Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) had guarded praise for Joe Biden but urged the president and the nation to go bigger and bolder on issues like economic and racial justice and the climate crisis in his rebuttal to the president’s first Joint Address to Congress on Wednesday evening. Bowman’s speech was a rare rebuttal to a presidential address from the progressive faction of the president’s own party.
Bowman praised steps taken by the White House and Democrats in Biden’s first 100 days in office to provide COVID-19 relief and propose trillions in infrastructure investments. But Biden’s infrastructure proposals, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plans, while promising, aren’t sufficient to address the massive problems that the nation faces on the climate, care economy and employment, Bowman said.
Instead, Bowman called on Democrats and progressives to push forward on pressing issues facing the nation as it recovers from four years of mayhem under Donald Trump and deals with a Republican party that has positioned itself as a permanent roadblock to progress.
“Republicans have made themselves clear…. they’re standing in the way of Congress trying to deliver relief to working people,” said Bowman in his speech delivered on behalf of the Working Families Party. “It’s on us, as Democrats and progressives, to meet the gravity of the moment. And history will judge our actions.”
Lauding the growing power of the progressive movement, Bowman gave a nod to colleagues like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), saying “we are capable of big, powerful, transformative change.”
With Democratic control of Congress and the White House, Bowman said now is the time to pass the bold policies that he highlighted in his speech. He mentioned climate bills, such as the Green New Deal for Public Housing and Green New Deal for Cities, introduced earlier this month by fellow progressive colleagues, including Ocasio-Cortez, to provide funding for more climate-friendly public housing and cities.
Bowman also drew attention to the THRIVE Act, a $10 trillion infrastructure and climate justice bill of which Bowman is a lead sponsor. The bill, Bowman said, could potentially create 15 million union jobs to help the U.S. economy bounce back while at the same time addressing the climate crisis and environmental justice issues.
The New York representative also called on Democrats and progressives to strengthen unions and labor in the U.S. by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize, or PRO Act, which the House passed last month. The PRO Act is sweeping labor legislation with pro-union proposals that impose harsher penalties on companies that attempt to bust unions and overrides states’ so-called right-to-work laws that weaken unions financially.
“If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that the American worker is the backbone of this country,” said Bowman. “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.”
Bowman then went on to address issues of anti-Black police violence in the country. “Now is the time to address the burning crisis of structural racism in our country,” he said.
Black activists have brought wide attention to the movement for Black lives over the past year as uprisings against police brutality sprang up after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd last May. Since then, many more police killings have been caught on camera, which Bowman said has traumatized him.
“I am connected to every Black man in America,” Bowman said. “I have one message for law enforcement: stop killing us! I need for President 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.”
“The nation will never be truly free if we continue to incarcerate more people than anywhere else in the world,” Bowman continued, “and as long as we invest more in jails, war and police than we do in jobs, school and children.”
Bowman called on the country to acknowledge that racism is implicit in nearly every facet of American life. “Let us finally step back and have honest conversations about race and racism in this country,” he said. “Because it’s not just police. 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.”
The country must address historic injustices against Black people and go forward to heal as a nation, the lawmaker said. He called on viewers to join the progressive movement in pressing forth. “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,” he said.
“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,” he said. “Join us. Help us build a better world.”