Tlaib joins Michigan activists to push Biden Build Back Better plan

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Detroit — Staci Lowry thinks children like her youngest daughter, Bailey, are one of the reasons families in Michigan and the United States need funding for special education, child care and school facilities. 

"Our children deserve to go to a school where they can learn in safe spaces, in healthy spaces, in safe conditions," said Lowry on Monday at a Rally to Build Back Better, where U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, joined grassroots organizations at Pallister Park in Detroit. 

"Parents for decades have been out trying to invest in updating and upgrading our school facilities," said Lowry, a parent organizer and lead trainer with education nonprofit 482 Forward. "(Children) are being educated in the midst of a pandemic, without proper ventilation, with mold in schools and often without heat and air conditioning."

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, waits to speak at a rally about the Biden administration's Build Back Better agenda at Pallister Park in Detroit on Monday.

The rally was organized by the Michigan Alliance for Justice in Climate which, according to its climate justice campaign manager Rei Fielder, wants to bring together activist groups across the state to demand climate action.

Organizers called on Congress to pass President Joe Biden's $3.5 trillion domestic agenda, which includes money for climate action and a social safety net, and not trim programs to roll back the cost. 

Tlaib said people were "obsessed" with the $3.5 trillion cost without talking about the bill's content. She touted renewable energy and climate justice, education, family leave, immigration, public housing and home-based care for seniors and disabled folks as tenets of the plan, alongside lower health care costs and other measures. 

Tlaib cited a CBS poll from Oct. 6-8 that found 88% of Americans supporting lowering prescription drug prices; 84% supporting expanding Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing; and 73% supporting paid family medical leave.

Supporters gather for the Rally to Build Back Better in Detroit, demanding that funding for clean energy and climate action remain in President Joe Biden's infrastructure bill.

"Let's be clear," she said. "There is no political justification for opposing the Build Back Better Act other than the corruption that is seeping into our democracy with these constant special interest groups that continue to benefit off of our pain." 

Republicans pushed back on Monday.

"Joe Biden and (Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer) are two peas in a pod, both out of touch with the reality Michiganders are dealing with as we speak, higher costs on groceries and on gas — and both have broken their promises made to Michiganders," said Gustavo Portela, communications director for the Michigan Republican Party.

Kenneth Jackson of the Detroit arms of the Sunrise Movement, a climate action group, and the Democratic Socialists of America, used his time at the rally to talk about the Civilian Climate Corps, a proposed program that aims to create "government jobs program putting a new generation of Americans to work combatting the climate crisis."

Biden established the CCC through executive order in January 2021, but funding for it will depend on what makes it through Congress. It is inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps, according to Sunrise Movement. 

Aisha Wells of Mothering Justice echoed Lowry's call for child care, especially for those with disabilities. Mothering Justice is a Detroit-based social justice nonprofit that advocates for mothers of color through policy change. 

"As a mother of a disabled 14 year old boy, I know exactly how it feels to go to the intensive care unit, then drop back to work, and then go back to the intensive care unit again," said Wells. "It's abysmal." 

Detroit residents also showed up to express their support of the bill. Karen Hammer, 77, said before the rally began that she thought the bill was important for the "common person in the United States." 

"We really, really need to push the two recalcitrant senators, who don't stand for the people, over the line, so that we can have a bill that builds a lot of things up that have been neglected over the years," she continued. 

She was referring to conservative Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and centrist Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, among holdouts to delivering Biden's agenda. Biden has had to balance their demands with those of the progressive members of his party in the Senate and House of Representatives. 

Climate Power, a strategic communications and media operation focused on pushing political and public support for climate action, has worked to gather support for Biden's plan as well. 

Meghan Schneider, associate director for state communications for the group, said Monday that clean energy could create thousands of new jobs and addressed the state's extreme weather events that caused flooding and widespread power outages, saying they came at a great financial and emotional cost to residents who she said are paying the price of "generations of climate inaction." 

"Michiganders know first-hand that this is a Code Red moment, and they are counting on Congress to go big and act now to meet this moment of urgency in our country.”