My sons and I are spending a lot of time these days with young people from the Sunrise Movement in virtual political education trainings on climate justice. Watching a young person break down the history of how we got to this moment, the Green New Deal, The People’s Bailout, and how to dive into the movement to beat the interrelated crises of racism, capitalism, climate change, and coronavirus makes me well up. I love kids of all ages, but have always particularly loved teenagers. I love the spunk, irreverence, persistence, rebelliousness, depth of emotion, questioning of dominant paradigms, creation of new paradigms, and culture-making that are hallmarks of a young person’s development in this place and time in history.
Throughout my public health career, Human Impact Partners has inspired me with that same spunk, persistence, questioning, and creation of new paradigms. It has been a place to call home in my quest to try on and push for new strategies for a public health practice that takes us towards a liberatory future. After serving on HIP’s Board of Directors for two years, I was thrilled to transition into the role of Co-Director in February.
I’m excited to introduce myself to you now that I’ve been Co-Director at HIP for 3 months.
These months have gone by so quickly, and it has been hard to stop and reflect. Along with all of you, we have been engulfed in the rapid response actions needed to center equity throughout the myriad impacts of coronavirus.
I’m so fortunate to be at HIP, at the table with community organizers, advocates, and public health practitioners, working together for solutions to the always-unacceptable inequities that COVID-19 has laid bare and multiplied. I’m fortunate to be a Co-Director with Lili, who is a balm against the inherent loneliness of this moment, and in a workplace with staff that have built an intentional culture that is loving, interdependent, and unified in purpose, utilizing heart-centered practices that bring us more powerfully into our politics.
The powerful questions we face
Just like the climate crisis, COVID-19 is hitting communities facing multiple systemic inequities the hardest. If we had invested in upstream public health prevention and long-addressed the causes of the causes of health inequities, we might still be in a pandemic, but it would look very different. Coronavirus has laid bare all of the symptoms of deep power imbalances, structural racism, and others systems of advantage.
The field of public health can use our authority in this moment by working actively on the policies we know create the conditions for health. We must demand housing for all, a rent and mortgage moratorium, decarceration, paid leave, universal healthcare, a Green Stimulus, the right to vote, and a well-functioning government, with policies and solutions shaped by people who are most impacted. HIP has a foundation in relationships with organizers and advocates that has enabled us to bridge to and support governmental public health during COVID-19 response.
We recently finished celebrating Passover with friends and family at a virtual seder. I love the space that Passover provides to pause and discuss ancient and modern existential questions — about the ways in which we are both oppressed and oppressors, the meaning of freedom, of leaving tight or narrow places that are constraining us, of upheaval, exodus, and liberation.
I always wonder how the enslaved Jews were convinced to leave the familiarity of their homes for the unknown and insecure future wandering in the desert. It must have been some powerful community organizing to convince people to leave after so many generations of living in Egypt.
I like to imagine the moment before the Red Sea parts, with a band of people standing on one side, deciding whether to cross over into an unknown wilderness, into a desert without shelter, food, or water. They must have had some powerful imaginations to envision the future they could build if they left behind that which was not serving them anymore.
We are all in a Great Pause, contemplating what society, economy, politics, and democracy will be like as we slowly emerge from shelter in place. Will the factories and combustion engines fire up again, will the people sheltering in hotels and vacant reclaimed houses be forced out? Will paid leave protections be revoked? Can we envision and fight for a new society where everyone is safe from harm, where everyone has a home, food, energy, good education, clean air, water, and soil, and a stable climate that supports life on earth?
I am excited to think through these questions with HIP staff and allies. I am lucky to be at a place that has a long history of this kind of reimagining. I look forward to meeting you in person sometime soon to share ideas about what we can and must do together now. Until then, stay tuned for our new Strategic Plan that is guiding our vision for what we can and must do.
Solange Gould is Co-Director at Human Impact Partners. Along with Lili Farhang, she’s responsible for advancing the mission and strategic direction of the organization. She has been in public health practice for over 20 years, advancing progressive policy and systems change to improve health, equity, and sustainability with government partners, advocates and organizers, and communities most impacted.