Meet Richard Watkins, North Carolina Progressive Running In An Open Blue Congressional District

Although North Carolina's congressional map is a mess and far from finalized, Dr. Richard Watkins is running for the seat that David Price is retiring from, NC-04-- most of the Research Triangle. The D+16 district (now numbered NC-06) includes most of Wake County (Raleigh), all of Orange county (Chapel Hill) and a bit of Durham County. Trump filed to get even a third of the vote in the district both in 2016 and 2020. Republicans don't stand a chance there, making the primary the whole ball game in congressional races. Richard told me he's the most progressive candidate in the race, which includes at least 8-- by perhaps a dozen-- Democrats, from conservatives like Clay Aiken and state Senator Valerie Foushee to progressives like Watkins and Nida Allam.

Richard's very thorough, straight forward campaign site, lays out what he's trying to accomplish, in terms everyone can understand. Example: "Medicare-For-All-- A single-payer system that covers everyone, for all medically necessary services which includes dental, vision, hearing aids, mental health and prescription drugs." Here are a few of his other positions, starting with address the Climate Crisis, which he tied me is his most important reason for running

  • Reducing carbon emissions. We need to electrify everything and shift to 100% renewable resources

  • Increasing carbon capture, this includes investing in capture technologies, preventing deforestation and planting trees

  • Ensuring that everyone is guaranteed clean air, soil, and water

  • Full support for the Green New Deal legislation

  • Full support for the Paris Climate Agreement

Here are a few others I picked up from his issues page. I wish every candidate would be so transparent about positions he's taking:

• End the war on drugs which is a war on poor people.

  • Eliminate the federal prohibition of both medical and recreational marijuana

  • Eliminate qualified immunity as a mechanism to allow justice to be sought

  • Address the over-reliance on law enforcement by shifting resources into public education, mental health services, and personnel, social workers, drug rehabilitation, and public schools

  • Address gun violence to include Common sense gun reform which includes background checks on all gun sales, waiting periods, deterring illegal gun trafficking, and closing the Charleston loophole and the gun-show loophole.

  • Holding the gun industry accountable by repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act

  • Universal Basic Income of at least $2,000 per month without cutting any existing social programs

  • Increase minimum wage to at least $15/hour

  • Support for a wealth tax, and ensuring tax collection on individuals in the top .01% (~100,000,000/net worth)

I asked Richard to introduce himself to DWT readers. If you think he's the kind of candidate you would like to see in Congress, please consider contributing to his campaign here on our ActBlue page for candidates campaigning on Medicare-For-All.

The Virologist

-by Dr. Richard Watkins

I am a virologist. Not an epidemiologist. Not a pediatric pulmonologist. Not a physician scientist. I am a scientist trained in the field of virology, which is the scientific study of viruses, lest I be confused with the talking heads that expound on viruses, who, in-fact, are not virologists.

Having said that, allow me to say this: we are in a pandemic that has killed roughly 5,700,000 people. The United States alone has reported more than 900,000 deaths, which is more than any other nation in the world.

The virus responsible for this pandemic is known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 or SARS CoV-2, which causes the disease known as Coronavirus Disease 2019 or COVID-19. COVID-19 is a disease marked by severe respiratory distress, which can lead to death. Death from COVID-19 is particularly grueling, with a patient experiencing what amounts to “drowning” over a period of several weeks.

During this time, friends and loved ones say their last goodbyes via FaceTime and Zoom and tears are shed by all including health care providers, who either grow num or burn out entirely. Health care providers describe the immense regret suffered by their patients as one of the most tragic things they have ever seen. Moreover, the regret experienced by a healthy person who gives the virus to and ultimately kills a family member, often leads to extreme guilt and debilitating depression. This aforementioned regret is what really stands out to me as particularly painful.

Having known loss myself, losing my mother to cancer just one week before my daughter was born-- I cannot fathom the emotional agony that accompanies knowing that you personally transmitted the virus that killed a loved one.

With the US death toll rapidly approaching 1 million, It’s important to understand that the pandemic is not over, and that the future of this pandemic is uncertain to say the very least. The virus is constantly evolving, resulting in the creation of numerous variants. Variants are always in some way or another better than their predecessors. These viral “improvements” are not always particularly bad in regards to public health, for sometimes they can result in viruses that cause milder symptoms. However, viral evolution can result in absolutely devastating consequences. Variants can emerge that are capable of causing more severe disease or are able to render current vaccines ineffective. Whether it is the later or the former is pretty much a crapshoot.

The current coronavirus pandemic is not the first altercation that we have had with a coronavirus. In fact, we have had several within recent history. Most coronaviruses that we have dealt with have been mild, resulting in only cold-like symptoms. In fact, many colds are the consequence of coronavirus infections. Three coronaviruses, however, have been a bit more serious. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) back in the early 2000’s resulted in the deaths of more than 700 people, and then Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012. The truth is, corona viruses, whose likely natural host is the bat, always stands ready, at any moment, to cause a new pandemic. However, corona viruses are not the only viruses capable of causing a pandemic. HIV, still a pandemic, claims the lives of nearly 1 million people worldwide per year. Furthermore, new infectious agents emerge annually with Zika and Ebola being the most notable. However, in my opinion, the virus that scares me the most is Influenza. The influenza virus causes the Flu, which kills around 36,000 Americans annually. This virus, which originates from waterfowl, is both airborne and highly mutagenic. To put it plainly, we will have to contend with pandemics in the future and we must be prepared. To this point I suggest the following:

  1. To address distrust in science we must invest in community outreach. We also must provide funding to train scientists to communicate complex ideas and concepts to the general public.

  2. Because both the messaging and the messenger matter, we must increase diversity within both the scientific and medical communities, specifically, economic diversity. Increased diversity within the scientific community increases trust with an increasingly diverse society.

  3. We must also improve science education at all levels so that our communities are better prepared to make critical decisions during a pandemic and less vulnerable to misinformation and disinformation.

  4. We must also substantially increase funding for scientific research so that we can better anticipate and manage pandemics.

  5. We must also ensure that all vaccines and antiviral therapies are free and available to all. If there are any barriers to the equitable distribution of either vaccines or therapeutics, then our efforts of managing future pandemics will be greatly hampered.

  6. We must substantially improve and expand our medical infrastructure.

  7. Health care needs to be free and available to all via the implementation of Medicare-For-All.

Though grave, pandemics are not the only concerns plaguing my thoughts. The climate crisis is, without question, the single greatest threat to human existence. Enchained to the climate crisis is: 1) War; 2) Famine; and 3) Pestilence; with the combination of the aforementioned leading to extinction.

The climate crisis is humanity’s existential challenge, however, it, along with wealth disparities and health care, are together humanity's greatest challenges. The consequence of not addressing wealth disparities is the complete and utter collapse of civil society. Health care is perhaps the most personal and the most common reminder of our own mortality.

Though menacing, these issues also represent our greatest opportunities. For if we decide to relentlessly thwart the climate crisis we cannot only avoid extinction, but we can also revitalize our economy and create a culture of both sustainability and justice. If we address wealth disparities, we can create a society in which everyone who dreams can achieve and poverty is eliminated. Universal health care will allow for extraordinary innovation and massive investments in science will improve lives, save lives, and extend the lives of all peoples.

This is the future that I envision.