This moment is ours to lose.
From the pandemic to the uprising, one thing is clear: we are at a tipping point. This moment has been generations in the making, with the pain of COVID-19 — which has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities — and the continued state-sanctioned murder of Black and Brown individuals pushing us collectively to the edge. Historians are comparing it to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. We are at a precipice: On one side is justice, the other, a deadly return to the status quo — normal.
The question that remains to be answered is which way will we go?Will we continue down the destructive path of white supremacy and brutality with faux reforms that don’t work to change the systems that have led us here, or will we allow ourselves to create a new world rooted in liberation, justice and decarceration?
Here in California, we have the potential to show the rest of the world what is possible. For generations, California has been a beacon of hope for people seeking a new life. Yet we have allowed ourselves to settle into the comfort of feeling we have come far enough — far enough on civil rights, criminal reform, environmental justice — when nothing could be further from the truth. Our healthcare is unaffordable, our prisons are full, our children drink dirty water, and hardworking people are being kicked out of their homes.
COVID-19 and our current uprising have shown us that the government is capable of reacting fast when it is politically expedient: They can release prisoners and ensure free medical tests, all within days. We have also seen, however, that reactive policies, by their nature, can’t possibly confront the magnitude or systemic nature of the issues we face. While Project Roomkey, for example, has housed just over 14,000 individuals, this isn’t even a tenth of California’s current homeless population and this program excludes the most vulnerable subset of this population — those that were infected with COVID-19. The California State Legislature has also introduced a chokehold bill that statistically is not enough to effectively reduce police brutality.
We deserve a government that doesn’t wait for a pandemic or a world-wide uprising to create reactive policies that are precarious, because the issues that our communities face are not temporary & singular to this moment. They have existed before and will continue existing unless we seize this moment completely through enacting bold legislation that will change the very underpinnings of our society.
California has the opportunity and the responsibility to help lead the way in reimagining how we can create structural changes firmly rooted in our collective liberation.
We must demand a government that can understand we need bold policies that are holistic, intersectional, inclusive and most importantly, moral. We deserve a government as courageous as we are. Because we are courageous; our communities are already offering solutions. A People’s Budget LA and the mutual aid work that many organizations have taken part in have shown what a government that is invested in each of us can look like.
But as it stands, California values locking us up over caring for our community. When we had to reprioritize the California state budget because of COVID-19, initial proposals slashed health care, environmental protections, and school funding, yet barely touched corrections and rehabilitation. Even before budgets had to be cut due to COVID-19, California’s budget did not go far enough in divesting from prisons and investing in our communities. Let’s make the courageous decision to finally divest from our existing criminal justice system and instead invest in our communities. To do this, our state government must start by:
- Guaranteeing healthcare for all. COVID-19 has reminded us our health is deeply interconnected and that our healthcare system is failing us. With millions uninsured and millions more losing their jobs in the midst of a pandemic, never has it been more clear that healthcare for all isn’t just an ideal — it’s a public health necessity. Universal health care would save lives. 2.7 million people in California have no health insurance, and many more are underinsured. We live in a society of abundance: Income, immigration status, and job status no longer have to dictate whether or not we have access to being well. It’s time that our state finds the courage to guarantee healthcare for all. Canada’s universal healthcare program began at the provincial level, and we can follow this model by implementing universal health care state-wide first.
- Guaranteeing housing for all. Nowhere is the threat of housing stability felt more strongly than here in California. Los Angeles in particular is facing a moral crisis: We are the least affordable rental market in the US, 66,433 of us are unhoused, and hundreds of thousands more are close to eviction. With millions of Californians losing their jobs during COVID-19, studies suggest that unemployment benefits will not be enough to meet housing needs for people in LA. We cannot afford to not act — people need housing security now. We need rent cancellation during COVID-19, strengthened tenants’ rights, affordable housing, and ambitious homeless services.
- Reimagining a public safety system that centers healing and accountability, not punishment and policing. Black activists have led the way for decades in reimagining what public safety, justice, and accountability can look like. Increased policing is hurting, not helping our communities. We need alternatives. The collaborative Decarceration Budget provided by CURB, JusticeLA, Human Impact Partners, and Dignity and Power Now provides us one such courageous solution. Hundreds of other groups across the state, country, and world have experimented with different approaches to restorative and transformative justice. It’s time for our government to become as creative and committed to justice as our communities and the rest of the world are.
I find my hope in the fact that we are not passive observers in this moment, without a say in what happens next. We get to play an active role in shaping our history. We are the new ancestors, and our actions right now, in this moment, matter.
We may never get a moment like this again. We must not underestimate this moment and the collective power we have to demand and expect change. We must not settle for crumbs; we have waited long enough. We must demand the justice that is rightfully ours. We must stay in the streets until we get it. We must mobilize and vote for what we want to see in our communities because our lives literally depend on it. Let’s make California the beacon of hope and possibility once more.
I’ll see you in the streets and at the ballot box.