The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare our nation and city’s decimated social safety net for all the world to see. COVID-19 has exposed the massive inequities, homelessness, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, food insecurity, and inadequate healthcare that Chicago students and their families face every day. Teachers could have predicted the devastation COVID-19 would wreak.
That’s why CTU has joined forces with United Working Families and community allies demanding the #Right to Recovery (R2R), a comprehensive package of reforms at all levels of government to ensure the safety, health and economic well being of all our communities, but especially low-income communities of color who are most at risk from the virus.
Everyone deserves the right to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. But our families also need the means to thrive once the coronavirus subsides. We must demand a progressive response to the pandemic but we also must demand new policies that permanently transform the lives of those living in poverty, the homeless, seniors and veterans, and the disabled long after the crisis ends.
The Right to Recovery package would ensure:
- The Right to Safe Working Conditions— 20 paid days of immediate emergency leave to all who need it.
- The Right to Housing— A moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, rent and mortgage collections, housing for the homeless and lease extensions for tenants, if needed.
- The Right to Water and Power— A legally-binding moratorium on water and utility shutoffs, waiver of late payment fees, reconnection of disconnected service and affordable payment plans.
- The Right to Healthcare— All tests, treatment and possible vaccines for COVID-19 provided free of charge, Medicaid expansion and medical debt forgiveness, proper protective equipment and hazard pay for frontline healthcare workers.
- The Right to Public Education— All K-12 schools and colleges closed with provisions made for free internet and distance learning.
- The Right to Income Security— $750 weekly payments to all families with school children and all workers facing furloughs, layoffs and reduction in hours to cover childcare, meal expenses and lost wages.
- The Right to Family and Community— Immediate halt to ICE check-ins, closure of detention centers, an end to family separation.
- The Right to Liberty— Individuals imprisoned on unaffordable money bonds released, no new lock ups at Cook County Jail on money bonds, immediate release of individuals age 50 or older or those in a high-risk population.
- The Right to Protection for Seniors and People with Disabilities— Groceries or boxed meals and medication delivered to all seniors and people with disabilities, trained healthcare workers on site in senior living facilities.
These demands have broad appeal but they particularly resonate with educators, who see their students’ families struggling to make ends meet, to get basic healthcare, to find affordable housing, and to put healthy food on the table in a city that is more interested in providing tax handouts to wealthy developers than to meeting the needs of its most vulnerable residents. And with distance learning, teachers see first hand how the digital divide–more like a digital cavern–imperils the education of low-income Black and brown children.
The R2R campaign reflects an all hands on deck approach designed to reverse decades of structural racism and austerity, which had burdened Chicago’s Black communities with devastating poverty and abhorrent mortality rates long before the virus hit. With Black Chicagoans six times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white Chicagoans, elected officials face life or death decisions.
Half measures won’t work
One thing is certain. Half measures will not achieve the transformation our communities need and deserve. We need bold leadership at the city, state and county level. And we must not go back to “normal” once the pandemic ends.
Normal means acceptance of the gross inequities that have plagued Black and brown communities for generations. Normal means inadequate health care, lack of jobs and abject poverty on Chicago’s south and west sides. Normal means poor Black men dying in jail because they cannot afford bond.
In this time of crisis and beyond, we need to do much, much better than normal.