As we enter 2021, many of us are wishing for peace in the new year. Wishing isn’t enough. To achieve peace, the noun, we need peace to be a verb. The Black Lives Matter movement tells us how to do this: No justice, no peace; know justice, know peace.
The new year provides a fresh opportunity to ask why we have pervasive inequities and how can we best align our resources to promote communities that thrive both in health and economically. Here are three places to start our journey toward peace:
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to demonstrate how our individual health is connected to the well-being of the community and our economy. Collective responsibility and care for our neighbors undoubtedly make our communities thrive. Yet, 2020 highlighted the disparities that too many live with daily. Black men and women, people with disabilities and chronic conditions, and those who are incarcerated, for example, don’t just suffer the disproportionate physical effects of COVID by chance. They suffer because of chronic underinvestment in our communities, education systems, jobs training, and restorative justice programs.
The COVID long-haulers will be more than those with lingering physical concerns. They will include those who have suffered unemployment, overdue rent and mortgages, food insecurity, widened education gaps, and more. These conditions disproportionately affect people of color, single parents, and those with physical and mental disabilities and will cause generational impacts to our workforce and the vitality of our communities. Because these disparities are rooted in policy decisions and funding priorities, we cannot expect equity in recovery without policies and decisions that are intentionally designed to protect and advantage the groups of people that have been historically marginalized.
By better understanding the root causes of these disparities, we can begin to create changes needed to improve the health of all Iowans.
When making a decision, we must pause to ask the questions: “Who does this decision benefit?” “Who does it harm?” “Who was not considered or consulted?” and “How can it be improved?”
Health Equity Impact Assessments are policy-making tools that use data to answer these questions before final decisions and financial allocations are made. Decision makers should work closely with Iowa’s public health experts to ensure that we amplify the positive, mitigate the negative, and maximize the investment of Iowa taxpayers in systems that will create prosperous communities that benefit everyone.
2020 has given us the opportunity to recognize and act on the root causes of disparate health and economic achievement we see across Iowa, such as poverty, racial inequality, education gaps, food insecurity, and lack of access to health care. Undoubtedly, there are both immediate needs and systemic injustices that must be addressed. It’s easier and feels more heroic to address the immediate needs. But if we don’t fix the systems that contributed to the need, we will have wasted the lessons of 2020 and missed this unique opportunity to strengthen employment, reduce poverty, and expand prosperity for all Iowans.
Iowa's public health professionals have the skills, relationships, and the passion to help lead the effort toward equity. What they don't have is sustainable, predictable, and flexible funding. Local public health departments serve as Chief Health Strategists within their community. In this role, they build the cross-sector partnerships needed to address Iowa's pressing health equity issues, including mental health, obesity, access to care, and more. Pervasive problems require persistent action. Investments in our public health system allow for the action necessary to create a healthy and equitable Iowa.
Ultimately, we have a choice. We can act on the injustices that have become all too visible OR we can “return to normal.” We cannot do both. By simply returning to normal, we will know neither justice nor peace.
Join us in advocating for justice. Learn more about Iowa Public Health’s advocacy priorities here.
Photo caption: Lina Tucker Reinders and family marching for equity in Des Moines, summer 2020
Teenagers in jumpsuits lying on yoga mats, their eyes closed, their bodies still. This is the image Megan Hoxhalli describes as remarkable for juvenile detention, a place where youth arrive shaken, dysregulated, and scared about their future.