What we want to hear in Biden's address to Congress

President Biden will soon give his first address to a joint session of Congress.

This speech is a chance for the president to reflect on the country and our times, and to outline his administration’s priorities. The Biden administration has a tremendous opportunity to confront racism, militarism, and economic injustice—and move the country toward a future where all people have the resources they need to thrive. 

Here’s what AFSC staff hope to hear in his upcoming address: 

Rick Wilson, director of AFSC's West Virginia Economic Justice Project

“This is a time for Biden to go big and make the case for major investments in people, jobs, infrastructure. This must be linked to decisive action to deal with climate change and create a just transition to a more sustainable economy. I appreciate his embrace of the right of workers to organize and am encouraged by executive actions that have undone some of the damage the Trump administration did to health care and food security—things we’ve spent the last four years trying to fight off at the state level.”

Lewis Webb, Jr., Healing Justice Program coordinator, New York

“I would like to see a call to halt all death penalty executions as we as a nation commit to a collective end to this most inhumane response to harm. I am also watching for a commitment to protect those living and working in carceral settings during the pandemic by releasing individuals from prisons, jails, and detention centers, providing them with adequate personal protective equipment, and prioritizing them for access to vaccinations. It would be also great to hear plans for substantive criminal justice reform that includes policing, conditions people face during incarceration, and the removal of the barriers people face in their efforts to reintegrate upon release from prisons.” 

Pedro Rios, director, AFSC U.S.-Mexico Border Program, San Diego, California

“I and many others in our border region will be watching for how President Biden will move beyond rhetorical window dressing and authentically commit to restoring the decades of harm that militarization has had on borderland communities and migrants who cross through the region. His administration must prioritize a consultation process and the human rights of all in the region.” 

Chia-Chia Wang, organizing and advocacy director, Newark Immigrant Rights Program

"In this year's presidential address, I'm watching for a meaningful pathway to citizenship and family unification for all our immigrant community members. So many people have lived through painful family separations including children growing up without both parents. It’s time to put a stop to these unfair policies and practices and restore  immigrants’ rights and dignity."

Jordan Garcia, director of immigrant ally organizing, Colorado Immigrant Rights Program

“In this year's presidential address, I'm watching for any mention of for-profit detention centers. We currently have a system that creates a perverse financial incentive for corporations to keep children, parents, and community members behind literal bars. Making money while locking up survivors of torture, people seeking asylum, visa holders, people who have been granted the permanent right to live in the U.S., people who have lived here for years and may have American citizen spouses and children, individuals with mental health and medical conditions, and other vulnerable groups is just wrong. Stopping for-profit detention centers is a critical step in ending immigrant detention and deportation.”

Jennifer Bing, director, Palestine Activism Program

“I will be watching to see if President Biden makes a commitment to restoring desperately needed humanitarian aid to Palestinians, including pressuring the Israeli government to live up to its responsibility to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to Palestinians living in Gaza and West Bank.”

R. Aura Kanegis, director of public policy and advocacy

“I am hoping to hear a commitment to meaningful progress toward a truly inclusive democracy, with voting rights and access protected for all--including Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities that have experienced ever-evolving schemes to block their voting power. President Biden should take executive actions where possible, but also champion legislative reforms such as the ‘For the People Act,’ comprehensive democracy reform legislation that would protect voting rights and access, end partisan and racial gerrymandering, get dark money out of politics, and provide greater transparency and accountability in our government. These underlying changes to address the corroded core of our democracy will be essential to securing every other policy transformation we so urgently need right now.” 

Pauline Muchina, public education and advocacy coordinator for Africa

"I am watching to see if the Biden administration views reshaping U.S.-Africa relationship as important for the safety and economic progress of the U.S. Will the administration adopt an approach of shared security as it reforms its engagement with African countries? Africans are looking for trade and diplomacy instead of militarism.” 

Daniel Jasper, peace education and advocacy coordinator for Asia

“I’m watching for Biden to express support for a new approach to North Korea and hoping he’ll mention the ongoing Korean War (not just denuclearization efforts) as well as the impact of sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the country. I’ll also be looking for mention of revised sanctions policies following on his executive order mandating federal agencies to review the impact of sanctions on COVID relief efforts. Lastly, any rhetoric on China that emphasizes cooperation – especially on climate change and public health – would be a big win considering the administration’s hawkish China personnel.”

Tori Bateman, policy advocacy coordinator

“I’m watching for Biden to commit to live up to his campaign promises, including investing in climate change, public health, and economic recovery—and for him to find the money the country needs to do that by cutting militarized spending, including at the Pentagon and in abusive immigration enforcement agencies. It’s time that we traded weapons, war, and detention centers for healthy and sustainable communities.”