AN OPENING THOUGHT PIECE BY LORELLA PRAELI
Although COVID-19 has changed the way we live, it hasn’t changed nearly enough. Over the past month, so many of us have recalibrated our day-to-day, trying to find a new “work/life jenga,” as Stacey Abrams describes it. But we can’t let the disruption of our lives distract us from the transformation our society so desperately needs.
On a call near the very beginning of this new way of life, one of our board members commented that “social distancing” would really be class distancing. I’m reminded every Thursday morning–as we get the tally of how many millions more people join the ranks of the newly unemployed–that this crisis is exposing and exacerbating our country’s devastating inequalities. It is compounding the literal distance between those of us who can shelter in our homes and the people like Leilani Jordan who are dying of COVID-19 as they work in grocery stores for low wages.
Movement building makes my heart sing. Since I first stepped up to a podium ten years ago and declared that I was undocumented and unafraid, I have been organizing people to tap into their power, working to change the way this country treats immigrants, and challenging the notion of what is politically possible.
If this crisis has a silver lining, could it be the chance to create a different economic and political common sense?
I read Grace Lee Boggs and Naomi Klein, listen to the stories of people struggling to make ends meet, and see the creativity of organizers galvanized at this moment, and I’m pulled toward hope. Hope that we can reject what was, fight harder for our ideas, and create the conditions for transformational change. But my fear is that we will slide back into our old repertoire, waiting for things to go back to politics as usual. Over the past month, we have been tinkering around the edges of tired policy proposals. The people in this country need bold, disruptive, audacious responses that meet the scale of this generation-defining crisis.
In a moment when Black and brown people in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and New York are dying at an appalling rate, now is the time to finally make a downpayment on our country’s racial debt. As immigrants demonstrate once again their essential place in our economy and society and families, now is the time to include everyone–regardless of status–in our policymaking. During the most important election cycle in my life, now is the time to pull down the barriers to full participation. Policy alone cannot deliver structural change–that requires people, standing in their own power and shifting this country’s consciousness from the ground up.
On April 7, voters in Wisconsin put their lives at risk to exercise their rights. In so doing, they demonstrated–once again–the fragile state of our democracy and the impossible choices that in-person voting requires people to make in the time of a pandemic. We know how to fix this before November, but we must act quickly and decisively.
Will we wake up to this moment? Our communities need nothing short of transformation.
Community Change Action