In summary

We have a collective moral imperative to do better by all Californians and rebuild our future into one where the most vulnerable communities can thrive.

By Sonrisa Cooper and Sylvia Chi, Special to CalMatters

Sonrisa Cooper is Community Development Program Manager at The Greenlining Institute, [email protected] Sylvia Chi is Policy Director at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, [email protected] They wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

The recent tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic and high-profile incidents of police violence against black people have shown us that our country has a deep and visceral need for racial justice. 

Whether we are talking about a global pandemic, climate change or police brutality, people of color, especially black communities, are always hit first and hardest, and this has to change. We have a collective moral imperative to do better by all Californians and rebuild our future into one where the most vulnerable communities can thrive. 

After the pandemic subsides, yesterday’s economy will be devastated, and its legacy will be a foundation of inequality that has made the pandemic crisis worse for working families and people of color. As we fight against the devastation of the coronavirus and sudden recession, our communities are also bracing themselves for the escalating impacts of continued climate change. 

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We need a response that meets the most urgent needs for all Californians and protects those who are hit hardest by the pandemic and recession: frontline workers, immigrants, the unhoused, and black and brown people. The response must be guided by an inclusive vision that deals with the root causes that got us into these overlapping crises and that centers climate, economic and racial justice.

Californians know that climate change, like the COVID-19 pandemic and police brutality, is an urgent crisis that disproportionately harms black and brown people. We need a green recovery plan for California that centers on the needs of communities of color: an immediate, massive, stimulus and targeted economic support to our communities. 

Our leaders – Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Legislature, and the Governor’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery –  must ensure that our recovery efforts are built to bring equity and justice to the communities that are hit hardest and have suffered the longest under systemic oppression.

First, we need to ensure that equity is at the foundation of our recovery efforts. Temporary solutions are not enough; giving people immediate relief is crucial, but it is equally necessary to have a long-term vision of a more equitable economy. Our leaders must be courageous in making the ambitious, structural changes that will transform our economy: now is the time for big ideas such as establishing a statewide Office of Racial Equity, repealing Proposition 209 to give equal opportunity in public employment, contracting and education, and expanding Medi-Cal access to all elders, regardless of immigration status. Legislators must also pass Assembly Bill 2054, which would fund community-based organizations to respond to emergencies, building a foundation for abolition through real alternatives to policing.

Second, we must make deep and strategic investments in critical infrastructure and sustainable technologies that will protect vulnerable Californians and prepare our state for the escalating crisis of climate change. We recommend a minimum $10 billion bond that will create a genuine economic stimulus for communities of color, meet community resilience needs and support programs that focus on equity. Some examples of green recovery investments that should be funded by the bond include community resilience centers, expanding the Low-Income Weatherization Program and Transformative Climate Communities, and investing in clean and affordable public transportation.

Finally, we must build economic resilience in black and brown communities by investing in family-sustaining green jobs and accelerate our transition away from fossil fuels. We need to invest in resilient workforce development for frontline workers, such as labor protections for workers in the informal economy, homecare workers, and the public sector, high-road training in the low-carbon economy, a jobs guarantee, and creating a market for California-made products.

The last three months have demonstrated that, more than anything else, racism is at the foundation of every political issue in our country. We need to center black and brown voices and experiences in our struggle for a better world. 

Our response to this crisis needs to lift up the needs of the most vulnerable communities in California, or we will simply repeat this disaster again one day. This is our opportunity to rewrite the rules of our economy and build a resilient future where all Californians can thrive.

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Sonrisa Cooper is Community Development Program Manager at The Greenlining Institute, [email protected] Sylvia Chi is Policy Director at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, [email protected]. They wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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