Council Updates – celebrate suffrage and summer

All:

We’re two-thirds through the summer, and hopefully fully through heat waves.  As for the pandemic – our city is doing incredibly well in the statistics used to measure progress fighting the coronavirus.  Massachusetts and Middlesex county are also doing well – but Cambridge numbers are much better than the state.  So far, we have flattened the curve, and have very few new cases of Covid19, and a low positivity rate.  We are re-opening slowly, and monitoring progress.  We need even more testing capacity and need to keep washing hands, masking-up, and staying distant from most other people.  We should all keep up our best practices, and recognize that we can make it through this time.  

As our thoughts turn to the fall – which usually includes a return to school – the new normal is not normal at all.  Or even defined.  Our schools – at every level – are struggling to manage the unprecedented crisis represented by Covid19.  More on this issue below.

In just two weeks, the state primary will be held – and voting has already started.  As I noted last week, Cambridge has changed 14 of the old polling stations – in order to ensure all polls have safe, well-ventilated spaces for in-person voting – for poll workers and voters.  Here is the list of changes.  More info on voting by mail at the end of this email.  Our democracy depends on voting, and with the primary being before Labor Day and folks concerned about lines, now is the time to show up – early voting, or by mail.  Some elections in our city are decided in a primary election – so it is important to vote.  Note that if you are unaffiliated with a party, you may still vote in the primary – ask for the ballot of whichever party you want.  

I encourage everyone to take care of yourself – and take a break – it is summer!  With various travel restrictions, plans for a vacation to visit my sisters (four of whom live out of state) are on hold, and our USA passports are essentially worthless for now… but there are great places in Massachusetts.  I recently visited a real treasure – MassMOCA – which had safety protocols in place that made a visit feel very safe.  Highly recommended, and while out there, buy local and support our economy, which desperately needs it.  

One more note on these times:  so many people are suffering and economically we have only just started to see the long term impacts of this crisis.  Projections for the state budget shortfall are dire (in the billions) and thousands face eviction just in our area.  If you can, contribute to one of the many worthwhile organizations helping out.  The Cambridge Community Foundation has a couple of different funds, including one focused on helping the arts.  And the Mayor’s Relief Fund is still accepting donations.  Cambridge Mutual Aid Network has opportunities to help, and is helping provide support to neighboring Chelsea, which has been extremely hard hit by Covid19.  Give what you can.  And if you need help yourself, reach out to these same organizations and ask.  Now is the time to show what our community can do. 

As always, hope you can stay safe, sane and cool,

Patty 

A weaving made from Amazon shipping boxes at MASS MoCA

This month represents a number of dates related to the remarkable and wonderful event ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO of universal women’s suffrage in the USA.  The long story of how women struggled for the vote – how central to the struggle was the concomitant struggle for abolition of slavery and the enfranchisement of formerly enslaved people – is a critical part of our history.  Just as the 15th amendment did not mean all black men could vote – since many ways were used to prevent voting – so the 19th amendment did not lead to all women being able to vote.  It would take the Voting Rights act in the 1960s before many Black residents could exercise their vote.  And Native Americans were not universally allowed to vote until the passage of the Snyder Act in 1924, and even then some states continued to prevent voting by Native Americans even as late as the 1960s.  And today of course we continue to see efforts to disenfranchise people who have a right to vote.  

A number of wonderful programs are planned to celebrate the centennial of women’s suffrage  – the very fact that women couldn’t always vote is still somewhat stunning.  There are city sponsored programsHistorical Society programs and many statewide and nationally – definitely check out all of them.   

And on August 26, join me in a communal reading of The Declaration of Sentiments and the UN convention agatinst Discrimination – sign up to read a portion or just listen. 

Last Week's Hearings and Updates

8/10 Special meeting to receive COVID-19 updates: This meeting was a chance for the Council to hear from the City Manager during our summer recess to get updates while COVID is still present in our city and state. We discussed the relocating of the City Emergency Shelter, the Shared Streets initiative, and testing sites during the month of August. (See the increased testing capacity and sign up for slots here.)

University Relations Committee HearingThis hearing included presentations from the three universities in Cambridge and their plans to bring students back to campus. You can see the presentations here. Each is planning on bringing a section of their student body back to campus, with a rigorous testing plan in place. Universities and colleges nationwide and here in Cambridge are also in dire straits – struggling to educate students in a time of a pandemic. With students traveling from across the world to attend MIT, Harvard and Lesley, the risk of spreading Covid19 is a concern.  In the notes below, I summarize a council meeting on this issue as it relates to Cambridge.  

School Committee and City Council Joint HearingThis was a conversation with all elected officials in the city about reopening the schools. While there was no vote taken since it is just a special meeting, it was a productive conversation. Here is the latest reopening plan – the beginning of the year will be almost entirely remote, with reconsiderations based on if the COVID numbers in the city and region get better. 

Our K-12 schools have been making plans for a safe re-opening, whether using remote or in -person, while recognizing that for many students, remote learning just doesn’t work.  And effective instruction requires in-person contact for younger students and students especially vulnerable students with special needs or executive function challenges.  With many parents and families and households not well-equipped to provide a safe learning environment, the challenge is even greater – what about the parent who is an essential worker with a young child who needs oversight during on-screen learning?  The choices are unfathomably difficult to make.  I fully support the School Committee and school district administration in their efforts to provide a good educational experience.  Our statistics as a city suggest that we can safely provide instruction – although there are many in the community who disagree.  I hope that we can work together to find a solution that protects staff and students.  The summer learning loss is well documented – already the Covid spring slide has exacerbated the learning gaps in education.  We need to pivot to an effective instructional strategy to address this problem.     

I note that our city has many other K-12 schools as well – and all are working overtime to ensure learning – including the three public charter schools to the many independent and parochial schools.  I have advocated for us to ensure that the city include ALL students in our planning and support – not only the regular public school students.  After all, we know that preschools deserve support, and the 20-25% of students who opt out of our regular public schools.  

Learn more and get resources at an upcoming town hall:

  • August 17 | 6PM | CRLS Family & Caregiver Town Hall | Join Meeting
  • August 19 | 6:30PM | HSEP Town Hall | Join Meeting
  • August 22 | 10AM – 12PM | Back-to-School Family Resource Fair | Pisani Center, 131 Washington Street | Details
  • August 22 | 1 – 3PM | Back-to-School Family Resource Fair | 808 Memorial Drive | Details
  • August 29 | 10AM – 12PM | Back-to-School Family Resource Fair | Fresh Pond Apartments | Details

Special Meeting of the City Council to Discuss Police Body Cameras: This meeting was the result of a policy order passed a few months ago to have a discussion about the use of body cameras in Cambridge. Currently, the Police do not use cameras (on their person or car dashboards) and the question of whether cameras are effective at increasing transparency and reducing police violence remains unanswered. The use of body cameras for the sake of evidence comes at the cost of increased surveillance, not to mention a fairly high cost for the technology and video storage. It was an informative discussion that will be continued, but I am glad that I am not alone on the council in thinking that a body camera program that costs north of a million dollars may not be as effective as investing in more social services that are lacking funding. 

Updates

Drought: The state has now declared that the entire state is in drought Level 2.  My  policy order from July 27 noted that Cambridge had not done all it should have in 2016 and asked that the city take action now to alert residents of the need to save water on non-essential uses.  We still need to wash our hands often and water our trees, especially those new trees on city property.  However, we should limit showers as much as we can, not water lawns or wash our cars.  Do only full loads of laundry and if you have one, use your dishwasher and run it full.  We can and should save water.  I have urged the city to communicate the need for conserving water to all residents. 

Shared Streets: Last week, the City hosted its second community webinar to provide details about the proposed streets to add to the Shared Streets network. You can view the proposed additions and share your feedback via the Cambridge COVID-19 Street Changes Map. TODAY is the last day to give your feedback! As I stated in last week’s email, I believe there is room for improvement. We need to understand what has worked well so far and then continue to experiment with the massive amount of public space that is currently allocated to cars in our city. I will keep pushing for us to gather data on use in order to best inform our decisions for future deployment of shared streets.

It is important to note that the vision of a citywide network of streets along which people may traverse the city safely – whether on foot, bicycle, or car – has been laid out and finally after decades of wishes in in the implementation stage.  The vision of streets being used differently – to expand in essence the public way into a place for playing and ambling – is the one that prompted my policy order on this idea.  Those two visions are complementary and yet are not the same.  Streets for transit should be different from streets for playing.  I will continue to advocate for both visions.  

Elimination of Library Fees:  Mayor Siddiqui and Vice Mayor Mallon led the effort to look into eliminating library fines, which has led to the city taking action to do so.  The cities that have taken this step found that readership went up, and that those most affected were from groups that are economically disadvantaged.  I was happy to support these efforts and happy to see it come to the city, so that more people will feel free to take advantage of the wonderful and varied offering at our libraries.  Especially in this time of covid, our libraries are a lifeline for many people.  

Temporary Emergency Shelter relocation: the original shelter at the War Memorial Recreation Center is moving to a City-funded temporary emergency homeless shelter in the east wing of the Spaulding Hospital-Cambridge, Inc. facility located at 1575 Cambridge Street. 

Hazardous Waste Day: The City of Cambridge holds four Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Collection Days for Cambridge residents only – the next one is this Saturday, August 22nd at 65 Waverly St. Due to COVID-19, there are extra safety protocols being implemented. Please review the changes here.  And make use of this opportunity to properly dispose of hazardous waste – I’m gathering our CFLs and random paint cans to bring over. 

Voting

You can vote early in Massachusetts, including for the state primary on Tuesday August 1, either in person or by mail. 

In Person Early Voting Locations, Hours and Days for the State Primary:

The Election Commission office located 51 Inman Street will NOT be an early voting location for the State Primary, September 1st and State/Presidential Election, November 3rd. Voters must go to one of the designated early voting locations listed below.

  • Moses Youth Center – 243 Harvard Street, Main Entrance 
  • Cambridge Water Department – 250 Fresh Pond Parkway
  • Valente Library – 826 Cambridge Street, Side Entrance on Berkshire Street

When can you vote early?

  • Saturday, August 22nd – 2pm – 8pm
  • Sunday, August 23rd – 9am – 3pm
  • Monday, August 24th – 9:30am – 5pm
  • Tuesday, August 25th – 9:30am – 5pm
  • Wednesday, August 26th – 9:30am – 5pm
  • Thursday, August 27th – 9:30am – 5pm
  • Friday, August 28th – 9:30am – 5pm

No-excuse Mail in Voting:

1. Complete a vote by mail application

2. Deliver your Application to the Cambridge Election Commission by email, mail or fax

  • The application must arrive by August 26th to vote by mail in the September 1st State Primary

  • The application must arrive by October 28th to vote by mail in the November 3rd State/Presidential Election

3. Vote when your ballot arrives

  • Ballots for the September 1st State Primary will be mailed beginning in early August

  • Ballots for the November 3rd State/Presidential election will be mailed beginning in early October

4. Return your ballot to the Cambridge Election Commission by 8 pm on Election Day

  • Mail: the envelopes will be addressed and postage is provided!

  • In-person/Drop-Box: The Election Commission has a ballot drop box located on the basement floor of 51 Inman Street. Any City of Cambridge voter wanting to hand deliver their ballot may use the drop box to do so. Please enter through the side entrance on Inman Place. The drop box is available Monday to Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Anyone entering the building is required to first sign in and then may insert their ballot into the drop box.

This week’s trivia question:
Same as last week since no one got it! Reminder – winner gets a gift card to a local cafe/restaurant!
 

Which state in the USA first gave women the right to vote – and when and why? 

(And as a side note, Cambridge voted 2 to 1 AGAINST women’s suffrage in a statewide referendum in 1915. So much for our progressive history!)