In the midst of the largest pandemic in a century, Americans turned out to vote in unprecedented numbers. This is a historic moment: Kamala Harris is the first woman, first Black person, and first Asian American person to be elected vice president of the United States! And it’s not just the election that people showed up for. People have been caring for the needs and health of community members affected by the coronavirus, taking a stand against police brutality, translating anger and hope into organized policy demands, and having difficult but important conversations with family, friends, and coworkers.
The events of this year have led to widespread recognition of the inequitable systems in our country and engendered national momentum for the fight for racial and health equity — notably, through innovative grassroots organizing. Moving forward, we need to keep using our power and our voices to fundamentally change the laws and policies that drive deeply unjust inequities. To succeed in building strong policies and avoid repeating our inequitable history, we must take these actions:
Acknowledge that we are interconnected. COVID-19 demonstrates how deeply connected we are and how important these connections are to our health, well-being, and economic security. We need leaders to promote equitable policies and practices that will help us heal, bridge our divisions, and come together for the betterment of all.
Address the structural drivers of health inequities. Our laws and policies shape our health. It's no accident that COVID-19 is taking such a significant toll on Black, brown, and rural communities. These are the same groups of people who have been disproportionately harmed by laws and policies for decades. For example, under-investment and government-sanctioned gaps in worker protections, resources for public schools, access to health care, and housing have all led to disproportionate effects on those who were already facing health disparities.
Improve coordination among levels of government. Our federal, state, and local governments are designed to work together to protect us all; each level of government affects the others. When local, state, and national leaders collaborate effectively across jurisdictions — and when they center the health and well-being of everyday people — everyone and every part of our society are better off. Here are some resources to help government work for everyone:
- Local governments make decisions on issues that affect us daily, including access to housing and transportation, support for schools and parks, and resources for public safety and hospitals. Learn more about the critical role of local governments in improving health equity in their communities by reading our analysis "The Power of Local Solutions" in A Blueprint for Changemakers (page 16), and check out our guide on equitable enforcement of public health provisions. Or consider the specific policy options in our COVID-19 Response & Recovery collection.
- State governments often have flexibility in managing wide-reaching laws and programs, including mandates on mask wearing; election laws to improve voter access; fair redistricting; Medicaid expansion; and equitable budgeting. Learn more about how states can prioritize funding for underserved communities.
- The federal government sets the context for state and local policy decisions as well as funding allocation. Take a look at Assessing Legal Responses to COVID-19 for recommendations by 50 national experts on how federal, state, and local leaders can better respond to the pandemic. Or join us for a series of Twitter briefings (#COVIDLawBriefing) on current topics such as post-election response to the pandemic, next steps on the Affordable Care Act, equitable distribution of vaccines, and much more.
Now is a time of much-needed hope and a time to keep our momentum going on justice and equity. We look forward to continued collaboration to advance critical policies that improve health for all.