An infrastructure package without investment in paid vacation, health care, child care and family support is not infrastructure. It is a dressing on the real needs of women and families.
Every year on Independence Day, we practice the patriotism that we are used to believing we are “real Americans”. We salute the values of freedom and justice which the history books tell us are the foundations of our nation, but we ignore the elephant in the room, expressed so eloquently by Frederick Douglass; “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” “
Indeed, what does July 4th mean for the descendants of slaves, immigrants or indigenous women on whom this country was built? What do these values mean for the women, our mothers, our grandmothers, that this country has left outside our foundation, the consequences of which are reflected today even in the physical structures that link our country.
This country, including our physical infrastructure, was designed by and for white, able-bodied, cis-type men. Black and brown communities cut in half to make way for our interstate system in the near past, to our present where intentional neglect leaves swathes of our communities with crumbling roads, lead pipes and mass transit systems inaccessible to people with disabilities or young families, the consequences of racism and sexism are an intrinsic feature of the physical structures that join our nation. The festering inequality in our physical infrastructure is reflected in the utter neglect of our care economy and family policies – a direct consequence of racist and gendered notions of who or what work is considered qualified.
As Congress negotiates huge infrastructure packages, it simply cannot afford to ignore our history and of course must correct it with bold and fair investments in our care and physical infrastructure that meet everyone’s needs. Americans.
An infrastructure package without investment in paid vacation, health care, childcare and family support is not infrastructure.
It is a dressing on the real needs of women and families.
There is no way to truly “build back better” from the pandemic without rebuilding for women of color and our families. Women are the living and breathing infrastructure of this country, the people who made this country work as we fought to survive a global pandemic that has particularly stalked and thrilled our communities. One in three jobs held by women is considered “essential”. Women are the doctors, nurses and caregivers battling COVID-19, factory workers, store clerks and farm workers putting food on the table, and parents and caregivers forced to quit their jobs to care for their children.
In December 2019, for only the second time in history, women overtook men as the majority of the workforce. But COVID-19 has radically reversed that progress. Women lost more than 12.2 million jobs from February 2020 to April 2020 and more than 2.3 million women have completely left the labor market. Women lost an entire generation of labor market participation gains, which had a disproportionate impact on women of color.
As the daughters of immigrants and essential workers respectively, we have witnessed these losses in our own families. Losses compounded by generations of systemic neglect and oppression.
In short, a full economic recovery cannot be achieved without prioritizing the needs of families like ours. And that cannot be achieved if all Congress passes is a package focused solely on physical infrastructure, where nine out of ten jobs are held by men.
For decades, many of our elected officials have allowed sexist and racist policies on issues such as paid vacation, reproductive rights and the minimum wage to flourish, setting our country up for disaster. We have a chance to change that; and this bill is just the start. We owe it to the millions of people who have been left behind and left behind since our founding not to just build back better. It’s time to build something new, a future where women, caregivers and their families are at the forefront of our politics.
On this 4th of July, let us not be satisfied with performing the rituals of freedom and justice, for such a performance is profane when it is not followed by action that leads directly to liberation. Instead, let us commit as a nation to righting the injustices that have plagued our nation for too long so that we can truly celebrate a journey to a more perfect union.
Dive Deeper into Freedom on July 4th and what it means to be portrayed in the latest episode of “On the Issues With Michele Goodwin”: Independence for the Rest of Us (with Heather Lende, Rep. Attica Scott and Rep. . Leslie Herod).
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