Defend Democracy, Demand Diversity, Defeat Poverty

“When you get to my age, certain things become clearer than ever before. I know the American story. Again and again, I’ve seen the contest between competing forces in the battle for the soul of our nation. Between those who want to pull America back to the past and those who want to move America into the future. My lifetime has taught me to embrace freedom and democracy. A future based on core values that have defined America. Honesty, decency, dignity, equality. To respect everyone. To give everyone a fair shot. To give hate no safe harbor.” – President Joe Biden, 2024 State of the Union Address

President Biden’s third State of the Union Address on Thursday met with overwhelmingly positive reviews for both its powerful content and his energetic delivery.

Falling as it did just days after the release of the National Urban League’s 2024 State of Black America® report – which included a special section, Evaluation for Progress: Report on the Biden Harris Administration – it’s worth noting the contrast between this address and the 1976 address by President Gerald Ford that inspired the original State of Black America report.

Both President Ford’s address and Sen. Edmund Muskie’s opposition conspicuously failed to mention the challenges facing Black Americans at the time. In contrast, President Biden not only wove racial equity throughout his speech, but he also delivered it on the 59th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, a transformational moment in the Civil Rights Movement.

Encouragingly, the speech explicitly addressed all three “Ds” in the National Urban League’s “D3” agenda: Defend Democracy, Demand Diversity, Defeat Poverty.

“I ask all of you, without regard to party, to join together and defend democracy,” President Biden said. “Respect free and fair elections. Restore trust in our institutions. And make clear — political violence has absolutely no place, no place in America.”

Highlighting the anniversary of Bloody Sunday and pointing out the marchers in the chamber, he said, “Hundreds of foot soldiers for justice marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, named after the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, to claim their fundamental right to vote,” he said. “They were beaten. They were bloodied and left for dead … Five months later, the Voting Rights Act passed and was signed into law. But 59 years later, there are forces taking us back in time: voter suppression, election subversion, unlimited dark money, extreme gerrymandering.”

He called on Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Right Act, two bills that are at the heart of the National Urban League’s advocacy.

In calling for an end to book bans and the erasure of America’s history of racial violence and discrimination, President Biden called diversity a “core value of America.”

In addition to assembling the most diverse Cabinet, senior leadership, and federal judiciary in history – including the first woman and person of color to serve as Vice President and the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court – President Biden on his first day in office disbanded the Trump Administration’s 1776 Commission, which has sought to erase America’s history of racial injustice., and revoked Trump’s damaging executive order restricting diversity and inclusion training.

Several times during the speech, President Biden referenced the American Rescue Plan, which lifted more people out of poverty than any piece of legislation in the past 50 years, spurring the greatest single-year reduction in child poverty on record, and driving child poverty to a record low.

“The child tax credit I passed [as part of the American Rescue Plan] cut taxes for millions of working families and cut child poverty in half. Restore that child tax credit. No child should go hungry in this country.”

The National Urban League is proud to have worked with the Biden Administration to help defend democracy, demand diversity, and defeat poverty, and we are committed to continue holding President Biden and all elected officials accountable to the imperatives of racial equity and economic opportunity.

Marc Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League.

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