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WASHINGTON, DC Progressive activists urge President Joe Biden not to compromise on election promises regarding the climate emergency, healthcare, jobs, and social justice outside the White House on May 24, 2021. (Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Green New Deal Network)

Progressive activists urge President Joe Biden not to compromise on election promises regarding the climate emergency, healthcare, jobs, and social justice outside the White House on May 24, 2021. (Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Green New Deal Network)

'Don't Abandon Climate, Care, Jobs, and Justice': Activists Decry Biden Concessions to GOP

"Negotiating down from an already insufficient plan to cater to a climate-denying party fueled by profit and hate—that is how Democrats lose."

Jessica Corbett

Progressive campaigners rallied outside the White House on Monday to express frustration with President Joe Biden's recent move to water down an infrastructure plan already seen by some as wildly inadequate amid ongoing talks with congressional Republicans.

"President Biden's compromise with Senate Republicans warns that he is willing to break his promises to our communities, the same communities who turned out to vote for him," said Keya Chatterjee, executive director of U.S. Climate Action Network.

"What hurts the most about this turn of events is that he is betraying us to curry favor with a party that centers militant white nationalists and attacks on democracy, while we are out here struggling for racial and economic justice," added Chatterjee, whose group was among those that organized Monday's "emergency rally" to tell Biden: "Don't abandon climate, care, jobs, and justice!"

The rally came after Biden on Friday cut his infrastructure proposal by approximately $600 billion in a bid to win over some Republicans and corporate-friendly Democrats ahead of the Memorial Day deadline to reach a deal—after which Democratic lawmakers may move forward with using the budget reconciliation process to pass a major infrastructure package without GOP support.

White House Press Secretary told reporters during Monday's briefing that "the ball is in Republicans' court. We are eager to engage and even have them down here to the White House once we see that counter proposal." Asked about whether Democrats should start the reconciliation process, she added that "we're not quite there."

Meanwhile, outside the White House, members of various advocacy organizations—including CASA, Indigenous Environmental Network, People's Action, Sierra Club, Sunrise Movement, and Working Families Party—tried to remind Biden that voters want a bold infrastructure package that will invest trillions of dollars over the next decade in advancing climate, economic, and racial justice.

"Biden needs to stand strong behind his campaign promises for climate change, jobs, and justice," declared Hope Butler, a member of the Piscataway Tribe. "If Senate Republicans want to continue watching injustice destroy our Black, Brown, Indigenous, low-income, and frontline communities instead of pursuing bold action, it is time for them to be pushed aside while the rest of us work to secure a safe and healthy fate for future generations."

Monday's rally also followed news that Biden's budget proposal, slated to be released later this week, is set to leave aside key promises made during his presidential campaign last year, including introduction of a public option, a plan to lower drug prices, cancellation of student debt, and tax increases on the very wealthy.

According to Evan Weber, political director of the Sunrise Movement, "Biden should be negotiating with us—the people who elected him and are critical to maintaining Democratic majorities in 2022 and beyond."

"Biden's proposal is already a compromise between what's necessary and what he views as politically possible," he charged. "Negotiating down from an already insufficient plan to cater to a climate-denying party fueled by profit and hate—that is how Democrats lose. And the stakes could not be higher."

In a message directed at both Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—who could easily lose control of the upper chamber if just one seat flips in the midterms next year—Weber said: "Don't compromise, and if you go big and bold, meet the moment, and keep your promises to the American people, we'll deliver for you."

One proposal that better aligns with activists' demands is the $10 trillion Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy (THRIVE) Act introduced last month by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—which is backed by several progressives in both chambers, many of whom also support the Green New Deal Resolution from Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

Referencing the THRIVE Act's job creation estimates, Ben Beachy, director of the Living Economy Program at the Sierra Club, asserted that "we need transformative investments to employ more than 15 million workers who need family-sustaining union jobs, fight for a livable planet in the communities facing climate disasters, and support the Black, Indigenous, and Latinx families in pollution hotspots who are fighting for clean air and water."

"We cannot negotiate with the physical reality of the climate crisis, the economic reality of mass unemployment, and the structural reality of systemic racism," Beachy said, before invoking one of Biden's broad campaign promises. "Congress should deliver an infrastructure package as big as the crises we face: $1 trillion per year for a decade. That is the path to truly Building Back Better."

Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, also noted the various emergencies facing the U.S. and international communities right now—including the the ongoing coronavirus pandemic—and concurred that "America, and communities of color, in particular, are in need of big, targeted investment that meets these crises at scale."

"With the GOP unifying under the flag of obstructionism, the White House and congressional Democrats should not waste another moment negotiating with a Republican Party that has shown themselves both unable and unwilling to bring serious ideas to the table," Mitchell said. "For communities in crisis, every day Democrats wait on mythical support from Republicans is another day of failing to undo the issues that keep everyone from having a fair shot."

CASA member Sofia Portillo, a young Latina and daughter of a Salvadoran former Temporary Protected Status holder, said that "I understand first-hand the challenges our communities experience every day, from joblessness to pollution exposure."

"That is why the president's plan should holistically modernize and improve the quality of lives," she said, "so communities like mine are not left behind." 

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