frankly, resist

This is a newsletter about regulatory hacking featuring (mostly) Canadian startups.

Because all start-ups need a regulatory strategy to succeed.

spotlight: frank

leadership: policing the pandemic

legislative pages: the resisters

space: CMHC housing supply challenge

tune: LATE - Chelsea Peretti

wtf: frank

Frank is for “non-management workers in any type of job to privately organize with their coworkers and create campaigns to improve their workplace.” It’s based in the US and is launching a little early specifically to help workers that may be displaced in light of COVID.

Somewhere on a whiteboard, this platform seemed like a *better* idea than direct policy advocacy for improved labour standards, wages, etc.

I was commiserating with a friend by email, and she zeroed in on how badly Frank misses the mark:

Like most Valley thinkers, these people make every problem into a logistics problem (i.e. if only management could be given the information about what workers want) and therefore myopically, come up with a solution targeting.... logistics (gather more data! communicate it quicker! connect people online 24/7!). There is zero power structure analysis and zero knowledge of what actually helps workers win (we know this spoiler: it's NEVER by negotiating privately).

Frank promises anonymity and claims that having management join is “against US labour law” (?) - note the emphatic distinction between *workers* and *management.* That said, I like how they have a live version of their FAQ on Medium. Last week, in my review of “Abolish Silicon Valley,” I shaded companies that still have hazy business models after 1+ year — Frank’s been at it since January 2019. Their best guess is a subscription model (holy, how much organizing are people gonna do?).

My 0.02: Frank reminds me of one of the core failures of one of my all-time favourite television shows: Undercover Boss. The disguises were everything. But each show concluded by throwing a one-off investment directed at one worker, ignoring the systemic failures and forces that were creating the very same problems that money was trying to solve (caring for a sick child or parent, exorbitant student debt, medical bills) instead of naming the core issues.

I read about “Frank” last week, the very same day that Foodora announced they were bouncing from Canada [see: Foodora initiates bankruptcy proceedings in Canada, leaving $4.7 million in debt]. This is relevant as Foodora workers had recently won the right to organize (as workers, not their bookshelves) in Ontario. If only they’d had a platform where they could collaborate (kidding!).

If I’m being ~frank~, I just can’t help but wonder how this was soft-launched without incorporating constructive feedback. Plus, it only has 42 upvotes on TechHunt. Maybe that’s a more important metric to the designers.

Back to labour organizing: it seems to me that workers have no shortage of platforms to share: there’s secure messaging like Signal, generic email, the Valley’s “Blind,” classic Facebook messenger, or even the ol’ anonymous Twitter account (such as this apparent Wine Rack employee going by 'Wine Hack Worker’ — great name, unfortunate situation).

Ultimately, I think that tools that can facilitate organizational capacity and further empower workers are fundamentally good. But I don’t think that kind of advocacy-adjacent work needs to be monetized or have a business built up around it, and I disagree that people don’t necessarily organize effectively because they lack the tools. They might get fired for attempting to organize. With Frank, what’s the monetization model? They claim they aren’t going to sell data - will they take a cut of your wage share once you earn it, or charge people to use the platform, creating barriers rather than removing them?

NB. I learned about this platform through Jesse Hirsh’s newsletter MetaViews last week. Yes, I lazily write this newsletter in the background of my life and it works.

leadership: policing the pandemic 🚓

Happy anniversary (ish): the Policing the Pandemic Mapping Project was launched on 4 April, 2020 to track and visualize the massive and extraordinary expansions of police power in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Canada and the unequal patterns of enforcement that may arise as a result. And you thought it was bad that you can’t go to High Park (it is).

The project aims to bring to light COVID-19 related patterns of police intervention to help understand who is being targeted, what justifications are being used by police, and how marginalized people are being impacted. There’s a searchable database, a white paper, and an interactive map.

The RCMP has enforcement powers under the Quarantine Act and the City of Toronto has been enforcing, but it’s important to ask how and when.

As of April 30, 2020, the TPS has conducted the following types of enforcement in relation to all of the orders and by-laws listed above:

  • 208 tickets

  • 26 summons

  • 3,700 cautions

  • 132 tags

  • 5 tows

“Policing the Pandemic” is developed by Alex Luscombe, University of Toronto & Alexander McClelland, University of Ottawa. Below are some (US) tweets I caught over the weekend that felt illustrative of the unequal application of these rules.

Here’s a Canadian one I found:

the resisters ⚾

Gish Jen’s fifth book was dissected by my book club at the end of April. As I read it, I had a familiar, albeit sinking feeling - was I eagerly reading YA….again? It’s a fun book to read - equal parts feminist and prescient.

We were unanimous that it was a light, escapist read that offers a solid introduction to a range of relevant policy and social issues like basic income, stark class divides, job automation, drones/surveillance, climate change, and trite gamification (“Life Points”). A sentiment was shared that the tensions were too obvious and not discoverable by the reader.

Here’s what goes down:

The time: not so long from now. The place: AutoAmerica. The land: half under water. The Internet: one part artificial intelligence, one part surveillance technology, and oddly human–even funny. The people: Divided. The angel-fair “Netted” have jobs, and literally occupy the high ground. The “Surplus” live on swampland if they’re lucky, on water if they’re not.

The story: To a Surplus couple–he once a professor, she still a lawyer–is born a Blasian girl with a golden arm. At two, Gwen is hurling her stuffed animals from the crib; by ten, she can hit whatever target she likes. Her teens find her happily playing in an underground baseball league.

When AutoAmerica rejoins the Olympics, though–with a special eye on beating ChinRussia–Gwen attracts interest. Soon she finds herself playing ball with the Netted even as her mother challenges the very foundations of this divided society.

While the book is marketed as being near-future, a lot of what the book describes is already happening now:

  • People play baseball (I’m kidding, you can’t even do that right now);

  • Varsity sports are a way for many families to access post-secondary education;

  • People use harsh chemicals to lighten their skin;

  • Families of different social classes occupy distinctly different neighbourhoods.

The book is narrated by the protagonist (Gwen)’s father, Grant - which for a female, racialized Boomer author is a total intellectual feat, yet for the reader, it’s boring AF. While the entire family resists in different ways (one main example is defiantly growing food from their own garden, to avoid what they suspect are drugs in the food supply intended to keep them docile), the mother, Eleanor, is a bad-ass lawyer resisting the governance-by-AI through legal means.

The family unit as resistance may feel familiar to those of you/us that are quarantining with immediate family. What else? I could see the Frank platform as part of this book HEYO!

Read more:

*Jen wrote a short story which is related to The Resisters for the New York Times' Opinion series "The Privacy Project" where "novelists, poets and artists imagine life in the age of surveillance." You can read the story Tell Me Everything at the NYT website.

space policy 🏠

What if I wrote something here that was less outer space, more: space for housing.

I found the soon-to-be-here “Housing Supply Challenge” through Impact Canada intriguing. Take a look if you have time. It’s “Smart Cities” for housing.

Impact Canada is a Government of Canada-wide effort that will help departments accelerate the adoption of innovative funding approaches to deliver meaningful results to Canadians. The Impact Canada challenge platform is a core component of the initiative. It allows Government of Canada departments to issue challenges on a common site and reach a diverse group of problem solvers and innovators.

The Challenge will award $300 million in prizes over five years.

Right now, they have identified issues and trends and are soliciting feedback:

  • Supporting urban densification;

  • Enhancing productivity in construction;

  • Improving data on land availability and value;

  • Reducing building timelines;

  • Addressing land availability constraints;

  • Expanding flexible tenure options;

  • Aligning transport infrastructure and housing.

This challenge is extra intriguing in the context of challenge-focussed industrial policy, as advocated in the New North Star 2 from the Public Policy Forum.

tune: chelsea peretti - late

Concept comedy album? Yes, plz. *This week’s newsletter is “late” because I spoke to my manager (me) and I can’t rationalize newsletter fun times ahead of class time prep.

‘How're you gonna show up late
With a coffee in your hand?
How're you gonna have me sit and wait
While you hit the coffee stand?
How're you gonna waltz in here?
Iced coffee in hand
Big smile on your big dumb face
Zero mention that you're fifteen late


Vass Bednar writes “regs to riches” and is a public policy solopreneur. 

She can be reached at vasiliki.bednar@gmail.com or follow her (er, me) on Twitter @VassB.

Archives available via regstoriches.substack.com