By: Kevin Zwick
Just after the 2020 Presidential election, United Way Bay Area issued a statement affirming our values as an organization. We acknowledged a more urgent need to end systemic racism, poverty, and injustice as we work to bridge divides and bring communities together. United Way is and always will be a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. But we cannot and will not shy away from our values and policy positions at the local, state, and national levels. I’d like to offer my thoughts on the recent election as a starting point for a healthy dialog that we must have as we work collectively to solve the challenges we still face.
As a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, United Way Bay Area does not take stances on candidates or political parties. We do, however, wish to acknowledge the historic achievement of Bay Area native, Senator Kamala Harris, on becoming the first Black and South Asian woman ever to become the Vice President-Elect. As the California Attorney General, a U.S. Senator and now the V.P., she has shattered glass ceilings her whole career. For many people in the Bay Area, Vice President-Elect Harris is a hometown hero and provided young girls an inspiring role model. On a personal note, one of those most excited is my daughter, who informed me that she now wants to grow up and be the second, biracial woman Vice President who was born at Kaiser Oakland. Vice President-Elect Harris’s achievement drives home the important message that with hard work and determination anything is possible.
No matter who you voted for in this last Presidential election, or how you voted on several important California propositions, one thing is clear. It will take all of us, to rebuild our region and help struggling families rebuild their lives in the wake of the pandemic. And while we wait for additional support from our federal government, there are things we can do now as a community to ease the pain of families with lost income, hunger, past-due rent, housing insecurity and an uncertain future.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only underscored the gross inequities that exist in our region. And due to the continued economic slowdown, many working families, once supported by two incomes, must now struggle to make ends meet on a single, modest income—if they’re lucky enough to have that. For far too many, past-due rent has become a debt that looms large as people struggle to find work, put food on the table, and keep the lights on. For the broader economy, it’s a ticking time bomb, and we must act now to resolve this crisis.
To help address this issue, we are stepping up our rental relief efforts through the United Way Bay Area Rental Relief Fund. If you can help, I urge you to donate to this fund today. In some counties, we’ve received more than ten requests for every one we can fulfill. At United Way, we are committed to doing our part in any way we can. But we also call on our elected officials, in Sacramento and Washington, to urgently step up their efforts to provide economic and rental relief, extend any expiring eviction moratoriums and provide solutions to ease the accumulated rent burden on families.
The outcome of the 2020 election, both state-wide and nationally, prompted some difficult conversations internally here at United Way about how despite lots of messages from companies and organizations about racial equity, as a community, region, and state, we still have a long way to go. For example, UWBA supported Proposition 16, which sought to address racial inequities and restore affirmative action to California without using caps or quotas. Since the signing of Proposition 209 in 1996, which banned affirmative action in the state, there has been a marked drop in representation of women and people of color in public education, employment, and contracting. Unfortunately, while Prop. 16 was supported by a majority of Bay Area voters, it was rejected statewide and did not pass.
What became clear to me as we discussed the election was that even in an organizational culture like ours that strives to be inclusive, there is still hurt and division. And if this is true at United Way Bay Area, it is likely true in other organizations as well. I know I’ve learned a lot from talking to our staff, hearing different perspectives, offering my own, and stumbling along the way. As leaders, it is our job not only to guide, but to serve and to listen, to reach out, and proactively work to heal the divisions that may already exist in our organizations. By doing our part and taking a stand, we can work to heal a nation divided. It won’t happen overnight, but the time to act is now.
More than ever, we have work to do to fully Live United.