The COVID Crisis Reveals Deep Fissures in American Society

May 1, 2020

“Many Americans are now experiencing what poor communities live with daily. We have communities perennially facing lower wages, higher poverty, lack of access to health care, and lack of access to child care. Shift workers, low-wage workers, agrarian workers, and service workers are now being pushed over the edge. We must be intentional about identifying these challenges and concrete about naming and pursuing the solutions. These issues aren’t ancillary. They are central to who we are. The poor deserve expanded and deepened support. The poorest among us are often the people working the hardest. And they deserve to be protected. It is not socialism to have a social safety net.”

-- The Hon. Stacey Abrams, former GA House Minority Leader,  on COVID as featured in Elle Magazine April 15, 2020

For over 40 years, we’ve witnessed the erosion of our public structures and social safety net programs while extremists have weaponized the idea of who is worthy of care or support during moments of need. By using a divide-and-conquer framework that devalues some people because of the color of their skin or where they come from, we are all left with a system that is incapable of weathering the current storm. COVID shows us that this old approach to policymaking leaves all of us—Black, white, and brown alike—too vulnerable to ongoing harm.

SiX believes this analysis is central to the work ahead for state legislators and must be core to our collective response. Based on this framework, we want to offer specific guidance to state legislators seeking clarity on how to orient to the weeks and months ahead:

1. Advance race-forward policies and analyses.

From expanded COVID testing to access to health care to paid sick time to expanded medical leave to unemployment insurance to managing state budgets, legislators will uniquely be faced with balancing bold ideas with impactful implementation. Essential workers—nurses and health care workers, delivery workers, farmworkers, restaurant staff, and many others —are more likely to be women and people of color and are disproportionately impacted by this crisis. As you consider any policy topic, we encourage you to make an explicit commitment to ensure your actions have equitable impacts by centering those most impacted in your policy response. 

  • Read this compelling and sobering assessment from our partners at Demos that explores COVID as a crisis of racial capitalism. The report details five essential components of reform legislators should consider in the coming weeks.

2. Protect and expand our democracy.

If we understand the current crisis as an extension of our underlying economic and societal challenges, we must expand and protect access to democratic safeguards—from voting-at-home to transparent governance to equitable decision-making in public life.

  • To learn more about how we can rapidly modernize and secure our election systems, join SiX and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights on Friday, May 7th. Register here
  • Check out this webinar on continuity of governance that outlines how you can do your job as a legislator without compromising your safety or your values of fair, accessible, and transparent government.

3. Use all of the tools you can to effect change.

Some of you may return back to legislative sessions while others of you are facing indefinite recesses, early adjournment, or uncertain special sessions. Although each of your circumstances may differ, we implore you to be bold in advocating for your communities by using a wide array of tools to meet your policy objectives. 

  • If you’re in legislative session, move public policy and allocate public dollars to the response—whether you're serving in a legislative majority or minority. This is a time to connect deeply with your constituents and local and national movement partners, build coalitions with your legislative peers, and dig in deep on both policy and implementation;
  • Use your relationships with your Governors, Secretaries of State, and other governmental administrators to advocate for your communities. They may be able to allocate resources, take administrative action, or implement rules that can mitigate the impacts on your communities; and
  • Leverage your voice in public life to share important information with your constituents. Check out our resources on how to engage your constituents online—from social media to tele-townhalls—so you can keep in close contact with the folks you represent.

4. Focus on resilience, not nostalgia.

For many of us, we eagerly want to return to a time before this crisis—when thousands of our friends and families were not taken by COVID, when millions of our neighbors weren’t unemployed or facing eviction, and when gathering at the local watering hole was more common than wearing a face mask in public. But nostalgia can cloud our thinking, even when done with the best of intentions. We must remember how precarious our democracy, economy, and society were before this crisis and remind ourselves of what we’ve learned from seeing the failures of our systems in full view. With this clarity, focus your efforts on rebuilding a resilient, healthy, and prosperous country for generations to come.

We have faith in your ability to lead, even in the most difficult of circumstances, and SiX is ready to help you in the weeks and months to come.

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