A More Perfect Union


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Last Thursday, President Biden delivered his annual State of the Union. He spoke of a country that has emerged from the depths of the pandemic stronger, more vibrant, and growing faster than any other developed nation. He talked about growing incomes, receding inflation, safer communities, and new investments in green energy, infrastructure, and manufacturing. It was an upbeat, optimistic speech, delivered with energy. Biden surely enjoys this part of the job, as well as sparring with Republicans.

Most importantly, the picture of America the President shared was fairly accurate. For many people, the country today is in a better place than it was even before the pandemic. Low unemployment has pushed wages up; a just energy transition has started thanks to an ambitious, strong climate change bill. More Americans have health insurance than at any time in our history; the forceful, energetic response to the pandemic and its aftermath set the stage for a strong recovery.

As it is often the case with big political speeches, however, what is left unsaid is often as important as the delivered remarks themselves. Right after Biden’s speech, Nicolas O’Rourke, Councilman of the City of Philadelphia for the Working Families Party, gave the response to the President’s remarks, and laid out a progressive roadmap for the future.

In his remarks, O’Rourke made clear that Joe Biden has accomplished a great deal as President. He also stressed that this work, however, is still unfinished, and we should be willing to take it much further. Second, and no less important, he made a definite, strong case that this is a Presidential election where progressives cannot afford to stay on the sidelines. Donald Trump heads a radical, reactionary, authoritarian band of plutocrats and corporate interests dedicated to transferring as much wealth and power as possible to those at the very top. He is a man that has stated repeatedly that he wants to be a dictator. His movement is waging a radical attack on our freedoms, not just against the right to abortion but to the very right to elect our President. This is an election where one of the choices is telling us loud and clear that if we choose him, it might well be the last time we had the chance of making that very choice.

There is, however, one important detail we cannot leave aside: Our commitment to opposing Republicans must not blind us to the fact that Democrats also have fallen short. We must work to defeat MAGA in November first, but also to build political power outside the Democratic Party to push for a stronger, more ambitious progressive agenda, including around foreign policy.

The United States is the wealthiest country in the world, yet millions of people struggle with poverty. Many in our cities face crippling housing shortages and soaring costs. Despite Biden’s best efforts, many families cannot afford medical care. Small towns and rural areas have seen little prosperity or economic growth as they see young folks leave and opportunities dwindle. Many of these issues are the result of decades of neglect and bad policy – not all of it coming from Republican administrations. There is a lot more than a Democratic administration can do to fix them.

Then we have the two humanitarian catastrophes on Biden’s watch, one in Palestine, and one on our Southern border. WFP has called, from the very beginning, for a ceasefire in Gaza. Some in the administration have begun to shift their rhetoric towards peace, but it’s time now to shift to action. On the border, we need to fix our immigration system, but in a way that opens pathways to opportunity and hope for those fleeing violence, not closing our borders or declaring human beings illegal.

The only way to fix these issues is not by wishful thinking or pointless third-party posturing, but by building political power outside of the Democratic Party to earn a seat at the table and lead the way towards progressive solutions. What we are doing at WFP is building that political power. We are running candidates and winning elections in places like Philadelphia or Hartford where we can win seats. We are becoming a decisive force in Democratic politics and changing the political game altogether.

Our political system was made for two parties, and they have written the rules so it suits them. Our goal is to build a party that is ready and willing to build governing power.

It is an ambitious plan – no question about it. Our work here in Connecticut, however, as well as in many other states where WFP operates, shows it makes sense. Thanks to our work, we passed the first paid sick days legislation in the country, leading the way for more than a dozen states to follow. We passed one of the strongest, most inclusive paid family leave bills in the country, a strong earned income tax credit, and a $15 minimum wage. Progressives have a strong voice in Connecticut, and Democratic leaders have to listen.

We are working to build a more perfect union, a fair, open, proud, nation of free people, with justice and equity for all. And to accomplish that, we are building the political party our country needs.