The DNC and the politics of accessibility

The Democratic National Convention took place from July 25-28 in Philadelphia PA, and while everyone was focused on the protests over the nomination process, there were some conflicts over decisions made by the DNC and the local host committee. One particularly contentious local issue that got little national attention was the DNC’s and Philadelphia mayor’s deal with the Uber ride-sharing service. Local taxi and Uber Black drivers have been protesting for more than a year that competing ride services should be required to adhere to the same rules and requirements to which they are subjected.

According to the protesters, the DNC deal with Uber belied the Party’s stated commitments to workers and members of vulnerable populations.  Philadelphia taxi union president Ronald Blount told Fusion : “They’re supposed to represent us working people, people who are less fortunate, people with disabilities, but it’s like they’re just rolling over for a shrimp cocktail and a ham sandwich.”

As a disabled journalist, I found myself directly affected by this dispute as I navigated the Convention. While I found demonstrable efforts to make the Convention accessible for those inside the Wells Fargo Arena and Philadelphia Convention Center – the primary locations where Convention activities took place – the preferential treatment accorded Uber put me in a position that could have turned out very badly.

“The Most Accessible Convention Ever”

Rev. Leah Daughtry, CEO of the 2016 Democratic National Convention Committee, speaks at an interfaith service that was part of the pre-Convention activities on Sunday, July 24, 2016 at the Philadelphia Civic Center.
Rev. Leah Daughtry, CEO of the 2016 Democratic National Convention Committee, speaks at an interfaith service that was part of the pre-Convention activities on Sunday, July 24, 2016 at the Philadelphia Civic Center.

Covering a major political party convention takes planning – even more so when you are doing it solo and you have a disability that impairs your mobility. So, I paid close attention to the press release that landed in my email inbox July 20th, outlining the steps that the Democratic National Committee was taking to assure that this would be, in the words of the press release headline, “the most accessible convention ever.” The release listed the measures taken by the DNCC, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors’ Bureau to assure accessibility. It was an extensive list. that included everything from structural modifications to the convention venues, to masks for chemical sensitivity, reachers, tactile maps, etc. As for transportation:

  • Transportation: Daily transportation will be provided to the Wells Fargo Center and Pennsylvania Convention Center from all state delegation hotels. Each state delegation will receive ADA accommodations to ensure a safe and seamless shuttle service to and from convention-related proceedings, including Golf Cart transfers from the security entrance to the building entrance at the Wells Fargo Center.

I live in the area, so I take taxis when I am traveling alone at night. I don’t use Uber or Lyft because I can’t count on them to be helpful or patient with me. Their reputation for accessibility is not good.  I had the number of a couple of drivers and companies that I was accustomed to calling.   I told one of them that I would probably be calling him. “I might not be able to get to you,” he said.  I was sure he was mistaken – the literature I’d been given, and the DNCC website clearly stated that it would be possible to get to and from the Wells Fargo Center, the principle Convention site, by taxi.

The daily media routine at the DNC

Jerry Springer exits the room where media pick up credentials.

A photo posted by Kim Pearson (@journogeek) on

The DNC actually took place at two separate locations, about five miles apart. The televised evening events were at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia, while morning and early afternoon press briefings, caucuses, committee meetings and community events were at the cavernous Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Reporters picking up credentials for the Democratic National Convention had to line up outside of this small room at the Convention Center. Not all credentials were created equal. To get to into the Wells Fargo Center as a journalist, you have to have a Secret Service -approved photo badge. The people lined up on the right of the photo are waiting to pick up their credentials. In addition to the Secret Service badge, you have to get a pass giving you access to the Wells Fargo center. Some people get badges that automatically confer access to the Convention floor and press gallery and tent throughout the Convention. Some get daily access. My badge entitled me to daily access to a public, overflow area behind the stage. As I went to through the line each day, I heard journalists from domestic and international outlets on the phone with their bosses, trying to upgrade their access.

The credentials staff got to know me. I was allowed to sit until it was my turn in line. By day three, I could be in and out of that room inside of 10 minutes.

By the way, if you wanted to know what Jerry Springer was doing at the Convention Center,  check out this interview with the Young Turks.

Drivers protest Uber: “This is an example of what’s wrong in politics.”

After Monday night speeches at the Wells Fargo Center,  Pennsylvania  delegates were shuttled back into Center City’s Doubletree hotel for a party hosted by Uber. There, they were met by protesting taxi and limousine drivers from the Fair Ride Philly Coalition.
According to the Fair Ride Philly announcement of the protest:

One of the main concerns of picketers is the recent deactivation of 17 Uber Black Limousine drivers that the coalition believes were retaliated against for their organizing for fair wages. Moreover, the deactivation is a microcosm of the broader problems of a company that inserts itself into the city’s transportation system with absolutely no regulation. Rida Ahmad a limousine driver for Uber explained his dire situation, “Uber has wrongfully retaliated against me and put me in $70K debt.” He continued, “I can’t appeal or do anything because there are no proper regulations. I blame PA Democrats because they gave temporary permission for Uber’s ride-sharing service to operate without any rules or laws.”

Connecting the plight of Limo drivers to the plight of cab drivers, Ron Blount, the President of the Taxi Workers Alliance said, “This is an example of what is wrong in politics.” He continued, “Uber is attempting to buy and bribe the political process so the multi-billion dollar company can get away with refusing to pay the minimum wage, stop workers from unionizing and refuse to offer service to the disabled.”

According to the Philadelphia Business Journal story, Uber maintains that the 17 deactivated drivers were dismissed because they were falsifying their locations in order to collect higher fares. The drivers deny the charges.

At 9 am the next morning, members of the Fair Ride coalition pleaded their case again with the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Replay the Facebook live video of that session.

Meanwhile, I opted not to go to the Wells Fargo Center Monday night, because there were heavy lightning storms. Instead, I hung out at a Convention Center watch party and caught a cab ride home with one of my regular drivers when the storms ended.

At the Wells Fargo Center

Entering the Wells Fargo Center
Entering the Wells Fargo Center on the Second day of the Democratic National Convention

On Tuesday, the day that Secretary Hillary Clinton became the official Democratic Party nominee, I made it to the Wells Fargo Center. As soon as I came through the security tent at the Wells Fargo Center, a staff member greeted me and offered to hail  a golf cart to take me to the door of the Convention. Not everyone was so lucky.  According to this story from Philadelphia’s NBC affiiliate, one Idaho man had to rely on his fellow delegates to help him over a curb at the Wells Fargo Center. The curb cut was blocked by a security fence erected to keep protesters at bay.

Entering the Wells Fargo Center is like coming upon a media bazaar. There’s a carnival of broadcast outlets, but instead of barkers, there are interns and production assistants button-holing people for interviews. I’ve got some more walking to do to find my assigned spot.

I’m almost in the top tier, on the right side and behind the stage. To see the speakers, I have to look at monitors on the side of the stage backdrop. I can see the bank of major print and online reporters on the floor working at tables with power outlets. I had almost been allowed by one volunteer,  but then another volunteer looked at my badge, consulted a color-coded chart and sent me up here, which is regular stadium seating.  I’m texting with delegates to line up interviews, but I have to persuade them to leave the floor. I can see the roll call, hear the excitement. I can also see some of the rows of seats empty out right after Sen. Bernie Sanders calls for Clinton’s nomination by acclamation. I get a text from a newspaper reporter friend about the protest in the media tent, but I’ve been told I don’t have access to it. I don’t even know where it is.

So, I’m alternating between the crow’s nest and the main floor, catching people in the hallways and elevators.  When I get back, the seats are gone, and a Convention staffer is trying to hand me a Hillary poster to wave after the roll call. I hold up my  press badge and say, “I can’t. I’m a journalist.” Everyone else, even the people who have been tapping away on the laptops on their knees the whole time, has a sign.

Any way,  below are some of the images I gathered while running  back and forth between the crow’s nest, hallways and elevators.  And here’s an interview I did in the hallway with a Bernie Sanders delegate, right after the roll-call vote.

Taxi? What taxi?

At the end of the night, I asked the Wells Fargo staff for directions to the taxi stand. “Uber is right across the street, past the security tent.,” they say. “Not Uber, the taxi stand. They look at each other, confused. So does the man who meets me when I get out of the golf cart at the end of the security perimeter. So do the people at the lot, where there is a very big Uber sign. Okay, if there’s no taxi, how about a shuttle, I ask?  I get directed to a tent where mercifully, someone tells me that the only shuttle available there are to take employees to a distant parking lot. Nobody seems to know about any lot for taxis.

A police officer tells me to take the subway – the subway I didn’t want to take because the stop where I would have to get off doesn’t have an elevator,  and getting home from there involves walking several blocks. But it’s nearly midnight, and no one can come get me. Maybe, one Wells Fargo staffer offers, I can get a taxi from the Holiday Inn at Packer Avenue, a mile away.

I take my chances with the subway, which people are running for as if it’s the last train that will ever be come to any subway station ever.  The operator sees me and holds the door for until I board. A nice couple from Jersey who is volunteering at the Convention offers me a seat. They are taking the train back to City Hall and picking up their car from a lot there.

I make it up the steps down the four long blocks to home. The streets and tunnels are empty except for the people who have had to make their beds there for the night. The step counter on my phone registers 22,549 steps. Thank God for Epsom Salts.

The next day, I read that the taxi and Lyft drivers are complaining about being Uber staff denied them the ability to pick up and drop off customers at the arena. According to the story on the dispute:

Most car services were allowed to drop off passengers at the Wells Fargo Center at Lot V, while Ubers were assigned to Lot T, DNC spokesman Lee Whack said, adding that all legal car services had access.

“Any and every legal transportation service has access to the parking lots of Wells Fargo Center to pick up and discharge passengers,” he said.

I’m here to tell you that none of the people I talked to Tuesday night knew anything about a lot V. No signs pointed to a lot V. I took a very big chance that night, and I was fortunate. Needless to say that my family and friends were livid when they found out what happened. I did get a lecture that I should have just downloaded the Uber app, but that wasn’t a solution at 11:30 at night in a dark parking lot among strangers.

Putting on  a Convention is a complex endeavor, and I’m not mad at anybody. But complex undertakings often lead to unintended consequences, and this is just one example.

I watched the rest of the Convention on television.


Broadcast media area

A photo posted by Kim Pearson (@journogeek) on


The view from the general press gallery.

A photo posted by Kim Pearson (@journogeek) on

Rep. Rosa Delauro

A photo posted by Kim Pearson (@journogeek) on

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser

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DNC 2016: The Women Caucus

At a political convention, caucuses are intended as cheerleading sessions to rally the faithful, and the Women’s Caucus sessions at the DNC were no exception. This was one of several special interest groups meetings run by the DNC during its morning and noon-time sessions, and the attendees on Tuesday morning were getting hyped as party luminaries such as newly appointed DNC Chair Donna Brazile and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi enthused about the historic nature of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

Here’s Brazile leading the crowd in a call-and-response tribute to women’s rights advocates from Abigail Adams to the modern era:

Donna Brazile shouted out feminist heroes from Abigail Adams to Barbara Jordan, and of course, Hillary Clinton.

A video posted by Kim Pearson (@journogeek) on

Brazile recalled that Adams, the wife of Founding Father John Adams, had written to her husband asking him and his Continental Congress comrades to “remember the ladies” as they plotted a course toward independence. Here is the full quote:

“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”


Brazile, a political veteran who speaks in cadences reminiscent of the Rev. Jesse Jackson at the height of his powers, spoke indirectly to the controversy surrounding the Wikileaks disclosure that some DNC staffers talked about ways of undermining the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt).  She had apologized to the Sanders campaign two days before.


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A Post-#Ferguson Reflection

This is the morning after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the August 9, 2014 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. I watched St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s announcement, said a prayer for Brown’s family, the people of Ferguson and the protestors who filled the streets outside the police station there, as well as in cities around the country. I said a prayer for my friends in St. Louis County, some in the media, some who are educators, some in government. I said a prayer for all of the black men I know, and for all of us who love them. And then I went to bed, because I knew that the morning would come, and there would still be serious work to do.

The details of what is happening in Ferguson matter, but the response must take into account the reality that, as New Yorker writer and University of Connecticut history professor Jelani Cobb has written, “Ferguson is America.” full of fears and frustrations that, often misdirected and misplaced, circumscribe the lives of black men daily. Cobb writes:

I was once a linebacker-sized eighteen-year-old, too. What I knew then, what black people have been required to know, is that there are few things more dangerous than the perception that one is a danger. I’m embarrassed to recall that my adolescent love of words doubled as a strategy to assuage those fears; it was both a pitiable desire for acceptance and a practical necessity for survival.  I know, to this day, the element of inadvertent intimidation that colors the most innocuous interactions, particularly with white people. There are protocols for this. I sometimes let slip that I’m a professor or that I’m scarcely even familiar with the rules of football, minor biographical facts that stand in for a broader, unspoken statement of reassurance: there is no danger here. And the result is civil small talk and feeble smiles and a sense of having compromised. Other times, in an elevator or crossing a darkened parking lot, when I am six feet away but the world remains between us, I remain silent and simply let whatever miasma of stereotype or fear might be there fill the void.

I was 24 years old and in graduate school. I had decided to surprise my parents by popping in for a weekend, unannounced. It must have been autumn, because it was dark when I arrived, and it was still early evening.  I came in the front door and found out they weren’t home. I put my bags upstairs, turned on the kitchen light, and I saw their car pulling into the back driveway. I went downstairs to open the back door for them, reaching up with my right hand to flip a light switch, and pulling the door back with my left.. On the back lawn, I made out the figure of a young white police officer pointing his gun at me. I think he said something like, “Hands up! Police!” but I no longer remember. From the right, I heard my father’s voice, and I saw him rounding the back of the car with his arms outstretched.

“Don’t shoot! That’s my daughter!”

The officer paused. I think he turned his head to look at my father and back to me. I stood still. My father stood still, where the officer could see him. He holstered his gun. He confirmed that everything was okay and he left. The crisis had passed. Later, we learned that a neighbor had seen the light go on in the kitchen and panicked, knowing that my parents’ car was not in the driveway and I was away at school. There had been some robberies in the neighborhood. It was a simple misunderstanding, easily rectified.

Fortunately, the officer did not feel threatened. Fortunately, he was able to hear my father. Fortunately, he was not like the panicky rookie cop in Brooklyn who recently shot an unarmed man to death in a stairwell.

Of course, I was reminded of the Richard Pryor joke about one of his own encounters with the police, where he loudly intoned, “I am reaching into my wallet, to get my driver’s license,” because, he said, “I don’t to be no (bleeping) accident!”  Years later,  I told my Race, Gender and News students about the encounter as we discussed how one should cover the acquittal of four police officers in the shooting death of unarmed 22-year-old Amadou Diallo in the doorway of his apartment building. He was, it turned out, reaching for his identification when the heavily-armed police officers fired on him.

What if I had been male?

What if something had been in my hand?

What if my father had not shown up?

My experience was not that of Mike Brown, Amadou Diallo, or John Crawford, the 22-year-old who was shot to death (graphic video warning) in an Ohio Walmart while talking on the phone and holding a toy gun in an open-carry state.  It was, however, frightening enough that I cried writing this, 33 years later. My encounter happened before the height of the crack epidemic, mass incarceration and mass marketing of the hypermasculinity and lunatic madness of corporate-sponsored gangster rap. (See Byron Hurt’s “HipHop Beyond Beats and Rhymes.”)

As the fires are doused in Ferguson, there is pain and anger in the streets. People who put their faith in peaceful protest feel betrayed. Civil libertarians worry about the militarization of police. Certainly these are important issues. TheUS Justice department may impose reforms on the Ferguson Police Department in light of this and other charges of the use of racial profiling and excessive force over a period of years.

Indeed, as former police commissioner Anthony Bouza has argued, police-community tensions reflect a larger societal failure to confront disparities of poverty and race.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has set up a commission to examine the root causes of and potential remedies for the region’s racial and economic divides. When Pres. Lyndon Johnson appointed a similar commission nearly 50 years ago, one of the common understandings to emerge was the need for everyone to feel as if they had a stake in the system. Author Michelle Alexander put it this way:

[T]rue justice will come only when our criminal injustice system is radically transformed: when we no longer have militarized police forces, wars on our communities, a school-to-prison pipeline, and police departments that shoot first and ask questions later. True justice will be rendered not when when a single “guilty” verdict is rendered in one man’s case, but when the system as a whole has been found guilty and we, as a nation, have committed ourselves to repairing, as best we can, the immeasurable harm that has been done.

I’ve asked friends who know the Ferguson area what young people there have to look forward to. They struggle for an answer. Jobs are scarce. Normandy, Missouri, the school system where Michael Brown earned his diploma is so poor, it lost its accreditation in 2013.  In Education Week this past September, Normandy teacher Inga Schaenen argued,

Nearly every student I teach has lived through encounters with the police that nobody should ever have to experience. (I know this from their journal entries written the first week of school.) And we know from research conducted by Gloria Ladson-Billings,Alfred Tatum, and many others regarding African-American students that best practices call for teachers to actively, critically, and morally engage students’ real lives and communities. When we do so, our students will achieve academically. Pedagogically speaking, designing community-responsive, standards-based activities and lessons is a moral imperative in Normandy.

One friend to whom I posed this question directed me to St. Louis Community College’s Bridge to STEM program, which provides intensive tutoring and mentoring to prepare students with a diploma or G.E.D. for study in the life sciences. The school also offers accelerated workforce training in a range of technical fields, in partnership with local industry. Certainly, this is part of the puzzle.

But it leaves unanswered the question that Du Bois posed more than a century ago: “Training for life teaches living; but what training for the profitable living together of black men and white? Especially since, it must be acknowledged,  most poor Americans are not black, and pessimism about future economic opportunities is pervasive in the US and other advanced economies.

Here, again, the work begins anew. I am a journalist and educator, not a civil rights attorney or policy maker.  There is a lot to be said about how the press has covered all of this, and I will leave that to others. I want to help people find a reason for hope.

My own effort, although it may seem unrelated, is to think about how we can use media to support those who people together across lines of difference to work on common community problems. That’s part of my personal stake in projects such as SOAP, an interdisciplinary collaboration to provide New Jersey residents with accessible, comprehensive and current information about polluted properties in their neighborhoods. (If you follow the link, you won’t see much now, but there is a lot going on behind the scenes, that we hope to make public in coming months.) Our hope is that SOAP will help agencies such as Habitat for Humanity in siting affordable housing. We also hope it will be useful to Isles, a Trenton non-profit working to promote environmental and economic sustainability, in finding safe property for the dozens of community gardens its volunteers build to combat hunger. Community gardens not only help combat hunger – they may make communities safer.

This is one of several projects, and it is only a beginning. Ultimately, I think the media’s part of the solution will also have to include a shift toward what I’m calling culturally responsive journalism – a journalism that covers community responses to problems in ways that emphasize that humanity and enlarge the capacity of the community to take action to solve problems. We saw elements of that approach in the coverage of Ferguson – Michel Martin’s #Beyond Ferguson forum, for example. I still believe alternate reality games can be useful in this area. But that is another post.



Also of interest: Sheila Seuss Kennedy calls for a new GI Bill that includes a one year program of civic service and participation.

Toward a more perfect union: the case for culturally responsive computational journalism

The slides below are from a presentation I gave today as this semester’s Faculty Senate Colloquium lecturer at The College of New Jersey. To be chosen by one’s peers to deliver such a research talk is a singular honor. I am particularly grateful to my English department colleague, the distinguished scholar and pundit Cassandra Jackson, whose introduction made me sound like someone I’d like to meet.

Here is the presentation abstract:

I moved from industry into academia 25 years ago because I had come to an understanding that the “hollowing-out” and flattening, of corporate, political and cultural hierarchies would make the role of professional communicators more central to the effective functioning of businesses and communities. As the expansion of the Internet and online technologies upended the news and communication industries, I became increasingly engaged with understanding how professional communicators could adapt to these seismic changes. This ultimately led to my current research in the development of culturally responsive models for teaching and practicing computational journalism. In this talk, I will draw upon that research to articulate a vision for a culturally responsive journalism. I will argue that culturally responsive computational journalism is essential to realizing the constructive potential of the seismic changes that computer science has visited upon the news industry. Properly crafted and implemented, culturally responsive journalism could:

1. Create an inclusive epistemology of journalism that moves beyond naive empiricism and the current propagandistic journalism of assertion
2. Democratize access to media technologies by broadening participation in the development and deployment of civic media
3. Deepen and broaden critical user engagement with the news
4. Deepen and broaden civic engagement
Computing technology and networks afford almost everyone the opportunity to be a publisher, but they also reward those who are computationally fluent with superior access to the public square. For this reason, I envision a future in which broad application and refinement the pedagogical models being developed here and elsewhere can actually empower citizens and strengthen democracy.



Here are links to sources for the presentation:

“Newspaper Newsroom Workforce Continues to Drop.”  Pew Research Journalism Project. March 20, 2014

Broadband technology fact sheet.” Pew Research Internet Project.

Computer and Internet Use 1984-2012 US Census

Closing the Digital Divide: Latinos and Technology Adoption Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project

The State of Digital Divides. Pew Internet Research Project. Nov. 5,2013

The Digital Divide is Still Leaving Americans Behind.” Jessica Goodman,  Mashable,  August 20, 2013

Yahoo Latest Tech Icon to Reveal Lack of Diversity.” Jessica Guynn, USA Today, August 15, 2014

Interactive Journalism Institute for Middle Schoolers

CABECT research website

CABECT in a nutshell (flyer describing the project, with some preliminary data)


Baltimore Sun editor forecasts era of newspapers without copy editors

Baltimore Sun editor John E. McIntyre opined on parent company Gannett’s latest reorganization, concluding that one goal “appears to be the elimination of Gannett’s remaining copyeditors,” and offering advice both to the reporters who will be responsible for vetting their own work, and the news consumers who will need to be even more gimlet-eyed when scanning the headlines. One wonders whether Gannett will also try to make reporters responsible for any potential legal consquences stemming from what they publish as well, since newspaper copy editors also function as fact-checkers. Or perhaps someone at Narrative Science is working on a robotic copy editor. Either way, it’s just another way in which the functional division between bloggers and reporters is crumbling.

If I’m right, Gannett staffers might find some value in the guide to legal resources for online publishers that I penned for the Online Journalism Review a few years ago.