Learning from COVID-19:Shaping a Health and Human Rights Agenda for our Region

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Learning from COVID-19:Shaping a Health and Human Rights Agenda for our Region

Groups around our community are coming together to build a strong people’s movement to ensure that we don’t go back to “normal” after the coronavirus pandemic subsides. The inequities and discrimination that existed prior to the pandemic have exacerbated the effects of the crisis, and historically oppressed groups have suffered disproportionately. We need to re-envision a society that prioritizes equity and the human right to health (including the social dimensions of health and well-being), so that every member of our community can live dignified lives. The Human Rights City Alliance and Global Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh are helping coordinate this forum, supported by diverse partners in our city. Our aim is to promote dialogue and strategic learning that can advance ideas about how to build human rights cities.

When: Community Health Forums Alternate Thursdays, 4:00-5:30PM. May 28, June 11... Online (Meeting links will be provided here)

Upcoming Forums

Thursday May 28, 2020 4:00-5:30PMTreating Racism as a Public Health Emergency Click to join the webinar

The COVID-19 crisis has heightened everyone’s vulnerabilities as those furthest behind economically are now visible as the frontline workers providing essential services for our communities. As we consider our post-pandemic future, how can we build our community's capacity to prevent and limit damage from future crises? This forum addresses systemic racism and its impacts. Both the City and County Councils have now passed motions naming racism as a "public health emergency." We consider both why it is necessary to make such public declarations, and how these political statements can inform and shape our advocacy work. While largely symbolic, can these measures be seen as openings for advancing more transformative efforts to eliminate systemic racism? How does this pandemic help clarify the urgent need for fundamental change? Confirmed speakers: Olivia "Liv" Bennett, Allegheny County Council member & sponsor of motion declaring racism a public health emergency; SEIU Healthcare; Putting People First PA. Facilitator/Discussant: Dr. Dara D. Mendez, PhD, MPH. Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Click to join the webinar: https://pitt.zoom.us/j/93085045986 Or Phone: 267 831 0333 or 877 853 5247 (Toll Free)

Past Forums

Thursday May 14, 2020: Defending and Advancing Equity & Rights in the COVID-19 Economy [ Webinar Recording] Gender Equity Commission background slides/J. Ramey

Our previous forum, “City Budgets in Tough Times: Ensuring Equity and Justice,” reinforced that development must put needs of “furthest behind first,” to ensure health and well-being for all of us. The needs of essential workers and their families must be central in planning and resource allocations. As public budgets shrink, our communities need to work to redirect spending priorities, bring greater transparency and public participation into the budget and planning process, and to reframe debates about taxation and governance. To achieve these goals, we need to build the collective power and unity of community residents. This community forum picks up threads from our previous 2 forums and provides updates on work in our community to address these challenges. Confirmed speakers: Jessie Ramey, Chair, City of Pittsburgh Gender Equity Commission; Randall Taylor, Penn Plaza Support & Action Coalition & former School Board member. Facilitator: Jam Hammond, City of Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations

April 30, 2020 View Recording Summary of analyses and lessons from this forum City Budgets in Tough Times: Ensuring Equity and Justice, Speakers: Jamil Bey, Urbankind Institute; Carl Redwood, Hill District Consensus Group; Laura Wiens, Pittsburghers for Public Transit. Facilitator: Jay Ting Walker, Green Party of Allegheny County.

Recently Mayor Peduto warned of coming budget cuts in the tens of millions of dollars, calling on Pittsburghers to share the needed sacrifices over coming years. Yet, in “normal” times, public officials care little about equity and shared sacrifice, and low-income neighborhoods and communities of color have seen steady disinvestment and cuts to public services justified by government austerity. Those same communities are now disproportionately called on to perform the “essential work” needed to sustain life and livelihoods during this pandemic. A post-pandemic “normal” requires real equity in budgeting, where we put the needs of those furthest behind first when allocating public funds. For too long the scarcity narrative has dictated our politics. We’ve been told that government austerity is needed to support “economic growth” that will “trickle down” to benefit all. COVID-19 has demonstrated the fatal flaws of this system that fails to support the essential work of caring and providing for the basic needs of our communities. This forum will explore lessons from activism around economic development and equity that can help us reframe the new austerity conversation to prioritize the needs of those long neglected. By centering dignity, equity, and human rights in budget discussions, and by employing more democratic and participatory processes in development planning, we reinforce the robust foundations we need for resilient and just communities.

April 16, 2020 Forum (View Recording): Panelists: Dr. Noble Maseru, Director, Center for Health Equity, University of Pittsburgh, Megan Stanley, Executive Director, City of Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, Dawn Plummer, Executive Director, Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, Monica Ruiz, Executive Director, Casa San José.

  • Summary: Panelists and discussion outlined key challenges around racial disparities, housing, food justice, and the needs and challenges faced in immigrant communities. We began to identify lessons and strategies for building more responsive politics that include voices of Black residents and experts and developing better social safety nets. Questions emerged about how to build broader consciousness about human rights conditions, build cross-sectional peoples movements, and build capacities of marginalized communities.


Our community forum series seeks to generate ideas and support for actions to enable us to learn from this crisis and better care for the people in our communities--particularly the most vulnerable residents.


UPDATE:Coronavirus Racial Equity Task Force Proposed in City Council May 5, 2020 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

National Actions Pittsburgh's Human Rights City Alliance is a member of the US Human Rights Network (USHRN), and through this organization, we participate in national and global work to support human rights and "bring human rights home" to communities everywhere. The USHRN is active at this time to ensure that leaders are attentive to human rights during and following this pandemic.

  • On April 22, 2020, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights issued a statement warning that many States’ responses to COVID-19 have had devastating effects on people living in poverty.
  • On March 24, 2020, the Chairpersons of the ten U.N. Treaty Bodies called on States “to adopt measures to protect the rights to life and health, and to ensure access to health care to all who need it, without discrimination.” They urged governments to take extra care of those particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, including “older people, people with disabilities, minorities, indigenous peoples, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, people deprived of their liberty, homeless people, and those living in poverty.” (emphasis added).

Forum Co-sponsors: Pittsburgh Human Rights City Alliance, Global Studies Center (Pitt), City of Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations,UrbanKind Institute University Human Rights Working Group

Resources and Links


The Human Right to Housing

"Now that the world has seen exactly how important home is to the preservation of human life, States have a renewed obligation to protect the social function of housing. This requires concerted action to ensure housing is not reduced to a financial asset or a safe investment." -Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights-Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing

Work, Life, and Environmental Justice

  • #DEMOCRATIZINGWORK-Advocates released an op-ed calling for policy makers to "democratize firms; decommodify work; stop treating human beings as resources so that we can focus together on sustaining life on this planet." The op-ed was published in 41 media outlets, including Le Monde, The Guardian, Die Zeit, Boston Globe, across 36 countries, via 27 languages, and signed by more than 3,000 scholars and scientists from more than 650 universities across the globe democratizingwork.org

Budgets, Public Resources, and Democracy

  • Our City Our Voice-Women-led organization supporting participatory budgeting organizing and training.
  • Participatory Budgeting Project-Many cities are incorporating participatory budgeting processes to improve public engagement and transparency in local budgeting processes.
  • Realizing Human Rights Through Government Budgets, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2017 -This document provides a detailed analysis for policy makers and advocates on government budgeting processes and how steps can be taken to make human rights a priority in allocations of resources. The importance of incorporating meaningful input for civil society, and tools for doing so, are included in this informative resource.
  • Human Rights Budgeting-Cooperation Jackson offers insights on how it worked to center human rights in budget conversations in the City of Jackson, MS
  • Democracy collaborative Owning the Future: After COVID-19, a new era of community wealth building: Outlines a three-pronged strategy for building community wealth: 1) Buyouts not bailouts; 2) A new green industrial strategy; 3) A new social contract and welfare system.