HIP Intern Reflections:

Zooming In and Speaking Out — Why You Should Join Our Action Hour

By Nikki Ramsy

Decorative image with orange background and blue circles. Overlaid text reads “Public Health Awakened Action Hour.”

Everyone, it seems, is tired of Zoom. We’re tired of those dreaded “your internet connection is unstable” notifications that precede choppy audio and frozen faces. We’re tired of triple-checking if our camera’s off before taking a mid-meeting bathroom break. We’re tired of rectangular grids that lock us into little boxes on the screen. We’re tired, in other words, of what seem like measly substitutes for in-person interaction.

Yet while it’s easy to rattle off all the reasons we’re Zoom-fatigued, the rapid branching and expansion of our virtual lattices has also opened up boundless new possibilities.

Back in November 2020, for example, election momentum was steadily snowballing as people across the U.S. anxiously tracked the Biden-Trump race. But because we couldn’t meet in person — at least not without masks or social-distancing — there were limited options to convert this heightened political engagement into real action.

How it started:

That’s when Public Health Awakened’s Action Hour came into the picture. Inspired by Zoom phone banking events popping up across political organizing spaces during Biden’s First 100 Days, Human Impact Partners staff and network organizing leaders Sari Bilick and Sophie Simon-Ortiz began hosting virtual action meetups. Every two weeks, Public Health Awakened members convened to sign petitions, call legislators, and join social media campaigns together. The goal? Holding the Biden-Harris administration accountable and pushing for radical change toward health equity.

“Ultimately, our work is about people in the public health sector taking action together. The point is for people to not feel alone. And I think that that’s been especially true in COVID times.” — Sophie Simon-Ortiz

In many ways, Action Hour is a microcosm of what Public Health Awakened stands for. It’s action-oriented, a space where public health practitioners advocating for social justice can not only sharpen their critical analysis but directly engage — whether it’s leaving a voicemail to their Congress member, adding their name to a petition, or posting on their Instagram story. (Check out this “letter to the editor” template calling for equitable vaccine distribution that Public Health Awakened members made during Action Hour a few months ago.)

It may seem like typing your name into an online petition or adding one more message to your senator’s flooded voicemail won’t make much of a difference. But petitions can shift media narratives and become potent talking points for legislators. And Congress members are logging their constituents’ calls, tracking what issues we support and oppose.

Even the simple act of showing up to Action Hour is significant. “Action Hour is exposing people to a wider range of issues than they are tracking themselves,” Sari Bilick explains. “Maybe you get excited about an issue and talk to your friends or public health colleagues about it.”

Photograph of two Public Health Awakened members in Public Health Awakened gear holding up their fists in solidarity.
Photograph of two Public Health Awakened members in Public Health Awakened gear holding up their fists in solidarity.

In fact, the collectivity of these brief Zoom gatherings is probably the most important aspect of Action Hour. It’s about generating momentum, together. It’s true that I alone might not rock the political landscape, but when twenty or fifty or several hundred are with me, that’s when we start building power.

“Ultimately, our work is about people in the public health sector taking action together,” Sophie Simon-Ortiz shares. “The point is for people to not feel alone. And I think that that’s been especially true in COVID times.”

After all — although we may not want to admit it — Zoom has its perks. There aren’t many opportunities for members of Public Health Awakened, a national network, to organize across state lines. But if you have a computer and Internet connection, you can hop onto an Action Hour from anywhere.

Deepa Patel, a public health worker based in Anaheim, California, has been attending Action Hour for months. For her, the best part of the meetings is the camaraderie: “Learning from other activists and sharing our ideas, what we are working on, and what we are going through.”

How it’s going:

Fast forward to the present, and it’s been almost a year since the Biden-Harris administration took office. The First 100 Days, and the increased public scrutiny that came with them, are over. But Action Hour is still relevant, perhaps even more than ever. Now is the time to stay vigilant. We can’t stop holding the Biden administration to its campaign promises. Instead, we must constantly interface with the policymakers, legislators, and leaders who are direct pathways to structural change. Sari put it best: “Health, equity, and justice are important beyond elections, beyond the First 100 Days. All year, all the time.”

And there’s plenty more on the horizon. Sari and Sophie have some exciting ideas for the future of Action Hour: shifting more leadership to members, organizing issue-specific meetings, and incorporating regional and — if the pandemic permits — in-person actions. “Because our work of health justice is ongoing and multi-issue,” Sophie summarizes, “we have to keep taking collective action together.”

Action Hour, in other words, is just getting started — and it’s only one Zoom link away.

📌Get involved in Action Hour!

Who knows? Maybe you’ll meet some other like-minded public health folks and strike up an exciting new connection. Here are ways to plug in:

Nikki Ramsy worked with HIP as a Communications and Advocacy Intern in summer of 2021. She is currently a Master’s in Public Policy candidate at the University of Southern California, and is excited about marrying larger historical frameworks with on-the-ground communications work. After witnessing harm in her own community, Nikki is especially interested in making mental health services more accessible and destigmatized — including bridging the perceived gaps between mental health and gender, sexuality, race, size, and class.

Bringing the power of public health to campaigns and movements for a just society