Rachel M. Cohen

Rachel M. Cohen is a journalist based in Washington, D.C., and a former American Prospect writing fellow.

Recent Articles

Why Civic Tech Can't Be Neutral

Harnessing the power of technology to make real social change. 

Rachel M. Cohen
Rachel M. Cohen Catherine Bracy speaking at the 2015 Personal Democracy Forum in New York City. T echnology in the service of democracy—“civic tech”—has become the cause of a growing number of coders, hackers, political strategists, non-profit executives, activists and others who come together at an annual conference called the Personal Democracy Forum (PDF). The most recent meeting in New York City on June 4 and 5 attracted about 850 participants. But as that meeting showed, the civic-tech world is divided on a fundamental question. Some strive to avoid anything that could appear partisan or ideological, while others believe that civic tech’s shared vision cannot come to fruition without challenging power. PDF’s co-founders, Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej took a clear position: “Civic tech cannot be neutral,” they said. “When a few have more than ever before, and many are asking for equal rights and dignity, civic tech cannot be simply about improving basic government services, like...

The Uphill Battle of Unionizing a Philly Charter School

How a Philadelphia charter operator can spend tens of thousands of public dollars to fight a union.

Sean Kitchen/ Raging Chicken Press
Sean Kitchen/ Raging Chicken Press Teachers from Olney Charter High School in Philadelphia rally at the Pennsylvania headquarters of ASPIRA, a national charter school operator, on April 30. O n April 30 th , faculty at North Philadelphia’s Olney Charter High School voted 104-38 in favor of forming a union, an NLRB election that Olney’s charter operator, ASPIRA, has since announced they’re challenging . Olney’s union campaign is only the latest in a small but rapidly growing wave of charter union drives nationwide. But few efforts have been as contentious, or as revealing, as this one. Ever since the campaign began three years ago, ASPIRA has pumped tens of thousands of dollars into an elaborate union-busting effort, even as the beleaguered district it’s funded by struggles with massive debt. Unionizing Olney also threatens to shine light on ASPIRA’s questionable finances, at a time when authorities at the state and district level have failed to act. More broadly, the union drive in...

Our Auto Recall System is Broken. Here's How Not to Fix It

Two new state-level bills may actually make it harder for consumers to hold car companies accountable for dangerous safety flaws. 

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, displays a GM ignition switch similar to those linked to 13 deaths and dozens of crashes of General Motors small cars like the Chevy Cobalt, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. I n October 2004, 24-year-old Raechel Houck rented a Chrysler PT Cruiser from Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Capitola, California, 75 miles south of San Francisco. Driving north along Highway 101 later that same day, Raechel and her sister Jacqueline were killed when the car hit an 18-wheeler and burst into flames. Unbeknownst to Raechel or her sister, 435,000 PT Cruisers, including the one they had just rented, had been recalled the previous month. The recall notice cited a leaky power steering hose, which could cause a fire. A year later their parents, Cally and Charles Houck filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Enterprise Rent-A-Car of San Francisco. After a long legal battle, a jury awarded...

We Can't Talk About Housing Policy Without Talking About Racism

What a serious desegregation policy might look like. 

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky In this May 9, 2015, picture, a man walks past a blighted building in the Penn-North neighborhood of Baltimore, with a residential tower in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood in the background at top right. O ver the past year, unrest in places like Baltimore and Ferguson has inspired a nationwide debate on how to best combat systemic inequality and injustice. In the wake of high-profile police violence cases in these cities and elsewhere, this conversation has contributed to a renewed understanding of how federal and local housing policies helped create the inequality and racial injustice urban America confronts today. Yet lost in this discussion has been the complicated record of more recent desegregation efforts and what they can teach us about undoing generations of systemic racism and persistent segregation. A case in point is HUD’s Clinton-era Moving to Opportunity (MTO) program, the subject of a new study by Harvard economists Raj Chetty, Nathan Hendren,...

The Marriage Cure

Policies to help the broad range of families are better for kids—and better for progressive politics.

(Photo: CSA-Plastock/iStock)
(Photo: CSA-Plastock/iStock) This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Celebrate our 25th Anniversary with us by clicking here for a free download of this special issue . S everal authors long associated with the idea that marriage is a prime cure for inequality have published a manifesto, condensed in The Washington Monthly . The new wrinkle is an alliance between marriage traditionalists and gay-rights activists. The Marriage Opportunity Council, a spin-off of the Institute for American Values, hopes that by adding same-sex unions to the definition of marriage, they can unite progressives and conservatives in a cause to promote marriage generally. The basic premise of the essay and the broader campaign is that marriage provides economic as well as emotional security; that it’s good for children to grow up in two-parent families; and that a class gap has opened up in the incidence of marriage, which widens inequality and harms...

Pages