Credit: Contributed

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended many plans for 2020, but it won’t stop the Community Service Society from serving the people.

October 21 marked the beginning of the organization’s third annual “Full Participation is a Human Right” conference. Running until the end of the week, CSS officials hope to develop a strategy for combating human rights issues in a time where they feel it’s under attack.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Invest in Us.”

CSS officials hope to tackle housing, health care and education along with addressing structural racism’s roots and divestments in Black, Brown and low-income communities. According to CSS officials, historical disinvestment continues to prevent Black, Brown and low-income people from fully participating in the life of the community.

When the AmNews spoke with David Jones, president and chief executive officer of the Community Service Society, said attacking these issues can’t be solved with one grand gesture.

“We have to have a comprehensive approach toward health, housing and education that specifically targets these communities,” said Jones. “We’re on the eve of one of the most important mayoral elections in history. So many things have gone wrong with the de Blasio administration.”

The first day of the conference featured a keynote interview with activist and professor Rose Brewer and “Democracy Now!” Host and Executive Producer Amy Goodman. Some other prominent figures attending the virtual event include Congressman-elect Jamaal Bowman, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies CEO and Executive Director Jennifer Jones Austin, New York City Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson and Public Policy Attorney, online publication

Intercept writer Malaika Jabali.

Some of the panel topics of discussion this week include “A New Labor Movement for the New Worker: An Agenda for the Post-COVID Economy” addressing union issues, “Dying For A Home,” which focuses on housing during the pandemic and “Why Healthcare is a Human Right.”

Many of these issues aren’t just relevant to the five boroughs, they’re relevant everywhere. Activists and elected officials have pointed to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. as the main reason for the country’s current state.

So why is Jones’ focus on City Hall and not Washington, D.C.? He told the AmNews that he’s taking a two-pronged approach no matter who’s in office.

“I think many of us have been disappointed with the mayor’s work when it came to policing and how little attention they paid to public housing,” said Jones. “The public hospital systems have been devastated (during COVID-19) and most of the resources went to the NYU and the New York Presbyterians.

“There’s a lack of progress in allocating resources.”

With just a few weeks until the presidential election, Jones’ emphasizing the importance of a society that addresses the demands of the people, but the level of difficulty in accomplishing these goals depends on who’s in office.

“We’ve lost years of progress because of COVID and the Trump years,” said Jones. “Voting suppression…the Census…attacks on immigrants of color…we need to create a new organizational strength. Our communities have much less access to the internet and through remote learning they might have lost a year due to education entanglement.

Political pundits around the country believe that this presidential election between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden might be one of the most important ones in history. No matter who takes office, however, the plan for the Black, Brown and poor will be an uphill battle. According to Bowman, some hills are steeper than others.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump and his administration have failed our students and failed working families,” said Bowman in a statement to the AmNews. “He has shown us time and time again what an inadequate and irresponsible response to a global crisis looks like––one that values profits over human lives and puts corporate bailouts ahead of working people and students.

“In contrast, I believe that the Biden administration will prioritize aid to working families and will take the task of hiring more teachers, lowering class sizes, providing more PPE, and reinvesting in our schools seriously,” continued Bowman. “I am hopeful about the prospects of a new administration, but I also know that it will be our responsibility to hold them accountable.”

A second term for Donald Trump casts a shadow over much of the country including communities of color and the poor. The rollback of regulations, the attacks on workers’ rights and the troubles of keeping a home weigh heavily on the populace. Kimberly Westcott, conference organizer and CSS associate counsel, said to the AmNews that it’s more important than ever to care for the people who need it most.

“It’s been a year of struggle. As we move past this moment, there need to be conversations and consensus-building around norms, actions and structures to ensure everyone has what is needed to fully participate in the life of the community,” said Westcott. “Central to this is the investment of resources in people––so all have housing, health care, education, and are supported by institutions that advance our collective growth and development in a livable society.

“That is what the Full Participation is a Human Rights conference and arts festival is building––a culture that supports the movement for full participation in a society that is livable for everyone.”