A Party at the Polls event with Black Voters Matter and Georgia Stand-up in Jonesboro, Ga., Jan. 5, 2021.
Audra Melton—The New York Times/Redux
Ideas
March 22, 2021 7:00 AM EDT
Garza is a political strategist, principal of Black Futures Lab and Black to the Future Action Fund, and co-founder of Black Lives Matter.

Black communities have a long history of fighting to make America real. Daring to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., to secure our right to vote, taking to the streets to defend our lives from police violence, bringing our protest to the polls, Black communities boldly advance an equitable economy and just democracy.

The fight for a union in Bessemer, Ala., is no different—Black workers at Amazon are fighting a David vs. Goliath battle to protect and advance rights for workers and advance a strong economy. They know that one of the most valuable companies in the world can and should provide better wages and benefits to its employees, but more than that, it should offer the worker protections and job stability that allow our families and communities to thrive.

At Black Futures Lab, an organization that aims to engage Black communities and empower them to shape policy discussions, we talked with Black people in Alabama during our Black Census Project, the largest survey of Black communities in America in 150 years. Our research showed that economic justice has always been the top priority for our communities. Nationally, 90% of Black Census Project respondents viewed wages too low to support a family as the most pressing problem in our communities. In Alabama, 79% agreed. Only 10% of our Alabama respondents were members of a union. When asked how to fix these economic failures, 73% of respondents in Alabama said to raise the wage to $15 an hour, and more than half of our respondents said that labor unions should play a role.

In the 2020 elections, Black voters delivered a mandate for bold solutions in the face of widespread voter suppression, racist violence and rigged rules that leave us out and our families behind. Black communities have always organized with courage and determination for a better future, and we expect our elected officials to do the same. Despite the daily barriers, Black voters gave them the power to do so, in the White House and in Congress. It’s time to use that power for good—to be bold and courageous in the face of injustice and inequity, despite the temper tantrums happening in Congress. We must win real victories for real people.

Black communities have always been the canaries in the coal mine—what happens to us will eventually affect others. That’s why our sister organization Black to the Future Action Fund designed the Build Back Bolder mandate for the Biden/Harris Administration, which lays out the policy imperatives of Black America—from removing policies that lock us out of good jobs to making climate action a national priority–and recommendations on how to implement them. In order to ensure action and accountability from elected leaders, the mandate serves as a benchmark that Black communities, voters and organizers can use to measure action and results. It is how we know whether or not our elected leaders are working as hard for us as we did to get them there in the first place.

Congressman Nikema Williams meets union organizers outside of the Amazon BHM1 facility during a congressional visit to the site in Birmingham, Ala., on March 5, 2021.
Nathan Posner—Shutterstock

The last month from our new government is a welcome improvement from the previous administration, with significant infusions of resources, and new rules that can put us back on track. It is the first step of many that must be taken to meet the scale of crises our communities face and the specific and disparate impacts on Black people. The COVID-19 relief package includes additional federal funds for unemployment insurance and a direct stimulus payment of $1,400—provisions that will help families pay the bills. But families will continue living with a lot of economic uncertainty, especially as eviction and foreclosure moratoriums end this month.

For Black communities to get relief and recover from the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 crisis on our communities, we need to take bold steps immediately. We need to legislate a $15 an hour federal minimum wage, which would help stabilize our communities spiraling from a lack of investment prior to the pandemic and reeling from massive job loss over the past year. We must secure the right of workers to form a union. We must protect voting rights and stop the flood of voter-suppression bills intended to keep Black voters from pushing this country forward. And we must ensure that our communities have racially equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccines. This is what the Biden Administration and Congress must deliver: legislation that meets the needs for recovery for Black communities and unrigs the rules that got us to this place.

Our mandate is bold, but Black communities have shown that we can make what seems impossible possible. Black people in this country have never been limited by the constraints placed upon us, and we demand that our elected officials deliver on the mandate we presented them with in exchange for our votes.

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