‘We need deeds, not words’: Philly produce worker calls for living wages, path to citizenship at D.C. rally

Advocating for Biden’s Build Back Better plan, Marcela Ramirez explained that essential and low-wage workers can’t afford to rest through the pandemic.

Marcela Ramirez speaks at a podium at a Build Back Better rally

Advocating for Biden’s Build Back Better plan, Marcela Ramirez explained that essential and low-wage workers can’t afford to rest through the pandemic. (Rev. Dr. William J. Barber III/Twitter)

A worker from Philadelphia was among the featured speakers at an event in Washington, D.C., calling on Congress to approve President Joe Biden’s complete Build Back Better agenda.

Marcela Ramirez, a produce packer from Philadelphia, spoke in the shadow of the Capitol Dome in Washington and called upon Congress to pass the full $3.5 trillion budget that would be distributed over the course of 10 years in order to help Americans who are struggling financially.

“We are the ones who produce so much wealth in this nation, the ones who cannot rest through the pandemic,” Ramirez said through a translator. “We are the ones who do not have the right to be sick because we cannot miss work, those who run the risk of being fired from work if we miss a day to claim decent treatment through our movements.”

Ramirez said she works a long day to keep a roof over her head and support her family.

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“I work more than eight hours daily packing apples and other products for children’s snacks in our schools. Every day, I leave my house very early and arrive home late at night. I need my money to support my daughter and pay my rent.”

The rally participants seek a higher minimum wage and a path to citizenship for immigrants, along with health care for all. Ramirez added that Vice President Kamala Harris has the ability to use the budget reconciliation process to pass immigration reform.

“We are not 11 million immigrants: We are 11 million human beings who suffer in the shadows,” Ramirez said. “At the same time, we are producing billions of dollars that are never returned to us.”

Ramirez said now is the time to improve living conditions and offer permanent protection for immigrants.

“Not just work permits,” Ramirez said. “We need to be treated with dignity and respect. Enough with promises. We need deeds, not words.”

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Viola Lee, a gig worker and food delivery driver from Silver Spring, Maryland, was also among those speaking at the rally. Lee, who is currently experiencing homelessness, said, “We need all the provisions of the Build Back Better plan. As a previous child care worker, people are struggling to make ends meet and are threatened with evictions every day, who sleep from house to house because they don’t earn a living wage.”

Lee broke down the plan, explaining that it only costs $370 billion a year over the 10 years of the plan. She compared it to the military budget, and said much more is being spent to fight wars than is being provided for those who need housing or living wage jobs.

Rev. William J. Barber II, president of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, told those in attendance, “The U.N. declaration, including the United States, declared health care, basic income, and housing were rights: human rights.” He continued by adding, “The language of entitlement is dangerous and feeds an atmosphere that breeds authoritarian leadership.”

The groups vowed to continue to fight for the $3.5 trillion plan and more, contending the Build Back Better blueprint is only a start in terms of what is necessary to run the country and support those in need.

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