The Fight for Liberation Amidst a Pandemic
This past month, as people across the globe confronted the uncharted reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ) assessed the grave challenges that lie ahead, and mounted a bold, community centered response strategy. Against the sobering backdrop of this unprecedented health disaster, we are forging ahead in the fight for racial justice, by reimagining how our society cares for its people and leveraging collective power to achieve a common vision of equity, opportunity, and liberation.
This historic global crisis will test the mettle of our country, and lay bare not only the faulty underpinnings of its unjust institutions, but also the true source of its enduring resilience and strength, which is rooted in our communities. In a moment when the national government has failed to exhibit the judgement, resolve, and humanity warranted by this deadly pandemic, it is incumbent upon grassroots activists to assume the mantle of leadership.
WCRJ has put forth an assertive COVID-19 response plan that addresses the most urgent policy priorities of Black Illinoisans amidst this public health and economic crisis. In the weeks and months to come, we will work to amplify these demands to the Governor and state legislature by unifying local community members behind a collective vision of racial justice.
The Imperative of a Racial Justice Policy Response
As public health officials release preliminary details on statewide COVID-19 fatalities, a harrowing, yet all too familiar trend has become evident: Staggering racial divides in generational wealth, employment opportunity, homeownership rates, and healthcare have led to a fivefold disparity in death rates between Black and White Illinoisans. Similarly, early economic indicators confirm that the COVID-19 crisis will only further exacerbate the abiding structural barriers to financial opportunity that Black workers and business owners in Illinois have endured for generations.
And yet, despite the projected magnitude of this unprecedented catastrophe and its disparate racial impacts, initial federal relief measures have proven to be, not only distressingly modest in scope, but also markedly “color blind.” Over the course of the past century, communities of color have witnessed how purportedly “race neutral” national recovery mobilizations have, in fact, explicitly served to advance white prosperity to the exclusion of Black opportunity. Time and again, from the New Deal, to the post-war G.I. bill, to the 2008 financial crisis bailouts, U.S. domestic recovery policies have served to exacerbate racial inequality in every aspect of American society.
The initial national response to the COVID-19 pandemic forecasts a comparable trajectory. The federal CARES Act falls disastrously short of providing sufficient economic relief to American households, and leaves large populations of disproportionately Black individuals behind altogether. Moreover, by failing to account for the overwhelming institutional barriers Black business owners face in accessing financial credit, the bill’s small business recovery program will only serve to further amplify the nation’s racial wealth gap.
Similarly, Illinois has failed to mount an adequate racial justice response to address the statewide health and economic disaster. Months into the pandemic, Illinois has yet to enact effective emergency COVID-19 labor protections, leaving Black workers, who are overrepresented in essential industries, particularly exposed to the deadly virus. The state has also abdicated its responsibility to safeguard the healthcare and human rights of individuals detained in Illinois' racially targeted prison system. And while Governor Pritzker has implemented timely measures to shore up Illinois businesses in the midst of the economic shutdowns, racial equity provisions are glaringly absent from his commercial relief package.
Voicing Our Demands
In order to counter the devastating racialized toll that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the health and economic stability of Black communities across Illinois, WCRJ will champion a sweeping agenda of racial justice response policies at the state level. The core issue areas of our plan, which include economic relief, workers rights, justice reform, and equitable democracy, reflect the policy priorities of WCRJ’s membership. In the coming weeks, we will direct the following legislative demands to key decision makers in state government, including Governor J.B. Pritzker, Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, and members of the Illinois General Assembly.
Economic Justice Demands
Invest in emergency and long term financial assistance for low and middle income households
Restore the basic needs safety net for the Illinois' most vulnerable households
Expand eligibility and funding to the Child Care Assistance Program
Direct small business relief to Black owned enterprises
Increase state revenue through progressive taxation
Workers Rights Demands
Ensure adequate protections to all essential workers on the frontlines of the pandemic
Invest in longer term growth of high quality jobs for Illinois workers
Justice Reform Demands
Undertake emergency decarceration measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Illinois prisons
Support immediate and long term stability of individuals who are released from incarceration
Implement immediate measures to protect the health and human rights of individuals who remain behind bars during the pandemic
Equitable Democracy Demands
Implement a rapid response plan to ensure equitable ballot access throughout the pandemic
Ensure continuity of legislative representation throughout the COVID-19 crisis
What Did We Miss?
WCRJ's Racial Justice Response Agenda for COVID-19 reflects our core issue areas, which include economic justice, workers rights, justice reform, and equitable democracy. We recognize that there are many additional and equally important policy priorities at the intersection of COVID-19 and racial justice which fall outside of these categories.
We invite to you share feedback on what additional COVID-19 policies you believe are essential to the fight for racial equity.
Your voice is essential to the fight for Black liberation. In order to ensure that critical racial justice COVID-19 response measures are implemented, WCRJ needs allies like you to step up and demand action from our elected officials. Take 30 seconds to send a pre-written email to Governor Pritzker, Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, and members of the Illinois Black Legislative Caucus, urging their immediate adoption of these important policies.