SAM WATERSTONE | September 18, 2020
“Racism is the tinder, COVID-19 was the fuel, and George Floyd was the spark,” said Maricela Morales, the Executive Director of the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), describing the widespread demands for social justice that have engulfed the nation over the past several months.
Morales recently heard this powerful analogy in one of her many meetings with community partners, and she felt it acknowledged the complexity of the situation. While deep-rooted systemic inequities have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, these issues existed long before Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests began in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others.
“It takes these layers – it’s never just one thing,” Morales continued. “There are layers of systemic injustice, and then there is a trigger point. CAUSE has been around for 20 years and certainly the social justice work has been around for centuries, which speaks to the need to continually work to make our systems better.”
CAUSE Elevates Marginalized Groups, Communities of Color
Since 2001, CAUSE has served California’s Central Coast as a base-building organization that empowers marginalized community members and groups – including Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) who might not otherwise have a seat at the table to fight for equality and justice.
With offices in Oxnard, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, and Santa Paula, CAUSE builds grassroots power through community organizing, leadership development, coalition building, civic engagement, policy research, and advocacy. The organization focuses on issues relating to immigrant and workers’ rights, voting rights, housing justice, environmental justice, and investing in youth of color.
“[Our work] is aimed at making those systemic changes that result in people having better lives, receiving better wages, protecting their housing and protection from being evicted,” said Morales. “We try to engage people who are not already involved in the community in an organized way, to build their capacity.”
CAUSE seeks to elevate the voices of those who endure unequal access to basic human rights. They listen to the concerns of these communities, and work with them to respond to the social, economic, and environmental factors at the root of the problem.
Pandemic Has Resulted in Heightened Inequality
In light of the pandemic, CAUSE has focused much of its energy on housing justice, immigrant rights, and workers’ rights.
“Non-citizen workers have been hardest hit by job loss or reduction in work hours,” explained Morales. “They have no income, receive no government assistance or stimulus benefits. Housing was already a high-priority issue at the state and local levels, but COVID-19 has set that on fire in terms of people really worrying about being evicted.
“Early on, the folks that we work with were interested in rent eviction moratorium policies, and so we engaged them in communicating to their housing representatives the importance of these eviction moratoriums – basically a freeze on being evicted.”
With help from CAUSE and their partners, local eviction moratoriums were successfully implemented as a short-term solution to this new housing crisis, but most moratoriums expired at the end of July or August.
Subsequently, in a major win for CAUSE and housing advocates around the country, California legislators and the Center for Disease Control both issued a halt on evictions beginning September 1 and extending through the end of the year. This was an unprecedented move by both state and federal authorities that will prevent many individuals and families from losing their homes.
Despite the nationwide eviction freeze, housing remains a source of anxiety for low-income community members and those bearing the economic brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Morales and other housing experts.
“While an eviction moratorium is an essential step, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed,” said Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, via NPR.org.
Together, We Can Build More Equitable Communities
Fortunately, groups like CAUSE continue to work with and for marginalized populations as they respond to this crisis, and leverage momentum from the BLM movement to further elevate BIPOC voices, stories, and issues.
“These flashpoint moments are opportunities of awakening for many people,” emphasized Morales. “That is where it is really helpful to have organizations working on these issues. In Santa Barbara County there are many great organizations in the community – CAUSE, Future Leaders of America, CLUE Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Foundation and so many others.”
For Santa Barbara County residents looking to get involved in the social justice movement, she stressed the importance of connecting with local organizers and advocacy groups to get a deeper understanding of the issues and to learn where help is needed most.
“I would encourage community members to reach out to an organization with a question, asking for more information or how to get involved. It might seem basic, but getting connected in that way takes effort and requires a leap of faith, and those community connections allow us to find stronger ways to organize and share our voices,” expressed Morales.
In May 2019, SBF recognized Morales as the Visionary Leader Awards Recipient at the inaugural Santa Barbara County Leadership Awards. Morales was honored for her extraordinary commitment to supporting working families, youth of color, local immigrant and indigenous populations, and the issues that matter most to these groups.
The Santa Barbara Foundation is proud to work with CAUSE to improve the lives of Santa Barbara County residents. Through community collaborations, grant funding, and collective advocacy, SBF has partnered with CAUSE and their exceptional leadership team to address issues affecting working families and vulnerable populations.
To learn more about CAUSE and their work to empower marginalized communities, visit: https://causenow.org/
Beginning in April 2020, the Santa Barbara Foundation has highlighted a diverse set of nonprofits who have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with remarkable agility, creativity, and selflessness. So many great organizations, including those who are fighting to stay afloat during this brutal moment in Santa Barbara County, have continued to prioritize the needs of the community above all else.
At the Foundation, we are inspired by the incredible projects and partnerships that have emerged in the face of this disaster. Read about other nonprofits responding to the COVID-19 crisis.