Valerie Jarrett, Cecile Richards Join YWCA’s Stop Coronavirus Racism, Voting Rights Campaign

Former senior advisor to President Obama Valerie Jarrett speaks during the 2018 Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit at The Times Center on September 20, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)
John Lamparski/Getty Images

The YWCA held a virtual town hall on Twitter Thursday as part of its #standagainstracism campaign, focused on how the coronavirus has exposed racism in America and those who support it. The town hall included former Barack Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett and former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.

On the day before the Twitter event, Sophia Clarke, communications associate with YWCA, wrote about the campaign in a blog titled: “Unhooded and Exposed: What COVID-19 Reveals about Racism in America.”

The blog said, in part:

It’s shameful that the novel coronavirus 2019 pandemic should be model for human behavior. That is, COVID-19 does not discriminate. But among death, severe disease, and toilet paper depletion, xenophobia and racism too have found their way into how the disease will be remembered. It would seem that such a formidable opponent would provide opportunity for unity, trust, and ultimately – love between people. And though it has, the disease has also shone a harsh light on systemic injustices across communities locally and globally.

Wear any sort of face covering. Act as if you have the virus. This is the current advice from the Centers for Disease Control. But wearing a mask is a privilege. Wearing a bandana is a greater one.

Face coverings inside usually conjure the image of a bank-robber, a thug, a gangster, a criminal. Public images that people of color have run the longest-running PR campaign against. And yet, in communities of color, where COVID-19 is hitting the hardest due to higher rates of pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, people are afraid to wear masks. Why? Because of the United States’ history of playing with the lives of people of color. Of “hands-up don’t shoot.” Of Trayvon Martin going to 7/11 to buy some snacks. Of Eric Garner’s “I can’t breathe.” Sandra Bland was just trying to drive a car. Because even when innocent, unarmed, and unmasked, there is potential threat. Imagine what it’s like when masked?

It’s all systemic. It’s historical. And it’s always been life or death.

Although access to the town hall required registration and approval, YWCA’s put out a press release featuring quotes from its high-profile supporters and the vote-by-mail agenda that has found new impetus in the coronavirus era.

“YWCA USA was joined at their town hall by Supermajority, When We All Vote, the United State of Women, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the League of Women Voters, The National Education Association, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Black Women’s Roundtable, and the Voto Latino Foundation,” the press release said. “These national leaders in the movement for racial justice and gender equity discussed the impact of systemic and structural racism on communities of color, and shared strategies and tactics for effective civic engagement amidst social distancing.

“When We All Vote is on a mission to increase participation in every election and close the race and age voting gap by changing the culture around voting,” Valerie Jarrett, co-chairwoman of United State of Women and board chairwoman of When We All Vote, said. “We know that our democracy is stronger when we all vote and we must ensure that our elections are fair, safe and accessible for all Americans.”

“During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that we discuss how the lack of access to quality healthcare, affordable child care, and equal pay affects women, particularly women of color, many of whom are on the frontlines,” Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood and co-founder of Supermajority, said. “Women and marginalized communities had to fight for the right to vote, and that work must continue today.”

“As COVID-19 shows the terrible toll that systemic and structural racism takes on communities of color, the fight for racial justice will require deeper engagement,” Virginia Kase, CEO of the League of Women Voters, said:

Those already in the fight and new allies must step into this moment and stand up for what is right. Most importantly, we must listen to those most deeply affected and support their leadership. We must be their human bullhorns. The League of Women Voters is working with people in communities across the country to ensure their vote is protected and that every person’s voice is heard at the ballot box this election season. I’m proud to stand in solidarity with the YWCA and the powerful women leading the charge in the fight against racism.

YWCA also posted tweets during the event.

Follow Penny Starr on Twitter.


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