Feb 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Advocates seek more from Biden on racial justice and poverty

President Joe Biden makes brief remarks before signing several executive orders directing immigration actions for his administration in the Oval Office on February 02, 2021

Racial justice and anti-poverty advocates want President Joe Biden to sign more executive orders and pursue even stronger legislation aimed at fighting systemic racism beyond his early moves and current proposals.

Why it matters: The demands from groups like the Black to the Future Action Fund and the Poor People's Campaign show that liberal groups aren't just settling for diverse appointments or vague promises down the road. They expect early action around housing, wages, and expanding voting rights.

  • The Black to the Future Action Fund released Thursday a "Black Mandate for the Biden-Harris Administration" that demands more resources to fight COVID-19 in Black communities and seeks at least $50,000 in student loan debt forgiveness.
  • The Poor People's Campaign is pressing Biden and moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) to support a $15 minimum wage or higher.

The intrigue: Advocacy groups say Biden won on a historic turnout of Black, Native American and Latino voters in states like Georgia, and Arizona, and a Black-focused agenda is needed in the next four years to undo decades of damage.

  • The demands come even after Biden signed a series of executive orders last month dealing with everything from private prisons to housing discrimination, treatment of Asian Americans, and relations with Indigenous tribes.
  • Biden is also pushing for comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants without legal status.

What they're saying: "We will stand with you when you are doing the right thing. But we will continue to challenge you when you are doing the wrong thing. And if there's anything that we have learned from 2020 is the Black voters are not playing any games," Alicia Garza of Black to the Future Action Fund told Axios.

  • Garza said racial justice advocates learned from the disappointment following the election of former President Obama, who failed to use the infrastructure built from his 2008 election to pursue bold change.
  • "We cannot heal this nation without full COVID relief of the minimum wage of $15.  There is no way we can go through the pain and poverty prior and since COVID and not make this a major part of our economic recovery and economic future," said Rev. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.

The Black Mandate for the Biden-Harris Administration calls for the president to reorganize the Office of Civil Rights and create a system to better reporting on white domestic terrorism groups and hate crimes.

The big question: Can a new generation of racial justice and anti-poverty activists leverage the 2020 election to influence policy changes in a Congress usually sealed in gridlock?

  • Will new activists seek to primary moderate Democrats who oppose bolder measures on jobs, housing and wages?

The other side: The Biden administration has promised to address systemic racism early in the term but stressed it will need to pass legislation in a divided Congress for lasting change.

  • Administration officials point to the executive orders Biden has signed and stressed he is focusing on COVID-19.
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