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What working for social justice looks like now

Communities across the U.S. are adapting to these changing times to ensure all people are cared for and protected.

Atlanta Economic Justice Tenant Training
A housing rights training for tenants in Atlanta in 2018. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, AFSC and partners are now advocating for moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures in the city.      Photo: Bryan Vana / AFSC

As the coronavirus pandemic devastates communities around the globe, the realities of working for social change are rapidly changing. Thanks to supporters like you, AFSC is helping communities across the U.S. and around the world to stand together and keep up their call for peace and justice in these challenging times. 

In mid-March, AFSC asked all staff to work from home and cancel any work-related travel, large gatherings, and in-person meetings. Our work transformed in a matter of days. Campaigns for affordable housing, trainings for youth leaders, and conferences were put on hold. Organizing meetings and community gatherings were suspended. People receiving legal services could no longer visit our offices.  

The initial shock that many of us experienced soon gave way to urgency as the magnitude of the crisis became clearer—as did the failings of the Trump administration and other government officials to respond effectively to address it. As Congress deliberated over emergency aid packages, AFSC joined with more than 30 faith organizations calling for prioritizing the needs of the poor.

But the efforts of government will never be enough to meet the immense need and will exclude many of us, including people who are undocumented, homeless, unemployed, uninsured, incarcerated, or migrating to safety. It’s everyday people working together that will drive the response and recovery to this crisis.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the injustices of our world, it also reminds us of what we have always known: that we are all interconnected, that we are members of a global community, and that our health and well-being are dependent on how we treat each other.

As the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on DACA in fall 2019, hundreds of DACA recipients, TPS holders, and allies gathered in Washington, D.C. to call for a roadmap to citizenship for all immigrants. Our efforts to advocate for humane immigration policies continues through online petitions, phone calls to government officials, and digital organizing. Photo: Carl Roose/AFSC

Right now, I’m inspired by the many ways that communities are demonstrating their commitment to our collective well-being—and building momentum in creating a more just, compassionate world that we all deserve. 

Across the U.S., we’re calling on governors and the leadership of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to protect people in prisons, jails, and detention centers—where forced proximity to others and a lack of access to adequate health care are particularly dangerous during a pandemic. And we’re seeing the impact of our efforts. In late March, after weeks of organizing and advocacy by AFSC staff and partners, New Jersey announced it would reduce its jail population by as many as 1,000 people to limit the spread of COVID-19.

In West Virginia—a state with one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country—more than 2,500 volunteers are now part of a grassroots rapid response network to ensure children and seniors have the food they need while at home. With support from AFSC, the network is coordinating the purchase and delivery of food and meals to households and strategizing with partners to reach more people across the state.

In Atlanta, community members and groups, including AFSC, are urging policymakers to enact housing protections for people in poverty. The mayor recently agreed to a two-month moratorium on evictions—and we’re advocating for more protections against evictions as well as foreclosures. In partnership with the Housing Justice League, AFSC is setting up a statewide hotline (404-946-9953) to assist those suffering a housing emergency and connect them with organizing efforts.

In New Jersey, AFSC staff attorneys and legal assistants continue to help people in immigration detention centers around the state, although they can no longer visit them in person. We started a 24-hour hotline to respond to questions and concerns from clients and their families while continuing to advocate for their release as well the release of all people in detention.

The 2019 opening of an urban farm created by AFSC, partners, and community members in South Central Los Angeles. Community members are now staying connected through community healing conference calls. Photo: Lorena Alvarez

In South Central Los Angeles and Mar Vista Gardens public housing in California, community members our Roots for Peace Program works with young people and adults from predominantly immigrant Latinx families to address health and economic inequities and work toward a more just food system. Although we can’t gather together in our urban farm and community gardens, we’re staying connected by community resiliency calls. The calls provide a space where community members feel supported, strengthen connections, discuss their struggles, and share resources with each other to build mutual aid networks in their neighborhoods. Staff is also holding one-on-one check-ins to monitor needs and connect families to specific resources.

These are just some of the ways that AFSC and the communities we serve are adapting to the times we live in. And they’re also a testament to the knowledge and resilience that abounds in our communities, which are some of our most valuable resources in responding to this pandemic. 

Every day, I am amazed and grateful for the commitment, innovation, and courage I see among AFSC staff and the many community members and organizers we work with. We are all learning and struggling together to continue our work together for peace, justice, and freedom for all in one of the most uncertain periods of our lifetimes. 

It is my hope that we come out of this crisis stronger as a community, having developed the bonds and co-created a vision needed for a better future. We already see the seeds being planted.  

About the Author

Jacob Flowers is from Memphis where he served for 10 years as the executive director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center and now works with AFSC as the regional director of the U.S. South.

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