Love in Action during COVID- 19: Building power for a more just recovery

by Lauren Elizabeth Wiggins

Our systems are failing workers. We need swift and deliberate action to demand solidarity across race and class in order to create the future we all need to survive. Moving with the people and communities who are directly impacted by the polluting and exploitative industries we are building the power to take down is love in action.

© Sanya Hyland. Hyland is an illustrator, printmaker, and letterpress printer based in both Boston, Massachusetts, and Mexico City, Mexico. She has been a proud member of the Justseeds Artists' Cooperative since 2015. Artist statement: "In these anxious times, we must stop those that would take advantage of our pain and isolation by pushing through more egregious plans to degrade Mother Earth and our communities!"

I am sitting on the back porch of my parent’s home, receiving deeply sought after emotional support from my family and the warm Georgia sun. I flew in from my place in the Bay Area a month ago.

I look up from my laptop and wave goodbye to my Dad. He is heading out of the house for another heart-wrenching, obligatory day on the road to people’s homes and elderly care centers to deliver pharmaceuticals. He’s a contractor and Essential Worker – and like many black men, he has health conditions that put him at greater risk for adverse effects of COVID- 19.

Essential Workers are victims of a tarnished system ruled by the oil industry and government officials who put their profits before the people.

Despite the risk, he gets up and out into the public to provide needed supplies, as many others in my community do, too. My soul is filled with both gratitude and anguish, knowing that people like my dad and their families deserve more.

Millions of Essential Workers are on the frontlines helping customers, delivering necessities, sanitizing public spaces, and aiding patients in their time of need. They are the reason we can shelter-in-place. It is only because of their sacrifice, hard work, and bravery in the face of danger that many of us can continue caring for our families, feeding ourselves, and being as safe as we can in this moment. Essential Workers are victims of a tarnished system ruled by the oil industry and government officials who put their profits before the people.

Since North America was colonized – resulting in the death of millions of innocent Indigenous Peoples first, and later, African people who were enslaved – the plight of disproportional wellness has been a direct result of corporations’ elites concerning themselves with their own unlimited wealth and health. 

But today’s exploitation is revealing itself right now as COVID- 19 is infecting those most vulnerable to the climate crisis: Black and Brown people.  

Instead of finding ways to support workers, the President and his henchmen are trying to find ways to get even wealthier. The oil oligarchy – companies like BP, Exxon, and Chevron – are in pursuit of people and places to exploit. They want to build more cheap petroleum plants (i.e. chemicals for materials like plastic) and liquefied natural gas plants (i.e. places to frack for oil) in predominantly low-income Black and Brown neighborhoods.“The facilities spew a witch’s brew of pollutants into the air: thousands of tons per year of headache-causing carbon monoxide and asthma-triggering nitrogen oxides,” slowly metastasizing carcinogens, and so much more.

Oil oligarchs add further insult to injury because low income Black and Brown neighborhoods are hardest hit by a bevy of air pollutants, of which they barely contribute to in comparison to communities least hit by air pollution. But that’s not the point here…

We have a President who supports the oil oligarchy reign, leveraging shock and awe politics — or what Naomi Klien calls “disaster capitalism” — by enacting grotesquely vested interest policies that suspend all enforcement of clean air rules purportedly in reaction to COVID- 19.

Three critical facts to keep in mind

Before we move on, it is worth reiterating three things:

  1. Air pollution is the largest environmental risk factor for disease in the US.
  2. Black and Brown people are almost three times more likely to contract and die from  COVID- 19 because of continual exposure to pollution (which directly contributes to higher rates of cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases).
  3. Climate change disproportionately affects those most susceptible to social and economic inequalities (which would be Black and Brown people).

Race is not the risk factor for the 1-2-3 punch laid out here, but racism is. 

Structural racism, from income inequality and food deserts, to lack of health care and environmental injustices, is exacerbating the effects COVID- 19 is having upon communities who are already on the frontlines of climate change. Social distancing is a privilege, in and of itself. 

The truth is, structural racism’s field day is in full effect as Black, Brown, Indigenous, and immigrant people are significantly overrepresented as Essential Workers. While required to work with the public for a myriad of survival reasons, including states’ recent decision to open back up for business,” Essential Workers are still being denied essential benefits.  

This is a moment to band together — to use our power to exceed corporate elites who have a moral responsibility to protect Essential Worker’s health, create financial security for their loved ones, and offer peace of mind during a time of heightened emotional stress. 

We need to rise up for a just response to this crisis, because the communities dying at terribly disproportionate rates deserve greatly disproportionate support during this crisis.

Congress can protect the health and well-being of Essential Workers with fair compensation and job protections they deserve. 

Our systems are failing workers. We need swift and deliberate action to demand solidarity across race and class in order to create the future we all need to survive. 

Greenpeace has banded together with the SEIU, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Indivisible, MoveOn, Working Families Party, and many other group to help create an Essential Worker Bill of Rights, and we’re demanding Congress pass it immediately.

Your voice is crucial to this moment, especially as the 4th stimulus bill is being debated. 

This bill is a step toward the just future we are creating. As we all envision the solutions to our biggest problems – ones that heal our communities and planet – this bill is crucial to a just recovery from this crisis.

As we transition through these uncertain times, we must embrace the importance of gratitude in the fight against injustice, or what I like to call: show love in action.I’m grateful to be writing this from the comfort of my home, but my Dad is still out in the world five days a week, without any assurance that my family will be taken care of, should the unthinkable happen.

I am writing as a means of solace and faith. Even as power dynamics, structural racism, and economic inequalities persist, so can the power of the people.

Our systems are failing workers. We need swift and deliberate action to demand solidarity across race and class in order to create the future we all need to survive.

Moving with the people and communities who are directly impacted by the polluting and exploitative industries we are building the power to take down is love in action.

Show your own love in action on the road to a just recovery. Sign our petition for an Essential Workers Bill of Rights today. 

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Lauren Elizabeth Wiggins

By Lauren Elizabeth Wiggins

Lauren E. Wiggins is the Online Content Specialist for Greenpeace USA, based in Oakland, CA.

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