Claremont McKenna College’s Civility, Access, Resources and Expression Center brought together five grassroots organizations to share their missions and the problems they have faced because of the COVID-19 pandemic in its Political Engagement through Empowered Representation, or PEER, Conference Saturday via Zoom.
The event was titled “What Was 2020? A deep dive into the political progress throughout the past year,” and sought to help participants process the political and social events of the past year and build skills in organizing and activism.
“Students play a much larger role in political activism,” said Athulya Nath, one of the conference’s facilitators, in her opening remarks to over 40 participants.
She added the PEER Conference was conceived in 2019 to promote community and provide resources and access to students who are increasingly politically and socially active. She said 2020 reflected that change in mindset.
Anand Giridharadas, author and editor-at-large for Time Magazine, was this year’s keynote speaker.
“COVID was a revelation – a biopsy,” said Giridharadas.
He said that the pandemic accelerated reckonings with race, gender and inequality that had been building over the past 60 years. He said that the pandemic was a disaster for 90% of Americans and those at the top had a great year.
“Corporations rigged the system to profit off disaster,” Giridharadas said.
He asked participants if they feel a return to the pre-COVID normal of February 2020 is not acceptable, what did they learn from the past year that makes it necessary to create a different, more equitable normal. He added that the United States is undergoing massive social, political and demographic change which the pandemic pushed into the spotlight.
“We are changing ourselves dramatically,” said Giridharadas.
Attention then turned to the five grassroots organizations: Ahri, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the Inland Empire Immigrant Youth Collective, the Movement for Justice in El Barrio and the Youth Mentoring Action Network. Representatives from each organization spoke at the conference. They said that their plans for 2020 were all upended by COVID, and all re-focused their missions on their immediate communities and mitigating the devastating financial, emotional and physical tolls the pandemic brought through mutual aid, new partnerships and online engagement.
“We went back to our roots, our people, our community” said Susan Cheng, organizing director of Ahri, a community organizing group that focuses on serving immigrants regardless of status in Southern California.
Many of Ahri’s community members were not eligible for any federal COVID relief, so Ahri partnered with other groups to provide mutual aid and direct individuals to available resources, said Cheng.
The work of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, an immigrant rights and racial justice group with a focus on Black immigrants, was also disrupted.
“The health and safety of our staff was our first priority,” said Nana Gyamfi, executive director for the Alliance.
She added that the Alliance then focused on their community via a rapid response basis through mutual aid programs and legal clinics.
Gyamfi said the organization also contributed to an international commission report regarding anti-Black racism toward African migrants on Mexico’s southern border.
“There is a target on our backs,” said Gyamfi.
Ryan Konrad can be reached at email@example.com.