By MARC H. MORIAL
National Urban League
“My fellow Americans, look, we have to come together to heal the soul of this nation … We have the giant opportunity to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice, real justice … We have a real chance to root out systematic racism that plagues America and American lives in other ways. A chance to deliver real equity: good jobs, good schools, affordable housing, clean air, clean water, the ability to generate wealth and pass it down to generations because you have an access to purchase a house. Real opportunities in the lives of more Americans – Black, White, Latino, Asian Americans, Native Americans.”
–President Joe Biden, address to a joint session of Congress, April 28.
One hundred days into their administration, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have made surprisingly bold inroads in confronting racial injustice and the COVID-19 pandemic, but significant challenges remain.
Biden and Harris entered the White House at a moment of unprecedented multiple crises, and they have risen to confront those crises with remarkable speed and effectiveness. With the help of Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi, they have illuminated the systemic racial inequality that hinders our nation’s progress and set a course for healing.
Whether the nation can stay that course remains to be seen.
Biden has been purposeful and intentional about including racial justice components in every policy he has undertaken in the first 100 days. He has used his moral voice to create a distinction between the poisonous philosophy of white supremacy and the idea of an America for everyone, an America of opportunity and pathways to progress for all people.
Importantly, he has changed the tone of governing, adopting a tone of inclusiveness that stands in stark contrast to the reality-show, finger-pointing, disparaging tone of the recent past.
The 100-day mark is something of an arbitrary and artificial deadline, but it has become part of our national political tradition since the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. It is an opportunity for the nation to engage in substantive discussion about the direction of the presidency and the nation.
In a letter sent shortly after the election, I charged President Biden and Vice President Harris to produce an immediate and extensive COVID relief package. They responded with the American Rescue Plan, one of the largest anti-poverty measures in a generation. It has helped slash daily coronavirus infections by more than 70% while quadrupling the daily number of vaccinations.
President Biden has made it possible for Americans whose lives were upended by the pandemic at last to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The letter established a set of fundamental principles on racial justice and equity to guide Biden and Harris in the first 100 days and beyond.
I asked them to assemble and administration that reflects the diversity of America. They nominated and fought for confirmation of the most racially diverse Cabinet in U.S. history.
I asked that they commit to fundamentally transforming the criminal justice system. They have restored the meaningful use of federal pattern or practice investigations, lifted restrictions on the use of consent decrees to hold police departments accountable for abuse, and ended federal contracts with private prisons.
I asked them to protect and defend voting rights. They have put the entire federal government to work in promoting and expanding access to voter registration and participation.
I asked them to work toward economic parity for African Americans. The day they were sworn into office, the very first executive order President Biden signed declared “… it is the policy of my Administration that the federal government should pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”
I asked them to advance equity in educational opportunities for all American children. The administration’s unprecedented investment in Title I schools and higher education will help students recover from the learning loss experienced during the pandemic. Investment in in free broadband and devices is expanding students’ access to digital learning in their homes.
I asked them to promote a healthier nation by prioritizing access to health care, including testing, treatments and cures for COVID-19 in communities of color. More than 200 million Americans have been vaccinated, more than double the initial goal, including underserved communities. Tens of thousands more Americans have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, and their premiums are lower.
As productive as the first 100 days have been, a tremendous amount of work remains to be done. President Biden and Vice President Harris must make good on their promise to invest in America, to build a middle-class, and to restore faith in our democracy. The American people need tangible results.”
Among the most pressing items remaining on the administration’s to-do list are:
- Passage of robust infrastructure proposals, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, which includes long overdue investments in physical and human infrastructure, creating family-sustaining, middle-class jobs and securing the nation’s recovery from the pandemic.
- Police reform, beginning with enactment of a meaningful George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
- Protection of voting rights, beginning with enactment of the For the People Act and restoration of the full Voting Rights Act.
- Closing the gender pay gap beginning with enactment of the Paycheck Fairness Act.
- A $15/hour minimum wage for all workers and elimination of the discriminatory tipped minimum wage.
The National Urban League’s full progress report on the Biden-Harris administration’s first 100 days can be found here: https://bit.ly/3aJQ8Wr.
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League. He can be reached through https://nul.org.