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Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) delivers the progressive response to President Joe Biden's address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, April 29, 2021.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) delivers the progressive response to President Joe Biden's address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, April 29, 2021. (Photo: Screengrab/NowThis)

'We Need to Think Bigger': Jamaal Bowman Delivers Progressive Response to Biden

"We need to rebuild our nation with a new foundation. A foundation rooted in love, and care, and equality."

Jake Johnson

Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York responded to President Joe Biden's address Wednesday night with a rousing call for transformational change, arguing that the path the president charted during his speech and first 100 days in office is not sufficiently bold to tackle the immediate and long-term emergencies of climate change, soaring wealth inequality, and racial injustice.

"The crises we're facing go well beyond the Covid-19 pandemic," Bowman said in an address delivered on behalf of the Working Families Party. "While the richest billionaires got one trillion dollars richer during the pandemic, more than ten million families are behind on rent today, and there are eight million fewer jobs than a year ago. The climate crisis continues to ravage our communities, and scientists tell us we're running out of time to act."

"Republicans have made themselves clear. They tried to steal the election, incited an insurrection, and they believe Derek Chauvin is innocent of murdering George Floyd. Now, they're standing in the way of Congress trying to deliver relief to working people."
—Rep. Jamaal Bowman

"Every week," Bowman continued, "we see an unconscionable new video of police violence against Black and brown men, women, and even children."

While applauding Biden's recent infrastructure, green jobs, and safety-net proposals as "important steps," Bowman argued the president's plans "don't go as big as we'd truly need in order to solve the crises of jobs, climate and care. We need to think bigger."

Echoing Biden, the New York Democrat urged Congress to pass a $15 federal minimum wage and the PRO Act, a sweeping labor law reform bill that would make it easier for workers to join unions. But unlike the president, Bowman said that "if we need to get rid of the filibuster to do that, that's absolutely what we need to do."

The Democratic congressman went on to call for approval of a Green New Deal for cities, public schools, and public housing, sweeping proposals introduced in recent weeks that Biden has yet to endorse.

"We can create those new, green jobs, and we must make the jobs people already have better. That's what the Thrive Act is all about, which would create 15 million green union jobs," said Bowman, referring to a progressive proposal that would invest $10 trillion in infrastructure and green energy over the next decade—a far cry from Biden's call for roughly $2.3 trillion in spending over the next eight years.

"We need to seize this moment," said Bowman. "Republicans have made themselves clear. They tried to steal the election, incited an insurrection, and they believe Derek Chauvin is innocent of murdering George Floyd. Now, they're standing in the way of Congress trying to deliver relief to working people."

"So it's on us, as Democrats and progressives, to meet the gravity of the moment," Bowman added. "And history will judge our actions."

Watch the full speech:

Below are Bowman's full remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good evening.

I'm Jamaal Bowman, a member of Congress representing New York's 16th District. It is my honor to speak on behalf of the Working Families Party this evening. The Working Families Party is the party of unions and working people across the country. And tonight, I'm delivering our response to President Biden's address to Congress.

We are emerging from the catastrophic failures of the Trump administration. Where hundreds of thousands died because of Donald Trump, and tens of millions lost their jobs. We now have a President and a White House capable of leading our nation out of the pandemic. Shots are going into arms. Covid infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are all down nationwide, and we are investing historic levels of stimulus to ensure people have more money in their pockets.

Perhaps what I am most proud of, is the way we've attacked education inequity. Finally, our title I schools are getting what they need to open safely, and address the issue of historic underfunding.

All of that is good, it's powerful, and it's going to make a big difference. But the crises we're facing go well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the richest billionaires got one trillion dollars richer during the pandemic, more than ten million families are behind on rent today, and there are eight million fewer jobs than a year ago.

The climate crisis continues to ravage our communities, and scientists tell us we're running out of time to act.

Every week, we see an unconscionable new video of police violence against Black and brown men, women, and even children.

And our democracy is still under attack, with Republican legislatures across the country cracking down on our right to vote.

We have taken steps to abate the immediate crises of Covid-19 and the economic shutdown it caused. But we, as the governing party, have to go beyond putting a band-aid on the virus.

We need to rebuild our nation with a new foundation. A foundation rooted in love, and care, and equality. Where justice is truly real for all of us, regardless of race, class, gender, orientation, or religion.

I fully believe we can. And the moment is now, because this moment is historic. Not since 2009 has a newly elected Democratic President had the backing of Democratic majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

We need to seize this moment. Republicans have made themselves clear. They tried to steal the election, incited an insurrection, and they believe Derek Chauvin is innocent of murdering George Floyd.

Now, they're standing in the way of Congress trying to deliver relief to working people; last month, not a single elected Republican voted to send relief checks to struggling Americans in the middle of a pandemic.

So it's on us, as Democrats and progressives, to meet the gravity of the moment. And history will judge our actions.

The single mom in the Bronx working two jobs to make ends meet. That's who I’m thinking about. I want to be able to say at the end of this Congressional session that Congress has done everything we possibly could to make her life better.

That's what our movement, the progressive movement, is guided by. Our movement is Latino, we are Asian, we are Black, we are White, we are a beautiful mix of ethnicities and cultures all over the globe who are demanding justice and humanity. We are a continuation of the civil rights movement. We are led by organizers and organizations like Stacey Abrams, Zakiya Ansari, Jesse Hagopian, and the Sunrise Movement, elected leaders who have shifted the narrative like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, AOC, Ayanna, Rashida, Ilhan, Cori, and Mondaire.

And we are capable of big, powerful, transformative change.

It is entirely possible to meet the climate crisis with a big, visionary investment in jobs. Jobs that begin in our most neglected and redlined communities. We must build a Civilian Climate Corps that employs millions of Americans to do the good work of transforming our energy system and our society. We can create jobs and solve the climate crisis at the same time.

We need a Green New Deal for Public Housing, as my colleague and friend Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has proposed. We can repair and transform run-down, neglected apartments in New York and neighborhoods all across America. We can make public housing better, more healthy, and more safe while turning every public housing development into a source of clean energy.

We need a Green New Deal for Cities, as my friend Cori Bush has proposed. And we need a Green New Deal for Public Schools. Every part of our society must become part of the answer, because this crisis is urgent.

We can create those new, green jobs, and we must make the jobs people already have better. That's what the Thrive Act is all about, which would create 15 million green union jobs.

And we have to build up labor unions too.

That's why Congress must pass the PRO Act. The Protect the Right to Organize Act would do away with so-called "right to work laws," make it easier for workers to unionize, and even let independent contractors bargain collectively. We also badly need a $15 minimum wage, not phased in 10 years from now, but today. And if we need to get rid of the filibuster to do that, that’s absolutely what we need to do.

If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that the American worker is the backbone of this country. It might not be a popular idea around Washington, but the rest of us know that grocery store workers, nurses, teachers, and transit workers are all more essential than anything Wall Street does.

In fact, there is a whole economy of workers, mostly women, and disproportionately women of color, who are doing the hard, essential work of caring for our moms and dads, looking after our kids, and healing the sick.

These workers represent the care economy.

Unfortunately workers in the care economy are often underpaid, abused, or neglected by employers. They're not unionized, so there’s no one there to speak up for them when they face unsafe working conditions or meager wages.

The care economy is already enormous and it’s only going to become more important in the future.

We need to invest in paid family and medical leave. We need to make childcare universal and exemplary. And we need living wages and benefits for care workers who provide the services we all need.

I call it the Care for All Agenda, as we must center care as the rebirth of our nation. Because caring is the entire point of what our economy should do. It should be about caring for each other, not just extracting profits from working people for Wall Street.

The proposals that President Biden has put forward over the last few weeks would represent important steps—but don't go as big as we'd truly need in order to solve the crises of jobs, climate and care. We need to think bigger.

Because now is the time to address the burning crisis of structural racism in our country. Every single time I have to watch a video of a Black man, or a Brown kid, die at the hands of police violence, a little piece of me dies too.

I am connected to every Black man in America. Like them my ancestors were kidnapped from Africa, robbed of their language, and stripped of their religion and culture and God, and we continue to be redlined and killed by the police. I have one message to law enforcement, stop killing us! I need for President Joe Biden to say the same thing. Black people are not for target practice. We are simply trying to survive in a world stacked against us.

This nation will never be truly free if we continue to incarcerate more people than anywhere else in the world, and as long as we invest more in war, jails, and police than we do in jobs, schools, and children.  

We need to end qualified immunity for police, and we need to pass Ayanna Pressley's People's Justice Guarantee. Because all we are asking for is accountability. Whether you're a clerk, a teacher or a member of congress you should be held accountable for your actions. Police cannot be above the law.  

But also, let us finally step back and have honest conversations about race and racism in this country. Because it's not just police violence—it's housing discrimination, and wage theft, and Black maternal mortality, it’s environmental injustice, and all of the ways racism is built into the very fabric of America.

More than anything, America needs a process of truth and collective healing. We have to be honest with ourselves about the ugliness of our history and the discrimination that persist. Only then will we meet the ideals of our democracy and get one step closer to realizing the American experiment.  One way to do this is passing HR 40, championed by the late John Conyers and the relentless Sheila Jackson Lee. Let’s study the need to repair the harms of our history. Only then, will we all be truly free.

We are in this moment because of you. Because of organizers across the country demanding progressive change. The same organizers that put President Biden in the White House and won Georgia for Democrats. But we can’t stop, and we won't stop, until we are all truly free to thrive and make the world a better place. One in which all of us can thrive together.

But we need your help. From the abolitionists to the suffrage movement to the lunch counter sit-ins, visionary Americans like you have always helped bend the arc towards justice.

We need all who believe in a multiracial democracy, and are ready to move forward together in love, to become a part of our movement.

Join us. Help us build a better world.

It's as simple as texting "GO BIG" to 30403.

Thank you.


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