Housing rights advocates and climate crisis activists are desperately urging lawmakers to hold the line against noisy efforts to gut key provisions in President Joe Biden's Build Back Better human infrastructure bill.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, just got more money than it knows what to do with.
Earlier in the week, the Pentagon gleefully sprinkled an extra $10 billion on top of its annual $725.8 billion military budget without a peep from Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona or Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, all Democrats who seem more concerned with reining in federal spending than supporting Biden's signature policy initiative.
"I really don't understand why these people are in public office if all they care about is the donations they get from industries and not the people that they work for. I honestly think it's pretty psychopathic to hear what the science is saying [about climate catastrophe] and then go ahead and ignore it." Anna Jolliffe, tech worker
"Housing is not something that can just be cut from the budget to save on costs," Abigail Ng, policy and communications coordinator for New York City's Tenants & Neighbors group, told me on Wednesday. Extra money for war rather than people, "shows where their priorities are — where our representatives put our tax money — that shows what they value.
"Clearly, because we have to fight for it, it shows they don't value housing as much."
Tenants & Neighbors is a grassroots organization dedicated to affordable housing. About 10 New York City-based advocacy groups agitating for transformative action on climate justice and housing rights rallied along with Ng's group outside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's posh Prospect Park West apartment in the borough of Brooklyn on Oct. 20.
"This is people's futures we're talking about, people's livelihoods — and it's not worth negotiating [away]," Ng added.
Anna Jolliffe, 27, a tech industry worker, decried the rubber-stamping of vast military expenditures while overwhelming social needs circle the drain because a few Democrats aren't backing their party's leader.
"Obviously, there's no future without a healthy climate," Jolliffe said. "I think it's ridiculous. I think it's a complete failure. I really don't understand why these people are in public office if all they care about is the donations they get from industries and not the people that they work for. I honestly think it's pretty psychopathic to hear what the science is saying [about climate catastrophe] and then go ahead and ignore it. It's infuriating."
Pentagon Top Polluter
The U.S. military machine is, and has been for a long while, the largest polluter on the planet. It consumes more oil and emits more carbon dioxide [C02] than any other single entity.
At the same time, the lack of affordable housing, poverty, low wages and unemployment have thrust more than half a million people into homelessness across the United States. According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, that trend has only grown over the last four years. This is expected to worsen since the federal pandemic pause on evictions has ended, though some states like New York have their own eviction limits.
Still, advocates for housing rights and other measures contained inside the Build Back Better reconciliation are being told that items meant to uplift working-class people must be subjected to the chopping block in the name of "fiscal sanity."
However, no such caution is expressed when it comes to spending $66 billion in preparation for some speculative future war with China in the Indo-Pacific region.
Demonstrators outside Schumer's residence reserved a good dose of their anger for the longtime Democratic Party powerbroker himself and fellow New York congressional delegation member Hakeem Jeffries for not doing enough to confront the climate crisis being too cozy with the fossil fuel industry.
"It is incredible to see how they think they can play with our lives and the dignified living that we deserve — and they do it right in front of us by lying to us, and not taking the stands that they had promised to be taking," Estefania Galvis, workers development Director at NICE – New Immigrant Community Empowerment — told me.
NICE is a non-profit organization advocating for vulnerable immigrants — many of them from the perilous building and construction industry — especially deadly jobs to Latino workers.
Latino workers make up roughly 10-percent of New York State's workforce but represented 20.5-percent of worker fatalities in 2019.
Across the United States, Latino worker fatalities in all industries have increased nearly 18% over the last six years.
"People's lives are on the line, right now, especially undocumented people," Galvis continued. "We saw it with the storm that happened [in New York City] a couple of weeks ago; we have seen it on the border; we have seen it in the [detention center] camps — immigrants that are undocumented don't have any human rights in this country — and neither do working-class people."
MSM Favors Infighting Over Substance
Jolliffe also aimed the mainstream corporate media outlets for focusing on all of the in-fighting and politics surrounding the Build Back Better plan instead of "what's actually in the bill."
"I just think there are failures happening all around," she said. "The climate component is most important to me personally. I'm a person who comes from a place of privilege, but there's also lots of other things in there that will help people living paycheck-to-paycheck."
One of the things the Build Back Better plan seeks to do is extend existing child tax credits for another three years. The child tax credit, expanded last March, provides pandemic-stricken American families with limited financial relief — up to $300 per child.
However, Joe Manchin is attempting to undermine the entire relief effort by insisting families be subjected to a work requirement and a $60,000 income cap to qualify for monthly aid.
Congress approved the $725.8 billion military budget earlier this week without any muss or fuss. The Defense Department will get $29 billion, 4% more than was allocated last year.
"Give us citizenship, and give us the tools to be able to have dignified lives. That's what we need right now," Galvis added. "Stop funding wars, and stop funding the rich, and stop funding [big] tech. Stop giving away our money to the billionaires — tax the rich and give us a dignified living. We want what we need, and we want it right now. This is the time to do it."