Joe Biden will be the 46th president of the United States. While there's reason to celebrate the victory's implications for issues like reproductive rights, environmental justice, and health care, there's still more work to do. The Supreme Court is the most conservative it's been since the 1930s, control of the Senate is up in the air until January run-off elections in Georgia, and the sociopolitical climate that allowed Donald Trump to get elected in 2016 still persists.
The past four years have been stressful, to say the least. Take the time to acknowledge where we're headed while keeping the pressure on our elected officials. Yes, things look different in post-election light, but don't let that fresh-start energy obscure the fact that there's always more work to do, say activists and political experts. Put it to good use. And remember: The work is never done.
- Barbara Schaffner, PhD, Barbara Schaffner, PhD, is the former chair of Otterbein University's Department of Nursing. Currently, she serves as the school's associate provost for graduate studies.
- Ivy Jaguzny, Ivy Jaguzny is the co-founder and press lead of Zero Hour, a youth-led movement creating entry points, training, and resources for new young activists and organizers (and adults who support our vision).
- Khyati Rathore, Khyati Rathore is the Special Projects Manager with Defend Our Future (DOF) and is leading the initiative to engage with young professionals and students to drive climate action by the private sector
- Marcia Angell, MD, Marcia Angell, MD, is the corresponding member of the Faculty of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard University. She is also a physician and former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine.
- Rachel Fey, Rachel Fey is the senior director of public policy at Power to Decide, where she leads the organization’s federal health policy and advocacy portfolio.
How to use post-election fresh-start energy to tackle key wellness issues
With the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, there is a real possibility that Roe v. Wade could be overturned, leaving the legality of abortion up to the states. Twenty-one states have trigger laws in place ready to ban abortion the second Roe v. Wade is overturned. Only 13 stares have abortion-access protections in place.
Rachel Fey, the senior director of public policy for Power to Decide, explains that even with Roe v. Wade, access to abortion isn't equitable, and hasn't been for decades.
"Roe v. Wade is the floor and not the ceiling," says Fey. "We have been living in a world where Roe v. Wade is the law of the land since 1973 and abortion access is deeply inequitable. It has a certain amount of meaning, but for a lot of women around the country, it doesn't mean they actually have access to abortion care."
To ensure that care, she suggests puting pressure on Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would block states from putting medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion care, and the EACH Woman Act, which would eliminate the Hyde Amendment (passed in 1976, blocks federal funding from covering abortion care) and related abortion funding restrictions.
Even if challenges to Roe v. Wade make it to the Supreme Court, federal laws like the above dictate the precedent the justices rely on to decide the cases brought before them.
Where Biden shines is his climate plan. But even with a progressive plan in place for the next four years, the Trump administration has shown us how easy it is to roll back federal environmental restrictions and set the country back. To continue fighting the climate emergency, keep putting pressure on lawmakers at the local level.
Ivy Jaguzny, a climate activist at Zero Hour shares that this work can be tough, but it's necessary.
"We’ve seen a significant increase in fires, and the number of fires that are burning, because of climate change and because of how dry everything’s been. That shouldn’t be normal," says Jagunzny. "And I would like people to see this as something that requires action—because it does. As someone who has worked with the Washington [State] legislature and has worked with various lobbyist groups for clean energy in Washington, we have worked for years and years and years for a clean fuel standard, and we still don’t have a Washington that’s fully committed to clean energy."
Khyati Rathore, Special Projects Manager at Defend Our Future, says that Biden's win means the real work can begin.
“Biden's victory is significant. Now we need the new Congress to make bold progress to reduce climate pollution," says Rathore. "If you care about climate justice, you should know the names of your elected officials and make a plan to organize for policies that will address the ongoing and interlinked crises of racial injustice and climate change. Our future depends on it.”
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a challenge to the Affordable Care Act on November 10, and it's likely that the act could be repealed, leaving 21 million people uninsured. Biden has shared plans to reinstate some form of the health care plan, ensuring more affordable and equitable access to care.
"If Biden stays by what he says, he's going to keep the Affordable Care Act and he's going to expand it to get more people," says Barbara Schaffner, PhD, former chair of Otterbein University's Department of Nursing. "Maintaining a version of the Affordable Care Act, however, isn't the stopping point. We have to continue putting pressure on our representatives on the many other issues that impact our health."
Dr. Schaffner encourages people to reach out to their elected officials individually, but also as part of the organizations they belong to. Whether that's through church organizations, professional organizations, or even through our employers, she says you can organize these groups to reach out to legislators as a collective.
Marcia Angell, MD, a physician and former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, says the pandemic has shed light on the fractures in our current health care system and demonstrated a need for Medicare for All. This presents an issue to continue to push Biden and other representatives to adopt.
"Without [Medicare for All], not everyone is covered, you have to be in the private sector, you pay growing deductibles, copayments, and employers are trying to get out of it by not covering the inflation,” says Dr. Angell, who is also a corresponding member of the faculty of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Medicare for All is much cheaper and you get more. It can’t be tailored according to how often you get sick or if you have a chronic illness.”
Ten months into this pandemic and people are still hurting. The unemployment rate is just under 7 percent, nearly double what it was in February 2020. Small businesses around the country have shuttered their doors, and September Yelp data shows that 60 percent of those closures may be permanent.
While many of the financial issues people are currently dealing with are directly tied to the pandemic, many others are due to systemic inequalities.
"It’s not individual behaviors that are keeping people down, it’s the systems (banking, education, health care, hiring and pay practices, etc.) in place," Samantha Leal previously wrote for Well+Good. "Capitalism and white supremacy go hand in hand to keep people in the dark about how these systems work and scarcity the name of the game. The continuous harm inflicted by our society on communities of Black, Indigenous, and people of color—Black Americans, in particular—can be seen in today’s world when it comes to finances."
If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that collective action works and when loud enough, the voice of the people is heard. The murder of George Floyd sparked protests around the country that have led to real change. Continue to push our representatives for legislation that helps break down systemic inequities and eliminates financial barriers that are out of our own control.
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