As COVID-19 reaches Austin, here's how we are taking care of our community and ourselves

Over the past years, our team has successfully prepared for and responded to crises, and we’re good at what we do — from reuniting women detained at the notorious T. Don Hutto detention center with their children, to responding to ICE raids in our community, to working with communities as they navigate the criminal legal system.

Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is both similar and unprecedented. It is similar in that it is founded on our core belief that our communities are safest when they are less policed, less criminalized, and less incarcerated. It is unprecedented because it warrants an immediate response to external conditions and a change in our internal practices and culture.

This past Friday, we joined 9 advocacy organizations by sending a letter to local officials about what can be done to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 in our Central Texas communities, especially amongst the most vulnerable.

While local and county officials are releasing plans of action to limit the spread of the virus, we joined our allies—including Workers Defense Project, Lilith Fund, NARAL, the Austin EMS Association, and Youth Rise Texas—to stress the importance of providing effective solutions that help the most vulnerable populations, including people in prison, the elderly, unsheltered people, and people with disabilities.  

You can watch a virtual press conference we held Monday morning here (the conference starts at minute 8:45).  

Simply put, we shouldn’t have to choose between our health and our safety. We are calling on our county and city officials to ensure that all community members feel safe to ask for help and to limit interaction with law enforcement as much as possible, whether it’s on the streets, in court, or in jails. This includes ensuring everyone—regardless of immigration status—feels safe to seek treatment without fearing ICE presence and not being exposed to hazardous conditions inside jails. Other cities have taken bold action, and it’s time we do the same.  

We are taking every precaution necessary in order to ensure our staff and members are safe and well. That means until further notice, we are canceling planned community meetings and immediately moving to a virtual work environment.  This is a challenge for any organization, but even more so for one dedicated to building relationships with our communities.

More than ever, we need to continue to demand protections for our most vulnerable commnuities—just because we are limited in our physical movements doesn't mean we can't continue to push for bold action and change. Stay updated through our website and social media on ways you can help. 

If you have any questions, email us at info@grassrootsleadership.org.

Thanks for your support. We'll get through this together.