A 33-year-old single mom from West Virginia. A home healthcare worker from Arizona. Climate activists on hunger strike. An Afghanistan veteran. Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders as well as progressive members of Congress. All gathered at the US Capitol in Washington on Wednesday morning to demand Democrats in Congress fulfill their promises to voters on poverty, health care, immigration, minimum wage, climate action and voting rights.
Led by Rev William Barber, the activists implored Democrats to take a bolder stance against senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, two holdouts without whom the Democrats’ social policy and climate change bill will not pass.
“We say that this stuff is absolutely critical,” Barber said. “We say it’s urgent but then we treat it as though we’ve got options and more time but we do not.”
“People die from poverty and low-wages. People die from the lack of housing. People die from the lack of healthcare. People die from the lack of living wages. People die from the climate heating up and us not doing what we ought to do to change it,” the reverend continued. “All of this stuff is man-created, it is not God-ordained. And if we made it like this, we can change it.”
He said members of Congress were being “too cordial” with Manchin and Sinema by rushing to accommodate their every demand instead of pushing them to accept a bigger bill as supported by nearly every other member of the caucus.
“What if some of the Congresspeople went on a hunger strike?” he asked.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California said legislation reflects “our priorities as a country” and that much more had to be done to lift Americans from poverty and prevent catastrophic climate disaster. Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland warned about the threat to American democracy posed by the sweep of voting restrictions in Republican-led states across the country.
“There is an effort to disable the government as a tool of the common good,” he said, urging Congress to prioritize democratic reforms like the filibuster, and protecting voting rights.
So weak from their hunger strike, the climate activists could not stand to speak at the press conference.
Abby, a 20-year-old climate activist, said she dreams of a future where she can live free from fear of flooding and heat waves, where she can build a family with a sense of optimism about the future.
“I am here doing this hunger strike because I would do anything for that future to be real,” she said. Directing her comments to Joe Biden, she implored him to do everything in his power to cut carbon emissions. “My generation deserves to live,” she said.
Barber said he was frustrated that the president and the media were so focused on hearing from Manchin and Sinema, rather than listening to people like Abby. The result, he said, was a debate over a topline figure rather than the poverty-reducing, climate-saving programs that are now at risk of being cut from the legislation.
“This is not about scarcity. This is not about ‘we don’t have enough. I’m so sick of that damn line I don’t know what to do,” Barber said. “The wealthiest nation 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.”