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An update from GCCLP: Covid-19 and the Gulf South

The GCCLP team sends strength to you and yours in these uncertain times. Covid-19 is having devastating impacts on our communities. The good news is we already have a plan; it turns out that the measures we need in a moment of pandemic are strikingly similar to those we'll need to survive the climate crisis. We offer you a grassroots assessment of what’s happening in our region, an update on GCCLP’s work, and an invitation to join us.

What we know so far:

Covid-19 is revealing existing inequities in our society. As Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones put it, “We’re equally susceptible biologically, but we’re not equally susceptible socially.” Covid-19 isn’t happening in a vacuum, but rather is playing out across lines of race, geography, class, and gender in the Gulf South. And the virus is further emphasizing the need for systemic shifts to our nation’s approach to healthcare, jobs, housing, and democracy.

Healthcare: All 5 Gulf South States are directly impacted by Covid-19. The Gulf South is particularly vulnerable to pandemic due to lack of access to health insurance, existing inequities and inefficiencies in the healthcare system, healthcare discrimination, low doctor per capita rates, existing health problems connected to poverty, environmental racism, and pollution from extractive industries. Black communities are experiencing disproportionately severe impacts of Covid-19.

In addition to direct impacts of Gulf South residents dealing with Corona Virus, we are also seeing a termination of “non-essential healthcare,” which some Gulf South states are claiming includes access to reproductive healthcare and abortion.

Workers and Laborers: Unemployment has skyrocketed in all 5 Gulf South states due to business closures associated with Covid-19. Compared to the rest of the nation, the Gulf South already has weak worker protection laws and unemployment benefits which leaves our communities especially vulnerable.

At the same time, this moment is revealing the power of workers. In addition to healthcare professionals -- retail workers, farmers and farmworkers, transportation workers, sanitation workers, and more are being recognized as essential. In a culture that often treats workers as replaceable and disposable, this crisis is emphasizing that everyday workers are what keep our society running. Some workers are taking note and demanding safer working conditions or even to shift their work to address the pandemic.

Housing & Communities: The Gulf South has some of the highest rates of poverty and housing insecurity in the nation. Texas and Louisiana have currently freezed evictions, with Governor DeSantis of Florida saying he will consider it. Mississippi and Alabama have not enacted any moratorium on evictions.

We know there is much work to be done beyond freezing evictions to ensure that all of our neighbors can live safely and with dignity. But even while measures like eviction freezes on their own are not adequate, this crisis is revealing that measures that were previously considered impossible, are suddenly possible.

Democracy: Fourteen states, including Louisiana, have rescheduled their primaries (the LA Primary is now June 20, 2020). Borders around the world are closing. Migration even within Gulf South is changing as states establish checkpoints. For example, there is a checkpoint at I-10 at the Alabama/Florida... staffed by 16 Florida State troopers in 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day.” We know policing of borders will disproportionately impact Black and undocumented communities.

The Gulf South, specifically Black and Indigenous Southern communities, already disproportionately excluded from democratic institutions. Disasters are often leveraged to further erode democratic processes. They are also moments where communities practice self-governance.

Where do we go from here?

The good news is that we already have a plan. The Green New Deal is not a policy but rather a vision: to create millions of good new jobs, address environmental & climate crises, and advance justice & equity. Gulf South for a Green New Deal is Gulf South communities asserting for ourselves what this vision must look like to succeed in our region and nationally -- and making it happen.

Just as Covid-19 is disproportionately impacting Southern communities of color, so will climate change. We must approach both crises with a frame of reparations, as is called for in the Gulf South for a Green New Deal. The trillions of federal government stimulus dollars being released in response to Covid-19 offer a unique opportunity to invest in both short term pandemic response and long term community resiliency and power.

And we must remember that we “already have the blueprints we need to move forward. As Fabiola Cineas writes for Essence about the Gulf South for a Green New Deal Policy Platform, “We should recognize that we already have the people power and the Green-Red New Deal blueprint needed to stop climate change and protect Black communities and Black life post-coronavirus. All we have to do is get organized and apply political pressure in states and across the nation to make it real.”

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