City Limits asked residents working across different sectors of New York City policy for their reactions to President Joe Biden’s inaugural speech Wednesday.

YouTube/The White House

President Joe Biden delivered his inaugural speech on Jan. 20, 2021.

On Wednesday, Joe Biden was sworn in and addressed the nation for the first time as president, marking the start of a new chapter and an end to a tumultuous four years under President Donald Trump.

City Limits asked residents working across different sectors of New York City policy to share their reactions to President Joe Biden’s inaugural address. Below is what they had to say about the speech, what they think his message means for the city and what they’re hoping for under a Biden administration.

Melissa Mark-Viverito, former NYC Council speaker:

President Biden’s speech was an historically important one. His straight talk to the nation and the world provided acknowledgement that the ideal the U.S. extols is in stark contrast with the harsh reality we live. In claiming that ‘the dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer’ he is recognizing the systemic injustices that prevail and will center his administration on working to tackle these wrongs.

From Vice President Kamala Harris to Justice Sonia Sotomayor to Amanda Gorman, the reflection of diversity that is an integral part of this nation was uplifted, validated and embraced as opposed to vilified, demonized, criminalized. Calling out white supremacy as a threat to us all, Biden is not shying away from drawing attention to the weaknesses of this nation and allowing for self criticism. The message was powerful and welcome. Now it is up to the work and accomplishments to determine if progress will truly be achieved.

Joel Berg, CEO at Hunger Free America:

I was extraordinarily encouraged that President Biden’s speech focused so strongly on the need for more racial justice and economic opportunity. The speech was important, because the message and tone the President sends the nation and the world are vital. But concrete actions are even more important than words, and I am even more encouraged by Biden’s bold, day 1, executive actions and by his COVID response legislative plan, which includes the biggest, most comprehensive anti-hunger and anti-poverty plan in decades.

And yes, like so many others, I wept – in memorial, relief, and hope.

Jose Ortiz, Jr., CEO at the New York City Employment and Training Coalition:

As President Biden mentioned in his inaugural remarks this afternoon, ‘With unity, we can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs.’ As the new administration sets their agenda for the next four years, we hope to see an equitable economic recovery at the forefront – one that prioritizes policies that will build a workforce of diverse nontraditional talent through partnerships with job training organizations and visionary employers; addresses digital poverty head-on by ensuring every household has affordable technology, including broadband, so Americans can learn and work from home; makes childcare available to every family so women do not continue to fall out of the workforce in record numbers; and increases access to healthy and affordable housing.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director at UPROSE and co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance:

Covid-19 and climate change are everyday reminders that conventional solutions can no longer be applied to unconventional challenges. The Biden Administration has an unprecedented opportunity to birth a new governance that centers equity, justice and frontline solutions. Whether the new administration decides to listen to communities and put the US on a course that is a departure from fossil fuel extraction and grass-tops solutions will become evident in the next 100 days.

Laura Paris, arts & literacy, after school & summer program director for the Coalition for Hispanic Family Services (CHFS):

It was reassuring to hear Biden begin his speech with an acknowledgement that racial justice and climate change must be addressed for the nation to move forward. However, it was very worrisome to hear the leitmotif of ‘unity.’ This hearkened back to the Obama/Biden politics of appeasement, which arguably handed over the power Democrats had to make real change in 2009…and of course planted the seeds of the Trump administration. Let’s hope Biden learns from his own history.

Robert Gangi, criminal justice reform advocate and 2017 mayoral candidate:

One of my main takeaways from Biden’s speech is how well served our new president is by the contrast with his execrable predecessor. Given that context, I found Biden’s speech, while not inspiring, comforting some of the substance, like calling out the ‘sting of systemic racism,’ but more its spirit, the decency and humanity it represented, which are Biden’s greatest strengths as a political figure. While understanding the political imperative behind it, I was unmoved by Biden’s call for unity. He and his team will have to power through right-wing resistance to achieve the advances in social and racial justice that our city and country urgently need.

Bobbie Sackman, member leader with NY Caring Majority/Jews for Economic and Racial Justice:

President Joe Biden’s presence as our new national leader put a face on the resilience and wisdom of older Americans everywhere. Promising to attack COVID so it will stop attacking us is the gift of life to the thousands of older Americans who remain isolated and vulnerable to this disease. Older Americans comprise 40 percent of all deaths. This is my generation and the one ahead of me. As President Biden confronts racial justice, it is incumbent upon him to invest in a caring economy – one where home care workers, the community based aging services workforce, nursing home workers and others, predominantly women of color and immigrants, hold well-paid and dignified jobs. Taking care of each other speaks to the unity President Biden proclaimed he would seek with his whole soul.

John Reilly, executive director at Fordham-Bedford Housing Corporation:

Given recent events it was critical for President Biden to remind us, ‘Democracy has prevailed.’ Our opportunity to improve our union has been preserved, allowing us to finally ‘turn to the tasks of our time.’ Our communities can only benefit from this restored, united effort.

Yesenia Mata, executive director of La Colmena:

Our nation is facing challenges that require leadership and action not just from elected officials but also from the people. That is why we are ready to organize for executive and legislative action that will protect our families and dismantle Trump’s deportation machine. We are wasting no time and will start pressuring our Senators, Representatives, and President in our districts and directly in Washington D.C.

Ligia M. Guallpa, executive director of Worker’s Justice Project (WJP):

“We hope this means a new beginning for immigrants,” Guallpa told City Limits, though she added that some members of WJP which works with low-wage immigrant workers in Brooklynhad hoped Biden would say something about creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.“They were expecting some words about that because they have risked their lives,” she said. But the group is still excited by the immigration bill Biden unveiled Wednesday and by Kamala Harris’ role as the first woman vice president. “Now we have somebody who understands and put women’s agenda, women who are workers, forward.”

Ivan Waldo, Bronx resident and student at the CUNY Graduate Center:

I tuned in along with millions of Americans to witness the passing of the presidential torch and the end of an administration whose legacy was filled with utter chaos in policy, yet precise focus in its aggression towards people of color and its emboldening of white supremacy. What I hoped for was a cleansing of my political palate and a reversal of the previous four years; a return to ‘normal.’ However, as President Biden made references in his speech to the domestic terror threat that invaded the Capitol just two weeks prior on those very steps that he spoke from, I realized that terrorism is every bit as American as apple pie. The United States’ legacy is one of a longstanding relationship with terrorism, from the Klan’s lynching of Black bodies to F.B.I.’s assassinations of Black leaders to the indiscriminate murder of Black citizens by police.

While the Trump administration did everything in their power to embolden white supremacy, the administrations of past presidents on the dais were troublesome, which I was reminded of as the camera panned the dais. Obama earned the moniker the Deporter-in Chief. Clinton’s Crime Bill fueled the mass incarceration of Black bodies. And Dubya granted residency to Orlando Bosch, founder of the terrorist organization Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU). As the camera pulled back and framed the scores of national guardsmen securing the Capitol, I was reminded that the country’s legacy of terror had framed its own government in its crosshairs. And as President Biden was brought back into the frame, I wondered what his administration’s legacy would be.  Would it be a return to the ‘normal’ for America?  Considering its sordid past, I hope not.

John Mollenkopf, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center

The Trump administration did its best to undermine New York City, punishing it for collecting taxes, disrespecting everything we stand for, and dithering as thousands died at the outset of the Covid crisis.  While it remains unclear how much a Biden-Harris administration and a narrowly Democratic congress will be able to do to deliver on what we need for a healthy and inclusive recovery, a great stone has been lifted from our backs. 

Rev. Terry Troia, executive director, Project Hospitality

 watched the inauguration in Spanish with a half dozen day laborers who didn’t get jobs this morning. They have hauled hundreds of thousand of pounds of food to distribute on the streets of this city.  They have risked their lives and when they get sick, they will not get the medical treatment that our former president and former mayor received.  The immigrants with whom I was seated shed the same tears as I did. Tears of hope, promise and relief.  The virus has devastated these communities.  People are looking beyond their pain to the promise of a future America that includes them.  I am looking to that future with them.

Patrick J. Ryan, S.J., Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University   

“A day of history and hope,” the third phrase in the opening salvo of President Biden’s inaugural address, brought my  mind–and later that day, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s mind–to the beautiful lines in Seamus Heaney’s verse drama, “The Cure at Troy.” Philoctetes, the ultimate wounded warrior, reminds me of the Capitol in Washington, wounded on January 6th, restored on January 20th:

History says, Don’t hope On this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime The longed-for tidal wave Of justice can rise up, And hope and history rhyme.

Let justice rise! We live in hope, and in history.