GPA Photo Archive / U.S. Army Private 1st Class Laura Hardin / Department of Defense
As Joe Biden and Kamala Harris assumed their roles as the president and vice president on Jan. 20, PBS Student Reporting Labs asked McCallum students what they wanted to see from the Biden-Harris administration.
Here is what they had to say.
‘Your first priority as president and vice president should be
to ensure that Americans are safe and protected from this virus.’
Dear President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris,
I want you to know that I have trust in you to help our country move forward in the next four years of your term. More than 80 million people voted for you thinking the same thing. I care about the well-being of our nation, and I hope you continue to make good decisions that will bring us up during these hard times, especially with the COVID-19 crisis.
Your first priority as president and vice president should be to ensure that Americans are safe and protected from this virus and future health emergencies. One of the most important things is that we preserve access to health care for people who cannot afford it or need medical assistance. This crisis is leading to many issues including poverty, hunger, homelessness, and more. We all need to wear masks and enforce policies to prevent the virus from spreading more. This will slow the spread of these ongoing issues.
I know coronavirus will be a priority you will have in office, but I hope you can also bring focus and awareness to black lives being discriminated against by the government system. A man named Brandon Bernard was executed on Dec. 10, 2020. He was accused of murder in 1999 when he was 18 years old. He was just an accomplice and was innocent. The court declared him guilty and sentenced him to persecution of death. Mr. Bernard was not the only person of color that has been treated unfairly due to the justice system. My hope for my community and this country is that each person is treated fairly despite the color of their skin. Even if Brandon was guilty, there are less extreme punishments that don’t include the loss of his life.
I am grateful that you have chosen Kamala as our first woman to serve as a vice president, and I hope you can do amazing things for the women and girls in this country who look up to her. The idea that women are not as capable as men has been repeated throughout generations and my hope is that you can prove that wrong. Women have also been discriminated against paralleled to the way that people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and more have been. The public sees these people as different and has not accepted them and changing their perspective can help us unite.
I am also thrilled that an administration that believes in science and the protection of the environment has been given the opportunity to lead. We are currently experiencing a climate crisis and we need to draw more attention to the preservation of the earth. Investing in new energies that will not harm our planet or holding corporations and companies accountable for polluting the air are examples of ways to preserve the environment.
I understand that there are many flaws in our country that you are responsible for solving, so thank you for inspiring us to keep going during these hard times and I wish you luck.
‘If things don’t change, and fast, … many trans people
won’t make it through the next four years.’
Dear Mr. President and Madam Vice President,
My name is Poppy, and I live in Austin, Texas. I want to start by saying congratulations on this historic victory. I’m looking forward to the weight of the Trump administration lifting off my shoulders this January. Still, generally speaking, I can’t say I imagine myself feeling much safer. You see, I’m trans-nonbinary. I’m worried protections for transgender people, especially nonbinary trans people, won’t increase as much as they should.
The last four years, there’s been an uproar about the ban on transgender people in the military, but less mainstream media coverage of the threats and challenges faced by many trans people every day. For instance, under Texas and many other states’ Medicaid programs, access to compensation for gender-affirming care is explicitly denied.
Texas’s 2019 Medicaid Providers Manual excludes coverage to what it calls “sex change operations.” Schools also have limited to no education on trans and gender non-conforming people, making misinformation spread rampant, even within LGBTQ+ and trans circles. Most states still have no hate crime laws relating to gender identity, and to add to the misinformation, ‘gender’ and ‘gender identity’ are listed separately. Ninety percent of transgender people have reported being harassed or mistreated in the workplace, and rates of suicide or suicide attempts are much higher than that of the overall population.
And I know I can’t ask two people, even the president and vice president, to change societal attitudes. And the truth is, deep down, I already feel selfish talking about this when there are so many other pressing issues to be addressed. So much social change to happen. Yet, despite that guilt, I need to say this. If things don’t change, and fast, I know many trans people—especially those with preexisting mental health issues like I have—won’t make it through the next four years. I don’t know the current plans for this administration, but I need to know I and others like me will be protected.
The point is, I know that many trans people like me won’t feel safe just because Donald Trump is out of office. It’s not enough to accept us. If we are to be truly safe and welcomed, people in high places need to work to understand us. Listen to us. Accept us, even if they don’t always understand our issues. This last point is especially crucial for non-binary and gender non-conforming trans people, including those who use multiple pronouns, neopronouns, or identify with subcategories (commonly called micro-labels); people who are often picked on and looked down upon, even within trans spaces. Trans people are already a vulnerable social group, and being seen as a so-called fake trans person even by fellow trans people can make transphobia feel ubiquitous and unrelenting.
I already feel much better knowing the era of the last four years is coming to an end. Still, I recognize that there is much work to be done, and I hope the Biden-Harris administration will see it through. Again, my sincere congratulations on winning the election. Thank you.
‘The United States maintaining international alliances
is of the utmost importance for it to continue to thrive.’
Dear Mr. Joe Biden,
My name is Grace Vitale, and I’m from Austin, Texas. I want you to know that I harbor a deep respect for you. I hoped you would win, even though I wasn’t old enough to vote at the time of the election and still am not currently. Additionally, I also want you to know that I think you are uniquely suited to do what our former president could not, serve the United States as a whole and put the interests of the United States ahead of your own.
I care about the state of America, and observed the fact that it continued to deteriorate as Donald Trump’s presidency went on. International alliances with other countries frayed, his peculiar response to the pandemic led to negative consequences for our country overall, and the number of racial injustices increased, among a myriad of other crises. I care immensely about these issues and it makes my heart break that these pressing matters worsened during the duration of his presidency.
The issue of America’s international alliances with other countries is extremely important to me because I believe that the United States maintaining international alliances is of the utmost importance for it to continue to thrive and for its security.
The subject of the pandemic is important to me because the pandemic has intensely affected my mental health due to the fact that I’ve had to remain in quarantine, I have to do online school as opposed to in person, and I rarely get to hang out with friends. Donald Trump’s initial reluctance to accept the sheer gravity of the pandemic and the fact that the number of COVID cases will continue to increase resulted in the pandemic worsening. In turn, quarantine, online school, and social isolation continue indefinitely, with no end in sight.
Lastly, the matter of racial injustice is important to me because it is a heartbreaking occurrence that has always lingered at the forefront of my mind due to the fact that I’ve followed detrimental instances of racial prejudice for years now with careful precision, with my interest regarding racial bigotry first being sparked when I did a research project on the topic as a third grader. I had foolishly hoped that the problem would improve with the start of Trump’s presidency, but this clearly did not happen, as racial injustice worsened in America and Trump displayed insensitive behavior regarding race during his presidency.
My hope for my community and this country is that international alliances with other countries will strengthen, the number of COVID cases will start to decrease, and the quandary of racial injustice will start to ameliorate. I hope you will make admirable efforts to better the United States’ international relations with other countries, help to end the pandemic by responding to it in a more effective manner than your predecessor Donald Trump, and attempt to remedy the profound impact racial injustice has had on people of color in America, in order to better the current state of our country as a whole.
‘My hope … is that at some point, hopefully not too far
in the future, every person will have a fair shot at a good life.’
Dear Madam Vice President,
My name is Shea I’m from Austin, Texas. I want you to know that this year’s election has given me a new sense of hope for the future. Being 14 years old, the only other presidential election I can remember is when Trump won in 2016. I also lived in a very conservative community at the time. This only added to the stress I was feeling in what was already a very uncertain, worrying and frankly scary time.
Being in a place where a majority of my peers share the same values as me, along with the 2020 election results, have given me a change in perspective for what this country’s and future looks like.
I care about taking steps towards inclusivity and repairing damage done by centuries of racism, homophobia, sexism, and ableism. The United States was founded on racism and the effects are still very apparent today. Sexism, homophobia, and ableism also have deep roots in our country’s history. Undoing the corruption in our government, along with the general stigma in our culture is going to take a lot of time and effort. Despite the last four years feeling like a huge step back, I feel that it also served as a wakeup call. The voting statistics this year compared to 2016’s, shows that eligible voters, especially first time voters are now realizing the urgency of our country’s state and deciding to take action.
This is important to me because I am white, and the fact that I have automatic advantages over minorities solely because of our difference in skin color and physical appearance absolutely disgusts me. The idea that you can have any sort of insight on someone’s character, simply by seeing the color of their skin is absurd. I also feel that it isn’t talked about enough that the murders that sparked this past year’s massive support for the Black Lives Matter movement, are not anywhere near the first of their kind. What makes it even worse is that people still choose to deny the issues present in our country’s law enforcement, judicial systems, immigration laws, border patrol, individual communities and the biases that everyone’s subconscious holds.
My hope for my community and this country is that at some point, hopefully not too far in the future, every person will have a fair shot at a good life. I worry that these ideas that people cling to, go so far back that it will take a long time to reach this ideal, but I know that things are about to get a lot better. This victory has the future looking better than it has in a while and I am more hopeful about our country’s state than I have been in years. As far as in the near future goes, I’m hoping that individuals will become more open minded and accepting of each other.
Both sides need to be more willing to hear the other and come to terms with the fact that no problem or solution is black and white.
I hope you accomplish as many of your goals as you possibly can during your time in office. Your inspiration is much needed at times like these, and I know that this is an opportunity for the entire nation to better itself. If everyone approaches this new time with compassion and an open mind, your influence will impact many people. This change is what we need right now, and our president and vice president are the people to make it.
‘What is the Biden plan to stop and help
the 45 million [Yemeni] people in life-threatening situations?’
Dear Mr. President,
Hello, my name is Naomi Di-Capua I am a 9th grade student from Austin, Texas who has closely followed your campaign from the beginning. Congratulations on your victory, and wishing you a successful transition of power.
As I said previously, I have been closely following your journey to the White House, and have been inspired by the ideals in which you plan to govern by. With regards to that, I was hoping to discuss some important points that are having large effects on me, my fellow students, Americans and people everywhere.
To start I would like to speak of one of the current environmental problems facing all of us today and generations to come if something is not done. Global warming is an invisible danger that has been actively suppressed by the Trump administration for the past four years. From dropping out of the Paris Accord to approving pipelines all over the United States, Donald Trump has caused endless amounts of harm to our environment that can only be reversed with strict pollution cutbacks. This issue needs immediate attention before our window has closed and irreparable damage is in place. I fully applaud your plan to cut back on Co2 emissions and create a good plan to strive for net-zero emissions by 2050, as well as investing to help low-income communities who are threatened by environmental disasters day to day. But, with other large struggles in the U.S. such a COVID-19 and the economic recession, where does climate change fall in your first 100-day agenda?
Another issue that has been overlooked for years, is the ongoing civil war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen, since the series of uprisings across the Middle East in spring 2011 (known as the Arab Spring). From then on, Yemen has been in a constant power struggle between the Sunni tribes supported by President Hadi and are backed by a fellow Sunni state Saudi Arabia, and the Houthi rebel forces who are Shia and are backed by Iran. Under President Trump the United States had no active involvement in the war but did supply Saudi Arabia with a flow of weapons that were used against the civilian population in Yemen, sending a message that the U.S. is compliant with Saudi involvement.
The most pressing issue with correlation to this war is the humanitarian crisis that has been caused and ignored by the Trump administration. More than 80% of the population (an estimated 45 million) are in need of humanitarian assistance due to famine, COVID-19, and a cholera outbreak that has devastated the country further. What is the Biden plan to stop and help these 45 million people in life-threatening situations as well as to keep the important moral precedent that the U.S. has upheld to help civilians and keep peace in areas of need?
Once again congratulations,
‘It isn’t fair for kids to not receive a college education
just because of their financial situation.’
Dear President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris,
I am very happy that you both are going to run our country. I am so happy that a woman, and not only a woman, but a woman of color was elected to office! Hopefully you will be able to fix the damage that our current president Trump has brought upon us.
The first issue I would like to discuss is COVID-19. It frustrates me so much that masks have become political in America. They shouldn’t be about politics, they should be about protecting other people, your family and yourself. I have heard what you are planning to do in order to get the pandemic under control, and I am optimistic for our future. Looking at your plan it says that you will provide free testing to all. I think this is so important because I find it so ridiculous that some people cannot get COVID tested because of their financial stability.
Another plan that you have is to make a nationwide mask mandate. I really hope that you are able to follow through with this because when I am around strangers in public that do not have masks on I do not feel safe. If people are going to go into a store, they should be required to wear a mask. Masks do not only protect yourself, but they protect others. I can’t believe that some people are too selfish to wear one. I think a nationwide mask mandate would be one of the most important ways of action that can help us take control of the pandemic.
Your plan to make healthcare affordable is something I hope gets done effectively. Your plan is to make healthcare more affordable amidst the pandemic, and this will help so many people. I think it is crazy that the amount of money people have often controls if they get good medical care or not. Affordable care is extra vital during this time due to so many people in the hospital because of COVID-19. A lot of people have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, which makes it even harder to pay for medical bills than during normal times.
I love your plan to make public colleges free, and to forgive $10,000 in student debt for people that are low income and need to borrow money for college. I hope that this plan is followed through, because I think it isn’t fair for kids to not receive a college education just because of their financial situation. Everyone deserves to get an education if they please no matter what situation they are in. This plan is not only good because it offers opportunities for all, but it also would be good for our economy post-pandemic. Paying for college will be an extra struggle for the families whose caretakers have lost their jobs during the pandemic, so it will be a weight lifted off their shoulders. A good education is a human right and needs to be accessible to all. There are many other other issues that I am very passionate about and would love to discuss, but that would take all day.
Thank you for your time,
Mary Ellen Sanders