2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

July 06, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

A Native American chef, and the power of sharing culture

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Native American peoples tend to sit out celebrations of one kind of American independence.

Over the holiday weekend, their own stories became more central.

In one case they were pushed aside. But Lakota Sioux protesters, standing on unceded territory, first delayed a major Saturday event at Mount Rushmore in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota.

In another they were aided. A District of Columbia sports franchise agreed to a “thorough review” of an offensive name. Native American leaders first met with team officials to urge change in 1972. Pressure from corporations like stadium-sponsor FedEx helped make change imminent. 

An insidious false narrative about Native Americans has long persisted: that they sit passively at the receiving end of a dominant culture’s actions. But the weekend’s developments, and other, quieter stories, highlight something else: the power of hope – and of agency, and inclusion. 

There’s their dual fight against COVID-19 and wildfire in the U.S. Northwest. And then there is the very personal.

Sean Sherman is an Oglala Lakota chef in Minneapolis. He sees reconnection to culture, through food, as an antidote to historical oppression. 

He and a partner are launching an “Indigenous food lab.” Its work will run from pre-colonial food prep to ethnobotany. Its mission: a culinary revolution meant to inspire and nourish. To strengthen, and not to exclude. 

“There’s this huge knowledge base that we should be tapping into,” Mr. Sherman told Modern Farmer, “to make a better world for everyone.”

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For Biden, a VP search fraught with significance

The choice of running mate always affects presidential candidates’ prospects. This time the process has even higher stakes. It’s an acid test of America’s commitment to further diversifying the halls of political power.

Paul Sancya/AP
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Califorina, speaks at a campaign rally for former Vice President Joe Biden at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Monday, March 9, 2020. Senator Harris is widely considered a leading candidate to be Mr. Biden's running mate.

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Speculation has run rampant about Joe Biden’s running mate ever since he pledged in a March debate to put a woman on the ticket. Since then, reports suggest at least 13 women have undergone some kind of vetting.

Widespread protests over racial justice have amplified calls within the party for Mr. Biden to tap a woman of color. That has elevated the profiles of women like California Sen. Kamala Harris, Florida Rep. Val Demings, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

This weekend, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth and former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice both appeared on Sunday morning shows, where they were asked about serving as Mr. Biden’s running mate. 

Given his age even allies admit that the stakes for Mr. Biden’s choice are higher than ever. The 77-year-old, who has referred to himself as a “transition candidate,” would be the oldest president ever at his inauguration.

Mr. Biden’s campaign has said he will announce his pick early next month. 

“There is an extra special aspect to the selection this election,” says Moe Vela, who served as a senior adviser to the former vice president during the Obama administration. “It’s an outweighed factor.” 

For Biden, a VP search fraught with significance

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Vice presidential picks are often viewed as political calculations. One candidate could energize a certain demographic of voters. Another could deliver a critical swing state.

But most of the time, the actual choice comes down to something more fundamental, says Valerie Jarrett, who served as a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and witnessed firsthand how personal that decision was for him. For most presidential hopefuls, it’s really about finding someone they can work well with, someone who’s ready to govern.

And no one knows that better than a former vice president himself.

Having worked alongside President Obama for eight years, Joe Biden “understands the role that he played – and that enables him to think through the kind of partner he would want,” says Ms. Jarrett. She adds: “It is one of the few decisions that the nominee gets to make all on his or her own.”

Speculation has run rampant about Mr. Biden’s running mate ever since he pledged in a March debate to put a woman on the ticket. Since then, reports suggest at least 13 women who have undergone some kind of vetting are still in the running. A few others, like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, have already withdrawn themselves from consideration. Mr. Biden’s campaign has said he will announce his pick early next month. 

Patrick Semansky/AP/File
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., gives her opening statement during a House Judiciary Committee markup of the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington Dec. 11, 2019. Congresswoman Demings is reportedly being vetted as a potential running mate for former Vice President Joe Biden.

Given his age, even allies admit that the stakes for Mr. Biden’s choice are higher than ever. The 77-year-old, who has referred to himself as a “transition candidate,” would be the oldest president ever at his inauguration.

“There is an extra special aspect to the selection this election,” says Moe Vela, who served as a senior adviser to the former vice president during the Obama administration. “It’s an outweighed factor.” 

Widespread protests over racial justice have amplified calls within the party for Mr. Biden to tap a woman of color. That has elevated the profiles of women like California Sen. Kamala Harris, the second Black woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate and a former presidential candidate herself; Florida Rep. Val Demings, a House impeachment manager who formerly served as Orlando’s first female chief of police; and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who gained national recognition for her deft response to protests in her city. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another primary opponent of Mr. Biden’s who is not a racial minority but whose liberal positions have made her a favorite of progressives, is also said to be on the short list.

Mark Humphrey/AP
Former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice takes part in a discussion on global leadership at Vanderbilt University Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. Ms. Rice, who also served as U.N. ambassador but has never held elective office, is said to be on the short list for possible running mates for Joe Biden.

This weekend, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth and former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice – both of whom are reportedly being seriously vetted – appeared separately on Sunday morning shows, where they were asked about their qualifications to serve as Mr. Biden’s running mate. 

“I don’t think it’s on any of us to dictate to him. He knows best who he needs as a vice president, who can help him connect with the American people, who can help him overcome the crises that we’re operating under right now,” Senator Duckworth, a veteran who lost both her legs in the Iraq War, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Past elections suggest that a good VP choice can make a difference at the margins. In 2008, Mr. Obama tapped Mr. Biden as a way of shoring up his own lack of foreign affairs experience, as well as offering a subtle reassurance to voters who may have been hesitant about electing the nation’s first Black president. In 2016, Donald Trump chose Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a religious conservative, to reach out to evangelicals who were perhaps wary of a twice-divorced New York real estate mogul who’d been accused of sexual harassment.

Cliff Owen/AP
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., arrives at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. Senator Duckworth, a Thai American who lost her legs in the Iraq War, is one of a number of women under consideration to be Joe Biden's running mate.

But while the electoral benefits to a particular running mate tend to be small, the downsides can be much greater. A controversial or not-ready-for-prime-time pick, as Arizona Sen. John McCain found out in 2008, can potentially cost millions of votes

“The first rule – and this is a cliche – is do no harm,” says Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist who worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and Jeb Bush’s 2016 primary run. “You want someone who can withstand the glare.”  

Already vetted

Throughout the 2020 campaign, Democrats have been largely unified by one objective: defeating President Trump in November. And when it comes to Mr. Biden’s VP pick, polls show “electability” remains a top priority for voters.

According to one recent Monmouth University poll, nearly 6 in 10 Democratic primary voters believe having a woman of color on the ticket would increase Mr. Biden’s chances of winning in November. Asked to pick their favorite candidate, 28% said Senator Harris, more than any other, although name recognition may have been a factor.

Indeed, Ms. Harris was floated as a potential running mate by Mr. Biden himself almost immediately after the former attorney general of California ended her own presidential campaign. 

“Senator Harris has the capacity to be anything she wants to be,” Mr. Biden told reporters in December. “I talked to her yesterday. She’s solid. She can be the president one day herself. She can be the vice president. She can go on to be a Supreme Court justice.”

The comment was notable not least because Ms. Harris had prominently attacked Mr. Biden in an earlier debate over his record on school busing. At the time, Mr. Biden’s wife Jill called it a “punch to the gut,” coming from someone who had been friends with Mr. Biden’s late son Beau. 

One clear advantage for Ms. Harris, as well as for Senator Warren, is that both women have already undergone the scrutiny that comes with a presidential campaign. On the other hand, both their campaigns ultimately failed, which may raise questions about their appeal to voters. 

John Minchillo/AP/File
Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., arrive to participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Oct. 15, 2019. Mr. Biden’s search for a running mate is entering a second round of vetting for a dwindling list of potential vice presidential nominees, reportedly including Senator Warren.

In Ms. Warren’s case, party strategists may also be weighing the fact that she comes from a state with a Republican governor, who would likely appoint a GOP replacement for her in the Senate (though Massachusetts law also dictates that a special election would have to be held within 145 to 160 days of the seat becoming vacant). Still, selecting Ms. Warren as the vice president could help unite the party, some Democrats say, potentially mollifying supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders who remain unhappy about his primary loss. 

The loyalty factor

Mr. Biden is likely looking for a running mate with two attributes, say several sources: “Day 1” readiness and loyalty.

“You have to trust this person implicitly,” says Mr. Gorman. “This is the one person in your government you can’t fire.”

Notably, the morning after Ms. Harris attacked Mr. Biden on racial issues, Atlanta’s Mayor Bottoms gave Mr. Biden a significant show of support by announcing her endorsement.

Andrew Harnik/AP/File
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington July 17, 2019. Mayor Bottoms gained national recognition for her deft response to the protests in her city, and is reportedly being vetted by the Biden campaign during its vice presidential search.

More recently, Ms. Bottoms has earned praise for her leadership of Atlanta. Mayors have been on the front lines of the pandemic, economic downturn, and social unrest, points out Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina. He believes Ms. Bottoms would make a strong running mate for Mr. Biden. 

“Mayors have had to step up,” says Mr. Benjamin, a Democrat. “And Mayor Bottoms has shown America what she’s made of.”

On Monday, Mayor Bottoms announced on Twitter that she had tested positive for COVID-19, though had not experienced any symptoms. Georgia has seen a surge in new cases in recent weeks.

Mr. Vela says he doesn’t think a mayor has the necessary experience to handle the demands of the White House. He does, however, suspect Mr. Biden’s VP shortlist includes a governor or two – and points in particular to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

As a Latina, Governor Lujan Grisham could potentially give Mr. Biden a boost with Hispanic voters, a demographic where his support is trailing Hillary Clinton’s margin in 2016. In November, Latinos will account for more than 13% of the electorate, the largest nonwhite voting bloc, with more than half living in Florida, Arizona, and Texas – states where Democrats hope to compete this year. 

Ms. Lujan Grisham has focused on health care throughout her political career, and her early, aggressive response to COVID-19 led some to hold up her state (one of the poorest in the country) as a model for pandemic response. Recently, however, cases in New Mexico have been rising.  

Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal/AP
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks about the uptick in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state and her decision to hold off on opening more of the economy during a news conference at the state Capitol on Thursday, June 25, 2020. She is one of the few female governors being considered as Joe Biden's running mate.

Moreover, New Mexico is already likely to go Democratic in November, points out Wes Hodge, chair of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee in Florida. But if Florida’s Congresswoman Demings is put on the ticket, he says, Democrats would have a good chance of winning the country’s biggest swing state.

Ms. Demings gained national recognition when Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed her as one of the House managers during Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial, as one of just two Democrats who sit on both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

“Throughout Florida I think there is a lot of positive support for her,” says Mr. Hodge. “We can secure a Biden victory in Florida with Demings on the ticket – and that goes a long way to taking the White House.” 

Boxed in?

Some observers suggest it was a mistake for Mr. Biden to commit himself to a female running mate in that March debate. Such a promise might have made sense earlier in the race, when he was struggling against a historically diverse primary field, but his main opponent by March was Senator Sanders – a fellow white man.

“The nomination was his to lose,” says Mr. Gorman. “I didn’t see the reason to box himself in in that way.”

By making that promise, Mr. Biden essentially forfeited the opportunity to consider choices such as New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, or New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Still, most Democrats argue he was always likely to choose a woman, anyway – and, they add, he’s hardly lacking for good options.

“He has an embarrassment of riches from which to choose,” says Ms. Jarrett. “I can’t think of a time in our nation’s history when there have been more qualified women who would be prepared to serve.”

Many Democratic activists also believe it’s time for the party to elevate a Black woman – saying it isn’t just a question of “balance,” it’s about respect for their voters. Nationwide, Black women are one of the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituencies, with more than 90% of Black women voting for Mrs. Clinton in 2016. 

“The beauty of Black women is not only that we vote for ourselves, but we take our communities to vote with us,” says LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund. “The bottom line is that we deliver.”

Ms. Brown co-authored a recent Op-Ed with six other Black female activists in which they told Mr. Biden that in order to, “earn the engagement, excitement and, most importantly, the votes you need,” he needs to select a Black woman as his running mate.  

“There’s a very specific role that African American women have played in building this country, that has often gone unnoticed,” agrees South Carolina’s Mayor Benjamin. “It’s empowering as a father of two beautiful girls to see Black women getting their due.”

Defund the police? Europeans redirect them.

America holds no monopoly on the policing debate. The idea that some jobs that police now do should instead be done by specialists with specific social skills is standard operating practice in European countries. We wanted to explore how that works.

Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters
Members of the ordnungsamt close access to the Cherry Blossom Area, a magnet for tourists, as the spread of the coronavirus continued in Bonn, Germany, April 8, 2020. The ordnungsamt illustrate a policing trend across Europe – to hand off some duties to specialized agencies.

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The role of the police in society – a burning topic in the United States right now – has long been a subject of debate in Europe, too. And the direction that some countries there have taken could offer paths forward for America.

At the heart of the new approach, known as “problem-oriented policing,” is an effort to grapple with the root causes of crime, not just its symptoms. In Finland, for example, homeless and drug-addicted people are given somewhere to live, and then offered treatment.

Problem-oriented policing has cut crime and disorder by a third in the places it has been tried – in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the U.S.

In a parallel move, a number of governments have taken mental health emergencies out of police hands, leaving them freer to tackle criminality while specialists deal with the crisis calls. In Britain, about 40% of calls to the police are mental health-related.

Could it work in America? It’s expensive, requiring European-level tax rates and social services funding. And it takes time, cautions Megan O’Neill, a policing expert at the University of Dundee in Scotland. “It’s important to have a long-term plan and not a knee-jerk reaction,” she says.

Defund the police? Europeans redirect them.

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Marc-Oliver doesn’t carry a gun. Instead he relies on a baton, his wits, and years of training.

One of Germany’s ubiquitous officers of the ordnungsamt, or office of public order, Marc-Oliver says he has prevented a suicide with “my bare hands.” Another time, he disarmed a man wielding a knife by talking to him calmly, while his partner sidled in with pepper spray.

“Sometimes, it would be better to have a weapon,” says Marc-Oliver, using a pseudonym since he is not authorized to speak publicly. “I am scared on the job sometimes, but fear makes you careful. It makes you rational.”

Meet Germany’s municipal guardians of public safety, responsible for duties ranging from noise and crowd control to animal welfare and help for homeless people. They don’t organize drug busts or investigations, which are left to the criminal police; in most of Germany’s 16 states the ordnungsamt do not carry lethal weapons.

The ordnungsamt are a product of Germany’s particular history, but they also illustrate a policing trend across Europe – to work closely with specialized agencies that are better suited to cope with social or mental problems, and to hand off some duties to them. In the Swedish capital, Stockholm, for example, mental health emergencies are dealt with by a specially trained mobile psychiatric team.

“Police are the strongest executors of force, but they are only one part of the solution,” says Uwe Marquardt, a German police officer and vice president of the German Police University. “In Germany, social problems are solved on many other levels. Social assistance and security: If someone is happy in society and doesn’t worry about putting food on the table, they don’t need the police.”

From representing oppression to representing civilians

The shift from the Gestapo, Hitler’s notorious militarized police force, to a service “that’s there for civilians” took decades, says Thilo Cablitz, spokesman for the police chief of Berlin. “We had the catastrophic history of the Nazi era, and we had to learn to change the goal from representing state oppression to representing civilians. This doesn’t happen overnight.”

Reforms began with a separation of the functions of the police and the military, and parsing out duties now performed by the ordnungsamt. Eventually, much of everyday law enforcement was decentralized to the state level.

Recruiting the right “character” of person is also important, says Mr. Cablitz. When they have been picked, police cadets undergo nearly three years of training, much more than any U.S. police academy provides. The curriculum is steeped in history, communications, and political education, including basic questions like “Why do we even have the police force? When can I use force? We are constantly learning,” says Mr. Cablitz.

Protests are one “litmus test for police,” says Stefan Schwarz, a 35-year German police veteran and United Nations training officer. As the police try to manage the tension between the democratic right to demonstrate and potential risks to public safety, “we use our power to explain the rules, and why citizens have to follow the rules,” says Mr. Schwarz. “Rather than in America where it’s ‘because – because it’s the law.’”

The German police’s transition to a modern force has not always been a smooth journey. For example, homosexuality was prosecuted as a crime in Germany through the mid-1990s, and while the police acted within the bounds of the law, says Mr. Cablitz, they treated gay people terribly.

“We went to the community and apologized for those years,” he says. “We said, ‘We acted wrongly, we are sorry, and we want to build something together.’”

Though the German police have a relatively good public image, they are not immune to the problems that have rocked the United States. In Stuttgart last month, hundreds of rioters looted shops and clashed with police after a patrol had searched a young man for drugs. It took police nearly five hours to regain order, in a sign that not all young people view police as friendly helpers.

Fabian Strauch/picture-alliance/dpa/AP
An officer of the ordnungsamt stands in the old town of Düsseldorf, in Germany, Feb. 20, 2020. Germany's ordnungsamt are responsible for duties ranging from noise and crowd control to animal welfare and help for homeless people.

Attack causes, not symptoms

Elsewhere in Europe, Scotland and the Nordic countries stand out for their adoption of “problem-oriented policing,” says Megan O’Neill, a researcher into police behavior at the University of Dundee in Scotland.

This approach grapples with the root causes of crime and tries to find tailored solutions, Dr. O’Neill explains. “It’s ‘let’s look at why this area is experiencing a lot of drug dealing and solve the initial problem, rather than attacking symptoms,” she says. “Who is involved? Do they need more access to education? Do they need more support for their income? It’s a longer-term view.”

A recent study of problem-oriented policing projects over the past 30 years by the Campbell Collaboration, an international research network, found they had seen a 34% drop in crime and disorder.

In Finland, where just 7,000 police officers serve the same number of people as do 17,000 officers in Scotland, public sector agencies are especially integrated and collaborative, says Dr. O’Neill. A project called Housing First, for example, brings homeless or drug-addicted people into various treatment programs.

People who buy drugs are not normally arrested and criminalized, but instead encouraged to join support and recovery programs.

“The idea [is] that someone can’t fix that kind of lifestyle if they don’t have a solid base to start from,” says Dr. O’Neill. “This whole movement takes policing completely out of it.”

In Sweden, the city of Stockholm has piloted a project that took mental health crises out of the police’s hands. Instead, such emergencies are dealt with by trained nurses and paramedics in special ambulances. The project has been so successful that the police union called for it to go nationwide.

Putting suicide response and other mental health duties in the hands of trained professionals gives “these patients a better quality of care and relieves the police who can focus on their core mission,” the project’s founder, Andreas Carlborg, told national broadcaster SVT.

Such an approach could have an impact elsewhere. Senior English officers have said that as many as 40% of calls to the police are mental health-related.

When traditional policing is required, it helps that most British police officers do not carry lethal weapons and are trained on de-escalation strategies, says Dr. O’Neill.

“Being able to go into a situation without a gun immediately changes the tone, and doesn’t bring that ultimate threat into an already tense situation,” says Dr. O’Neill. “Policing in the United States tends to resort to the use of force more quickly.”

But she has a word of caution for activists in the U.S. promoting the “defund the police” movement, who might want to draw on European experiences of collaborative, community-based, problem-oriented policing.

It is expensive – requiring European-level tax rates and funding for social services. And “it’s important to have a long-term plan, and not a knee-jerk reaction” for reform, she adds. “Do it carefully and thoughtfully, because these services are so important to everyone’s daily lives.”

A job that’s like a chocolate egg

Back in Germany, Marc-Oliver remembers fondly his early days as a public safety officer, even if he did not like his uniform - an “ugly green jacket” bearing the coat of arms of Langenfeld, his hometown.

Working for nearly two decades in Langenfeld, Marc-Oliver was so recognizable that people would approach him while he was out with his family on weekends. “There were only four officers working for the town’s ordnungsamt, and everyone would know me,” he says. “I’d tell them, ‘Come to my office for a coffee on Monday, but right now I want to have an ice cream with my daughter. I’m not working.”

Later, he moved away from his hometown, and found he preferred to not be recognized for the significant powers he carries. He muses, “Ordnungsamt are often seen as lesser than the police, but we have to learn five books and the police learn about two,” he says, showing a little competitive fire.

Most of all, he loves his work. “You put on your uniform and you never know what’s going to happen,” says Marc-Oliver. “It’s like a Kinder Surprise egg. Every day is different.”

Dominique Soguel and Heba Habib contributed research and reporting from Basel, Switzerland; and Stockholm.

‘What we do is help’: Mexican neighbors boost each other in pandemic

We’ve looked at mutual-aid networks a few times in recent weeks. This next report is from Mexico City. Residents, used to getting little (or late) support from their government, try to support their neighbors in a crisis. COVID-19 is no exception.

Courtesy of David Antonio Perez Beltran
Daniel Castillo Pérez stands in front of the flower stall where he's worked the past 15 years in a bustling, trendy Mexico City neighborhood, on April 8, 2020. Some 60% of Mexicans work in the informal economy, unable to stay home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Mexico City is known for its cacophony of sounds, unique to each category of street hawker: from the high-pitched whistles of sweet potato vendors; to the thumping beat of horn-honking, drum-pounding bands playing for tips; and the ding-a-ling of trash collectors’ bells.

Many of these vendors are among the 60% of Mexico’s workforce that labors in the informal economy – making them particularly vulnerable to the economic effects of the pandemic. While countries around the globe are passing vast stimulus packages and offering businesses tax breaks, Mexico has largely left individuals to take on the burden themselves.

But a long history of absentee governments, along with natural disasters that have demanded immediate action from citizens, has combined to create a sense of resilience and community support among neighbors. From online support for street musicians with no public to play for, to vegetable markets offering delivery for people without credit cards, to neighbors offering to run errands or barter cooking for child care – creativity and adaptability abound amid the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of support among families and communities, and I think that’s part of who we are as Mexicans,” says Héctor Bialostozky, a volunteer with a mutual aid organization.

‘What we do is help’: Mexican neighbors boost each other in pandemic

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Daniel Castillo Pérez has worked at a bustling intersection in central Mexico City selling flowers for the past 15 years. The heavy foot traffic in the neighborhood – filled with young families, business people, and tourists – meant a steady income, despite the inherent precariousness of working in the informal economy.  

But when the coronavirus started shuttering office buildings and quieting sidewalks, the florist began to worry.

“I hate to say it because it’s really quite sad, but I never expected to see any help from the government,” Mr. Castillo Pérez says. He’s the sole breadwinner in his family of four, and daily sales, the majority of which go to the stall’s owner, fell from roughly 2,500 pesos ($112) to 750 pesos ($33) by late March.

Before he could panic, his neighbors stepped in.

By the end of March, Mr. Castillo Pérez was contacted by a mutual aid group that arranged to give him a basic box of food. By mid-April, he was featured on an Instagram account called Héroeslocales.mx, or Local Heroes, that provides a way for people social distancing or staying home to purchase goods from informal merchants.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Some 60% of Mexico’s workforce labors in the informal economy. Mexico City is known for its cacophony of sounds, unique to each category of street hawker: from the high-pitched whistles of sweet potato vendors; to the thumping beat of horn-honking, drum-pounding bands playing for tips; and the ding-a-ling of trash collectors’ bells.

While countries around the globe are passing vast stimulus packages and offering businesses tax breaks, Mexico has largely left individuals to take on the economic burden of the pandemic themselves – putting informal workers in an especially precarious situation. Some 12 million Mexicans dropped out of the labor force in April, according to Mexico’s national statistics agency, and roughly 1 million formal-sector jobs disappeared between March and May.

But a long history of absentee governments, along with natural disasters that have demanded immediate action from citizens, has combined to create a sense of resilience and community support among neighbors. From online support for street musicians with no public to play for, to vegetable markets offering delivery for people without credit cards, to neighbors offering to run errands or barter cooking for child care – creativity and adaptability abound amid the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of support among families and communities, and I think that’s part of who we are as Mexicans,” says Héctor Bialostozky, a volunteer with Ayuda Mutua CDMX. The mutual aid organization has been delivering food baskets, face masks, and hand sanitizer across Mexico City for the past four months.

Alfredo Sosa/Staff

Not alone

Eli Palma runs a handful of neighborhood chat groups via the messaging service WhatsApp, and for years has been an informal moderator and liaison to local officials. Before COVID-19 there were groups dedicated to reporting illegal construction or other suspected crimes in a handful of trendy neighborhoods. Other chats focused on community-led litter cleanup efforts, or forums to ask questions about navigating the local government bureaucracy.

But in recent months the groups have exploded with neighbors asking for help – or offering.

“A community that is participative and that works collectively, it’s not alone,” says Ms. Palma, who was recently chosen as a representative for a community participation commission.

Hire a neighbor to pick up food instead of using services like Uber Eats, she says. If you’re looking for a carpenter or painter or messenger, she’s got a growing list of people now willing to assist or barter – even if they dedicated themselves to other fields before.

Ms. Palma’s also started promoting local businesses on Twitter, instead of the comparatively narrow channels of community chat groups. She says the priority is to put a spotlight on established businesses because they already have employees, rent, and services to keep up with.

“We have people making cakes or food in their home, selling cleaning supplies, jewelry. We are all motivated; we don’t want to go hungry or let our neighbors fall – we want to help each other,” she says. “It’s a collective fabric of support.”

Geronimo, who lost his job washing dishes and tidying up at a small food stand in the Roma Sur neighborhood in March, has started picking up odd jobs, many of which come to him via strangers on WhatsApp. He thinks his number has been shared by word-of-mouth, initially handed out by his former employer. Almost every day someone writes to ask if he’s free for small errands: picking up a spare tire, dropping off dirty laundry, delivering takeout food.

“It’d probably be better if I didn’t leave home at all, but I’m grateful for the income. And it’s all distances I can manage without public transport,” he says. “I have to work.”

“Local heroes”

For many, this is just the latest event requiring chilangos, as Mexico City residents are known, to band together. From natural disasters to previous pandemics, this isn’t their first emergency. After the September 2017 earthquake, many mutual aid organizations and community support efforts emerged, delivering food and clothing, and even searching rubble for life in the absence of an immediate government response. Even then, residents pointed to another deadly quake in 1985 as the source of their knowledge and willingness to step up.

“If there’s an earthquake, you don’t wait for the government to take the initiative. If you see a problem, what we do [as Mexicans] is help,” says Carla Fernández, a fashion designer. In the first several months of the pandemic, she pivoted her business to produce face masks that honor Mexican culture and keep scores of employees on the payroll.

Informal workers, like Mr. Castillo Pérez, are particularly at risk during the pandemic: They’re outside the home, sometimes in crowded markets, and interacting closely with people to put food on the table.

Early on in the pandemic, he met Lianne Dorscheidt, a Dutch national who moved to Mexico last December after falling in love with the country on a vacation the year before.

Under the umbrella of Ayuda Mutua CDMX, she launched HéroesLocales.mx, an Instagram page that connects street vendors with clients. Roughly once a week she and a friend will find a new vendor to interview and photograph, providing a little bit of his or her story and contact information so people can put in orders over the phone. Vendors profiled sell everything from lottery tickets to woven baskets, fresh fruit to plants.

The group also set up Mother’s and Father’s Day campaigns where people could order flowers or gift baskets made up of products from different street vendors. Some, like Mr. Castillo Pérez, have been put in touch with online stores that are helping take their informal businesses digital, at least temporarily.

“This is the time to give something back to Mexico,” says Ms. Dorscheidt. “A big part of why we love this city and this country is because of the people. They are super welcoming, willing to show you things and to be helpful,” she says. “Now is when we have to stand up and share our skills and resources, and also help spread the love for Mexico.”

As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Mr. Bialostozky’s last name.

Points of Progress

What's going right

Italy’s telling archaeological discovery

A ban on single-use plastic in Kenya, a delisting of the scales of the highly trafficked pangolin as a medicinal in China, and a telling archaeological discovery in Italy are just three of this week’s global progress points. You can click below to read the full set. Enjoy the uplift.

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Italy’s telling archaeological discovery

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Staff
Places where the world saw progress, for the July 6 & 13, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

The United States has confirmed the first African American leader of a military branch. In June, the Senate unanimously approved the nomination of Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as chief of staff of the Air Force. General Brown has flown 3,000 hours, including combat missions, and oversaw Air Force operations in the Middle East from his command post in Qatar.

Kevin Dietsch/Reuters
Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr.

In a video released shortly before his confirmation, General Brown shared his experience living in what he describes as two worlds, including moments in his career “that didn’t always sing of liberty and equality.” The Senate vote also makes General Brown the Pentagon’s first Black senior leader since Army Gen. Colin Powell. Although General Powell served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993, he didn’t serve as chief of staff of the Army. (The Wall Street Journal)

2. United States

The Supreme Court has affirmed that LGBTQ employees are legally protected from workplace discrimination under a 1964 civil rights law. Approximately 11 million Americans identify as LGBTQ, but 28 states offer the community little or no workplace protections. In a surprise decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal law barring sex discrimination in the workplace extends to sexual orientation and gender identity. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first nominee to the court, wrote that employers who fire LGBTQ people based on “traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex” are breaking the law. The decision is expected to have a sweeping impact on cases pending in lower courts. (USA Today)

3. Panama

Scientists have identified a “temperature tipping point” for tropical forests, or a threshold at which the amount of carbon the forests store drops. When trees get too hot or dry, they can stop absorbing carbon through photosynthesis. And when they die or decay, they release the carbon locked up in their wood back into the atmosphere. Tropical forests hold about 40% of all the carbon stored by land plants. The researchers found that when daytime temperatures reach above about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, tropical forests lose that carbon more quickly. Scientists monitored tropical forest behavior in various thermal conditions at nearly 600 sites around the world, including the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Based on the study and future warming predictions, scientists believe South American forests will be most affected by climate change, but understanding this temperature threshold could help improve conservation efforts. (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute)

4. Italy

For the first time, archaeologists have mapped an entire Roman city using scanning technology. The ground-penetrating radar created highly detailed images of Falerii Novi, a town about 30 miles north of Rome. Researchers say the scans helped piece together the city’s water system layout and revealed evidence of a religious processional route that probably never would have been uncovered by excavation alone. Some mysterious monuments may offer clues about the culture of the Faliscan people, who occupied this region before it was ultimately conquered by Rome.

Yara Nardi/Reuters
Falerii Novi specialist Raniero Pedica shows a map of the ancient Roman city being explored using radar technology.

“You can dig a trench and get little insights, but it’s very difficult to see how [those artifacts] work as a whole,” said Martin Millett, a classical archaeology professor at the University of Cambridge. With the radar technique, archaeologists were able to look at the entire 74-acre site, gaining new understanding of life and governance in the Roman Empire. (The Guardian)

5. China

Pangolin scales are no longer included on the official list of traditional Chinese medicine ingredients, a major step in protecting the world’s most trafficked animal. More than 130 tons of scales and other pangolin-related products were seized in cross-border busts last year, representing up to 400,000 animals, according to a conservation group’s estimate. This change came shortly after the status of the cat-sized mammal was raised from a second-level protected species to first-level, a category shared by the panda. 

CBCGDF/AP
A conservation worker cradles Lijin, a pangolin, on June 9, 2020, before its release from the Jinhua wild animal rescue center in China.

“I am very encouraged,” said Zhou Jinfeng, secretary-general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation and longtime pangolin advocate. “Our continuous efforts for several years have not been in vain.” (CNN, The Guardian, China Daily)

6. Kenya

Kenya has banned single-use plastics in national parks, beaches, forests, and conservation areas. Three years after banning plastic bags nationwide, the East African country will no longer allow visitors to bring items such as plastic water bottles, disposable cutlery, and straws into protected areas. The new rule came into effect on World Environment Day as part of the country’s green agenda. Renowned for its striking landscapes and wildlife, Kenya has been waging a war against plastic for years. In 2017, it joined the United Nations #CleanSeas campaign, promising to protect its waters from marine plastic litter and promote recycling. (United Nations Environment ProgramGlobal Citizen)

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The joys of nature are for everyone

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As the July Fourth holiday fades into memory, summer starts in earnest. Americans hear the call of the natural world: Leave those four walls behind; seek new vistas. 

“We need the tonic of wildness. ... We can never have enough of nature,” advised perhaps its most famous advocate, Henry David Thoreau. 

Movements such Japan’s shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, tout the therapeutic effects of immersion into the great outdoors.  

But not everyone has equal access to nature, or feels equally comfortable going into it – problems reinforced in many cases by poverty and prejudice. In a 2014 report, the National Park Service estimated that 95% of visitors to its parks were white. And a 2011 NPS survey concluded that three times as many Black people as white felt unsafe in these parks.

The United States is moving toward becoming a “majority minority” nation – nonwhites outnumbering whites. The love and protection of the natural world will be in the hands of an ever-wider spectrum of Americans. Can people be expected to love and guard something they don’t visit?

Helping a diverse America experience nature’s wonders benefits everyone.

The joys of nature are for everyone

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Keith Russell, program manager of urban conservation at Audubon Pennsylvania, conducts a breeding bird census at Wissahickon Valley Park June 5, 2020, in Philadelphia.

As the July Fourth holiday fades into memory, summer starts in earnest. Americans hear the call of the natural world: Leave those four walls behind; seek new vistas. 

“We need the tonic of wildness. ... We can never have enough of nature,” advised perhaps its most famous advocate, Henry David Thoreau. “I am losing precious days,” added John Muir, known as the “Father of the National Parks.” “I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.” 

In recent times movements such Japan’s shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, have touted the therapeutic effects of immersion into the great outdoors. Journeys into the wild are used to help restore the mental and physical health of Iraq War veterans. 

It doesn’t take studies (though they exist) to know that absorbing grand natural vistas or merely sitting in solitude in a quiet green place can be relaxing and restorative. It just feels good.

But not everyone has equal access to nature, or feels equally comfortable going into it – problems reinforced in many cases by poverty and prejudice. In a 2014 report, the National Park Service estimated that 95% of visitors to its parks were white. And a 2011 NPS survey concluded that three times as many Black people as white felt unsafe in these parks.

For Black Americans, even enjoying nature much closer to home can turn into an ordeal. This spring a Black man bird-watching in New York’s Central Park politely asked a white woman to obey the park’s rules and leash her dog. Instead, she called the police, saying an “African American man” was threatening her. (She later apologized for her actions, and faces a misdemeanor charge of falsely reporting an incident in the third degree.)

In the 21st century, the United States is moving toward becoming a “majority minority” nation – nonwhites outnumbering whites. The love and protection of the natural world will be in the hands of an ever-wider spectrum of Americans. Can people be expected to love and guard something they don’t visit?

In 2018, there were 1,177 people who hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, an arduous 2,200-mile trek between Georgia and Maine. That was a record number. So far this year, reports Outside Magazine, only two people have completed it. Both were young white males. With much of the trail closed due to the pandemic, they had to evade local law enforcement and park officials along the way, sometimes talking their way out of confrontations, and then illegally sneaking back onto the trail. One can only wonder if a Black hiker could have done the same.

The national discussion about racial inequality has brought into focus that the trail’s hiking community is overwhelming the domain of educated white men, says Sandi Marra, president and CEO of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a nonprofit group. She told Outside that she hopes the dialogue will result in new ideas on how to make the outdoor world more inclusive and diverse.

Experiencing nature expresses a kind of freedom. “Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us,” said Thoreau’s old friend, philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Helping a wider spectrum of Americans know nature’s wonders benefits everyone.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Can our prayers prevent violence?

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We might feel helpless when we see disturbing news reports of violent confrontation. But we shouldn’t underestimate the impact of heartfelt prayer, based on an understanding of God’s all-power.

Can our prayers prevent violence?

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

As a child I turned to prayer to cope with bullying. It was overwhelming to me at the time to be confronted with what seemed like a united front of unreasoning hatred. One day on the playground, a group of my tormentors assured me that they would beat me up the next day after school. That night I began praying the Lord’s Prayer, which I had learned in the Christian Science Sunday School was a “prayer which covers all human needs,” as Mary Baker Eddy states in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” (p. 16).

The first words of the prayer stopped me: “Our Father.” It occurred to me that this meant that the God I was appealing to was also the Father of the kids who had threatened me. Just as God loved me, He loved them and maintained in them all the spiritual qualities associated with God’s nature as divine Love. It was a calming revelation.

The next day my fear was gone, and I went to school with a clear sense of being cared for and that all was well. Not a word was said about the previous day’s threat, and from then on there was no more bullying. I was awed and grateful that God’s truth was so pervasive that the mere recognition of it in my thought could change the behavior of a group of people so completely.

This is a small demonstration of the power of scientific prayer, which begins with a recognition of God’s presence and control of His entire creation. The spiritual idea of this divine presence and power is Christ, and Christ Jesus showed how this same power can help and heal more daunting claims against humanity’s God-given unity and concord, such as angry crowds. I have found this helpful to remember when news flashes are reporting peaceful protests marred by violence, including burning vehicles, injured protesters, and injured police.

For example, there were scribes and Pharisees (religious leaders) who had gathered with the intent of stoning a woman (see John 8:2-11), a crowd who picked up stones to kill Jesus himself (see John 10:23-39), and a mob who tried to drag him to a hilltop and throw him off (see Luke 4:16-30). In all these cases, abiding in the Love which Jesus knew to be the only Father-Mother of us all, he averted and avoided violence. And he told his followers, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father” (John 14:12).

We should take Jesus at his word, because he lived what he taught. We can understand that the Christ is not absent or powerless. When we think of unrest taking place, we can affirm what Jesus taught, and what Mrs. Eddy explained in Science and Health: “Man is the family name for all ideas, – the sons and daughters of God. All that God imparts moves in accord with Him, reflecting goodness and power. ...

“The substance, Life, intelligence, Truth, and Love, which constitute Deity, are reflected by His creation; and when we subordinate the false testimony of the corporeal senses to the facts of Science, we shall see this true likeness and reflection everywhere” (pp. 515, 516).

Jesus’ understanding of God’s presence and the omnipotence of divine good enabled him to provide, through healing, the tangible evidence of this divine presence, which he said is always with us. The material conditions Jesus encountered, including the appearance of lawless and hateful behavior, were seen, again and again, to give way to the divine Principle that he taught is supreme. In the Mind of Christ, God’s goodness is the reality, not bad intentions that appear to be driving people. Jesus saw beyond the angry crowd to the deeper truth of a God-governed existence – substantial, palpable, and encompassing everyone.

Wherever we may be, we can recognize the supremacy of God’s government, rebuke in our own thought the seeming evidence that any other influence can hold sway, and trust the Christly understanding of man’s inseparability from God to prevail. Each thought that is backed with divine Truth will have a practical impact.

Viewfinder

How green was my chalet

Phil Noble/Reuters
Gardeners trim back the Virginia creeper on the outside of the Tu Hwnt I'r Bont tearoom as it prepares to reopen as lockdown conditions in Wales ease following the outbreak of COVID-19, in Llanrwst, Britain, July 6, 2020.

A look ahead

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Thanks for reading today’s Daily. Our Supreme Court watcher, Henry Gass, is tracking a pretty big week. Watch for his reports.

Also: Abortion-rights activists celebrated last week’s high court ruling, but will the court swing to the right on abortion in the future? Join us tomorrow on Reddit for an AUA (ask us anything) with Henry and multimedia reporter Jessica Mendoza, who led our “Looking past Roe” series. The link to the AUA will be live at the top of the r/politics subreddit starting at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, July 7. You don’t need a Reddit account to read the discussion.

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