Healing the soul of America isn’t just about displays of political unity, but about addressing deep wounds from the past four years.
MICHIGAN—The fractious divide in American politics was laid bare for the world to witness between the Nov. 3 election and the inauguration of President Joe Biden on Jan. 20. As has been said, often with hopeful eyes cast toward the new president, now is a time for healing.
Healing has been discussed in the abstract in every context from if Biden is the right person to do it, to how Biden can get it done, to crediting Garth Brooks’ performance at the inauguration with providing symbolic healing. But the wounds left by the past four years need a more practical kind of healing, one that touches Americans in their lives, their places of work, and their homes.
That healing is beginning in part thanks to Biden’s executive actions and administrative priorities over the next 100 days. But in order for the entire country to bounce back stronger, legislative actions must prioritize those most in need. For Michiganders, that means taking action to build toward equitable housing, economic justice, expanded safety and rights of transgender Americans, and a wide swath of other issues.
‘Housing First’ Solutions
The City of Adrian passed an ordinance in September that it referred to as a camping ban, but which was, in all practical effect, a ban on the mere state of being a person without a home. That the discussion around the ordinance focused exclusively on the unhoused people of Adrian makes it abundantly clear that “camping” was at best a euphemism and at worst a pretense.
Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump, took a similar approach to Adrian. His solution to people without shelter on cold winter nights was to instruct law enforcement to not tolerate homeless camps and demonize those unhoused Americans he ordered scattered to the wind.
“It just seems completely uncompassionate to say they are not allowed to be near or in the parks at this time, which is just so problematic for all of us,” said Sister Patty Harvat of the Adrian Domincan Sisters to the Adrian City Commission on the September night when they passed the ordinance. “I would like to invite the commissioners to think out of the box, to think in a creative way of how we can respond to this homeless population in the city.”
Harvat joined Adrian citizens in hours of calls for what’s known as “housing first” solutions to homelessness. The city commission chose not to look for those solutions, but President Biden is.
Housing first policies like rapid re-housing focuses on both finding long-term housing for the most vulnerable Americans and preventing families in dire situations from losing their housing to eviction and foreclosure. Appointing someone to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development to pursue those creative solutions is one of Biden’s priorities in his first 100 days.
For Garrett Levis, the shadow cast by the past four years stretches 400 miles. During the coronavirus, two core areas of Trump-era policy came together in Levis’ life, causing him to move from metro Detroit to the Upper Peninsula.
Levis was diagnosed with HIV just weeks before the coronavirus came to Michigan. He spoke with The ‘Gander in July and September, before and after his move, about the situation he faced during the pandemic.
“I moved 400 miles north to go to a safer area COVID-wise last month so I could work,” Levis said. “The hardest part is not being able to pay medical bills. They are small bills but because I have had to have so many visits in such a small amount of time, the $40 bills have been adding up.”
For Levis, the pandemic and the economy are inextricably linked. He can’t work where there’s a high rate of coronavirus transmission, but needs to work to afford the medical bills that keep him alive and safe as possible during the pandemic. The vicious cycle that creates pushed him seven hours from home. And a complete lack of federal support, either financial or in containing the virus’ spread, meant Marquette was the safest place for him.
Biden sees those issues as inextricably linked as well. Providing the $1,400 in direct stimulus Congress withheld in December and vaccinating 100 million Americans are among Biden’s most discussed objectives. He further extended the pause on student loan debt and interest, as well as mandated mask-wearing on federal buildings and federal lands for a period of time, while asking the American people to do their part elsewhere as well.
“To fix the economy we have to get control over the virus,” Biden said innumerable times in the campaign, though specifically in this case on June 25.
Just weeks before the verdict in her Supreme Court case was announced, Michigander Aimee Stephens died. Stephens was the Michigan woman at the center of the lawsuit Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC. A culmination of an unexpected journey Stephens began when she came out as transgender to her coworkers at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in 2013, the Court affirmed in June that firing Stephens for being transgender violated her constitutional rights.
Stephens never got to see her legacy, but it already has made its mark on Michigan. A case against Marquette-based Uprooted Electolysis, which denied service to a transgender Michigander, will go to trial based, in no small part, on the legal precedent set by Stephens’ case.
Discrimination in the workplace facing LGBTQ communities is something else Biden is focusing on with the Equality Act, which would extend federal prohibitions on discrimination to LGBTQ Americans. The wounds borne by LGBTQ communities extend through centuries and span the globe, but with violent deaths of transgender Americans continuing to rise and the previous president prohibiting transgender Americans from serving in the military in a tweet, the focus on the Equality Act is welcome.
A similar proposal is making its way to Michigan’s 2022 ballot, seeking to grant LGBTQ Michiganders the rights afforded under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976. In December, Equality Michigan’s Erin Knott told The ‘Gander that though it wouldn’t prevent violence, it might help usher in systemic change . The same can be said of the Equality Act.
“[The laws] won’t mitigate the acts of violence against trans people,” she explained, “but it’s one step closer to ensuring we now have a legal mechanism to go after discrimination when we know trans people are disproportionally impacted.”
Those kinds of healing—even when small, even when piecemeal, even when just first steps toward true justice and equity—are what Michiganders need.
From addressing police brutality to reforming unjust immigration policy, from expanding access to health care to extending environmental protections, from strengthening public school funding to bolstering Michigan manufacturing, there are so many opportunities for progress under the Biden administration.
To heal, Michiganders don’t look to Washington for political posturing, they’re looking for action.
And Garth Brooks. We’ll take Garth Brooks, too.