After living through four years of an endless horror franchise, Joseph Biden gets sworn in today as commander in chief. Kamala Harris, in a historic moment for the US, gets sworn in as the first woman of color Vice President. And they have so much wreckage laying before them. No easy reset button will fix it or spirit it away. The pressure is on their administration to do right by a country reeling from a traumatic relationship with a white supremacist tyrant, and rightfully so. We reached out to our authors to ask what they want Biden and Harris to know, understand, or be aware of. On Inauguration Day, we share their responses with you.
“The Biden/Harris Administration will be facing some of the greatest challenges of our history because of a global pandemic that will likely take the lives of almost 400,000 American loved ones by the time they take office. They will face this grim human toll as well as the economic fallout, both of which have impacted Black, Indigenous, and Latino Americans disproportionally. I hope equality in the US, particularly in the area of healthcare, education, and social justice, is one of their highest priorities. One area I’m most passionate about is improving educational honesty in our teaching of American History. Reversing recent executive orders designed to limit the accurate teaching of our history is a good start and so is relying on primary documents to drive our revisions of US History textbooks.”
—Daina Ramey Berry, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh and A Black Women’s History of the United States
“It’s difficult to fathom just how much work it will take to clean up the mess, literal and figurative, left behind by the outgoing administration. In addition to dealing effectively with COVID-19, addressing a fragile economy, and the economic challenges faced by the most vulnerable among us—particularly people and communities of color, the assault on environmental protections, and so much more—it is critical that the outgoing President and his enablers and supporters in the House and Senate be held accountable for their actions. Not doing so will enable future elected officials to act out badly (like Senators McConnell, Graham, Cruz, Hawley, and others), and encourage the kind of violent uprisings we witnessed on January 6.”
—Thomas Norman DeWolf, author of Inheriting the Trade and Gather at the Table, Program Manager for Coming to the Table
“Four years of Trumpism has taken its toll on Indian Country, but Trump was always only a symptom of much larger structural, societal problems that have lingered since the violent beginnings of this country. The US settler state has a long way to go toward becoming accountable for the ways it has been built on and still maintains a relationship of domination and control over the Original Nations of this land. My hope is that President Biden and Vice President Harris will bring us closer as a nation to promoting an ethic of accountability for this long, painful history and effect real justice and respect to those relationships.”
—Dina Gilio-Whitaker, As Long As Grass Grows
“President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have a daunting task ahead. Undoing four years of acrimony under The Vulgarian and healing centuries of malfeasance will not come easy. I can only HOPE that their administration will help America take a step FORWARD in healing the obvious breach in moral principles.”
—Sharon Leslie Morgan, Gather at the Table
“When Joe Biden is sworn in as President, it will not be true to say that the guardrails of democracy held. It would be truer to say that the underlying fissures in our frail democracy were widely exposed. After the January 6 Capitol Hill siege by white nationalists, pressure is on Biden to expand the police state and increase surveillance. It’s up to us to push the administration to divest federal resources from incarceration and policing and instead fund community-based organizations providing non-punitive, non-carceral programs related to restorative justice and transformative justice.”
—Zach Norris, Defund Fear
“Many presidential inaugurations are suffused by a feeling of hopefulness, a fresh start, a chance at long-overdue changes. Others have felt apocalyptic and dire, none more so than the last—Trump’s American Carnage inauguration. This inauguration in 2021 is both. Even as the fallout from the toxic white supremacist assault on the Capitol continues to settle, President Joe Biden laid out dozens of executive orders that will begin to stop on Day One some of the most horrific of Trump’s orders: the cruel Muslim ban; the barbaric frenzy of federal executions; the US’s return to the Paris Climate Accords and the World Health Organization; rescinding the permit for the Keystone Pipeline; restoration of Obama-era regulations protecting the rights of transgender students in public schools; to require masks for 100 days in federal buildings and interstate transport. And, desperately needed by tens of millions, he will order the rent, foreclosure, eviction, and student loan payment moratoria to continue.
The first piece of legislation he plans to send to Congress will be a COVID aid bill that includes direct $1,400 payments, an increase in weekly unemployment checks, desperately needed aid to the states, And, quietly, that bill would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Also, on Day One, the new president will send to Congress the most sweeping immigration overhaul in thirty-four years. It will include green cards for Dreamers and those with Temporary Protective Status and an eight-year path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented Americans. In addition to those which, in the aftermath of Democratic victory in the Georgia Senate runoffs, it is possible those can pass. And new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised that his first bill will be an expansive voting rights bill that will make it easier than ever to register and will prevent many currently used forms of voter suppression.
Kamala Harris, the first woman Vice President, who is of Jamaican and Indian descent, will be sworn in on Justice Thurgood Marshall’s bible. The new Energy Secretary will likely be a woman who wants to invest in and prioritize building a national infrastructure for electric cars. The Secretary of the Treasury will be a woman who has told Congress she thinks we must be bold and big in our stimulus packages—a chance to alleviate some of the terrible suffering sweeping our country. And the Secretary of the Interior, in charge of land policy and the major liaison to Native American peoples across the country, will be Deb Haaland, a woman of Pueblo descent who has promised to be a fiercely protective steward of our natural resources.
Only a few days ago, I was continuing the ritual of morning and middle-of-the-night anxious doomscrolling as headlines reported one horror after another. Today marks the end of the Trump era, and Biden seems to understand that he may only have two years to fulfill his slogan: “Build Back Better.” He had a front row seat as the Obama administration ran into roadblock after roadblock courtesy of Mitch McConnell. He just might have a different plan. It seems possible that he is going to be bold and that the sun may just shine again.”
—Annelise Orleck, “We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now”
“This inauguration unfolds against the backdrop of intense threats of domestic terrorism and an uncontrolled pandemic, both of which were fomented and enabled by the outgoing administration. A top priority for the Biden-Harris administration should be a concerted effort to address resurgent white nationalism and extremism, which will require an informed, purposeful, and multi-pronged approach.”
—Alexandra Minna Stern, Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate
“After years of treating immigrants and asylum seekers as criminals, in violation of international regulation and the United States Constitution, our country has an opportunity to get on track. I’m not just talking about the end of the Trump administration, but about an immigration system that was born broken. The immigration legislation in the US was designed to use immigrants as a disposable working resource, and in recent years, as a political bargaining chip. It also allows to use the rule of law under different criteria for different people and lacks a path to regularization for those who have lived for decades without documents while playing an essential role in the productive machinery of this country.
Over the next four years, the Biden administration can take the first steps toward becoming the country of open arms that we have pretended to be. In his action plan for the first hundred days of government, he has included revoking the travel ban for Muslim countries, the expansion of the DACA program, the reunification of families who were separated at the border, and the restoration of the asylum process. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. The US needs to create a path to citizenship for the eleven million undocumented people in the country. The DACA and TPS programs have been a relief for some people in vulnerable situations, but we need that protection to be permanent through immigration regularization for them and their families.
During the Obama-Biden administration, priorities on the government's agenda and partisanship in Congress stopped any legislative progress on immigration. Once again, Joe Biden comes to the White House in a complicated situation, but now he is the President. He has a united and more diverse Democratic Party, and most importantly, he knows that this time around he’s in debt with the communities of color. It is time to pay it back. That's a good way to start building forward.”
—Eileen Truax, How Does It Feel to Be Unwanted?
“As we observe Inauguration Day in a politically polarized nation, it is essential that Biden/Harris recognize that, horrific and harmful as it is, most violence doesn’t ensue from the actions of ‘extremists’ and far-right actors playing lethal games with guns and bludgeons. We must confront vigilante and paramilitary violence, of course. But the models for that violence come from state and corporate systems that embrace and embed the violence of supremacist actions and beliefs at every level. Structural racist, gendered, ableist, and economic violence is normative, not only in policing and the criminal legal system, but in virtually all systems, public and private. Until we face that unpleasant truth with integrity and determination, until we stop telling ourselves the group fiction that violence results from ‘extremism,’ structural violence and inequality will expand and deepen. We have to reimagine and restructure US society; we have to completely transform how power and pain are distributed.”
—Kay Whitlock, Considering Hate