How Evanston activism has survived through virtual action


Daily file illustration by Catherine Buchaenic

Despite challenges at a private institution, Weinberg sophomore Vivica E Lewis said social media presents new opportunities for activism.

Jordan Mangi, Reporter

Evanston activist groups have tackled climate change, housing justice and the upcoming election, while navigating technological and logistical hurdles of the pandemic that has further highlighted existing inequities.

As the director of housing counseling and education at the fair housing justice nonprofit Open Communities, Jasemen Hatcher provides free counseling around rentals and foreclosure prevention. But Hatcher said even getting in contact with families has gotten more difficult as the pandemic continues. Some families have had to cut out their internet access, making it difficult for them to fill out applications.

Other activist groups have moved operations online, swapping protests and canvassing in favor of social media.

Indivisible Evanston, a branch of a national network of community organizers working to elect progressive leaders and resist President Trump’s agenda, is switching gears and focusing on training people to do phone and text banking.

Rosie Rees, co-leader of Indivisible Evanston, emphasized that a huge part of the group’s work in the past had been hosting events for postcard-writing to likely Democratic voters in Wisconsin and Michigan. With stay-at-home orders in place, the organization is setting up virtual Zoom postcard-writing parties and locations where people can pick up postcards to fill out.

But with new technology comes new obstacles. Many members of Indivisible Evanston are retirees, said Rees, and the transition to Zoom and programs like SignUpGenius for meetings has had a learning curve.

In addition to e-learning, teenagers in Evanston are tackling virtual activism. Climate justice group E-Town Sunrise is expanding its r climate justice education through Sunrise School, a free online class offered by its larger organization Sunrise Movement, according to E-Town Sunrise leader Aldric Martinez-Olson.

The group has also used social media to spread information about sustainable practices and the #AbandonAdani campaign, which calls on University President Morton Shapiro to abandon his role in the Adani Carmichael coal mine brokerage.

Martinez-Olson said that members have also used art to spread their message. They drew chalk messages about the Green New Deal and hung banners made out of old sheets along the lake bike trail.

For many activism groups, COVID-19 has either emphasized a need for their work or a need for radical change.

“COVID and the climate crisis are really connected,” said Rachel Rosner of Citizens’ Greener Evanston, a climate and sustainability activism group. “This is a test crisis…and we’re really preparing for an intensified crisis in the future.”

Hatcher has seen an influx of people needing assistance with housing. She estimated that each year, Open Communities can serve about 800 people, but due to COVID-19, she will serve that number in three months.

“It’s really about taking in those calls and triaging the most urgent needs and being prepared for the new types of calls that come at us,” said Hatcher. “We’re developing programs that will help those who don’t feel they’re seen right now.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @jordanrose718

As Cook County Jail cases balloon, activists advocate for inmates
Labor advocacy groups adapt to remote organizing