Youth Organizing During Pandemic

With the onset of the pandemic, we were ordered to stay home & everything has drastically changed how we do things at SEACA. Because we are living in unprecedented times, no one told us how to prepare to live life during the pandemic. And even under our current administration, from the federal to local, information is conflicting, there are no set, clear, guidelines on how to navigate life under Covid 19. What does that mean to our youth that we engage with? How do we shift and continue to organize and work with our youth in providing essential after-school programming such as the Youth Organizers during a pandemic? 

When the stay home order was issued, it became clear that the pandemic was a serious issue. But how can we continue to organize in these constraints? We could not rely on government officials to respond and help us in crisis. Only community can. Despite social distancing, we more than ever need to stay connected & look out for one another. 

We might not have a lot, but we have one another and we also are the new generation inundated with technological advancements that we can use for our survival and adaptation. Deciding to continue the Youth Organizer program we proceeded virtually online; we have to be flexible and adapt. It’s important to just try, even if we mess up or things don’t work out. In these dire times, people are still seeking to connect or finding mechanisms to cope under stressful living during this pandemic. With jobs, housing & health at a looming risk, we can’t waste anybody’s time and put programming just for the sake of programming. 

Thinking through these difficult circumstances, here are three critical themes I chose to focus on with our youth organizers: Organizing, Wellness, and Social Solidarity. 

ORGANIZING

Organizing is ongoing. Before the pandemic, our community was already deep in fighting inequalities especially gentrification of our neighborhoods. With the Pandemic, these inequalities will continue to get worse and widen the gap between those that have and have not. While so many families that have lost jobs, reduced working hours, closed businesses, instead of canceling rent & mortgages, politicians have done the bare minimum to protect our community in Covid times. Rent is still expected while folks cannot work. Black people continue to be disproportionately killed by the cops. Corporations continue to put profit over people. Wildfires are out of hand and continue to burn. Because there isn’t real change to protect our communities, we must constantly fight and organize to push politicians and elected officials to enact true systemic just change and hand over the resources we need.

WELLNESS

Wellness is essential. This pandemic fronted by Covid19 has forced us to look into our health & wellness. If not, then we will be forced to spend time with illness. How can we focus on doing work or even be in the right frame of mind, if we are not feeling well within? From mental, physical, and emotional wellness, there is so much anxiety and stress from a lot of things under pandemic– that we cannot overdrive ourselves or ignore our wellness any longer. Every start of our YO virtual gathering, instead of going straight into work action items- it can be as simple as starting with a check-in question for everyone to be given a chance to support one another’s well-being. This essentially creates a safe space for folks to share and process how they are doing & feeling. With our developing youth & with one another, we must learn and give compassion for others & our own well-being. 

SOCIAL SOLIDARITY

Social Solidarity gives us hope. Most people only know of Darwin’s theory of “Survival of the Fittest” where only those that are the strongest will survive. But people forget that Darwin also talked about “Cooperation” where animals survived because they worked together in packs, flocks, in groups to adapt to their environment for survival.  Even though we are encouraged to stay home & practice “social distancing” the lack of physical proximity among our family, friends, and community, it can sometimes feel very isolating. But to adapt and survive we must check in on one another, especially that we cannot rely readily on institutions and politicians to get the help & resources we need. One of our Youth Organizers, Jaden, had offered to donate their stipend to the Chinatown Mutual Aid fund that would go to help seniors & struggling community members in the neighborhood. Also when many people in the community don’t speak English, don’t have degrees or are busy on daily survival– how can they reach out to elected officials about struggles in the midst of this pandemic? Here we have the youth speak out, especially for those in our community that cannot. We sent messages to City Council & the mayor, writing about neighborhood challenges to advocate for divesting funds from police institutions that aggravate police brutality, and instead invest & prioritize community needs like more healthcare & canceling rent in surviving through the pandemic. Even with the little we have, we organize to be resourceful. We recognize we still hold privileges and can still continue to share whatever we can in our communities. Social solidarity is what will help us move through these tough times and stay connected. Social solidarity is how we will survive.

These are challenging times and organizing for racial and economic justice is more important than ever. We have no clear answers for how to do it. The only thing we can do is move on knowing that nothing is set, that everything is trial and error, that there will be mishaps & mistakes, and to take care of ourselves and each other so that no one is left behind.

-Diane Valencia

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