Our recent election gave Americans a chance to make their voices heard on some of the most important issues of our time.
November’s historic elections saw record-breaking voter turnout as Americans cast their ballots. President-elect Joe Biden brings with him promises to enact policies that could be game-changing for underserved communities in the US and around the world.
But the presidential race wasn’t the only item on the ballot. In many places around the country, voters also had the opportunity to weigh in on issues such as income and gender inequality. There is still plenty of work to do, but here are six important election wins and promises we want to recognize.
1. Wins for workers
In two localities, voters turned out in support of increases to the minimum wage, which will raise the wage floor and bump compensation for hundreds of thousands of workers.
In Florida, over 60 percent of voters approved a ballot measure to increase the state’s minimum wage from $8.56 an hour to $10 an hour, increasing $1 every year until it reaches $15 an hour. In Portland, Maine, the minimum wage will be raised from $12 to $15 and require businesses to pay time and a half during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ben Pollara, senior advisor at Florida for a Fair Wage, has been on the front lines of the fight for workers’ rights in Florida. “People who were going to work in a full-time job deserve the dignity of being able to put food on the table for themselves and their family.”
In another win for workers, Colorado voted to approve a proposition that will require employers to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for events such as childbirth and family emergencies. In the US, paid leave—for illness, childbirth, emergencies—is not mandated by law and is woefully rare for low-wage workers. By approving this measure, Colorado becomes one of a few states that has family leave comparable to what is offered in most other parts of the developed world.
Overall, voters are showing support for measures that improve compensation and conditions for working families, while the federal government resists steps that would go far to reducing inequality (for example, the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 for 11 years). For more on how states are stepping up, see Oxfam’s Best and Worst States to Work Index.
2. Wins for communities
Fair and equitable taxation is fundamental to the success of communities. In Colorado and Arizona, voters had the opportunity to ensure that through fair and just tax reforms, more Americans receive the resources and services they deserve. In Colorado, Proposition EE is a ballot initiative that will create a tax on nicotine products, the funds of which will go to various health and education programs across the state. Rural schools, preschool education programs, and tobacco use prevention are just a few of the programs that will benefit from this tax.
In Arizona, Proposition 208 won by a slim margin, but its success means that those with the highest incomes will pay a tax that will fund teachers and schools. The “Invest in Ed Initiative” will create a 3.5% income tax on Arizonans who make over $250,000 a year. The bulk of the revenue will go toward increasing the salaries of teachers, support staff, school bus drivers, and other education professionals as well as funding teacher mentorship and retention programs.
3. Wins for gender equality
When it comes to representation, this election cycle brought some truly inspiring victories. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be the first woman, first Black person, and first person of Asian descent to ever hold the office. In her victory speech, Harris spoke to the enormity of the moment: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.” Her success is a harbinger of what will hopefully be lasting change for American leadership.
Harris wasn’t the only person to break barriers on election day. In New Mexico, an all-women of color delegation was elected to the state's House of Representatives, only the second time such a milestone has occurred in the history of the US. Not only that, but record numbers of women were elected to Congress this election cycle, as well as 220 LGBTQ+ individuals who won races across the country and throughout various levels of government.
None of this would have been possible without the amazing work of young people and BIPOC organizers. Intersectional feminist principles are crucial to Oxfam’s work, and without the kind of diverse and inclusive activism that we saw in this election, we wouldn’t have nearly as much to celebrate.
President-elect Joe Biden's administration has pledged to bring about changes that will better the lives of people all around the world. We look forward to holding this administration to its promises, including these:
4. Promise to create a national plan for COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis is likely the most pressing concern on Americans’ minds these days, as the number of cases rises by the day and hospitals fill to capacity. The incoming Biden administration has offered some hope in the form of a newly announced task force and a detailed national plan.
In a statement, Biden laid out the purpose of this task force as a team that “will help shape my approach to managing the surge in reported infections; ensuring vaccines are safe, effective, and distributed efficiently, equitably, and free; and protecting at-risk populations.” To make good on this promise President-elect Biden will need to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccine is a People’s Vaccine so Pharma companies don’t hold a monopoly on our health.
The US has long needed a holistic, national plan that will finally begin to bring the pandemic under control. We are hopeful that with a plan in place and a team of experts around him, President-elect Biden and his administration will be able to guide our country toward health and safety.
5. Promise to repeal the Muslim ban
On his first day in office, president-elect Joe Biden has pledged to put an end to the Trump administration’s discriminatory Muslim Ban.
This symbol of bigotry and divisiveness, enacted within the first few days of Donald Trump’s presidency, placed restrictions on people coming to the US from Muslim-majority countries. It led to protests in airports across the country, at the White House, and on the steps of the Supreme Court as lawyers, activists, and everyday Americans stood up against religious bigotry coming from America’s highest office. In 2018, the Supreme Court upheld these discriminatory restrictions in a 5-4 decision, a huge loss for religious freedom and American values.
Oxfam has challenged this ban every step of the way. Its impact is real, and severe; it has torn families apart and institutionalized religious discrimination. That is why we are celebrating president-elect Joe Biden’s promise to rescind the Muslim Ban on day one of his presidency. We intend to hold him to this promise.
6. Promise to re-enter the Paris Agreement on climate change
Another promise from the incoming Biden administration is Biden’s pledge to re-join the Paris Agreement on climate change and get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their climate action commitments.
In 2017, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a terrible decision that took effect on November 4, 2020. Despite widespread support from the US public, businesses, cities, and states, the Trump team was determined to quit the agreement—gifting polluters a windfall at the expense of the world’s most vulnerable. Thankfully, it won’t last long.
President-elect Biden has committed to re-entering the agreement his first day in office—which means updating the US pledge to jump-start the overdue transition to a climate-friendly world. Re-joining Paris is only the first step of an accelerated game of catch-up for time we didn’t have to lose in the first place. We’ll need to make sure that the U.S. doubles down on reducing emissions and makes good on its financial arrears to scale up support to the poorest and most vulnerable across the planet.
There is a long way to go on all these issues, and many others, but each positive change makes a difference and brings us closer to the world we want to live in. Millions of Americans voted to elect officials and pass legislation that will improve the lives of vulnerable people around the country and world. That is worth celebrating.
With your support, Oxfam will keep pushing to hold our newly-elected president and his administration accountable.