As news of COVID-19's spread and seriousness intensified, local youth climate crisis leaders swiftly shifted gears to use the network and resources they've built to help the New Mexico community.
Youth leaders from Earth Care's Youth United for Climate Crisis Action project, in partnership with several other organizations and community members, have set up a mutual-aid campaign that includes mechanisms for people to request and donate assistance to those impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, as well as a central online resource page.
The pivot from climate crisis work to COVID-19 assistance emerged instinctively, according to one of YUCCA's steering committee members, 17-year-old Artemisio Romero y Carver.
With the group coming up on its one-year anniversary of climate action work, Romero y Carver reflects that the COVID-19 effort resonates as "a product of the same principles" that spurred the international youth climate movement. "For many people, and I know for myself, the reason you get involved in climate crisis work, the reason you get involved in trying to protect our species, is you're trying your best to mitigate damage to human life and to protect our environment and our people," he says, noting with the current pandemic, "I haven't see a greater threat to my people."
The effort is multi-fold. It includes an online mutual aid form, brainstormed and set up by fellow Santa Feans hip hop artist Raashan Ahmad and Beth Gutelius, an associate director of the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"In moments of crisis, I think it can sometime bring out the dark sides of people," Gutelius says, "but it can also bring out the really beautiful sides. I was feeling a little powerless and helpless watching the hoarding of toilet paper and things like that—not to judge folks— but I wanted to do something with that energy and turn it toward action." She and Ahmad began trying "to figure out a way to [set] up some infrastructure for providing mutual aid to folks who were going to need it and other folks who were interested in offering it."
That was a natural fit for Earth Care's youth leaders.
"We took this step to say: We have a grassroots movement right here; we have a lot of networking potential; we have a lot of people within our community," Romero y Carver says. "This is a time of crisis. What we need to be doing right now is we need to be taking care of the people who built our momentum and supported us in the past."
The main resource repository lives on a new Earth Care splash page, from which one can access the mutual aid form and either volunteer items such as food, housing, child care, pet care or financial assistance, or offer those and other services and goods.
The page also has an updating list of COVID-related programs, services and announcements. Romero y Carver says the group also is setting up a phone-tree to ensure people remain connected and to check in on those who need it.
"I think the most important thing to understand is it's not the same thing as charity," he says. "It's not just a small group of people giving to the rest. What this is, is we're setting up the connections so our community in Santa Fe and larger can give to each other reciprocally…so we can all achieve the mutual goal of getting to the end of this virus, getting to the end of this pandemic with our communities intact and our people safe."
The crisis itself—and the gaps it underscores in society—also provides opportunities for the future as it relates to climate change, Romero y Carver says. "As we respond to the crisis, we have to recognize that the lessons presenting themselves are about the dire need to address economic insecurity, injustice inequity and the need to organize and build power systems of mutual support," he says. "Those are the same lessons we're trying to teach people around climate crisis. Right now, our society needs to reorganize itself in a way that protects our most vulnerable, and the current crisis is not unlike public health and human rights crises faced worldwide by communities because of the climate crisis and climate disruption."
In this way, he says, the current pandemic may foreshadow the future. "It's providing us a more tangible way to look at what the crisis climate may [look] like: It's going to be related to disease, it's going to be related to social collapse, it's going to be related to recessions. This is just the teaser if we don't organize and get ourselves together and form the institutional changes that need to happen together in the next 10 years. "
And, he notes, both situations share root causes.
"The same systems that have allowed COVID-19 to be as deadly and spread as quickly because of governmental incompetence and public health failings are the same systems putting us on the brink of climate crisis."