Art by Mike Nicholsen
As our communities confront the reality of COVID-19 and a recession, there is increasing clarity that low-income people and communities of color face both disportionately high rates of illness and death from the virus, and greater financial vulnerability. But our ability to meet the severe challenge of this moment is hampered by leadership that refuses to be bold, use holistic data, and move beyond status quo.
All of that, of course, is also true of climate change.
The climate crisis and the pandemic are not separate fights: the futures we seek for COVID-19 and climate mitigation are one in the same.
Here in Washington State, Sierra Club works to show solidarity with frontline workers and communities most impacted by this crisis. We must be compassionate and urgent around immediate needs while weighing long-term, shared goals. Some of these goals include closing wealth gaps, strengthening democracy, repairing and restoring our relationships with each other (across race, class, and gender) and with the planet, and building community power. Here are some of the ways we’re showing up in this moment:
- Nationally, Sierra Club stands behind a federal People’s Bailout, a movement to ensure that future COVID-19 relief and stimulus packages contribute to a just and inclusive recovery for the people, not corporations. The principles behind the People’s Bailout also provide a good model for state and local action principles. Based on this framework, we are committed to supporting the asks and demands of our community leaders, health organizations, unions, and people of color. We support prioritizing health for all people, regardless of citizenship, personhood, workforce, or record–including in rural areas and tribal lands–without reprisal. This includes centering progressive values in workspaces with unions, and expanded paid sick leave for all workers and independent contractors.
- We’ve fought hard in Washington State to support clean energy solutions and move our utilities away from fossil fuels while supporting their everyday workers. With COVID-19, we also need to make sure our utilities are keeping the lights and heat on for everybody. That’s why we’re organizing to protect people from utility shutoffs and expand the low-income assistance that utilities provide to customers.
- The pandemic cannot be an excuse to continue widening wealth gaps, inequity, or moving in the wrong direction on climate and the environment. Unfortunately, with the economic downturn, there is a real possibility of a state budget crisis. Funding for natural resource agencies, parks, and climate change adaptation and resilience could be on the chopping block along with dollars for education, transportation, housing, and mental health. Instead, we hope our state leaders will be looking to raise new revenue by fixing the country’s most regressive tax system. Some advocates in our community already have ideas, like the Working Families Tax Credit and a capital gains [wealth] tax.
- Sierra Club will also join community advocates in pushing lawmakers to prioritize saving transit service. Transit agencies in Washington State could be hit hard by budget cuts, thanks to pre-existing shortfalls resulting from the 2019 passage of I-976 and reduced ridership during COVID-19. Transit is critical for climate pollution reduction efforts as it is for low-income people and the essential workers providing vital services. (While the federal CARES Act provided record funds to transportation, Washington’s Puget Sound was put at a disadvantage by the federal formula used in the CARES Act. Plus, those funds are for administrative leave, operating and protective equipment costs only. It is not enough.)
Now is the time to show up in creative ways for each other. Now is the time for solidarity, transformative change, and joining long-requested and overdue demands by people of color. While COVID-19 itself doesn’t have an affinity for any particular race, our systems’ inequities predispose many disenfranchised and oppressed races to higher risks and disproportionate rates of fatality. As such, we must also hold our electeds and local governments responsible for mending our already-crumbling and inequitable systems further exacerbated by COVID-19 and a recession.
Ultimately, this is how our approaches to climate and COVID-19 are similar: We must take action to protect our loved ones and the most vulnerable who are hit hardest, those whose health is already compromised, those who are denied access to medical care, who bear great risk in asking for help, those in the frontlines of poverty and pollution. Let’s work together for the betterment of both the planet and all Washingtonians. Nothing and nobody is mutually exclusive. We are in this together, now more than ever.