Community Self-Love During Coronavirus
The novel coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on communities around the world, especially in the United States, which has experienced more than 4 million cases and 140,000 deaths in just six months, and has one of the highest per capita rates of infection in the world. A bungled response from the federal government and blatant politicization of basic health practices has caused U.S. COVID-19 cases and deaths to increase exponentially, and many local governments have been left to their own devices to craft a response that supports their residents.
Local governments have a varied tool kit for dealing with the pandemic, and some have risen to the challenge, implementing tough public health guidelines, increasing social services spending, and supporting local businesses. More than half of all states have enacted budget legislation to try to ameliorate the outbreak and its economic impacts, with programs as diverse as Arizona’s broad-based $50 million Crisis Contingency and Safety Net Fund, California providing $100 million for educational institutions to purchase personal protective equipment and school cleaning services, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s procuring—and securing—500,000 testing kits directly from South Korea so the federal government could not seize them.
But the power of states to act is limited. That’s where local communities rise up.
Putting Women and Native People First
The pandemic exacerbated existing inequities for many groups. Numerous women, already balancing careers and gendered expectations about child raising, have a near-impossible choice when day care centers are closed across the country. And Indigenous communities—notably, the Navajo Nation, the epicenter of an outbreak—are often left to fight public health crises like the pandemic with a fraction of the resources available to non-Native governments.
Hawaiʻi has fared better with the coronavirus than most states. It had only 107 cases per 100,000 residents as of July 26, the lowest rate in the nation.
To top it off, the Aloha State has created a pandemic recovery plan that centers women and Native Hawaiians, ensuring that the post-pandemic state will be more equitable than before the virus hit. This feminist recovery plan, “Building Bridges, Not Walking On Backs,” was developed by the Hawaiʻi State Commission on the Status of Women in consultation with grassroots organizations.
Some elements of the plan call for ensuring federal stimulus money is earmarked for the Native Hawaiian community, and increasing women’s access to well-paying employment. The plan outlines how the state should embrace subsistence living and traditional land- and sea-based agriculture, instead of relying on the current economic drivers: tourism and the military.
The plan outlines how the state should embrace subsistence living and traditional land- and sea-based agriculture, instead of relying on the current economic drivers: tourism and the military.
“[T]his moment really forces a conversation about how to diversify Hawai‘i’s economy away from tourism and the military [which have been] dominant to the point of choking out other aspects of the economy here,” Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, a political science professor who teaches Native Hawaiian politics at the University of Hawai‘i, told YES! in July. “[B]oth industries have incredibly patriarchal and exploitative and violent aspects.”
Maui County approved the plan in June, and other elements have already influenced proposed state policies, such as allocating more funding for child care.
“There is a lot of tension,” said Khara Jabola-Carolus, the executive director of the state commission. “Hawai‘i is a settler-colonial state … it’s just a constant battle to make sure our communities are not erased.”
Stepping Up for Immigrants
Immigrants, both with and without documentation, have borne a disproportionate burden during the pandemic. They are more likely to work in high-risk professions such as restaurant work, housekeeping, food processing, and factory work, which also provide less health insurance coverage, if any. Also, many undocumented immigrants (and even children born in the U.S.) were cut out of relief bills such as the U.S. CARES Act. Many more immigrants fear asking for help because of the Trump administration’s heavy-handed enforcement and deportation programs, and because under new policies, receiving any kind of public assistance could endanger their immigration status in the U.S.
That’s where the Tulsa Immigrant Relief Fund comes in. It’s funded by a group of local charitable foundations in and around Tulsa, Oklahoma, plus some individual donations. “Our immigrant community has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic,” co-organizer Cynthia Jasso wrote in an email. “The fund aims to address the critical gap in available support for immigrants, who are excluded from accessing existing and new state and federal relief efforts.”
Many more immigrants fear asking for help because of the Trump administration’s heavy-handed enforcement and deportation programs.
The fund launched in April, and as of July 15, it had raised nearly $1 million and disbursed approximately $700,000 in direct relief and cash assistance to nearly 900 immigrant workers and families in Tulsa, Jasso wrote.
The funds are disbursed through five area nonprofits and churches connected to and trusted by Tulsa’s largely Spanish-speaking immigrant communities.
The fund continues to raise money at tulsacf.org/immigrantrelieffund and is in early discussions with partners and donors about its future plans, according to Jasso.
Boosting Local Economies
Knowing the only effective response in the early days of the pandemic was to keep people away from each other, the virus forced the U.S. and the world to put the global economy into the equivalent of a medically induced coma. Many nations offered direct payments to sidelined workers, with some governments paying up to 90% of their citizens’ lost salaries to ensure their jobs would still be there after lockdowns are lifted.
In comparison, the United States’ one-time offer of $1,200 was rather skimpy. So in Washington state, the small city of Tenino resurrected a plan from the Great Depression: It began to print money.
Specifically, it “minted” $10,000 in Tenino Wooden Dollars, stamped wooden “bills” valued at $25 each, redeemable at most businesses in the city of 2,000.
“There’s really no reason not to accept them, because they’re backed with the full faith and credit of the city,” said Mayor Wayne Fournier.
Residents only need to show the city they’ve been harmed by the pandemic or the shutdown to be eligible to receive up to $300 per month in the currency. After the state of emergency has ended, there will be a 90-day window to redeem Tenino Wooden Dollars at face value.
The bills are run off of the original letterpress machine used in the 1930s, which had been on display in the city’s museum. Each bill is serialized and stamped with a portrait of George Washington and the Latin phrase, habemus autem sub potestate, which roughly translates to “we have it under control.”