Tracing Political Counter-Movements, From The Tea Party To The Resistance

Mar 3, 2020

On today's program: Three decades into the ADA, Pittsburgh still has a long way to go; how fracking could influence the 2020 election; a new book explores how grassroots organizing is upending the democratic process; and questions remain about whether Allegheny County is pursuing facial recognition technology. 

Celebrating the ADA, while making Pittsburgh accessible for all
(00:00 — 10:15)

Thirty years ago, Congress approved the Americans with Disabilities Act to end discrimination in employment, housing and access to spaces open to the public. Advocates are celebrating the anniversary today at the Disability and Mental Health Summit in Pittsburgh. 

“Prior to 1990, if you were in a wheelchair and went to a movie theater, they could deny you entry because you were a fire hazard,” says former California Congressman Tony Coelho, who wrote the original legislation.

Coelho, who’s keynoting the event in Pittsburgh, says he’s excited about the progress he’s seeing in old Rust Belt towns like Pittsburgh, where accommodations like sidewalks, arts programming and building design are more thoughtfully considered than in years prior. 

“They make accessibility a key part of what they’re doing, as opposed to trying to provide accommodations after the buildings are built,” he says.

Coelho, who has epilepsy, says the No. 1 need nationwide is jobs. According to Cornell University, 37 percent of Pennsylvanians with disabilities are employed, which matches the national average.

“People need to look at us and see what we can do, as opposed to assuming what we can’t do,” Coelho says.

He says he’d like to see the ADA expanded, but he’s hesitant to push for any amendments since the House voted in 2018 to weaken the law

Could an anti-fracking candidate win in PA?
(11:26 — 17:52)

Climate change has become a key issue in the Democratic presidential primary, but it's tricky in Pennsylvania where fracking has become a controversial part of the economy. For StateImpact Pennsylvania, the Allegheny Front's Reid Frazier reports.

Political activism is flourishing in the 21st Century
(17:54 — 30:31)

Since President Donald Trump's election in 2016, anti-Trump activists have responded by running for office, knocking on doors and building homegrown political organizations. A new book takes a look at that wave and the divisiveness that's affected nearly every corner of our democratic process.

For The Confluence, WESA political editor Chris Potter talks to co-author Theda Skocpol, professor of government and sociology at Harvard University, and essayist Lara Putnam, a University of Pittsburgh history professor who's been studying grassroots political movements in the Pittsburgh area.

Both will discuss “Upending American Politics: Polarizing Parties, Ideological Elites, and Citizen Activists from the Tea Party to the Anti-Trump Resistance,” now out in paperback, in person at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 19 at Riverstone Books in McCandless. Co-author and fellow Harvard historian Caroline Tervo will also attend. Tickets are free, and books will be available at the door.

What does the DA’s office want from its surveillance network?
(31:35 — 40:00)

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala has built a five-county network of more than 1,000 cameras using $1.5 million in drug forfeiture money, and old emails acquired by the Harrisburg-based newspaper The Caucus suggest Zappala was considering enabling them to scan and store faces as far back as 2016.

Data journalist Mike Wereschagin reports that Zappala engaged the private facial recognition technology firm Biometrica in conversation that summer. An email immediately following an August meeting with Biometrica’s CEO asked whether its products were compatible with the Pennsylvania Justice Network, or JNET, which includes photos and personal data of people who’ve never been arrested. Only law enforcement agencies are permitted access to JNET, not private entities. 

Wereschagin says there’s evidence to suggest a potential partnership, which never materialized, between the county and Biometrica involved using “facial recognition software to keep juveniles who are on probation out of certain areas,” according to the reporting. Zappala’s office has since said that the network doesn’t employ facial recognition, and there are no plans to use it, but Wereschagin writes it’s the latest story to alarm privacy advocates, cybersecurity experts and civil libertarians.

He explains more about the network, the Chinese technology that supports it, and what he expects from a hearing Friday with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, which could compel Zappala to release more information.

90.5 WESA’s Caroline Bourque contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.