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What we want to hear in the State of the Union

President Biden at podium with Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi seated behind
A photo of President Biden's address to Congress in 2021. Photo: White House / Public Domain

On March 1, President Biden will deliver his State of the Union to the country. 

The address is an opportunity for the president to reflect on the country and our times—and lay out his administration’s priorities. Today the Biden administration has a critical opportunity to move the U.S. closer to a future where all people can thrive. 

Here’s what AFSC staff hope to hear from him.

Investing in healthy communities 

The state of our union is that our communities are in dire need of investments from their taxpayer dollars. Yet our communities are constantly on the back burner, as funding for weapons and war is prioritized over our well-being. In this year's SOTU, I want to hear President Biden acknowledge the ongoing human suffering and consequent needs of our society. We are constantly forced into thinking that we are losing in competition with every other world power, but we are failing ourselves. This year, Congress is poised to spend over $768 billion on weapons and war. With that money, we could have paid 9.5 million elementary school teachers for a year or provided public housing for more than 87 million families. If the Build Back Better plan passed at its full $3.5 trillion level for the next 10 years, it would cost only $350 billion per year. That’s less than half of the amount proposed for the Pentagon. It’s more than just saying Build Back Better pays for itself, I want to hear President Biden contextualize what the equivalent amount has funded instead.”

Peniel Ibe, Just Economies Policy Engagement Coordinator

 

“People may have missed this, but I really appreciated the administration’s early executive orders that undid Trump-era restrictions on SNAP food assistance and child nutrition and blocked states from imposing so-called ‘work requirements’ on people receiving health coverage under Medicaid expansion that would have cut off untold thousands. There is much to admire in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but I only wish more of the Build Back Better agenda would pass Our communities need it and a lot of that depends on our Sen. Joe Manchin.  We’re on it. Thus, in this year’s SOTU address, I am watching for President Biden to address the need for us to invest heavily in child nutrition, health care and other provisions that will lift our families out of poverty.”

Rick Wilson, West Virginia Economic Justice Project Director

 

Reducing our reliance on policing and prisons  

“In this year's SOTU address, I'm watching for the President to acknowledge the ongoing harms of the criminal justice system and lead us on a path of accountability and healing that addresses harm with punishment and retribution. I’m looking for the president to call for an end to death penalty nationwide, to commit to using his pardon powers to depopulate our prisons and to invite legislation that protects communities for over and oppressive policing.”

Lewis Webb, Jr., Healing Justice Program Director, New York

 

Moving away from militarism

In this year’s SOTU, I want to see Biden commit to decreasing the obscene amount of money that the United States spends on weapons and war, and reinvesting that money into things like housing, health care, and education. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it’s also the popular thing to do. In a recent national poll, AFSC found that 54% of U.S. adults would support Pentagon budget cuts if the money was re-invested in our communities.  

Tori Bateman, Policy Advocacy Coordinator for Sustainable Peace, Washington D.C.

 

Humane responses to migration

“In this SOTU, I would like to hear President Biden call for a designation and redesignation of Temporary Protect Status for countries in Central America and Africa that are facing humanitarian crises. This will allow TPS-eligible individuals to continue to live and work in the United States without fear and support their loved ones, allowing them to keep contributing to security and stability in the country. It is a temporary solution but a much-needed one because our community members continue to be targeted by the detention and deportation machine.

Unkept promises were made to provide immigrant and undocumented families a real pathway to citizenship, and we continue to see the threat to temporary reliefs our immigrant families face daily. I hope to hear President Biden amplify the call for a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people--a permanent solution. “

Guadalupe De La Cruz, Program Director, AFSC Florida

 

“We’d like to hear President Biden commit to using his power to curb harmful immigration enforcement activities, invest in low-income communities, and pave the way for humane immigration policy change. At AFSC we continue to call for a reduction in funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to detain and deport our immigrant brothers and sisters and separate families and loved ones. While U.S. Congress continues its struggle in passing any meaningful immigration policy that offers a pathway to citizenship, President Biden can lead the way toward a country without detention and deportation.” 

Chia-Chia Wang, Organizing and Advocacy Director, Newark Immigrant Rights Program, New Jersey

 

“President Biden must recommit the United States to upholding asylum law and ensure that people seeking a haven are not placed in greater danger.  He must declare an end to enforcement mechanisms that violate principles of non-refoulement, such as the Migrant Protection Protocols (“Remain in Mexico”) program, that force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for court hearings and where thousands have endured unsafe and life-threatening circumstances. President Biden also has an obligation to speak on policies affecting border communities with a vision of de-militarizing them. President Biden must lead with just policies for everyone, including those of us who reside in border communities.”

Pedro Rios, Director, AFSC U.S.-Mexico Border Program, San Diego, California

 

“Given that improving the immigration system was one of his main campaign promises, I am looking for President Biden to speak on a pathway to citizenship and restoring access to asylum in his upcoming address. While Congress continues to negotiate a reconciliation package, immigration must be a top priority and the president should publicly state his support for including a pathway to citizenship. He should also comment on Title 42 since his administration has refused to undo the harmful and misguided weaponization of this policy that denies thousands of people their right to seek asylum. If President Biden truly wants to help immigrant communities and ensure we have a fair and humane system, he must address these issues publicly.”

Imani Cruz, Policy Advocacy Coordinator for Just Migration

 

Building shared, sustainable peace 

In this year’s State of the Union address, I would hope for the articulation of a foreign policy vision that shows awareness of the incredible costs of wars and military occupation and that outlines changes in U.S. approaches to foreign policy with the goal of improving the lives of those impacted by violence and oppression. In Afghanistan, the U.N. has warned that a million children may die of starvation due to U.S. imposed financial sanctions. In Yemen the U.S. continues to provide weapons and military support that prolong a devastating war we could easily end. In Palestine and Israel, inequalities have become further entrenched even as an international consensus has formed recognizing Israeli policies as a form of apartheid. In the Ukraine, we stand at the brink of a new war. We are at a time when the need for different approaches to foreign policy should be obvious.  Unfortunately, what I hope to hear and what I expect will be said are not the same.

Mike Merryman-Lotze, Director, Middle East Program

 

I will be looking out for President Biden to lay out a diplomatic path forward to solve conflicts instead of relying on sanctions and punitive measures to work toward a lasting peace, especially with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and heavily sanctioned countries. The U.S. government needs to rethink sanctions as a coercive tool to achieve foreign policy goals. Lastly, the U.S. public is tired of “forever wars” and I will be looking for a fresh approach in contexts like North Korea where the conflict has lasted decades.

Jennifer Diebert, North Korea Program Director

 

Addressing the climate crisis

"I hope to hear President Biden talk about swift actions to mitigate the climate crisis harming our communities. In New Mexico. we are in the worst drought in 1,200 years and our state feels the impact of the fossil fuel industries' extractivism. President Biden has presented himself as an environmental justice champion while asking for billions of dollars for the world's single biggest institution consumer of fossil fuels and emitter of greenhouse gases--the military. I hope to hear the president talk about the need to divest from militarism as a core part of addressing climate change. The land-based people we accompany want to see him use his executive authority to fulfill campaign promises he made to respect Indigenous rights and prioritize environmental justice.” 

Sayrah Namaste, New Mexico Program Co-Director