What Black America Needs From Biden’s First 100 Days
By all accounts, Joseph Biden is going to push through a dozen executive orders before his bags are even unpacked — part of a weeklong blitz set to kick off directly after the presidential inauguration. As a means of undoing some of Trump’s more spiteful policies, executive orders have their use, but most of the issues plaguing this country will take more finessing and time, which is to say they’ll likely end up on the battlefield that is Congress.
Which is where we come in.
Anyone who thought I was going to ease up on politicians just because the worst one in history is leaving the White House this week is in for a rude awakening. I’ve been a critical thinker for half my life and Black for a bit longer, so I have some thoughts on what I’d like to see happen in the first 100 days of a Biden/Harris administration.
You know why 74 million people voted to reelect Donald Trump? Because Congress has mastered — and worse, has become comfortable with — doing too little too late for citizens across the board. The checks and balances built into the legislative branch’s daily routine work just fine for rich constituents and as stall tactics for its members but are horrible for justice and civic accountability. One of the ways around this is to push the Democrats to use the bully pulpit they’ve just acquired: majority votes with as little negotiation as possible, controlling what hits the floor, and filibusters as backup. In other words, it’s time to start using the Republicans’ playbook.
Frankly, Obama is instructive here. He should have used the popularity he had with the American people more to angle public sentiment against Republicans. Obama could have showed up in Republican states, stood next to some red lawmakers on camera, and said, “This is what I want for you, and this is the guy to get it done.” You know, put some people on the hook for the change. Unfortunately, Democrats are generally more concerned with being right than winning, and you see where that got us. So I wouldn’t be mad about watching the Democrats throw their weight around to get some quick wins on the table. If they come out swinging and passing stuff that Americans can feel in their daily lives — dropping the Muslim ban, extending the eviction moratorium, granting legal status to some immigrants languishing in cages — that will go a long way during the pandemic-based recession we’re in.
Also, the administration should stop dodging the installation of progressive members to key positions, from cabinet positions on down the line. His picks so far haven’t generally been bad, and I appreciate the diversity in the people he’s presented, but let’s give some real teeth to members like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pramila Jayapal so they don’t become just symbols of change (see Elizabeth Warren) and not stewards. I get that the Democrats are perennially a status quo kind of party, but now is the time to leverage the generational fire that helped them get elected. Progressives pulled the party to the left when a more traditional approach would have lost them the election; now it’s time to dance with the folks who brought you.
Half of the Democrats who ran for president last year did so on a dangling carrot of clean-slating college debt, which, regardless of how you feel about its efficacy, energized key sectors of their base (college educated, younger than 50, center-leaning). Somewhere along the way, that turned into $50,000. On the eve of his presidency, we’re now hearing $10,000, which, while not zero, doesn’t change much of anything for people with even average student debt.
This one is easy: Biden is already proposing $10,000 forgiveness as part of a Covid-19 relief package. I say push hard for the $50,000 level, with a promise to work toward free tuition moving forward within his first term once the doubters are swept out by the initial gesture.
Progressives pulled the party to the left when a more traditional approach would have lost them the election; now it’s time to dance with the folks who brought you.
Black Lives Matter
If Black folks created this movement under Obama, you know we have some expectations in 2021. Full disclosure: I don’t expect much change on this one. The police are basically a political sub-party—and not a left-leaning one—and they’re literally everywhere. They have the most resilient unions anyone has ever seen, and many police forces are politically threaded into the fabric of their respective cities in such a way that the buck of responsibility never seems to stop anywhere.
On this one, I’d settle for a pledge in the first 100 days to create a path to 1) make national reporting a requirement of all departments in order to acquire more true data about their activities; and 2) require that any fatal shooting by an officer goes immediately to external review by the Justice Department.
Considering Biden still thinks this can be addressed with reform and not what activists are actually asking for — not to mention Harris’ record in law enforcement — it seems almost unfair to expect them to turn the corner to real action in the first three months. These two things, however, are the kinds of reform that actually change the conversation, so if reform is what they’ll do, then this is the kind I want to see.
By most credible scientific accounts, if something isn’t done about climate change within the next 10 years, we should expect to start losing coastal beachfront property by 2050. The promotion of a science-focused chair to a cabinet position could turn the tables on this veritable newsstand’s worth of issues, but I’m lobbying for something more direct and eminently fixable now: water.
I know this is more environmental justice than climate, but I think we need to start talking about it in the same breath to keep it on the table where it belongs. We need a thorough assessment of just how many of our communities have bad water; a launch of real plans to rectify these trouble spots across the country; compensation for those communities; and criminal charges for those legislators, mayors, and governors who enacted or enabled the problems in the first place. (And not that joke of a wrist-slap we’re seeing right now in Flint, Michigan.) The polar ice caps are indeed a problem, but climate change in the hood looks like rusty showerheads and children who can’t breathe right. That we’re even still talking about this after Flint is deplorable.
This one I’m not too worried about seeing materialize. Biden straight-up promised 100 million vaccine doses delivered in the first 100 days, and I don’t see anything to suggest he won’t earnestly push to have it done. Mind you, it isn’t because Biden is a nice guy. It’s because as long as the virus remains at play, America’s real priority engine, capitalism, can’t function. This was fine as long as Republicans ran everything — their whole purpose as a party is to make every citizen participate in a game of Last Oligarch Standing. But the Democrats generally believe that everyone should at least be able to live something resembling a meaningful and productive life and not just as ingredients for varying flavors of Soylent Green.
We agree that getting the vaccine out even further is a day one priority, but I’d like to suggest that if the administration discovers that progress is slow, they should change the priority list to reflect the communities of color who are dying at the highest rates.
Lift Every Voice: The Biden Plan for Black America
You will likely remember this chestnut from the Great Ice Cube Contract War of 2020. The ridiculously named Biden plan is full of wonderful-sounding things, but the key to seeing real change in 100 days is not letting the administration pick stuff that would have happened under another umbrella anyway. For instance, you don’t let them check off their Black agenda box for “expanding access to affordable health care” when you know that’s what they’re doing for all Americans anyway.
Here are a handful of hits they need to play by the end of April: Provide the Minority Business Development Agency with $5 billion in annual lending and investment authority. Make public colleges and university tuition-free for families earning under $125,000. Invest at the local level in mental health and substance use disorder services. Restore the Voting Rights Act bits that got snipped in 2013.