Covid, Race, and the Revolution

The power of enough of us, health equity on the Biden agenda, the urgency of housing justice, and more, in this week’s Covid, Race, and the Revolution.

Issue No 37. January 27, 2021

All We Need Is Enough of Us

By Angela Glover Blackwell

There has been a lot of talk about how to get enough of us to take action to squash Covid-19. Enough of us must stay home, social distance, wear masks, and wash hands to stem the spread of the virus. Enough of us must get vaccinated to reach herd immunity.

Now we’re hearing about the power of “enough of us” in a different context. Alicia Garza has issued a wise, brave, compelling, optimistic challenge in her new book, The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart. She takes a hard look at the nation in relation to Black people and presents a blueprint for amassing the power needed to repair the harms of centuries of racism and achieve justice. She lays out the strategies needed, pitfalls to avoid, mindsets to develop, and on-the-ground work required to build a potent, sustained movement for racial justice.

She writes, “There are many issues that people care about, and there is a lot at stake, but not enough of us are organized to make the impact we seek.”

All we need is enough of us.

In his, at times, stirring inaugural address, President Joe Biden emphasized something many have known all along: Lots of people will not join the fight for racial justice and equity. But we don’t need everybody. “Through the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice, and setbacks, our ‘better angels’ have always prevailed,” Biden said. “In each of these moments, enough of us came together to carry all of us forward.” Not all came together, but enough of us.

If anybody was so naive as to believe we would readily swing into a true multiracial democracy as the nation’s demographics shift, that notion was shattered by the assault on Black democratic participation through the insurrection at the US Capitol. For decades, many liberals clung to the idea that to gain sufficient political and public will to achieve racial equity, the framework must appeal to right-wing conservatives. It’s time to stop wasting precious moments and energy trying to convince racists and white nationalists about the need for fairness and inclusion. We cannot get everybody on board. The question is, can we get enough?

There are signs that we can. The millions who marched for Black Lives last spring and summer offered more than a glimmer of hope. The elections in Georgia showed the power of multiracial democracy leaning into the future. On November 3, more than 80 million Americans joined in stopping a menace to equity, justice, and democratic governance, knowing there are disagreements among us about the best way forward.

I am in awe of the new generations of Black, Indigenous, Brown, and other political, civic, and community leaders. They are exhibiting stunning clarity of vision, deep appreciation of strategy, immense capacity for hard work, nuanced knowledge of history, uncanny appreciation of difference, undying commitment to organizing, and a desire to be proximate to the people whose lives must be improved — not just for more knowledge, but also out of love. The generous spirits of these leaders are magnets. Can they attract the numbers we need?

Can enough of us join in solidarity to achieve societal and economic transformation? Can enough of us take action to reach herd immunity against racism and oppression?

Angela Glover Blackwell is Founder in Residence of PolicyLink and host of the Radical Imagination podcast

News, Analysis, and Commentary, Curated from Around the Web

More on power-building

The attack on the Capitol turned the nation’s attention to the American tradition of a peaceful transfer of power. But another transfer of power is emerging — from the elites to our communities, Crystal Hayling argues in Nonprofit Quarterly. This shift is essential to achieve an equitable transformation of society. Our communities exercise power by outwitting voter suppression laws, she writes. We will know power when we defund brutal prisons and racialized policing; own power when we create regenerative economies; and build power “when we prioritize housing and healthcare for all as the path to recovery from the cruel inequities laid bare by the Covid-19 public health crisis.”

The New Yorker gives a detailed, glowing review to Alicia Garza’s book on power-building for modern movements seeking justice and transformation.

Equity in the room where it happens

President Biden prioritized equity in his national strategy to fight Covid-19 and restart the economy. The plan includes provisions that equity advocates have called for since the pandemic’s beginning, including an equity task force to address disparities in illness and death; rigorous data collection on the most impacted populations; use of that data to evaluate the government’s response; and targeted strategies that direct protective equipment, testing, treatments, and vaccines to the communities in greatest need.

The New York Times profiles Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the Yale University physician and researcher who leads a new federal task force on health equity. She acknowledged that ensuring equity must go beyond health and health care to address housing stability, education, and pathways to economic success for all. “This is a great opportunity to stretch and reach for what’s been imagined for decades, if not centuries,” Dr. Utibe R. Essien of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine told the newspaper. 

The urgency of housing justice

Under President Biden’s direction, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended its eviction moratorium through March 31. Housing and racial justice advocates say much bolder action is needed to reverse the deepening housing crisis and keep people in their homes during the pandemic, Truthout reports. In one January week alone, landlords in just five states filed for 4,901 evictions. 

The scale of rent debt is hard to assess, given the lack of information on who is behind on payments, and where. A new analysis by the Bay Area Equity Atlas and Housing NOW! California shows why such data is crucial for advancing renter protections. The report reveals that a staggering 1.1 million California renter households were behind on rent in December, roughly 80 percent of them low income. Latinx, Black, and Asian households were nearly three times as likely as White households to have fallen behind. Sarah Treuhaft of PolicyLink explains what these numbers mean in this interview with KRON4

James Crowder of PolicyLink makes the case for housing justice in Philadelphia, in an interview with Generocity. And he talks with four fierce women leaders about the radical actions needed to create a secure housing future for all — you can read the conversation in Shelterforce or watch it in this webinar, recorded last fall. 

Communities push for vaccine equity

Local nonprofits that were instrumental in getting Black and Brown residents to take part in the US census are now using the same strategies — knocking on doors, holding town halls — to overcome vaccine hesitancy, Politico reports. "It’s not as easy as the census," a Chicago nonprofit executive told the news site. "It’s a deeper conversation."  

The National Medical Association — a society of African American doctors who formed a group last fall to independently vet the safety and efficacy of the new vaccines amid widespread concerns that federal regulatory processes had been politicized — has also turned to vaccine outreach and education. Representatives of the association are meeting almost daily (and virtually) with Black churches, universities, fraternities, sororities, and other groups to take questions and then get answers directly from the vaccine makers, Stat reports. One common question: Do certain conditions that disproportionately affect Black people, including sickle cell disease and HIV, affect how the vaccines work? The association consulted with the manufacturers and reported back that vaccine trials included participants with these conditions and no problems surfaced.

Latinx elected officials and medical professionals are fighting anti-vaccine propaganda in Spanish, which has proliferated in recent weeks, NBC News reports. The disinformation is especially dangerous, experts say, given the lack of reliable vaccine information in Spanish.

While vaccine fears and the forces stoking them must be addressed, structural inequities are a major factor in who gets inoculated for Covid and who doesn’t. Kaiser Health News analyzed the first 3 percent of the population to get at least one shot of the two-dose series — about half the people who have been vaccinated to date. Only 16 states released data by race, and it showed that White people were vaccinated at double and triple the rates of Black people.

In Dallas and other major Texas cities, vaccination sites are concentrated in White neighborhoods, The Texas Tribune reports. To level the field, county officials voted to prioritize vaccines for residents in ZIP codes with large Black and Latinx populations, then quickly backed down after a public outcry and a threat by the state to cut the area’s vaccine allocation. 

And what about undocumented immigrants? Even without the explicit xenophobia of the Trump administration, the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants face daunting barriers to obaining Covid vaccinations, including municipal and state registration systems offered only in English and demanding personal information, Fast Company writes. Countless immigrants would be eligible for early vaccines as essential workers, but many states require them  to show a pay stub or other proof of employment, documentation that workers paid in cash don’t have. 

Another hard-hit group, people behind bars, aren’t even mentioned in the rollout plans of some states, including New York. Although at least 27 states address vaccination for incarcerated people, with about a dozen including them in the first phases of distribution, other states prioritize prison and jail workers while leaving incarcerated people for later, the New York Times reports. More than a half million people locked up or working in jails and prisons have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

The growing epidemic of children’s mental illness

The pandemic has upended the way that children learn and play, and that is taking an alarming toll on their mental health, Kaiser Health News reports. New federal data reveals a surge in children going to emergency rooms because of mental health issues. 

NPR explores how the crisis is colliding with a mental health-care system that has been fraying for years, adding to the strain on the nation’s threadbare safety net. 

On the blog of Children Now, Lishaun Francis examines the severe shortage of children’s mental health providers in California in both the public and private insurance sectors, and calls for state investment to expand a workforce that’s needed now more than ever.

Continuing to educate the public

Stay Covered Together, a national public education campaign created by the Harlem Children’s Zone, aims to drive awareness about the importance of wearing masks to stay safe from Covid and protect one another. The NAACP, StriveTogether, and PolicyLink, along with respected community organizations across the country, are partners in the effort to protect communities most impacted by the devastating effects of the virus — communities challenged by poverty and economic insecurity — by enlisting everyone to play a part. 

Please share with your networks and send your ideas and feedback. And follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. #COVIDandRace

We hope you find this series an important tool for keeping up with news about the virus and its impact on communities we serve. As a non-profit organization, PolicyLink is honored to provide resources to support the needs of our nation's 100 million economically insecure individuals. Generous partners like you make our work possible. 

Michael McAfee and Angela Glover Blackwell are grateful for the contributions of Fran Smith, Milly Hawk Daniel, Rachel Gichinga, Glenda Johnson, Jennifer Pinto, Heather Tamir, Ana Louie, Janet Dickerson, and Mark Jones to produce the COVID-19 & Race commentary.