2019
April
25
Thursday

Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

The strength of a well-functioning community can seem just … organic.

But before you arrive at a set of people who have confident agency, you need someone with a vision for creating it.

You need a local hero – or an aspiring one.

Detroit entrepreneur Raphael Wright understood what a pride-bringing community anchor a good neighborhood grocery could be. It also was not lost on him that his city – with a population that is 80% African American – had no black-owned grocery stores.

So since 2017 he’s been crowdfunding, lining up managers, and laying plans for a major store in Detroit. Meantime, he’s building a small bodega. Mr. Wright’s aim is high.

“It goes back to how you control your community,” he tells Civil Eats. “Whoever feeds you really controls you. And if we’re not in control of that – it’s bigger than just the economic consequence. We lose a piece of our culture.”

In Winchester, Virginia, Erik Jones already had a store. His Four Color Fantasies sells comic books. Mr. Jones’ view of community extends to those in his state who are illiterate, including recent immigrants. He understood how the visual storytelling that fills his shelves could be an especially accessible medium. So he approached his favorite artists at comic conventions for help in creating comics that could teach.

“The worst they could say is no,” he tells Nation Swell. “Everyone I asked said yes.” The results are now being auctioned, with bids rising and winners to be announced May 4. Benefits will go to a local literacy group. Like Mr. Wright, Mr. Jones is feeding a need – and strengthening a community.

Now to our five stories for your Thursday, looking at a peacemaking twist on the Korean Peninsula, ingenuity in opposition tactics in Latin America, and the playoff perseverance of a pro athlete. 

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1. As Joe Biden jumps in, the ‘front-runner’ concept gets scrambled

Former VPs were once seen almost as presumptive nominees. While Mr. Biden has name recognition and big donors, the fundamentals in politics are shifting. Some wonder if he represents the past more than the future.

Mic Smith/AP
Former Vice President Joe Biden takes a selfie following the funeral for former U.S. Sen. Ernest 'Fritz' Hollings at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, April 16. Mr. Biden formally launched his candidacy for president April 25.

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Even before his much-anticipated announcement Thursday, former Vice President Joe Biden was leading in most polls. He has reportedly lined up big donors and key endorsements from party officials and organized labor.

Yet unlike in 2016, when Hillary Clinton’s entrance all but cleared the field of contenders, the 2020 presidential race feels like a free-for-all. Why does everyone seem to think they have a shot, even with Mr. Biden in the ring?

The answer, mostly, is that 2020 is not 2016. In a post-Trump world, there’s a sense that anything is possible. The media is far more reluctant to label someone a front-runner too early. The Democratic base has moved to the left and is clamoring for diverse representation that comes from the bottom up. The small-dollar donor model that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders embraced four years ago is becoming less an exception than an expectation.

In this climate Mr. Biden, an older, white male candidate with a long history in politics and a less-than-stellar fundraising record, doesn’t seem quite as formidable. “No one is getting scared out,” says Democratic strategist Kelly Dietrich.

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As Joe Biden jumps in, the ‘front-runner’ concept gets scrambled

He’s finally in the pool.

The speculation over whether or not former Vice President Joe Biden would join the crowded 2020 Democratic primary field officially ended Thursday when he released a video declaring his bid for president.

The announcement was almost a formality. From the start of the campaign cycle, the press has treated Mr. Biden – a five-term U.S. senator and popular two-term vice president – as though he were already running. He has led most polls against candidates who declared months earlier, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and has reportedly lined up big donors and endorsements from key party figures, elected officials, and organized labor.

Yet none of the hoopla ahead of Uncle Joe’s announcement has stopped the Democratic field from ballooning out of historical proportion. Unlike in 2016, when Hillary Clinton’s campaign all but cleared the field of contenders, the 2020 race feels like a Democratic free-for-all. Twenty candidates are now gunning for the nomination, including a former tech executive, a self-help author, and a sprinkling of House representatives. Indeed, Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a former Marine Corps officer on his second term in Congress, felt empowered to announce his presidential bid the same week as Mr. Biden.

Why does everyone seem to think they have a shot, even with Mr. Biden in the ring?

The answer, mostly, is that 2020 is not 2016. In a post-Trump world, where someone with no political experience but a lot of charisma can glide down an escalator to win his party’s nomination and then the White House, there’s a sense that anything is possible. The Democratic Party establishment hasn’t decided what kind of nominee it should support in such an environment, the way it had with Mrs. Clinton four years ago. The media, burned from their 2016 coverage, are far more reluctant to label someone a front-runner too early.

And Democratic politics is shifting. The party’s base is to the left of where it was four years ago and is clamoring for diverse representation that comes from the bottom up. The small-dollar donor model that Senator Sanders embraced in 2016 is becoming less an exception than an expectation.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff, Photos: AP

In this climate Mr. Biden, an older, white male candidate with a long history in politics and a less-than-stellar fundraising record, doesn’t seem quite as formidable.

“I don’t think he’s really as of the moment as [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren, Sanders, or the other candidates,” says Jameson Hollis, a college student who came out to see Mr. Biden at a rally with striking Stop & Shop workers last week in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston.

All that uncertainty makes it easier for more candidates to envision a path forward. And the growing number of contenders can of itself have an impact, by fracturing the electorate in the all-important Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. If no one gets a majority – or even a convincing plurality – a dark horse candidate could easily remain in the game even after the polls close in those early states.  

“The traditional metrics may not apply. And I say ‘may’ because the primaries are a political eternity away,” says Democratic strategist Kelly Dietrich, founder of the National Democratic Training Committee, which prepares Democrats across the country to run for office but does not endorse specific candidates. “But the definition of what’s a hard red line where your chances are crushed are no longer the same.”

“No one is getting scared out,” he adds.

Brian Snyder/Reuters
A man holds two "Run Joe Run" signs ahead of an appearance by former Vice President Joe Biden at a rally with striking Stop and Shop workers in Boston, Mass., April 18, 2019.

The new debate rules reflect this state of affairs. The Democratic National Committee wants to avoid appearing like it’s favoring higher-profile candidates over others. But it also wasn’t going to cram 20 people onto one stage. So now a lottery will determine which candidates will debate on Day 1 and Day 2. To qualify for the pool, a candidate only needs at least 1% support in three separate early-state or national polls, or have a minimum of 65,000 donors in 20 states, with 200 or more unique donors from each state.

“It’s very liberal criteria,” says David Karol, a political scientist at the University of Maryland and co-author of “The Party Decides,” the 2008 book that codified the idea of the “invisible primary” – the period of activity before the early primaries that used to essentially predetermine the party nominee.

“Andrew Yang is going to be in these debates,” he says. “Marianne Williamson could be in these debates.” Mr. Yang is an entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist who joined the race in November 2017; Ms. Williamson an author and activist who declared in January.

Technology also plays a role, and not just because it’s revolutionized candidates’ ability to collect small donations from anyone, anywhere. Social media has made the process much more transparent. Much of what used to happen in back rooms between party leadership and prospective candidates – discussions about donor support and experience, and negotiations around what someone should run on and how – now takes place in the open for all the Twitterverse to see and comment on.

“Now there’s all these ways of measuring the candidates that are much more open and available,” says Seth Masket, a politics professor at the University of Denver. “Do they actually have other people’s endorsements? Are they a good fundraiser? How well did they do in the last election?”

Heightened transparency is a boon for lesser-known candidates like South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, whose charisma makes him an easy fit for the social media era. “In 1991 he just couldn’t have gotten to the place where he is, certainly [not] at this stage,” Mr. Karol says.

It’s less helpful for Mr. Biden, whose long career – including a controversial role in Justice Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, as well as a much-discussed reputation for handsiness – has lately come under scrutiny.

“What’s loved about him is his experience,” Mr. Masket says, but that also means he’s “taken stances that seemed like where the Democratic Party was in the ’70s and ’80s, but is not where it is today.”

Still, the disapproval expressed by activists on Twitter isn’t necessarily shared by average voters.

“When you’re a politician for that long, everybody is going to make mistakes,” says Mike Linnane, a telephone worker from Boston, at the Stop & Shop rally. “He’s for the middle class, and that’s what we need to bring back.”

Many observers say it’s not time to throw out the rulebook – or Mr. Biden. The 2016 election was just one cycle, and it’s hard to know which lessons will most apply today. Social media and small-dollar donors certainly matter now, but big-name endorsements, polling, and debate performances will likely still be important too.

Will Mr. Biden give Democrats someone to coalesce around, as some pundits suspect? Or will the likes of Mr. Buttigieg and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, with their viral viability, prevail? Perhaps primary voters will end up looking to California Sen. Kamala Harris, if she succeeds in walking the fine line between the party’s moderate and progressive wings.

Ultimately, it’s a question about the formula, not the ingredients.  

“All this stuff matters, and we don’t yet know which thing matters more,” says Hans Noel, a Georgetown University professor who co-wrote “The Party Decides.” “We’re still figuring it out.”

Staff writer Clarence Leong contributed to this report.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff, Photos: AP
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2. By playing Korean peacemaker, Putin seeks to revive Russia’s Far East

Is there now an area in which Russia is not in competition with the U.S.? Our Moscow correspondent offers a look at Vladimir Putin in a mediator’s role.

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With nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea in at least temporary disarray, Vladimir Putin sees an opportunity to insert Russia into the peace process for the first time in almost a decade. That’s a key reason behind Thursday’s meeting in Vladivostok, Russia, between Mr. Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Russia may be well placed to play the mediator in any new talks with Washington. “Russia is in a unique situation in that it has good relations with both Koreas and with China, and would probably be ready to accept almost any negotiated settlement in the region,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the foreign-policy journal Russia in Global Affairs.

If the security issues can be resolved and peace breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, the potential benefits for Russia are immense. Russia’s far eastern regions, where Vladivostok is located, have languished economically since the collapse of the Soviet Union, despite being physically located at the hub of booming east Asia. North Korea, a heavily sanctioned economic black hole blocking direct physical access between Russia and fast-developing South Korea, is one reason for that.

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By playing Korean peacemaker, Putin seeks to revive Russia’s Far East

President Vladimir Putin flew from his Kremlin control center across seven time zones of Russian territory to play host – on his own home turf – to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the Pacific port of Vladivostok on Thursday.

For Mr. Kim, it was a relatively brief jaunt in his father’s armored train, roughly the distance from Boston to Pittsburgh.

Despite – or perhaps because of – those geographic facts, it was a trip well worth making for Mr. Putin.

With nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea in at least temporary disarray since they broke down in Hanoi two months ago, Mr. Putin sees an opportunity to insert Russia into the peace process for the first time since the Group of Six negotiations on the Korean crisis, of which Russia was a member, fell apart almost a decade ago. President Donald Trump raised expectations with his extraordinary outreach to the North Korean leader, but after the Hanoi debacle it may now seem to Mr. Kim that he needs to gather a few friends into his corner before facing Mr. Trump again.

And should the Korean Peninsula stabilize, Russia stands to profit – nowhere moreso than in its eastern regions, which have stagnated due to their distance from Moscow and their physical separation from booming East Asia by North Korea's economic dead zone.

“If there is peace in Korea, there will be big infrastructure projects and trade turnover will grow” from its current, dismal $100 million annually between Russia and North Korea, says Andrei Klimov, deputy head of the international affairs committee of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament. “Most of all, it will open a corridor for the economic development of Russia’s far eastern regions.”

Peace in the East

Russia may be well placed to play the mediator in any new talks with Washington. Since the collapse of the USSR a quarter century ago, the 12-mile land border between Russia and North Korea has been almost inactive, while China has taken on the role of Pyongyang’s chief patron. For China, it is critically important that any settlement on the Korean Peninsula not come at the expense of Chinese influence. Russia may be more flexible, especially if peace unfreezes the militarized border between North and South Korea, enabling economic forces to come to the fore.

“Russia is in a unique situation in that it has good relations with both Koreas and with China, and would probably be ready to accept almost any negotiated settlement in the region,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow-based foreign-policy journal. “The Chinese stake is much greater. China has far more to lose if a settlement goes against its interests. And the Chinese are very suspicious of U.S. intentions; they feel like everything Washington is doing in this region is against its interests.”

It’s probably not a coincidence that after meeting Mr. Kim in Vladivostok, Mr. Putin headed straight to Beijing for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. In the quest for a lasting security arrangement in Korea, they will both be on the same page with Mr. Kim that the long-term goal should be a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War, leading in the longer term to the demilitarization of the entire Korean Peninsula. The U.S. position appears focused solely on obtaining the denuclearization of North Korea.

But during the Cold War the U.S. deployed hundreds of tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea and has lately been talking of doing so again. North Korea, backed diplomatically by Russia and China, is seeking guarantees that the U.S. will renounce its “nuclear threat” on principle in exchange for any North Korean nuclear disarmament. The Hanoi summit may have broken down over this misunderstanding.

“The key thing is to get a deal between North Korea and the United States. That cannot be circumvented, and Putin isn’t thinking of trying to cut the U.S. out of the process,” says Sergei Strokan, foreign affairs columnist for the Moscow daily Kommersant. “But Russia can play the role of mediator, and could be a guarantor of any settlement.”

Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin/Sputnik/Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin (center r.) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (center l.) attend a reception with other officials following their talks in Vladivostok, Russia, on April 25.

If the security issues can be resolved and peace breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, the potential benefits for Russia are immense. Russia’s far eastern regions, where Vladivostok is located, have languished economically since the collapse of the Soviet Union, despite being physically located at the hub of booming east Asia. Tight bureaucratic control from Moscow, at the end of a 5,000-mile rail line, is one reason for that. A stubborn territorial dispute with Japan over the Kuril Islands, which has kept potential Japanese investment locked out, is another. But North Korea, a heavily sanctioned economic black hole blocking direct physical access between Russia and fast-developing South Korea, is yet another.

Russian economic planners have long-standing projects for extending the Trans-Siberian railroad to Seoul, creating a direct rail link between the Far East and Europe. Russian pipelines could carry oil and natural gas to the industries of South Korea. New transport corridors could multiply mining, industrial, and trading links.

“Integration is the order of the day in Asia. The Chinese have their Belt and Road Initiative, and Russia is looking for ways to get in on this,” says Mr. Strokan. “That frozen conflict in Korea looks like an archaic problem when seen against the opportunities that peace could bring.”

Russian experts say they are optimistic that Mr. Trump’s stalled initiatives might have opened the door to a workable settlement.

“Our ultimate purposes are the same. Both the U.S. and Russia want denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” says Alexander Vorontsov, head of Korea studies at the official Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow. “We differ on tactics. The Americans seem to want everything all at once. They want North Korea to disarm immediately and talk security guarantees afterwards. They seem to think that tougher sanctions will force the North Koreans to agree. But I visit North Korea twice a year and I can tell you, that is not going to happen, they will never submit. ...

“We believe a step-by-step process can work. In this area Russia is not in competition with the U.S. We welcomed Trump’s efforts, and we’d like to be helpful. Mutually complementary steps are the way forward. And we all stand to gain from success,” he says.

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3. The other Mueller finding: How one state addresses Russian hacking risk

Florida has been a poster child for election glitches. Yet its efforts since 2016 show both the scope of a nationwide threat of election hacking and paths for states to face that threat.

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Amid debate over whether the Mueller report incriminates or exonerates President Donald Trump, one salient point is largely overlooked: Russia interfered in the 2016 election to undermine American democracy as a whole. 

The damaging effects go beyond any one party or candidate. Nearly half the nation’s states were targeted by Russian hacking in 2016, and the Mueller report revealed that at least one county government in Florida was breached by it. Yet Florida is also a case study in responses. It has invested more than $15 million in improving its election security, including live simulations for election officials and a monitoring system already installed in 66 of 67 counties.

“There are always going to be threats, and the threat landscape continues to evolve. Every attack is more complex than the one we’ve seen before,” says Eman El-Sheikh, who runs the University of West Florida’s Center for Cybersecurity, echoing intelligence officials who have warned of more sophisticated foreign attacks in 2020. “The solution isn’t in trying to reach 100% security. The solution is to create more awareness, education, and training.”

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The other Mueller finding: How one state addresses Russian hacking risk

Amid all the debate over whether the Mueller report incriminates or exonerates President Donald Trump, one salient point is being largely overlooked: Russia interfered in the 2016 election to undermine American democracy as a whole. And the damaging effects go beyond any one party or candidate. 

The intent of Russian meddling was to sow discord in the U.S. political system, said special counsel Robert Mueller in his report to the U.S. Justice Department. The intelligence community and others say that the Kremlin will likely launch more sophisticated attacks in 2020 – both cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns on social media.

“I guarantee you that Russia is working on hacking this election right now,” says Seth Moulton, a decorated Marine and Democratic congressman from Massachusetts who entered the presidential race this week on promises to bolster national security and restore America’s moral authority in the world.

“And the fact that we are just letting them undermine our democracy, undermine the very fundamental principle that every vote counts in a democracy, is complete dereliction of duty by the commander in chief of the United States,” says Representative Moulton, responding to a question amid campaigning in Bedford, New Hampshire, on Wednesday.

Nearly half the nation’s states were targeted by Russian hacking in 2016, and the Mueller report revealed that at least one county government in Florida was breached by it. It also revealed that Russians compromised the computer network of Illinois’ Board of Elections and gained access to information about millions of voters there.

Florida is of particular concern as a key swing state and one which has faced numerous crises in its election system going back to the “hanging chad” controversy in the 2000 race between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

And it makes an important case study for other reasons. Its efforts since 2016 to step up election security and improve its cyber defenses illustrate both the scope of the challenge and possible paths to address it.

“We definitely here in the state of Florida have been and will continue to make this issue one of the most important issues moving forward,” says David Stafford, supervisor of elections for Escambia County and one of nine local election officials on the national Government Coordinating Council (GCC) for election infrastructure.

How Florida has stepped up security

One thing the Trump administration has done, with the help of the GCC, is establish the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC), which monitors election security threats.

Paul Lux, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, says the state was one of the first to get all local election offices to join EI-ISAC or a related national information sharing network, MS-ISAC, which alert election officials to new and ongoing threats.

In addition, 66 of 67 Florida counties have installed ALBERT sensors, which help detect malicious activity in their networks (the final county is in process).

Congress, for its part, last March approved $380 million to be disbursed to states for election security.

Florida’s then-Gov. Rick Scott directed the state to spend all $19.2 million of its allocation on shoring up its 2018 election. That covered everything from physical fences to digital defenses, including hiring five roving cybersecurity specialists.

The state has also worked with the federal Election Assistance Commission to provide cybersecurity training to state and local officials. They learned tips like, “Passwords are like underwear … change them frequently and don’t share them with anybody.”

The University of West Florida’s Center for Cybersecurity provided additional training, including live simulations in their Florida Cyber Range. The range provides a virtual environment in which attacks can be launched, giving election officials and IT workers an opportunity to learn how to identify such attacks and respond to them in a highly realistic scenario.

“Cybersecurity needs to be everybody’s business, from the elections supervisor to the volunteer,” says Eman El-Sheikh, a computer scientist who directs the university’s center. “You’re only as secure as your weakest link.”

Despite all this, a February 2018 report by the Center for American Progress gave Florida an “F” for its election security.

The think tank made that assessment based on incomplete information because the Department of State declined to participate, but lead author Danielle Root says that even with all requested information, the highest rating Florida could have received would have been a “D.” Department of State spokeswoman Sarah Revell counters that the department could not provide the information under state law, and that the report is misleading as a result. “It’s ironic that because we kept protected information secure, we earned a failing grade,” she writes in an email.

Mueller report: At least one county office breached

Florida has 67 county election offices, which service anywhere from 10,000 to 1.4 million voters with staffs ranging from one or two people up to 50 to 70 employees.

The Mueller report, on page 51, says that according to an FBI investigation, Russia sent spear-phishing emails to 120 Florida county election officials. The FBI concluded that Russia was able to “gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government.”

Then-Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, warned last summer that multiple counties had been breached.

The Mueller report provided the first confirmation from a federal entity that Russians gained access to a Florida county government.

In response, Florida’s Department of State said it was not notified of any such breach, including by any of the 67 counties, and that the FBI had declined to provide further information.

“The Florida Voter Registration System was and remains secure, and official results or vote tallies were not changed,” the department said in a statement.

There is no evidence that Russian interference affected actual ballots or vote tallies.

Mr. Stafford says even if the FBI hasn’t divulged details of any attack, information from such threats is likely being incorporated in the ALBERT monitors and the alerts going out through EI-ISAC.

In addition, Mr. Lux says there’s an important distinction between a system being accessed and being compromised. He compares access to someone who sneaks into the lobby of a New York City apartment building behind someone who has a key.

“You don’t have the key to operate the elevator, you don’t have the key to open any of the doors, you’re just kind of sitting in the lobby and you’re not doing anything,” he says. “That’s the difference between being accessed and compromised.”

The road ahead

Mr. Trump has played down claims of Russian interference, apparently equating the issue with attempts to delegitimize his election. According to The New York Times, recently ousted Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen was repeatedly thwarted in her efforts to develop a more comprehensive and robust plan to protect the 2020 elections – a point Representative Moulton echoed on the campaign trail.

“He’s more concerned about his own personal reputational security than the security of the United States of America,” said the congressman.

Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, says he is concerned that Russia’s success in 2016 will not only encourage them to try again – but could open a Pandora’s box of interference from multiple actors.

“Up to 2016, whether it was said publicly or not, there was a feeling among some that nobody would attempt to meddle in our elections because we’re the United States, we’re the world’s superpower, and to do something like that would risk a tremendous pushback with real repercussions,” he says.

“Now that it’s happened and there weren’t such repercussions, I do fear that others will say, ‘Well, we want to get in this game, too.’”

Ms. El-Sheikh, the computer scientist and head of UWF’s Center for Cybersecurity, says the key is not preventing all attacks but being prepared to respond to them.

“There are always going to be threats, and the threat landscape continues to evolve. Every attack is more complex than the one we’ve seen before,” she says. “The solution isn’t in trying to reach 100% security. The solution is to create more awareness, education, and training … so that we try to prevent damage from attacks to the extent that’s possible.”

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4. Amid government repression, Nicaraguans get creative

Sometimes a hard no from authorities just winds up generating a more creative opposition. Nicaraguans aren’t letting a government ban on large-scale protests quiet their calls for fresh elections.

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More than a year after protests exploded across Nicaragua, leading to at least 300 deaths, 500 political prisoners, and tens of thousands of people fleeing home, the Nicaraguan government continues to clamp down on freedom of expression.

As a result, citizens – at home and abroad – are adapting: relying on social media; forming small, impromptu flash mob-style protests; or hosting underground academic conferences to plan for a renewed era of democracy. In fact, the government's ban on large, organized protests may be creating unintended consequences: More widespread, spontaneous local protests have emerged in recent months.

Nicaraguans are “liberating themselves” from the government’s ban, says local journalist Maynor Salazar, through tiny actions like joining small groups of demonstrators, painting neighborhood walls blue and white – the colors of the Nicaraguan flag – or honking their car horns during mass meetups at rush hour. They’re starting to see they can individually make a statement anywhere they go, he says.

“What’s important is that we are here, we continue to resist, and we continue with our demands,” says an activist called Lucero.

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Amid government repression, Nicaraguans get creative

Last week, Nicaraguans ignored a government ban on public protest, gathering in small groups across the country to commemorate a year of deadly upheaval and government repression.

A small group waving blue and white Nicaraguan flags and chanting “Freedom for political prisoners!” was quickly surrounded by truckloads of police in riot gear. But the demonstrators’ presence underscores a dedication to voicing opposition to the government, despite more than a year of sometimes deadly crackdowns and intimidation – in which protesters are getting more creative.

More than 300 people have been killed and more than 500 protesters imprisoned since April 2018, when students, retirees, and civic groups joined protests to oppose proposals for fiscal reform and the government’s increasingly authoritarian response. It was a tipping point in years of increasing repression under the government of President Daniel Ortega. In a poll this March, only 22% of Nicaraguans said they would vote for the president, who has resisted calls for fresh elections.

Protesting has become increasingly precarious in Nicaragua, with an estimated 60,000 people seeking refuge abroad, according to the United Nations. Inside the country, Nicaraguans face networks of informal neighborhood spies and a dramatically heightened police presence. And the conflict is at an impasse: While the government recently released dozens of political prisoners to house arrest, leaders of the opposition refuse to continue negotiations until all prisoners are released and other rights restored.

Yet Nicaraguans are adapting, both at home and in exile. From flash mob protests to social media campaigns to clandestine street art, citizens are using new tactics to express their opposition and keep abuses in the international spotlight.

And the government's ban on large, organized demonstrations may be creating unintended consequences: More widespread local protests have emerged in recent months, says Maynor Salazar, a journalist with the independent news site Confidencial. Nicaraguans are “liberating themselves” from the government’s ban, he says, through brief, spontaneous actions, like joining small groups of demonstrators, painting neighborhood walls the blue and white of Nicaragua’s flag, or honking their car horns during mass meetups at rush hour. 

Now, Mr. Salazar says, despite continued risks, Nicaraguans see they can take their flags and make a statement anywhere they go, individually, in order to “demand an end to the dictatorship and freedom for political prisoners.”

‘The spark’

It was here, on the manicured lawns amid the stark white buildings of the Jesuit Central American University (UCA) in April 2018, that students first organized in opposition to Mr. Ortega’s government. 

“University students were the spark of this rebellion and consequently they are the main target for the government,” says Jorge Huete-Pérez, a biology professor at UCA, in the capital Managua. The crisis has had devastating effects on universities and students across the country, he says, with many college campuses shuttered for nearly a year as students fled abroad or went underground. Police maintain a presence outside UCA’s campus gates.

But despite intimidation, the school is “seen as the only place right now in the country where you can speak your mind,” Professor Huete-Pérez says, due to its status as a private university and the faculty’s support of the student movement. Lately, students have organized flash mobs they call piquetes, or “mosquito bites,” for their quick impact. On the tree-lined pathways of UCA’s campus, students masked with Nicaraguan flags regularly gather, chanting, “They weren’t delinquents, they were students!” and reading imprisoned students’ names.

It’s not just students taking risks. Professor Huete-Pérez helped organize a series of academic seminars to generate ideas on how to build a democratic society in what he calls the “Post-Ortega time.” Its first gathering, held in December, drew 100 participants, including student leaders and professors fired from public universities for their activism. 

Efforts in exile

Thousands of miles across the globe, Norma Chavarría and three other Nicaraguans unfurl a banner in a Madrid park that reads, “Feminists condemn the terrorist, sexist state.” They film their rainy-day declaration on Facebook, working to keep attention on Mr. Ortega’s actions both at home and abroad.

The internet and mobile apps have played a key role in keeping up activist engagement from afar, Ms. Chavarría says.

“As long as there are dissident voices, they will continue to refresh our memories and denounce the government from wherever they are,” she says.

Ms. Chavarría worked for years in the city of Matagalpa with feminist groups, who have long accused Mr. Ortega of failing to address significant rates of domestic and sexual violence. She quickly joined the widespread protests last year, but fled to Spain after receiving threats. Since then, she has joined efforts to educate allies in Europe about the conflict and highlight women’s leadership in the opposition.

Not all efforts to educate foreigners about Mr. Ortega’s crackdown are quite so far afield. A collective of Nicaraguan feminists called Las Malcriadas, or “badly-behaved women,” is tapping into social media and cross-border projects like a Central American tour. Lucero, a photographer and activist who uses a pseudonym, recently traveled across Costa Rica, trying to raise awareness about the realities back home.

Courtesy of Lucero
Lucero, a member of the feminist group Las Malcriadas, projects the message 'Freedom for the 45 women political prisoners' on a Managua street last December. She used an LED projection, and then shared images on social media, rather than using traditional street art that the government could erase.

Inside Nicaragua, “our work has been mostly reduced to the digital space,” she says. Las Malcriadas use social media to draw attention to political prisoners’ poor conditions and to call for justice for those killed during protests.

Lucero also uses street art – and she’s had to innovate. In December, she broadcast messages with an LED projector on a Managua street, then documented the images on social media. But there are still risks: Last week, while she photographed an anti-government demonstration, a reporter from state-sponsored media filmed her and other activists, she says, while another reporter threatened them.

The risk for speaking out has only increased in recent months, says Mr. Salazar, the journalist, with police using photo surveillance and informants to keep tabs on demonstrators.

But despite Mr. Ortega’s firm grip on power, Lucero says these small acts of resistance do add up.

“What’s important is that we are here, we continue to resist, and we continue with our demands.”

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5. ‘Mr. Game 7’ scores again: The everyman at helm of Carolina Hurricanes

Often being the best isn’t as important as being what’s needed in a given moment. That principle was on display during a Wednesday night NHL playoff game.

Gerry Broome/AP
Jordan Staal (r.), Justin Williams (c.), and Justin Faulk (l.) of the Carolina Hurricanes celebrate Mr. Staal's goal against the Washington Capitals during the third period of Game 6 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series in Raleigh, N.C., April 22.

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Justin Williams isn’t what you would call a profound talent. The captain of the Carolina Hurricanes has instead the kind of grit recognizable instantly to middle managers, line cooks, and fishermen. But on Wednesday night Mr. Williams proved – once again – that he’s exactly what his team needs in a pinch, scoring the decisive goal in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

This newly naturalized American is as clutch as clutch is. He has more Game 7 points – 15 – than any other player in the history of the game. And last night, he moved ahead of Glenn Anderson for Game 7 goals, with 8.

Not one to hog the spotlight, he told reporters after the game that “every single guy had a part in this.” Maybe so, but after Wednesday, Mr. Williams’ legacy is sealed. Willing his team to win, gritting it out to the last second, playing the game for its own joy – such values apparently resound in the locker room and far outside it.

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‘Mr. Game 7’ scores again: The everyman at helm of Carolina Hurricanes

This is supposedly a true story.

My 20-something nephew says he saw Justin Williams, the captain of the Carolina Hurricanes hockey club, on a plane on the way home to Raleigh, North Carolina, before this season.

The Canadian winger was in grubby surfer shorts, a busted T-shirt, flip-flops, set off by a mop of wild hair and a full beard.

Sam is a huge Hurricanes fan and a fantastic hockey player, so of course I believe his impression of the three-time champ: hockey star as regular schlub.

On Wednesday, now sporting stubble and a game-day suit, the player known as “Mr. Game 7” laced up in another elimination match-up in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs as his wet-behind-the-ears Hurricanes squad faced the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, all but three of whom had Game 7 experience.

On paper, “Jay Willie” is a fairly average 6-foot-1-inch forward from Cobourg, Ontario, entering the twilight of a long and injury-prone career, including scoring a goal after a puck glanced off his face earlier this season.

But at the barn, the newly naturalized American is as clutch as clutch is.

Mr. Williams has more Game 7 points – 15 – than any other player in the history of the game. Last night, he moved ahead of Glenn Anderson for Game 7 goals, with 8. He has won the Cup three times: once with Carolina in 2006 (where he scored in Game 7) and twice with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014, the year he won the Conn Smythe Trophy for the postseason MVP after scoring 9 goals in the playoffs.

On Wednesday night, the Canes came from behind – twice – to win in double overtime, 4-3. Mr. Williams scored the final goal. “Every single guy had a part in this,” he told reporters after the game.

Maybe so, but after Wednesday, Mr. Williams’ legacy is sealed. The Capitals’ Russian winger Alex Ovechkin is a powerhouse scorer, a natural, almost profound, talent. Mr. Williams owns another kind of DNA, recognizable instantly to middle managers, line cooks, and fishermen – those of us more used to grimaces of failure than tears of victory.

“You have to believe that you can win,” Mr. Williams told a reporter before his squad squeaked into the playoffs as a wild card.

Mr. Williams’ most recent Game 7 experience did not go well. Playing for the Capitals two years ago, the team lost a heartbreaker in an early round. Sans Mr. Williams, the Capitals regrouped last year, and Mr. Ovechkin led the team to the title.

Last year, Mr. Williams returned to the Canes and watched two younger players be named co-captains. When his former teammate Rod Brind’Amour took over the coaching job this season, he made Mr. Williams captain. The former co-captains told TV reporters they were relieved. “My approach to the captaincy is just to be myself,” he told reporters.

Gerry Broome/AP
Carolina Hurricanes’ Justin Williams (14) collides with Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) during the second period of Game 6 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series in Raleigh, North Carolina, Monday, April 22.

It worked. After the longest playoff drought in the league – 10 years – the Canes advanced to Round 2.

The Caps are 5-12 all-time in Game 7s, dead last in the league. The Hurricanes are 5-0.

Mr. Brind’Amour summed up the captain’s influence on the youngest squad in the playoffs: “Hey, frankly, he’s not the best player. But he knows how to win, and that’s more important.”

On cue, Mr. Williams scored a decisive goal on Monday to force the do-or-die. Last night, he scored the winning goal over the defending champions.

Willing his team to win, gritting it out to the last second, playing the game for its own joy – such values apparently resound in the locker room and far outside it.

“It’s quite simple,” Mr. Williams told reporters before Wednesday's elimination game. “You learn about people when it’s win or go home, when it’s us or them. [Monday] it was us, and now it’s them too. Anything can happen next game and we’re happy to be playing it.”

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The Monitor's View

The Sri Lankan counter to post-bombing revenge

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Stories about Sri Lankans coming together after the country’s worst terror attack are worth retelling because they serve an important purpose. Narratives of shared purpose could quell instincts toward retaliation against the minority Muslims, who make up about 10% of the population.

One goal of jihadist bombers is to provoke vicious cycles of revenge in a society and eliminate any coexistence between faiths. Social division can then drive Muslims into extremist violence and toward a final apocalyptic battle. This helps explain why Islamic State (ISIS) took responsibility for the April 21 attacks that killed more than 250 people.

Tales of Sri Lankans uniting after the bombings are starting to create a virtuous cycle that can counter the vicious one. Both Muslims and Buddhist monks have aided Christian mourners. Representatives of Islamic nations have met with Catholic clergy. Religious leaders of all faiths have appealed for calm. They were living out Sri Lanka’s centuries-old tradition of religious harmony. And perhaps such acts can crowd out any cycle of revenge.

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The Sri Lankan counter to post-bombing revenge

First shock, then flock.

That may be the best way to describe the response of dozens of people standing outside St. Anthony’s Church in Sri Lanka’s capital on Easter Sunday after a terrorist bombing struck Christians worshipping inside. According to press reports, local residents of all faiths and ethnicities rushed to help the victims staggering out of the Catholic church.

“Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian and Hindu citizens of that crowded, oldest, part of the city were the ‘first responders’ even before the emergency services arrived,” stated the Daily News media outlet. “The sheer spontaneity of the people’s immediate collective response symbolized Lanka’s social unity and sheer grit in the face of extreme violence and tragedy.”

This story, along with similar ones about Sri Lankans coming together after the country’s worst terror attack, is worth retelling because it serves an important purpose. Narratives of shared purpose could quell instincts toward retaliation against the minority Muslims, who make up about 10% of the population.

One goal of jihadist bombers is to provoke vicious cycles of revenge in a society and eliminate any coexistence between faiths. Social division can then drive Muslims into extremist violence and toward a final apocalyptic battle. This helps explain why Islamic State (ISIS) took responsibility for the April 21 attacks that killed more than 250 people.

“Intercommunal conflict and schism is precisely what ISIS hopes to provoke,” wrote Alan Keenan, project director in Sri Lanka for the International Crisis Group, about the attack.

“In addition to the Christian community that was the direct target of the bombings,” he adds, “what was attacked was Sri Lanka’s strained but still living tradition of inter-religious and inter-ethnic cooperation and friendship.”

Tales of Sri Lankans uniting after the bombing are starting to create a virtuous cycle that can counter the vicious one. Both Muslims and Buddhist monks have aided Christian mourners. Representatives of Islamic nations have met with Catholic clergy. Religious leaders of all faiths have appealed for calm.

“In a situation of this nature, we should not point our finger at any individual or group holding them responsible for the recent acts of violence. As a united nation, we have to rise from the ashes of destruction,” says one Catholic bishop, Raymond Wickramasinghe.

Last Sunday, after emergency workers arrived at St. Anthony’s Church, the residents who had helped the victims continued to stand together. They held hands and prayed. Like the Easter that had been celebrated in the church, they rose above the scene of death with a different story. They were living out Sri Lanka’s centuries-old tradition of religious harmony. And perhaps such acts can crowd out any cycle of revenge.

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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.

Making a difference

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Today’s contributor shares how she prayed during a challenging situation, leading to her doing one of the “many small things” that “many small people in many small places do,” which a Berlin Wall mural says “can alter the face of the world.”

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Making a difference

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Not long ago I went to Berlin with a choir I sing in. We joined well over 1,000 singers from around the world and the World Orchestra for Peace in performing “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace,” conducted by the composer himself, Sir Karl Jenkins. While in Berlin, I also visited the open-air art gallery of murals on the remains of the Berlin Wall. One message said “Many small people in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world.”

This reminds me of a recent experience I had along those lines. I teach painting and drawing for adults at a university. The room we first used for the classes was in an old building off campus and up steep stairs that were not easy to climb, especially when carrying all the equipment needed for art lessons. When the first term ended, some students could not face climbing all those stairs again and decided they would probably not enroll in class again for this reason. My colleague and the administration agreed that in the future, a room on the ground floor would be better.

I was looking forward to the new room, but on my arrival for the new term, the colleague who had previously authorized the use of that room denied giving our class access to it. An argument ensued. I felt I had been let down.

Later I realized I needed to get beyond my reaction, to find peace in my heart and let go of the resentment I was feeling toward this woman. I had learned in Christian Science that we are never justified in expressing anything less than love because that’s what we are made to express. As the loved children of God, all of us are harmoniously governed by God, who is divine Love.

This being our real, spiritual nature, we are fully equipped to let love, not anger, motivate us, even when it seems we’ve been wronged. Though we can’t change other people’s attitudes, we do have the privilege of correcting our own. In this case, I felt the need to quiet self-righteousness and instead to yield to the presence and power of God.

So I asked God, “How do you see this lady?”

My willingness to share God’s pure viewpoint brought answers. Speaking of God, the Bible says “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). God being entirely good, everything He creates must also be good – including all of us as Deity’s spiritual offspring who express His qualities. Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, explains in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” how Jesus was able to heal people through understanding this divine Science of our true relation to God. She writes: “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God’s own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick” (pp. 476-477).

With this in mind I was able to recognize that this woman had many fine qualities. For example, I genuinely appreciated the way she interacted with young people, showing kindness and generosity – qualities of divine Love.

A change came over me. I felt at peace and ready to apologize to my colleague.

A few days later, I was so glad to unexpectedly bump into this lady. We spontaneously threw our arms round each other! It was so beautiful.

The next week my class moved to a wonderfully spacious, easily accessible room with a sink and lots of good light, right on the college campus.

Each of us can feel certain of the love God expresses through us all, and we can reflect that love outward such that others can feel it as well. In this manner we can contribute to world peace in our own way, large or small.

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Viewfinder

All hail the queen

Marko Djurica/Reuters
The queen bee is seen on the frame of a hive in a village of Ripanj, Serbia. The country’s bees are being poisoned by insecticides, beekeepers say, with crop losses of $200 million estimated. While Serbia, which wants to join the European Union, has issued strict guidelines on chemicals in agriculture, many farmers ignore them, said Nenad Savic, a beekeeper in Ripanj.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( April 26th, 2019 )


Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

Come back tomorrow. Dominique Soguel will have a report on how Western societies deal with young women who ran off to join ISIS and now want to return home. 

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April 25, 2019
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