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When President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union address earlier this month, it was a window into the administration’s significant accomplishments and a call to action for a deeply divided Congress.
Those divisions were on full display during the address. While Biden boasted about our economic recovery and job growth — especially for blue-collar workers — Republicans heckled him and remained silent when he talked about providing good-paying jobs to every worker, allowing workers the right to organize, protecting the right to choose, passing other legislation that will benefit working families, and Republicans’ efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare.
Here’s the reality: We have one party that aligns itself with oil companies and multinational corporations, that wants to deny workers the right to unionize, take away the right to choose, get rid of Social Security and Medicare, deny the reality of climate change and promote conspiracy theories about stolen elections.
On the other side, we have Democrats. While we are united in our opposition to the most extreme forms of fascism, our party ranges from Working Families Party champions like myself to corporate Democrats who often prioritize their wealthy benefactors over the basic needs of working people.
I am the first Latina from the Midwest to ever serve in Congress, and I’m determined not to be the only one for long.
While I’m just one of 535 members of Congress, my story is the story of millions of hardworking immigrants and children of immigrants who came before me.
If Democrats want to take back the House in 2024 and deliver for working families, it’s time to listen to people like me. We’ve got something to say.
I was born and raised in Chicago, but my parents came to this country from Guatemala. My mother crossed the border while she was pregnant with me, determined to give her children a fighting chance to escape the poverty she grew up in. In the United States, my parents worked in factories, as home care workers, and on assembly lines to build a life for us. Twelve and fourteen-hour days nonstop in pursuit of the American Dream — even if that meant they didn’t have much time for each other.
After decades of assembly line work, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. While he is thankfully in remission today, the long hours and physical demands of work forced him to retire. He can barely afford to pay the private insurance to cover what Medicare will not. My mom still works as a home caregiver, but she makes so little — despite how hard she works — that she gets healthcare through Medicaid, another program I believe Republicans would do away with if they had their way.
My parents are not alone. Every year, millions of families face high healthcare costs that force them to choose between rent and medical care. In the richest country in the world, we shouldn’t have to live like this. Nobody should have to live like this, which is why, with the support of my community, I ran for the Illinois state legislature.
When I was elected to the Illinois state legislature, I worked to pass a law guaranteeing health insurance to all Illinoisans 42 and older — regardless of immigration status. I did it for my family, for immigrant and Latino communities across the state, and for every other family like mine.
I ran for Congress because Washington needs more working-class people at the table making decisions. I know the struggles working people face every day, not because I read about them, but because I’ve lived them.
Anyone who is struggling to get by or who came from a working-class background can also tell you that the working class doesn’t look any one way. Some people are struggling to save for college, others are trying to get by on fixed incomes. Some live in towns where the good jobs left years ago, others live in big cities where rent or property taxes keep going up and up. Some communities are plagued by opioid deaths or gun violence. Some have seen flooding, others have faced droughts or wildfires. Some families cannot even drink the water from their faucets because of how much lead is in them, while others have to wrestle with frequent power outages caused by the climate crisis. Whatever part of the working class you’re from, we have plenty in common, and together, we are the majority.
Ironically, the majority are in the minority when it comes to decision-making. The millionaires in Congress, the billionaire CEOs and the corporate lobbyists who write bills aren’t in the majority and don’t have a clue what it’s like to live like the rest of us. Or they’ve forgotten what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet. Regardless, they are not us and we are reminded of that every time a working person is overlooked in the halls of power.
At times, it feels like working people can’t catch a break. So many of us are one emergency away from financial ruin. We lived through years of Covid-19, and many of us lost loved ones. Black and brown people were more likely
to get Covid than white people, and as we grapple with the impact of long Covid, I fear we are just seeing the beginning of long-term health issues for our most vulnerable that survived the pandemic. Covid was so fatal to Black people, one in 1,000 succumbed to the virus.
If the deadly pandemic wasn’t enough, we saw costs skyrocket, from housing to childcare to groceries. Our wages haven’t kept up and to make matters worse, price-gouging corporations raked in record profits at our expense. When we aren’t struggling to make ends meet, we’re bombarded with news of mass shootings and gun violence. We’ve seen our young people face an unprecedented mental health crisis with increasing rates of suicide among people of color and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 60% of teen girls in 2021 reported feeling sad or hopeless, a 60% increase from a decade earlier. And in Washington, our rights are taken away and constantly under attack by an out-of-control, unelected Supreme Court that has overturned the right to an abortion and made it harder for workers to organize.
The Biden administration and congressional Democrats have taken important steps to support working people. They put money in people’s pockets and free Covid-19 vaccines in their arms. The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill will create union jobs reconstructing our roads and bridges, in addition to making investments in clean water and electric vehicles. The Inflation Reduction Act aims to lower drug prices and make insurance more affordable for millions of seniors. And President Biden used his executive authority to cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt.
Those things will make a real difference.
But it’s still too hard for too many families in this country to make ends meet.
When Democrats controlled the House, we passed President Biden’s full Build Back Better plan. That included funding to make child care and eldercare more affordable. House Democrats voted to extend the child tax credit, putting roughly $300/month per child in the pockets of working parents. Every Republican was opposed. And just enough corporate Democrats, like West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin, joined them to keep that bill from the president’s desk.
My opinion is that Democrats have two primary jobs today. The first is that we must stand up to the extremism of the MAGA Republicans who are bent on destroying our democracy and instituting one party, minority rule.
The second is to show working people what Democrats will deliver if they give us back control of the House.
We can do that by continuing to fight for those family-supporting investments we came so close to winning. The president called for reviving the child tax credit, expanding Medicaid and other planks for the Build Back Better agenda — and taxing ultrawealthy billionaires to pay for it. President Biden must also take action right now with the power he has. He can use executive authority to further reduce drug prices, protect renters and hold corporate landlords accountable for rent price gouging and housing discrimination. He can give millions of workers a raise simply by expanding the federal overtime rule.
If Republicans in the majority are as interested in helping working-class families as they often pretend like they are, they’ll stand with us. But so far, their rhetoric isn’t matching their actions.
During Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ response to the State of the Union speech, she painted the country as a hellscape in the midst of a culture war. And yet, when Republicans took back the House, what were their priorities? Criminalizing abortion and setting up circus committees to investigate the Biden administration to satisfy Fox News’ talking heads.
Criminalizing abortion is one more way Republicans are abusing the legal system to attack our basic freedoms, our bodily autonomy and our democracy. Voters stood up for our reproductive freedoms at the polls, torpedoing anti-choice ballot initiatives in several states. The Associated Press found that 38% of voters said the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe influenced their vote.
At the same time, Republicans and their backers in the gun lobby show little concern for the national crisis of mass shootings. This year, we are averaging more than one mass shooting per day. This horrifying statistic should be unthinkable. We need an across-the-board tightening of gun regulations for the sake of everyone’s safety, starting with a ban on assault weapons, which the president called for in his State of the Union address.
Republicans want to overturn any election they don’t win. A majority of Republican candidates that ran last year proudly embraced “The Big Lie,” the idea that the 2020 electron was stolen. We believe the people should decide — not the corporations, not the super PACs, and not the Republican conspiracy theorists.
These are their priorities, while workers at companies like Starbucks and Amazon have been organizing unions to demand fair treatment and fair pay.
These are their priorities, while the nation mourns the murder of Tyre Nichols. For generations, our country’s laws, practices and resources have enabled police violence in our communities rather than keeping us safe.
These are their priorities, when 12 million of our neighbors still lack legal status and face deportation — when all they want to do is to contribute to their communities. My husband, Boris, is a Dreamer who has lived in the United States since the age of 14. He’s lived here longer than he lived in Guatemala growing up. This is personal for me.
Congress must do everything in our power to finally pass comprehensive, humane immigration reform. Republicans like Arizona’s Rep. Juan Ciscomani would push for further militarizing the border — which couldn’t be further from the answer by a long shot. In the meantime, we need the president to extend protections from deportation for all 12 million undocumented community members and provide access to work permits.
From police violence to immigration to seniors to workers’ rights to make ends meet, it is extremely destabilizing and traumatizing to not be confident in what tomorrow holds.
Congress must pass accountability measures to change how police show up in our communities. We must upend this deadly status quo that has taken the lives of Tyre Nichols, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Adam Toledo and so many others. We must end qualified immunity. We must invest in ending poverty and uplifting schools, jobs, housing, healthcare and strong communities. That’s what truly keeps us safe.
Congress must continue to protect Social Security and Medicare while strengthening Medicaid and anti-hunger programs like SNAP. We need a strong social safety net that keeps people from falling through the cracks.
The best time to act in the interest of working people was yesterday.
The next best time is now.
Republicans want to divide people and make us afraid of each other. That’s why Trump did everything in his power to spread deadly hate and lies to the American people and to the world, why we saw Huckabee Sanders do the same in her State of the Union response, and why Republicans continue to do the same today. All they have to sell you is fear.
We aren’t buying anymore.
Trump and MAGA Republicans are terrified of working people standing together for what we all have in common. But make no mistake, defeating them will not be easy and it’ll be a fight on every piece of legislation in every city and state in this country. From controlling what is taught in our classrooms to bills targeting immigrants and trans youth, every office at every level impacts our communities. Though in the minority for now, progressives in Congress can begin articulating what the world we want to live in looks like and urge our Democratic colleagues in local and state government to take up those fights, where we have control.
We are not alone. The people in my neighborhood in Humboldt Park, in Belmont Cragin, in West Chicago, across Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District, and working people around the country, are ready to stand up for our families, for our communities and for the best version of America.
We can retake control of the House of Representatives in 2024. It takes a movement. It takes working people locking arms to speak up for what we all need. And when we do that, we’ll be one step closer to creating the America of our dreams — where every person can thrive.
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Congresswoman Delia Ramirez represents Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District. She is the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, a former Illinois state representative wife of Boris Hernandez, and a dog mom to Lola and Milo.