William J Barber, Liz Theoharis

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, center, and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, left, co-chairs of the Poor People's Campaign. Photo: Mark Humphrey

A Progressive Roadmap for Congress in 2021

William J Barber, Liz Theoharis
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, center, and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, left, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign. Photo: Mark Humphrey
by Andrea Germanos, courtesy of CommonDreams.org

As federal lawmakers approved a coronavirus relief package that is woefully inadequate to meet struggling Americans’ needs, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) unveiled a slate of legislative priorities for Congress to urgently act upon in 2021 to deliver “transformative and bold policy change.”

“The People’s Agenda: A Progressive Roadmap for Congress in 2021” was announced at a virtual event held December 21, 2020. It is endorsed by a diverse collection of organizations including The Poor People’s Campaign, the National Education Association, Public Citizen, and Social Security Works.

CPC chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) called the roadmap “an urgent, brave, and just agenda.”

“It’s the way forward,” she tweeted, adding that the agenda would help “to transform the structures of this country so people thrive—not just try and survive.”

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign—which helped guide the document—and president of Repairers of the Breach, said that failing to act on the economic hardships faced by so many is simply not an option.

“The price of inequality is too high and the deaths from unjust policies are too many to not address. The only way to heal the nation and have domestic tranquility is to first establish justice. This agenda sets us on the path towards doing just that,” Barber said in a statement.

Grounding the agenda are seven pillars:

  • Provide covid relief that meets the scale of the crisis and addresses the disproportionate harm to Black, Indigenous, people of color, and other vulnerable communities.
  • Put people back to work, give workers more power, and transform to a clean renewable energy economy.
  • Ensure healthcare for everyone.
  • Defend and expand voting rights, strengthen democracy, and end corruption.
  • Dismantle racism, white supremacy, and inequality in all institutions.
  • End endless wars and invest in diplomacy and peace.
  • End corporate greed and corporate monopolies.

Nestled in those planks are specific measures encompassing a wide scope of issues. They include $2,000 monthly stimulus checks; cancellation of medical debt and up to $50,000 in student debt; full funding of global efforts for universal Covid-19 vaccine access; investment in green infrastructure and “resilience jobs”; lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 50 and automatically enrolling into the program anyone who loses a job; enacting a ban on semi-automatic weapons; expanding collective bargaining rights; protecting healthcare, including reproductive care, services for women and the trans community; bolstering voting rights; police reform; ending U.S. involvement in the wars in Yemen and Afghanistan; repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs; and overhauling the tax system to have “Wall Street pay their fair share.”

A fact sheet from the Institute for Policy Studies bolsters the case for members of Congress to act upon the agenda, noting the broad economic benefits of many of the priorities. The debt cancellation would “significantly narrow [the] racial and gender wealth divide,” the documents states, while the direct monthly cash payments to Americans “would help stimulate the economy and provide a measure of security for struggling families.”

Providing universal access to fully-funded safety net programs, as the agenda calls for, “would help families meet basic needs while acting as an economic stimulus for the country as a whole,” the fact sheet adds.

What’s more, following the blueprint’s demand to reduce Pentagon spending and stop endless wars “would have immeasurable benefits in terms of increasing real security here and abroad and in freeing up resources for social and environmental good.”

According to Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary, “The People’s Agenda centers many of the needs and demands of the 140 million people who were already poor or one storm, fire, healthcare crisis, job loss, or other emergency from economic ruin, the 700 people who were dying each day from poverty and inequality before the pandemic, and those who have been most impacted by the public health crisis and economic recession as well as the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism, and the war economy.”

Theoharis added that her group would “push lawmakers in the House and the Senate from both sides of the aisle to enact these legislative priorities now, because lives depend on it.”

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