The pandemic offers Americans a chance to look hard at the ways in which government has failed society—but also a chance to do something about it.
Until the pandemic arrived, I had been spending about four days a month in southern Ohio. It’s a rural area roughly 100 by 100 miles, bounded by the Ohio River on the south, the Indiana line on the west, Chillicothe to the north, and Athens to the west—home to 350,000 residents. For someone like me, Chicago-born and -bred, who has lived and worked in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, and points in between for the past 40 years, driving from town to town and hamlet to hamlet, with appointments often 60 miles apart, was an entirely new experience.
I began this effort because I had long thought that the kind of organizing that my colleagues in the Industrial Areas Foundation and I practiced, begun by Saul Alinsky in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago, had settled into urban and metropolitan areas, but had largely avoided rural communities. This was not a conscious decision or a conscious strategy. It was a drift. But the drift worried me. I kept looking at electoral maps and seeing a sea of red in the center of the country, in Ohio counties like Ross and Scioto and Gallia counties that once had been home to the United Mine Workers union and that had been mixed politically, but that now leaned strongly to the right.
I hadn’t concluded, as some progressives had, that these counties were so conservative, so reactionary, so racist, that they weren’t worth thinking about....
On Tuesday evening, May 5, over 1,200 California IAF leaders, 10 Bishops and 7 state legislators converged on Zoom and Facebook Live to demand the Governor and legislature provide immediate relief for essential workers left out of state and federal relief.
"There are millions of California workers who take care of our elders, our children, grow our food, and get it to the stores. Many of them are undocumented, but their work contributes billions of dollars to the California economy," said Rev. Dr. Julie Roberts-Fronk, Co-Chair of the action and a leader with ICON.
Undocumented immigrants represent 10% of the California workforce, pay over $3 billion in state and local taxes and add $180 billion to the economy. They comprise 33% of agricultural workers and 32% of healthcare workers in California, working at great personal risk during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"During this pandemic, there is a tendency to throw people to the margins, to throw them into the shadows,"said Bishop Jaime Soto, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.
"What we need to do is develop a culture of encounter, a culture of solidarity to beat back the coronavirus and to create a healthy and safe network. We need to recognize the flaw in the Cal EITC. It leaves out California workers and taxpayers, which not only jeopardizes their lives, it also jeopardizes the well being of the entire state of California."
"Immigrant workers are not draining our economy, they are subsidizing it," said Senator Maria Elena Durazo. "We would not be the fifth largest economy in the world without them."
Earlier this month, the California IAF and the California Catholic Conference wrote letters to Governor Newsom, urging him to expand the California Earned Income Tax Credit (Cal EITC) to include ITIN filers, many of whom are undocumented. The tax credit would put much needed dollars quickly back into the hands of working families. Studies show that for every 1 dollar invested in workers, the local economy generates 2 dollars.
Maria Elena Manzo, a leader with COPA has worked with a group of women in Salinas for many years to spread the word about the Cal EITC.
"When they first learned about the tax credit, they were very excited. One woman said, 'this is going to come at a perfect time, the agricultural season has not started yet and we are struggling right now.' Her hopes vanished when she learned she wasn’t going to get the credit, but it did not stop her from helping others."
Leaders secured commitments from state legislators to work with their six organizations to advance the legislation during upcoming budget hearings, and to press the Governor to find the money. They also committed to meeting with local organizations within two weeks, and joining regional civic academies on the issue to build a larger constituency.
Immigrant Workers Face Economic Uncertainty During Covid-19 Shutdown, America Magazine [pdf]
Faith Leaders Call on State to Support Undocumented Immigrants, The Pajaronian [pdf]
[by NY Daily News Editorial Board]
As New York figures out how to limit the spread of a nasty bug while reopening the economy bit by bit, it’s become bitterly clear we cannot count on the feds to deliver the testing kits and other basics essential in the new normal.
Good for Mayor de Blasio, then, for moving to ramp up Gotham’s own production of personal protective equipment and rapid testing kits.
The city’s manufacturing firms now anticipate they’ll be churning out 465,000 face shields and 100,000 new surgical gowns per week within 10 days.
Perhaps even more important, with global supply chain shortages hobbling states’ ability to run coronavirus tests and Washington missing in action, the city aims to produce 50,000 test kits per week by May.
It’s a goal, not a guarantee, and even that figure is likely far short of the number of kits we’ll need for widespread testing. But it’s a start.
Meanwhile, more than 400 nonprofits and faith-based institutions, led by Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, are offering the state hundreds of thousands of square feet of space to set up testing sites across the boroughs, Long Island and Westchester.
We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.
[John Moore, Getty Images]
“We believe the Defense Logistics Agency ― not White House staffers ― is best equipped to take control of critical supplies and move them where they’re needed most,” said Joe Morris, an organizer at the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a network of religious and labor organizations that has been raising alarms about shortages of protective gear. “That effort needs serious coordination with state and local leadership, without political interference.”
[Photo: Huffington Post footage]
Trump Says Covid-19 Supply is Under Control, He Doesn't Need a Czar, Huffington Post
Metro IAF, an affiliate of a 75-year-old organizing network, isn’t usually involved in procuring emergency medical gear. The group has a history of working on issues such as jobs, criminal justice, education, and housing. But its focus has changed in recent weeks as clergy in some of the churches that belong to the network began to get desperate reports from their members on the front lines.
“We were all hearing the same story over and over again: We don’t have the equipment we need, we don’t have masks, we don’t have what we need to protect ourselves,” said Rev. David K. Brawley of the St. Paul Community Baptist Church in East Brooklyn. Many of Brawley’s congregants are front-line health care workers — “the folks who work in services within the hospitals, and not just doctors, also the folks who people tend to forget about,” he said. “These are people I deeply care about and love.”
So organizers from the group, whose member organizations include religious congregations, unions, schools, community health centers, and other civic institutions, began to investigate whether they might be able to arrange a purchase of some of the supplies themselves — and quickly found themselves in what has become the “Wild West” global market of medical supplies. Among the suppliers they identified was a Canadian distributor who claimed last week to have millions of N95 masks, but demanded a minimum purchase of 20 million.
Relentless efforts by Together Louisiana resulted first in local media attention and then national media focus on the new storm brewing in New Orleans.
New Orleans Faces a Virus Nightmare, and Mardi Gras May Be Why, New York Times
Together Louisiana Press Conference (done online)
March 15th Infographic Demonstrating Outbreak in New Orleans, Together Louisiana
How Early Intervention Can Save Lives, Together Louisiana
After the Covid-19 pandemic precipitated an economic crisis of historic proportions, the Industrial Areas Foundation launched a campaign calling on Congress to provide direct monthly aid for the duration of the crisis to American workers -- regardless of their citizenship.
While the recently passed $2.2 Trillion emergency stimulus will provide adults a one-time $1,200 check, it is set to leave out undocumented immigrants -- including those who pay taxes using a Tax Identification Number. IAF organizations across the West / Southwest IAF working with immigrant communities lay out the implications of this decision below:
Health care is a concern to both undocumented immigrants and legal residents.... Last August, the Trump administration tightened restrictions on legal immigrants who receive government benefits, referred to as 'public charges.' The new policy denies green cards to many immigrants who use Medicaid, food stamps and other benefits.
Immigrants in the Dallas area mask their symptoms so they can continue to work, according to Josephine López Paul, lead organizer with Dallas Area Interfaith.
“We’ve seen our service industries obliterated,” said Ms. López Paul. “Immigrants are being hit the hardest right now and there’s no safety net for them.”
When undocumented immigrants do approach hospitals, they quickly turn away if they see any law enforcement present, according to Ana Chavarin, lead organizer of Pima County Interfaith in Tucson, Ariz. Families are less afraid of the virus itself and more concerned with how they would pay for a long-term hospital visit, she said.
Ms. Chavarin has met with families who, not knowing how long the pandemic will last or when they will find work again, have begun rationing food. “Because they are undocumented, they cannot apply for any kind of help,” she said. Some have U.S. citizen children and could apply for benefits on their behalf, she said. But fear of deportation keeps many from doing so.
Food is the number one concern for pastors in Houston, according to Elizabeth Valdez, lead organizer for The Metropolitan Organization. Some parishes and congregations have started to purchase gift cards for food while others are collecting items for the church pantry. Local chapters of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are gathering items, but since they often count on elderly volunteers, it has been a challenge.
Children cut off from school presents another challenge for low-income families. “The kids being home, [families] don’t always have the technology they need to keep up with school,” Ms. Valdez said.
“There has to be a way to get the money into the hands of service workers,” said Joe Rubio, director of the West/Southwest Industrial Area Foundation, a community organizing network. Pastors are seeing an increase in domestic violence, he said, likely stemming from frustration, economic pressure and children being home from school. Studies have found that immigrant survivors of domestic violence are unlikely to report abuse to law enforcement. Isolation and behavioral health issues have the potential to lead to an increase in suicide rates, he said.
“This could profoundly change the nature of parishes and congregations,” Mr. Rubio said, referring not only to the economic impact of the coronavirus but also how communities respond to those in need during the crisis. “We have to think about how we compensate those making the biggest sacrifices and how we ramp up the economy once it’s over.”
[Photo Credit: John Locher, AP Photo]