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Poor, Low-Income Americans Say to Congress: "I Am the Cost of Cutting Build Back Better"

Faith leaders, US House members also join Poor People’s Campaign for Moral Witness Wednesday.
WASHINGTON -

Poor and low-income Americans from across the country came to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to put faces and stories on the numbers for infrastructure for bridges, for democracy and for people with the refrain: “I am the cost of cutting the Build Back Better plan.”

Leaders of various faiths also joined Moral Witness Wednesday --- a news conference and rally held by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival to demand that Congress listen to the people who will be most hurt if the $3.5 trillion plan (over 10 years) isn’t passed in full.

“I want you to hear me really clear when I say this: The relief that the child tax credit has provided me as a single mother -- to make an extra $300 -- has allowed me to meet my basic needs, my son’s basic needs with less stress. …. “And to give me that relief in July and take it away in December is wrong,” said Kristen Olsen of West Virginia, whose senator, Joe Manchin, is obstructing Build Back Better, including continued expansion of the credit.

“I’m Kristen. I’m a mother. I’m a teacher. And I am the cost of cutting the Build Back Better plan,” she said.

Reps. Barbara Lee and Sara Jacobs of California and Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland spoke at the news conference.

“Essential workers are the backbone of our economy, the beating heart of our communities and the reason why stakes are so high in this Build Back Better package,” Rep. Lee said. “From housing to voting rights to health care to immigrant rights, from child poverty to action on climate change, these are all the issues that just can’t wait.”

Congress is moving closer to a deal on Build Back Better, with Sens. Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona insisting on cuts to the program that includes Medicaid expansion, lower prescription drug costs, continued expansion of the child tax credit and other policies that lift from the bottom.

Several speakers addressed the lie that the country can’t afford Build Back Better.

“We’ve said this stuff is absolutely critical. We’ve said we had the worst attack on voting rights since the end of the Civil War. We say that the climate is in trouble. And we say it’s urgent. But then we treat it as though we’ve got options and more time. And we do not,” said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, a co-chair of PPC:NCMR  and president of Repairers of the Breach. “This is not about $3 trillion. This is not about scarcity. This is not about we don’t have enough. I’m so sick of that damn lie I don’t know what to do. The wealthiest nation in the world in the history of the world cannot claim we don’t have enough. What we don’t have enough of is conscience and moral fiber and a concern for people.”

Joan Steede, a home health care worker from Phoenix, said she specializes in caring for hospice patients.

“I say to myself I'm the last person that this person will see on this Earth but I can't get $15 an hour? Really?” she asked. “Let's put our money into where we want it to go and that's the American people.”

Build Back Better is “not about how much it’s going to cost. It’s not about what is the price,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, speaking on the third anniversary of the killings of 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. “It’s about what we are for. We are for living wages. We are for health care access. We are for the ability of families to take care of their children. And we are for a clean, green economy where people have a shot to actually make it in this world and have a right to live.”

Speakers covered voting rights, immigrant rights, climate change and other issues that Build Back Better would address. They included two climate activists who were in the eighth day of a hunger strike outside the White House.

“We’re here this morning to make clear that the people most impacted by compromises made to healthcare and paid sick leave, the child tax credit and earned income tax credit, saving the planet, early childhood education and veterans benefits will not be silent,” said Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of PPC: NCMR and director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice. “As it says in the Bible: If these people were silent, the stones would cry out. And indeed the people and earth are groaning. And we must be heard.”

Partners for Moral Witness Wednesday included Sunrise Movement, SEIU, MoveOn, Black Voters Matter, Common Defense, 350.org, Until Freedom, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Institute for Policy Studies, the Islamic Society of North America and United for Peace and Justice.  After the rally, participants marched to the Hart Senate office building to try to deliver letters to Sens. Manchin and Sinema. The letters layout how Build Back Better helps the residents of their states and seeks a meeting with them.

The constituents weren’t allowed to enter the building, and no one in the senators’ offices answered their calls.

COMMENTS FROM OTHERS AT MORAL WITNESS WEDNESDAY:

Abby Leedy of Philadelphia, a youth climate activist who was on a hunger strike: 

“I'm here because I am desperate, and I am furious. I am furious with the Democrats who will not stand for me, will not fight for my generation and who are going to let us burn and drown. I believe that he will, I demand, that Joe Biden, president of the United States, do everything in his power to cut emissions by as much as he can as soon as he can because my generation deserves to live. We deserve to live. I deserve to live.”

Julie Paramo, 24, of Dallas, a climate activist who was on a hunger strike:

“I want to tell President Joe Biden that I’m tired of seeing communities struggle every day like mine back in Dallas. President Biden, I am tired of communities having to go through natural disasters like the one I went through back in February. I still remember the winter freeze like it was yesterday. Joe Biden, I don’t want to wake up in a freezing cold room worried about my parents, about my dog, about my friends only a few miles away.  … . I don’t want another child to die because of carbon monoxide poisoning because the infrastructure that could have prevented that from happening wasn’t in place.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland:

One context for this moment “is the one that kicked off this year on Jan. 6 where we saw that American democracy is under attack. Our voting rights are under attack. There’s an effort to disable the government as an instrument of the common good. And there’s the use of every anti-democratic instrument in order to stop us -- whether we’re talking about voter suppression statutes, we’re talking about the gerrymandering of our congressional districts, we’re talking about the filibuster, we’re talking about right-wing judicial activism, we’re talking about corporate dark money or whether we’re talking about violence itself, a violent insurrection and political coups against democracy in order to keep the majority from governing.”

Rep. Sara Jacobs of California:

“And lest anyone tell you otherwise because I know this is one of my colleagues’ favorite talking points: Making these investments is fiscally responsible. I’m a foreign policy person. I can tell you, for a fact, that these investments are the single most important thing we can do to ensure American competitiveness with the world moving forward. Do not believe that we can’t afford to make these investments. The truth is, we cannot afford to not make these investments.”

Esti Lamonaca of Common Defense, a U.S. Army combat veteran who fought in Afghanistan:

“Tell me why the Iraq and Afghanistan wars cost $6.4 trillion and we are not willing to pass the Build Back Better plan. … We want more than anything a democracy where we can thrive. We don’t want that to be seen as too expensive. We the people are tired. Veterans are tired.”

Casey Clowers of Working Families in Arizona:

“Sen. Sinema is standing in the way of Arizona receiving deep investments to tackle the climate crisis at a time when Arizona has experienced record heatwaves, resulting in lives lost. Sen. Sinema is going against the will of the people … by holding up the Build Back Better agenda.”

Ana Ilarraza-Blackburn of the North Carolina PPC:

“Immigrants contribute $13 billion to Social Security for the aging in this nation, and they will not see a single penny of that. If you incorporate immigrants into the workforce, regardless of skill level, you will increase spending and the economy of this nation. So it would only make economic sense to Build Back Better by giving all 7 million immigrants the right and clear path to citizenship.”

Leon Tyer, an activist the Pennsylvania PPC, ACT-UP and Put People First PA:

“If Joe Manchin and Sinema can call themselves Christian, how can they turn their eyes -- their blind eyes (away) from what’s going on today? It’s like having Judas in your own party -- two Judases.”

Dr. Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches. 

“We’re here to call for economic investment for the people, not for corporations and the greedy. Our people have been starved by disinvestment in human needs. Our roads and bridges and infrastructure have been neglected because in part we have poured more than $30 trillion” into military endeavors since World War II. “We’re living in a militarized state, friends. Militarism and greed and racism are trying to destroy our country. Our government’s been running deficits because the rich and the corporations don’t pay their fair share.”

Imam Saffet Catovic, head of the Office for Interfaith, Community Alliances and Government Relations for the Islamic Society of North America:

“We need to thank people. We need to thank our sisters and brothers here, members of our human family, who are putting their lives on the line and who are subjected to things which human beings should not be subjected to. We need to thank them for showing the way. but thankfulness is not just a word, it is an act.”

Sheila Katz, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women:

“On this day, we dare to dream of a country where every person can live with freedom, safety, dignity, equity and belonging no matter how we pray, what we look like or where we come from. We’re here voicing our support for this once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our economy, not just to where we were before the pandemic but toward an economy that is truly inclusive and responsive to the needs of everyone living in our country.”

###

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral  Revival, is building a generationally transformative digital gathering called the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington, on June 20, 2020. At that assembly, we will demand that both major political parties address the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism by implementing our Moral Agenda.

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