on our politics and politicians.
However, these concerns about big money polluting our politics in unjust ways can only be recognized if we follow the money. If we learn about the monetary connections to the policies of the Kerrys, Schumers, and Inhofes of the world, we can start to recognize how it might be the large donor class, and not so much the constituents these politicians are supposed to serve, that influences the work that is done (or the work that is not done).
As to how we can learn about these monetary connections, I would strongly recommend starting with a website called Open Secrets for national candidates (presidential candidates, as well as members of Congress). This website can allow you to learn about what sorts of companies contribute to individual candidates, as well as which companies a candidate has investments in. That way, you can learn, for example, that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a lot of money invested in the technology sector, so if she ever sounds tepid about holding Facebook accountable for certain things, maybe it’s because of the $500,000+ in investments she appears to have in Facebook. As for holding local and state-level candidates similarly accountable, it varies from municipality to municipality, and from state to state, but in many cases there are ways to find out even at the local and state level who your elected officials seem financially beholden to.
By learning to follow the money with our politicians and their actions, we will hopefully also learn how much big money can result in some of the positions our elected officials take, even if some of those positions are unjust. Recognizing this might not solve any injustices, but it could offer one explanation of how we ended up where we are in the first place with issues like climate change, income inequality, and many others.
Back in February, I said that on my blog, I would publish posts on major issues relevant to the election that are either misunderstood or not talked about as much as they should be.
By working on such posts, I found myself getting some insights into the upcoming election for President of the United States that I would otherwise not have. Because of those insights, as well as the fact that my blog talks about injustices that need to be addressed, I thought I would end these posts by talking about who I will vote for and why.
I’m voting for Joe Biden because, of all the candidates in the race, I think he gives the best shot at playing a role in addressing injustices. His past track record, while imperfect, gives me that belief.
On the issue of ableism and disability justice, Biden cosponsored some important legislation on this issue. He was a Senate cosponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was landmark legislation for people with disabilities. Earlier in his Senate career, he cosponsored the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which required equal educational access in all public schools for kids with physical and mental disabilities. While there is still much to do to make all corners of our country as accessible as they need to be, the passage of these laws, which was made a bit easier by Biden’s support and cosponsorship in both cases, was nevertheless useful. His support of such legislation gives me hope that with disability rights issues, he would reject the argument that something is “too expensive” or “too impractical” to be made accessible—arguments I often hear against making certain things accessible.
Those who are familiar with human trafficking issues would know that arguably the most important piece of American legislation when it comes to anti-human trafficking laws is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA)—without its existence, traffickers couldn’t be prosecuted as easily, and victims wouldn’t be protected as easily. The person who introduced the reauthorization of the Act in the Senate in 2008 was…Joe Biden. As someone who used to help with anti-human trafficking education myself, I think it’s important for me to set the record straight on this issue because it has only come up in this election in the context of a sex trafficking conspiracy theory (one that Trump has praised the supporters of) that has complicated the work of organizations that are trying to combat human trafficking.
Speaking of Biden authoring things, while his authorship of the 1994 Crime Bill was controversial in many ways, one major positive of that overarching bill was the Violence Against Women Act, which among other things helped establish a Domestic Violence Hotline. A hotline that has come of great use during the pandemic exists in large part due to Biden’s efforts.
On environmental issues, Biden, while not perfect, is still eons better than Trump. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has a scorecard that grades politicians based on which environmental measures they do or do not support, as well as which environmental regulatory rollbacks they do and do not support. Biden’s lifetime score is 83%, which is not as good as the 91% held by Bernie Sanders or the 96% held by Elizabeth Warren. But, his main opponent is Trump, who in LCV’s own words, said about Trump’s environmental grade in his first year in office that: “However, to simply award Trump an ‘F’ does not come close to capturing both the breadth and depth of his administration’s assault on environmental protections and the harm it is causing communities across the country – all to provide favors to the wealthiest corporate polluting interests.”
These are some of the positive things on Joe Biden’s record, and I’m not even coming close to mentioning all the positive things (just a few that should be highlighted). However, as I said, his record is not perfect. I mentioned his Crime Bill on my blog, which is part of a larger dubious record he has when it comes to racial justice issues; there’s also the fact that he supported restrictions that prevented openly gay individuals from serving in the military, supported the Defense of Marriage Act (restricting marriage so that it’s between one man and one woman), and poorly handled the Anita Hill hearing, to name a few of the more problematic parts of his record. A charitable view of Biden’s record is that when someone is in public service for nearly five decades, there are bound to be some major mistakes within that record. A less charitable view would look at his record as evidence of his being a person who would add to injustices, instead of resolving them.
I tend to take a line down the middle—yes, he’s been in public service for a long time, but he does have some injustices to answer to. He has answered by expressing regret for how he handled the Anita Hill situation as well as for past anti-LGBTQ+ positions and the Crime Bill.
More cynical individuals may think that such expressions of regret are just for political expediency and/or are woefully inadequate; I most certainly understand the cynicism because politics can be so cynical at times. However, unlike President Trump, Biden has demonstrated the capacity to not just apologize but back it up with actions to show that he has learned from past mistakes. Of note was the fact that not only did he end up regretting his past positions that were unsupportive of LGBTQ+ rights, but he backed it up by: a) supporting same-sex marriage and b) forcing President Obama’s hand on support of same-sex marriage (by the admission of Obama administration officials). On a number of issues, but particularly racial justice, I sincerely hope that Biden demonstrates a similar capacity to back up his remorse for certain past stances of his (such as authoring the Crime Bill) with action (such as trying to find solutions to the issue of mass incarceration against people of color that many believe he helped create).
Even with the positives I found with Biden, some may be wondering why I’m not suggesting voting for a third party or not voting at all. Especially since I live in New York, some might argue that I could do either without having an impact on the election.
The answer is that I am voting third party, as I will be voting for Biden on the Working Families Party line (a third party that exists in some states, including New York). I think that it is important for me to vote for Biden and I think it is important for third parties to have a voice as well—by voting for Biden on the Working Families Party line, it’s the best of both worlds as far as I am concerned.
I also never considered not voting. I never considered that for two reasons: first, because I was able to distinguish key differences between Trump and Biden on issues that matter to me; and second, because I want my voice to be heard on local elections too (even though all my seats locally are heavily Democratic overall).
So there’s my breakdown of how I judged between the two major party candidates, and how I decided to vote for Biden. While I’m not as enthusiastic about Biden as some people are, I’ve concluded that it’s the best choice out of all the choices presented to me in this election from the standpoint of addressing injustices. And, given the fact that Biden seems more willing than Trump to follow the science when it comes to COVID, it’s a choice that I hope will save some lives.
I will be interested to hear others’ thoughts on the election, though! Feel free to comment below.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this post are my opinions alone and does not represent an endorsement by any organization with which I am associated.
 I know many people have already voted. But this post is directed at those who have not already voted (or those who have but are curious to hear what I have to say).
 I am focusing on his past track record because I think looking at a track record of nearly five decades can be instructive in determining what sorts of issues he may stand for in the next 4-8 years—potentially even more instructive than looking at his platform.
 I am not going to use tons of space in this post talking about Trump. There are lots of posts on the internet talking about Trump’s negatives. Instead, I’m going to use space here to talk about some positive elements of Biden’s record, because it’s important not just to vote against someone, but for someone.