On Saturday morning, as the nation’s attention turned to the white supremacist march in Charlottesville and its violent aftermath, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) used a speech at the progressive Netroots Nation convention to lay down a marker for the Democratic Party’s future.
There was little buzz in the room about the 2020 presidential primaries — shouts of “Run Warren Run” and “Warren 2020″ were short and muted. But Warren, one of the party’s most popular figures, told activists that they could safely ignore any advice about how Democrats could win only through moderation.
Here are four points that we’re probably going to hear more about as the left wages and mostly wins battles inside the party.
No fear of “identity politics.” Near the top of her remarks, Warren ridiculed — by name — a New York Times op-ed in which pollster Mark Penn and disgraced politician Andrew Stein beseeched Democrats to “move to the center and reject the siren calls of the left.” This, according to Warren, not-so-subtly suggested that the party needed to pander to white voters at the expense of non-whites.
“Apparently, the path forward is to go back to locking up non-violent drug offenders and ripping more holes in our economic safety net,” Warren said. Later, she counted off a series of issues where Democrats decisively took the side of black activists. The “system is rigged,” she said…
… when the black-white wealth gap triples over the past three decades. When racist voter ID laws and voter suppression tactics sprout like weeds all across the country. When a man too racist to become a judge in the 1980s now runs the Department of Justice. When communities like Flint are living with poisoned water and polluted air. When there’s still no justice for, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile and so many more.
Warren’s opposition to Attorney General Jeff Sessions was already famous, especially on the left, but it was striking that she called him a racist — and she did so to applause.
Defining the “bad” donors. Warren, who has repeatedly criticized her party’s 2016 presidential campaign messaging, included one pointed line: “We’re not going back to the days when a Democrat who wanted to run for a seat in Washington first had to grovel on Wall Street.” It was impossible to hear that line and not think of how Hillary Clinton’s campaign, especially after the primary against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), never shook off the stigma of “Wall Street money.”
But Warren, who represents Martha’s Vineyard and other bastions of big Democratic money, defined the bad sort of donations narrowly. That reframed the kind of argument that broke out after Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) met with “Clinton donors.” It would be impossible to fund Democratic campaigns without most of the people who backed Clinton; it is possible, and likely a good frame for 2018 and 2020, to noisily reject financial industry money.
Labor rights as civil rights. Warren suggested that Democrats needed to get behind basically every priority of the labor movement, and make it easier to join a union, a cause that was stymied in 2010 when Democrats lost the supermajority that could have passed the Employee Free Choice (or card check) bill.
“We’re going to fight for fully portable benefits for everyone,” said Warren, “and we’re going to fight to make sure that all work — full-time, part-time, gig — carries basic, pro-rata benefits. We’re going to fight to make it easier for workers to come together to form a union so they can take power into their own hands. And we’re going to turn the minimum wage into a living wage. Fight for $15!”
Single-payer health care as a 2020 standard. The arguments between Democrats about whether every 2018 candidate should back single-payer health care are happening, in part, because single-payer is becoming a de facto Democratic position in 2020. Every Senate Democrat seen as a potential candidate, from Warren to Harris to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), now backs “Medicare for All.” Even Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), who launched the first 2020 bid this month to — let’s be honest — an avalanche of skepticism, has said he’s “for single-payer evolving from the context of the market we have now.”
Warren used her speech to reiterate her support for expanding Social Security payments, and to make single-payer the party’s default health-care pitch. “It’s not enough just to defend the Affordable Care Act, we’re going to improve it, starting with bringing down the costs of prescription drugs — and leading the fight for Medicare for all,” she said.
The whole speech is below.
Before I begin, I would like to say a word about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – DACA – that was just discussed.
The fights that we fight for – they matter. In 2012 — because of persistence of many of you in this room – 800,000 young men and women were protected from deportation.
Because of DACA, DREAMers, who are as American as you and me, were promised a chance. The chance to work. The chance to live without the fear of being ripped away from the only home most of them have ever known. The chance to build a future.
Now, President Trump will make a decision on DACA. DREAMers’ future hangs in the balance. This Tuesday, August 15, people are mobilizing to protect DREAMers. Let’s not sit back. Let’s stand together to say: President Trump, let DREAMers stay. They are our friends, our family, our future. Give DREAMers the chance to build their dreams.
These fights matter. These fights matter, and that’s why it’s good to be back at Netroots Nation!
Thank you Mary, thank you Eric, thank you Arshad, and thank you to the entire Netroots Nation team for bringing us together again. And what a treat it is to be here in Atlanta – the hometown of a man who has taught us the importance of necessary trouble, my friend and hero John Lewis.
I look out here and see 3000 progressives, people of every race, gender, religion, and color, all committed to building a better future. I look out here and I see Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.
Yes, Trump’s worst nightmare, but also a big threat to everyone who kind of likes things the way they work now. A few weeks ago, I saw an op-ed in the New York Times from a so-called Democratic strategist titled, “Back to the Center, Democrats.”
It was all about how we have to stop caring about, quote, “identity politics” and stop waging, quote, “class warfare.” Apparently, the path forward is to go back to locking up non-violent drug offenders and ripping more holes in our economic safety net.
I even got a shoutout! Apparently, I’m the face of the problem. So is Bernie. But let’s be really clear here – the real power, the real threat, is not me — it’s you, all of you. It’s your energy, your passion, and your commitment to our values that threaten the bland, business-as-usual establishment.
We’ve been warned off before. Give up, keep your heads down, be realistic, act like a grown-up, keep doing the same old same old.
But here’s what’s interesting: instead of lots of lots of ferocious back-and-forth and piling on, this time, no one cared. Big yawn. Why? Because the Democratic Party isn’t going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill. It is NOT going to happen.
We’re not going back to the days of being lukewarm on choice.
We’re not going back to the days when universal health care was something Democrats talked about on the campaign trail but were too chicken to fight for after they got elected.
And we’re not going back to the days when a Democrat who wanted to run for a seat in Washington first had to grovel on Wall Street.
Democrats are heading forward. We are looking ahead – and we will not, we shall not, we must not allow anyone to turn back the clock.
A lot of you have been coming since the very first YearlyKos in 2006. That feels like a long, long time ago. Way back in 2006 and still when I first started coming in 2010, a big part of what we were trying to do was to “crash the gate” and get the Democratic Party to listen to us.
We wanted a party led by people who weren’t afraid to call themselves progressives.
We wanted a party that would defend progressive values.
We wanted a chance to fight for progressive solutions to our nation’s challenges.
We wanted a movement. And now, look around. We got the progressive movement, and we gather here every year to organize, to energize, and to sing karaoke.
We are not the gate crashers of today’s Democratic Party.
We are not a wing of today’s Democratic Party.
We are the heart and soul of today’s Democratic Party.
But, boy, we’ve inherited a hell of a challenge, haven’t we?
We’re gathering here in Atlanta in a moment of crisis for our country. And I’m not just talking about Donald Trump and his Twitter account. More and more working families today are hanging on by their fingernails in a country with an economy and a government that works only for those at the very top.
This crisis didn’t start when Donald Trump walked into the Oval Office. And it won’t just magically disappear the day he walks out of it.
Me, I’ve been shouting about this crisis from every rooftop I could find for years – talking about how our middle class was squeezed to the breaking point, how chances to move up in this economy were disappearing, and warning that, if we weren’t careful, the very promise of this nation — the commitment to expand opportunities — would be lost.
That’s the fight that got me into politics. That’s the fight that brought me to my very first Netroots all those years ago.
How about you? By applause: Who got into the fight because they were passionate about economic justice? Who came to fight for reproductive rights? How about clean air and clean water? How about immigration? Civil rights? Human rights? Anti-war? Campaign finance reform? Net neutrality? Any other bankruptcy nerds in the house?
That’s one of the things I love about coming to Netroots. We all came to this fight from different experiences. We all get fired up about different issues.
But if we’re going to be the people who lead the Democratic Party back from the wilderness and lead our country out of this dark time, then we can’t waste energy arguing about whose issue matters most or who in our alliance should be voted off the island.
We need to see each other’s fights as our own. And I believe we can.
In the wake of the last election, I’ve heard people say we need to decide whether we’re the party of the white working class or the party of Black Lives Matter.
I say we can care about a dad who’s worried that his kid will have to move away from their factory town to find good work – and we can care about a mom who’s worried that her kid will get shot during a traffic stop.
The way I see it, those two parents have something deep down in common — the system is rigged against both of them — and against their kids.
Over the last generation, the most powerful people in this country have gotten way more powerful. Corporate profits and CEO pay are near record highs. But workers’ wages haven’t budged, and, one after another, workers’ rights are getting wiped away. Unions are under attack. Millions of people are struggling to piece together two, three, or four jobs just to pay the rent.
The balance of power is shifting in other parts of our economy, too. In industry after industry – airlines, banking, health care, agriculture, tech – a handful of corporate giants control more and more and more. The big guys are locking out smaller, newer competitors. They are crushing innovation. Even if you don’t see the gears turning, this massive consolidation means prices go up and quality goes down for everything from air travel to broadband service. Rural America is left behind, dismissed by corporate giants as fly-over country.
This concentration of power strikes at the heart of our democracy. Our government is supposed to be the one place where everybody gets the same fair shot, no matter how powerful or powerless they might be. But thanks to the revolving door between Capitol Hill, K Street and Wall Street, powerful people have more and more influence in Congress. Thanks to Citizens United, corporate money slithers through Washington like a snake. Washington works great for the rich and powerful, but for everyone else, not so much.
Yes, the system is rigged – and if you don’t feel like anyone in politics is doing anything to un-rig it, well, that’s how a lot of folks who should have been with us last November wound up voting for Donald Trump.
For many Americans, it isn’t news that the balance of power in our country has seriously tilted away from them. African Americans. LGBTQ Americans. Immigrants. Muslims. Women. Poor people.
No, I have not personally experienced the fear, the oppression, and the pain that many of my fellow Americans endure every day. But I do know this: For a lot of our fellow citizens, the system is rigged now and it has been rigged for a long, long time.
Don’t take my word for it. Just look around.
• When women aren’t invited to the debate over our own health care and health insurance must cover Viagra but not birth control.
• When we’re almost two decades into the 21st century and we still don’t have equal pay for equal work.
• When a man running for President of the United States can get caught on tape bragging about sexual assault and Republican party leaders turn a blind eye.
Yeah, the system is rigged.
• When the black-white wealth gap triples over the past three decades.
• When racist voter ID laws and voter suppression tactics sprout like weeds all across the country.
• When a man too racist to become a judge in the 1980s now runs the Department of Justice
• When communities like Flint are living with poisoned water and polluted air.
• When there’s still no justice for, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile and so many more.
Yeah, the system is rigged.
• When you can still be fired from your job because of who you love.
• When you can’t use a public restroom or serve in the military because of your gender identity.
• When you’re afraid to report a rape because ICE could split up your family.
• When you’re treated like a suspect every minute of your life.
Yeah, the system is rigged.
And if you don’t feel like anyone in politics is doing anything to un-rig it, or it’s too broken to un-rig at all — well, that’s what a lot of folks felt last November, a lot of folks who should have been with us on election day but who stayed home.
So spare me the argument about whether we ought to be trying to bring back folks who voted for Donald Trump or trying to turn out folks who just didn’t vote.
Because we can’t do either of those things until we can show that things CAN change – and that WE will fight to change them.
It’s easy to make the case that Donald Trump and the Republicans aren’t the answer to any of these problems. Heck, they aren’t even trying. Look at the Republican priorities:
• Cut health care coverage for 25 million Americans and drive up insurance costs for millions more.
• Cut taxes for billionaires and giant corporations.
• Roll back Wall Street regulations, gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and let the big banks wreck our economy again.
• Turn polluters loose and let them spew, dump and destroy whenever and wherever they want.
• Zero out the programs that help people keep a roof over their heads.
• Double down against Planned Parenthood, against an undocumented immigrant’s right to due process, against a black American’s right to vote in an election.
• And this week, play a stupid, reckless game of chicken with a dangerous foreign power and threaten nuclear war.
The Republican agenda will make the powerful more powerful – and leave everyone else further behind. The Republican leadership is willing to threaten our health, our economy, and our basic safety.
All true, and we should say so clearly. But that’s not the end of our job. We have to show people that, when we get a chance to lead, things WILL start getting better.
And that starts with showing some backbone. Not just backbone when we stand up to Donald Trump, but backbone when we put forward an agenda.
For so many Americans, every day is a battle against powerful interests. It’s time for us to pick sides and get in the fight.
So let’s talk about picking sides:
It’s time for us to say: Democrats are on the side of working people, on the side of Moms and Dads who dream of a better life for their kids, on the side of people in every part of this country and people of every race, gender, and religion who just want a level playing field and a chance to build a future.
And we know how to show them that their fight is our fight.
• Let’s start with jobs.
• It’s time to re-think the basic social contract on labor. We’re going to fight for fully portable benefits for everyone. And we’re going to fight to make sure that all work — full-time, part-time, gig — carries basic, pro-rata benefits.
• We’re going to fight to make it easier for workers to come together to form a union so they can take power into their own hands.
• And we’re going to turn the minimum wage into a living wage. Fight for $15!
It’s time for us to say: Democrats are on the side of hard working families who are getting pounded every day.
• We’re going to fight for universal pre-K, and to make it easier for every family to get child care.
• We’re going to fight like hell to stop Republicans from jacking up the cost of health insurance and taking coverage away from millions. Trumpcare will not get one Democratic vote – not now, not ever. But it’s not enough just to defend the Affordable Care Act, we’re going to improve it, starting with bringing down the costs of prescription drugs – and leading the fight for Medicare for all.
• We’re going to make it possible for young people to go to college or get a technical degree debt-free.
• We’re going to fight for affordable housing and good schools across our country, from the biggest cities to the smallest towns and most remote rural homesteads.
• And we will fight our hearts out to defend — and expand — Social Security and Medicare.
It’s time for us to say: Democrats are on the side of consumers.
• So we’re going to fight to break up the monopolies that are killing competition.
• We’re going to put a cop on the beat so that no one can steal your purse on Main Street or your pension on Wall Street.
• And whether you’re shopping for broadband or a student loan, an airline ticket or health insurance, we’re going to go to bat for you to help make damn sure you don’t get cheated.
It’s time for us to say: Democrats are on the side of science.
• We’re done arguing about whether climate change is real – and we’re going to fight it with everything we have.
• We’re done arguing about whether trickle-down economics works – and we’re going to fight to build this economy so it works for working families.
• We’re done arguing about gun safety – and we’re going to fight for the common-sense reforms the overwhelming majority of Americans want.
It’s time for us to say: Democrats are on the side of fairness and equality.
• So we’re going to fight for equal pay for equal work.
• We’re going to keep Planned Parenthood open, and we’re going to make sure women have access to safe, legal abortions.
• And we’re going to fight to put more women in positions of power, from committee rooms to boardrooms to that really nice Oval-shaped room at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
• And we’re going to reform our criminal justice system so that getting caught with a baggie of pot doesn’t mean your life is ruined, and getting pulled over by the cops doesn’t mean your life is at risk.
It’s time for us to say: Democrats are on the side of American values.
• So we’re going to fight for comprehensive immigration reform. And we’re going to say to every DREAMer in this country: You are an American. This country is your home. And we have your back.
• We’re going to fight to wipe the stain of Donald Trump’s Muslim ban off the books once and for all. And, by the way, Mr. President: We’re never, ever going to build your stupid wall.
• We’re also going to fight for our democracy. That means we’ll fight to reverse Citizens United so big corporations can’t BUY our elections, and we’ll fight to stop voter ID laws so Republicans can’t STEAL our elections either.
And, by the way: it’s time for us to up front about whose side we’re not on.
We’re not on the side of big Wall Street banks that break the law — we think everyone needs to be accountable. When bank CEOs break the law, they ought to go to jail just like everyone else.
We’re not on the side of the giant companies that want to twist government rules for themselves. We’re going to slam shut that revolving door, and we say enough is enough with corporate money that is drowning our democracy.
We’re not on the side of the bigots and the misogynists – and unlike the so-called Republican “leadership” in Washington, we’re not afraid to say it to their faces.
And we’re not on the side of foreign governments that hack our elections or politicians whose fragile egos put our national security at risk.
Folks, we don’t have to tip-toe. We don’t have to hedge our bets. We don’t have to ask permission from the pundits or the corporate CEOs – and we sure don’t have to ask permission from Mitch McConnell. [pause] Actually, that’s a good thing because I think he would probably tell me to sit down and shut up. Nevertheless, I would persist.
We don’t have to fear the wrath of the powerful, because when we’re bold enough to stand up for our values, when we’re bold enough to stand up for our fellow Americans, that’s when we ARE powerful.
Isn’t that the spirit that brought us all to this movement?
Isn’t that the reason we’re proud to call ourselves progressives?
Isn’t that the Democratic Party we want to call our own?
This fight is our fight.
This fight is the fight Americans have been waiting for someone to take on.
This fight is the fight Americans are ready to rally behind.
This fight is the fight Americans are counting on us to win.
This fight is my fight. This fight is your fight.
So let’s go win it!