Advocating for health equity and racial justice—from my bedroom, but in community
ENACT Day is an annual advocacy day that connects community representatives with California elected officials to discuss the health and equity issues that matter most to their communities. Read ENACT Day's policy platform here.
On the 16th annual ENACT Day, I prepared as I had for all previous ENACT days: I woke up early, got ready, made a cup of coffee – and then, instead of beginning the two-and-a-half hour drive from Oakland to Sacramento, I returned to my bedroom and opened up a Zoom meeting.
Normally, ENACT Day hums with energy: from the Sacramento convention room overflowing with advocates, to the activity filling the narrow hallways of the Capitol building. I am constantly surrounded by voices; I catch snippets of introductions between residents from opposite ends of the state, listen to a participant sharing how a policy impacts their community personally – all reminders that, as residents of California, the Capitol is our house and that our voices must be the ones to guide it.
This year, sitting alone in my bedroom, felt like a far cry from those ENACT Days past. From when we began planning a virtual event up until the day itself, I heard echoes from the past along with the uncertainty of the new.
Nevertheless, even in its virtual format, the core elements of ENACT Day remained the same: the voices of ENACT Day organizers and advocates, the commitment to the values of health and racial justice, and the sense of nurtured, active hope. As the familiar faces and voices of my co-organizers filled the screen, and warm introductions rolled across the chat, I welcomed the ability of technology to close the distance between us just a little. This year–like every year–I enjoyed sharing in the excitement of community members who were preparing to speak to a legislator for the first time in their lives, and hearing the encouragement of those who have returned to ENACT Day again and again, to learn about issues affecting Californians and to lift their voices for change. In a year when the entrenched inequities in our country have felt particularly urgent and hard to overcome, participating in ENACT Day helped me feel reconnected to the movement for equity and grounded in the steady progress towards our vision for a healthy, safe, and just California.
Moving to a virtual ENACT Day also meant finding new ways to connect with state legislators and administrators, rather than relying on our in-person visits to their Capitol offices. When California’s shelter-in-place order was announced, and we began contacting legislators about virtual legislative visits, most legislators’ online engagement focused on virtual town-hall meetings on social media. But aides were receptive to the idea of legislative visits on Zoom, and on ENACT Day, we conducted 21 separate legislative visits with representatives or their staff, spanning the geographic and ideological breadth of California.
To support advocates, we created resources for participants to use during legislative visits (and beyond!). Many of the conversations around COVID-19 response and recovery center around “a return to normal,” but we wanted to communicate to legislators that “normal” meant accepting preexisting deep racial and health inequities. To counter this narrative, we developed a policy platform urging policymakers to look beyond response and recovery to restructuring our systems to support health and wellbeing in all communities. We developed this platform by drawing on the experiences of our Advisory Committee members who work with youth and families in regions from San Diego to Trinity County, and on the broad expertise of our Planning Committee, that across its members connects with residents on issues from school nutrition access to police brutality. The platform also identifies bills and policy opportunities around healthy food access, healthy and accessible communities, justice for immigrants, and preventing violence and community trauma that support the transformative changes California needs.
Beyond COVID-19 Recovery: Restructuring for a Healthy and Equitable California
In planning for recovery, we must call for a new, more just and equitable society, one that centers communities over corporate profit, and that ensures that all people—regardless of race/ethnicity, culture, class, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, or ability—have the full opportunity to achieve optimal health and wellbeing.
In the month leading up to the event, I had wondered if ENACT Day would resonate this year. Would the long-term, structural policy efforts that ENACT Day endorses feel divorced from the urgency of COVID-19? In our legislative visits, however, I realized that our vision—and the venue we provide for advocates to connect and call for a new future for California—were even more important than before. All of us have been impacted by COVID-19 in some capacity, from adjusting to working from home to struggling to cover rent and other expenses to caring for ill or at-risk family members, and participants brought these varied experiences and challenges to their legislators. Many of the issues that they shared, including barriers to accessing school meals and the need for Medi-Cal for their undocumented elders, were not new issues for ENACT Day, but took on a fresh urgency this year.
My concerns that virtual advocacy visits would feel less significant were put to rest after hearing from multiple participants that they planned to reach out to their legislators more frequently in the future, inviting them to attend community events or meeting with them to discuss issues like violence in their communities. It’s clear to me both as an organizer and advocate that COVID-19 has made the issues we work on for years—from housing to food security to healthcare access—matter more than ever, not less.
The joy of advocacy work is in its ability to create connection through the willingness of advocates to share their stories, and the new community that emerges through the process of articulating shared values and goals. Of course, community is better built and savored in person, but finding a sense of connection during a time of social isolation felt particularly striking. What draws me back to ENACT Day year after year is its ability to cultivate community as part of the fight for health justice and equity, and these contributions are more critical than ever. Although we cannot know what the next ENACT Day—or next year in general—will look like, we remain committed to our vision and taking action to realize it. We hope you’ll join us once again, at ENACT Day 2021.
Many thanks to my co-organizers on the ENACT Day Planning Committee for making ENACT Day possible, over the past 16 years and in the many years to come. In addition to Prevention Institute, the 2020 ENACT Day Planning Committee included Public Health Advocates, California Food Policy Advocates, CA4Health (a project of Public Health Institute), and the Center for Healthy Communities at Cal State Chico.