My name is Elianne Farhat (she/her). I’m the executive director at TakeAction Minnesota.
At TakeAction Minnesota, our values are at the center of everything we do, and they drive our work. We believe in the inherent worth of every person – no exceptions, no qualifiers. We believe we live in an abundant world with more than enough for all of us. We believe our liberation is tied together. And we believe in the power of people.
The COVID-19 public health emergency has laid bare how broken and out of sync our system is with those values. This is not news to many of us.
Our democracy and economy are built on white supremacy, misogyny and imperialism. They’re not designed to work for Black and Indigenous people, for people of color, for poor and working class people, for women, or for queer and trans folks.
For many of us, the failure of our systems to care for our loved ones and ourselves is not particularly shocking, but we are feeling it very sharply right now.
In fact, early reports show that people of color are contracting and dying of COVID-19 at an alarmingly disproportionate rate compared to white folks, and also represent the majority of essential workers doing the riskiest jobs right now. Women are both overly represented in the number of people recently laid off and on the frontlines of responding to the crisis, as they make up two-thirds of all heath care providers.
For others who are not already living so closely to the pain of a system designed to work best for the wealthy and elite few, these times are showing just how close to the edge we all are.
Unemployment is skyrocketing. More than 16 million people filing for unemployment in America in the last three weeks, and economists expect us to hit a staggering 15% unemployment by the end of the month. The speed and scale of job loss is unprecedented, and our families and communities are already reeling from this massive disruption.
A survey of hundreds of our members reflects what I’m seeing in my own family and in the news: Minnesotans across age, race, zip code and income are worried about accessing healthcare, losing hours at work or getting laid-off, and being unable to pay for housing, food and basic supplies.
We are all hurting, grieving, and trying to make sense of a world turned upside-down.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis at a scale most of us have never experienced, and it will take years to recover. But it’s important to remember that we have seen this coming.
From the global rise of right-wing nationalism to willful inaction on climate change, the ideology and infrastructure that got us here was built over decades by a small group of organized individuals and institutions solely focused on hoarding power, wealth, and resources at all costs. They spread messages about who’s in and who’s out in our society, and they use fear, sexism, and racism to divide us and enshrine their control.
We are clearly in troubling political times. We know we are going to get through this crisis together – or not at all.
At every level of government, Republican elected officials and leaders – from Donald Trump to Mitch McConnell, from Jason Lewis to Paul Gazelka – are the reason we are in a public health emergency. It didn’t have to be this way.
Donald Trump ignored reports from January and February warning of the threat. And throughout March he spread misinformation about the dire risk we were facing, suggesting people should get sick to prop up our already broken economy. This radical right-wing talking point was echoed by Texas’ Lt. Governor, who argued old people should volunteer to die to save the economy.
Republican leaders are actively spreading lies in a national echo chamber to confuse, distract, and avoid blame. Mitch McConnell is blaming impeachment proceedings for being a distraction. Meanwhile, Jason Lewis and Paul Gazelka are seeking to score political points by performing concern for our communities, hoping we forget their long records of cutting health care and benefits for working families.
For me, the pictures showing long lines of people in Wisconsin risking their lives by waiting to vote in their primary this past Tuesday, April 8, were – in the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – “mind boggling.” Yet, instead of supporting Minnesota’s measures to ensure that our health and right to vote are protected in November’s election, Minnesota GOP Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan had the audacity to claim Secretary of State Steve Simon’s smart election protection plan was an effort to influence election results.
The political grandstanding is outrageous, misleading, and dangerous. It shows the deep-seated ideological commitment on the right to put the economy and profits before people and a deep lack of courage to hold Donald Trump accountable for criminal, unethical actions.
Two weeks ago, we finally began to see meaningful progress towards bringing real relief to Minnesotans. Emergency legislation passed at both the Minnesota State Capitol and in D.C. While something is definitely better than nothing, neither deal is enough.
In Minnesota, the legislature passed a $330 million emergency response bill. It’s a compromise bill, and “compromise” always means the most vulnerable in our communities are left out. This time is no different. Republicans, led by House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, blocked an increase to working families via our Minnesota Family Investment Program; blocked granting the Department of Human Services the temporary emergency authority they need to protect us; and blocked the Family Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Fund.
You can read our take on the Minnesota COVID-19 Response here. Know that there is still plenty of work to be done in the next bill expected later this month, like cancelling rent and mortgages, getting frontline medical workers the protective gear they need to safely care for us, and supporting immigrant families.
While our cities, counties, and state reallocate millions (and maybe billions) to emergency response efforts, the real money lies within the federal government’s emergency powers and deficit spending authority. We’re talking trillions. That’s why we’ve also been closely tracking the federal response too.
The federal $2.2. trillion relief package is really concerning. Too many of us are left out: immigrant families, student debt holders, people who are in prison or detention, low wage workers, Puerto Rico, and renters. While many people will see $1,200 from the deal, it’s not nearly enough. The amount is laughable when compared to the billions that can be leveraged into trillions and given away in massive bailouts for corporations. To add insult to injury, the ink was hardly dry on the bill before Donald Trump snipped the very loose strings attached to the corporate slush fund.
Next up? Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is putting together the next multi-trillion dollar relief package. Here in Minnesota, the legislature will come back next week to pass additional relief measures. We’ll keep you posted as we track these bills. Now would be a good time to contact your state and federal legislators demanding they do better in round two.
Our elected officials had a choice and too many of them chose wrong. Our response to the COVID-19 emergency could have been inclusive, compassionate, and people-centered. Instead, people are dying because of the Trump Administration’s incompetence, and Republican elected officials are engaging in a massive cover-up.
Instead of leading and taking responsibility for moving our country and our communities forward, Republicans and right-wing media lied, spread misinformation, slowed down legislative action, and lobbied for Wall Street bailouts. Even in the middle of a global pandemic, they want to make the rich richer – and it’s coming at the expense of our very lives. The callousness and incompetence are staggering.
It didn’t have to be this way, and we are showing another way. In the face of so much hate and incompetence we, the people are leading. And some of our elected officials – our people – are leading too.
Leadership comes in many different forms. It can look like an Amazon worker talking to their co-workers and building support for a walk-out to win sick days. It can look like young folks coming together to launch a mutual aid fund to care for our neighbors really hurting in this crisis. Leadership can look like activating your friends, family and neighbors to contact elected officials to open access to health care, cancel rent and deliver meaningful cash assistance to every person who needs it.
In St. Paul, Mayor Melvin Carter and the City Council boldly approached this crisis with creativity, creating a fund to support families and small businesses. Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council in Minneapolis set aside a fund too, to fill the gaps in the federal response, in particular for undocumented residents and their families. And statewide, Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan’s entire administration have set the standard nationally for executive leadership in this moment.
Regardless of the expression, there is something universally true about leadership: it’s something we exhibit when we’ve accepted responsibility for moving others toward something better, especially in the midst of great uncertainty.
In Minnesota, a broad coalition of organizations have come together to demand a people-centered response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Black organizers and organizations from across Minnesota put forward a powerful collective agenda to address the harmful impacts of COVID-19 on all our communities. We are organizing mutual aid funds, hosting town halls with elected officials, scheduling community care video meet-ups, striking for safety and security on the job, and so much more.
We do this work because we believe that our democracy and economy are fundamentally broken, but our communities are fundamentally whole. We are brilliant and entitled to abundant joy. We know we have the answers to the challenges we face, and it is only by organizing people to come together in unbreakable solidarity and to demand what we deserve that we realize justice.
The COVID-19 virus is presenting us with grief and hardship. It is also presenting us with the biggest opportunity in our lifetimes to reshape our democracy and economy so they are fundamentally for us, by us.
We are in times of great uncertainty, and we are making the road as we walk in response to this pandemic. This is a moment when we each must decide if we will lead, if we will take responsibility for moving our people forward. The cost of inaction is great, and our hope in action is even greater. I hope you will join – and act in joy, justice and solidarity – with us.