Poor People's Campaign

Contact: Martha Waggoner: [email protected]

The focus of debate about the Build Back Better plan should be on who is helped and not merely the cost, essential, low-wage women said Tuesday at a news conference with the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. 

“We are the ones who produce so much wealth in this nation, the ones who could not rest during the pandemic. We are the ones who don’t have the right to get sick because we cannot miss work, those who run the risk of getting fired if we miss a day to be able to claim decent treatment during our movement,” said Marcela Ramirez, a produce packer from Philadelphia and a mother. 

She was one of eight women from across the country — West Virginia, Kentucky, New York, Arizona, Mississippi and Maryland — who spoke at the news conference held Tuesday on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Joining them were the co-chairs of the PPC:NCMR, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, along with economists and faith leaders.

“We shouldn’t be talking about trillions of dollars and just in terms of cost,” Rev. Barber said. “What we should be talking about is this question: it’s now how much does Build Back Better cost but how much does it cost lives and hurt people not to build back better. … The problem is we have gotten stuck in a numbers argument rather than a people argument.”

Before COVID-19, 140 million people lived in poverty or were low-income, and 700 people died a day from poverty. The Build Back Better agenda costs $3.5 trillion over 10 years, or $350 billion a year. That’s just  an estimated 1.2% of the U.S. GDP over 10 years. 

“What we know and what this pandemic has laid bare is that women, people of color, poor communities, have been disproportionately impacted,” Rev. Theoharis said. “By stripping the provisions that help women, help people of color, help poor communities, help essential workers recover, that those are standing against us, (Sen. Joe) Manchin, (Sen. Kyrsten) Sinema, all of those folks that have the power in their hands to do something — they’re compromising the lives of essential workers and the poor.They’re sending a message that people’s lives and their work don’t matter when we know that this is a lie.”

Women from West Virginia and Arizona — where  Sens. Manchin and Sinema don’t support Build Back Better as written and who oppose an end to the non-constitutional filibuster — also spoke. 

Joan Steede of Phoenix said she cares for people as they die, even working extra time without pay for veterans because they deserve her help.

“I hear all these women’s stories and they all sound the same. We work much harder than what we get paid for,” she said. “We will all some day get old and need care. And I will be there for you, and I will work for less than I’m worth because I care about other people. And I demand Congress back a bill that took so much work and time. Just do your job – build back America.”

Kaylen Marie Parker of South Charleston, West Virginia, said she has a master’s degree but still must scrounge for pennies in her couch cushions.

“Time has run out for the people in my state. We are literally starving. It’s time for Congress to act,” she said. “It’s hard to see the realities of our lives when you live so comfortably in your ivory towers, but it is time to come down and listen to the people. We’re no longer asking for help – we are demanding that you act now. The Build Back Better plan can finally stop the generational poverty that’s been forced on Appalachia and people all across the country.”

Pam Garrison, a lifelong low-wage worker and tri-chair of the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign, called on Sen. Manchin to recognize that Americans deserve the spending in Build Back Better. 

“We will show you that when you invest in the people – that the people will rise and we will work! We are not lazy and we are not asking for a handout. Senator Manchin, do your job. Do your job! Take care of the people! Quit taking care of the corporations!”

Rep. Ro Khanna of Pennsylvania told the women that their voices are needed. 

“For too long, this country has not treated people fairly for doing the hardest work, who are on the frontlines. And that must change,” he said at the news conference. “There is too much frustration, too much anger out there saying (it’s) time to actually be just. Time to pay people what they deserve, to treat people the way they deserve. And so your voices, your stories, in this movement are being heard not just by me but by many in the halls of the Congress to remind us about what is at stake and that is why we must deliver on the president’s Build Back Better agenda.”

Comments from others who spoke: 

Katrina Corbell of New York, a low-wage worker on disability

“This legislation is about me – the legislation is about us. It is about real people, low-wage essential workers. It is shameful that Congress is debating that we cannot afford $350 billion a year for 10 years when we’re spending so much more on war when so many of us are not approving of the wars that Congress keeps spending money on. So please listen to your constituents and actually pass the Build Back Better plan as it is.”

Viola Lee of Silver Spring, Maryland, a gig worker and DoorDash driver. She is a mother of three, and they are unhoused. 

She wants Congress to remember “people are struggling to make ends meet and (who are) threatened with eviction every day who sleep from house to house because they don’t earn a living wage.”

Emilee Johnson of Pearl, Mississippi, a low-wage worker and advocate for victims of human trafficking. 

“I am here to tell Congress, we can no longer rely on states like Mississippi that just abolished slavery in 2013 to do the right thing. Mississippi has shown this country too many times that doing the right thing is not an option. We need laws changed on a federal level. I am a low-wage and essential worker, and I need Congress to address the needs of low-wage and essential workers now and invest in my fair chance. Because I deserve a fair chance.”

Adriel Downing of Lexington, Kentucky, a game-day employee at the University of Kentucky.  

She said she was there to call on Sen. Mitch McConnell to pass the Build Back Better act. “Please help us. We get tired of asking for help. We don’t want to beg you. We shouldn’t have to beg you.”

Shailly Gupta Barnes, policy director for PPC:NCMR and an economist: 

On Friday, PPC:NCMR will release a study of the 2020 presidential election showing the power of poor and low-income voters “whose main concerns are around health and economic well-being and who turned out in historic numbers to vote last year. What does all of this tell us? Economically, ethically, morally and politically, we cannot build back better without building back from the bottom.”

Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies: 

It’s outrageous thatCongress resists spending $350 billion a year on things like children, housing, water, education and yet they don’t even blink when we spend $753 billion a year on the military — on wars that kill people and fail to achieve any of their so-called goals.”

Sister Richelle Friedman of the Coalition on Human Needs: 

“Build Back Better is an opportunity for us as a nation to do something significant for those who do not have enough to afford adequate food or a place to call home or what is necessary for them to work like affordable child care or who are afraid of losing their job because they have no paid leave and in some cases, no unpaid leave. 

“We know what’s at stake. Build Back Better is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in low-income families, individuals and communities.”

Rabbi Alana Suskin of the Maryland Poor People’s Campaign: 

Jewish law asserts that community is responsible for maintaining and distributing resources for the poor. We as a nation are incredibly wealthy, it is a land from which bread comes and has the dust of gold — just like Sodom. It is a scandal that 140 million poor and low-income people go unheard as they cry out to be heard. … We are here with the voices of Americans crying out, and it is our responsibility to act. 

Rev. Angela Martin of the Maryland Poor People’s Campaign: 

We’ve heard the voices of the poor. We’ve heard the voices crying out, demanding justice. All I want to know right now, Joe Manchin, is which side are you on? Whose side are you on? Are you on the side of poor and low-wealth persons who are crying out, who are suffering in the midst of this pandemic? Or are you here to represent your pockets? It’s really just as simple as that. 

“If you are a person of faith, you have a moral conscience and an obligation to respond right now.”