Photo of Elizabeth Warren

Remarks at the National Action Network Convention in New York City

April 05, 2019

[As prepared for delivery.]

Thank you, Reverend Sharpton. Hello National Action Network!

Let me begin by saying what an honor it is to be with you again today. For decades, under the leadership of Rev. Sharpton, the National Action Network and the people in this room have been on the front lines of the fight for social, racial and economic justice.

You've challenged our leaders — Democrats and Republicans — to make this country live up to its best values and you've made real progress.

I'm here today because as we speak, Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress are doing everything within their power to normalize hatred, racism and bigotry. Public conversation has gotten nastier. Voter suppression routinely targets people of color. Hate crimes are on the rise.

We come to this moment at a time when the stakes are beyond high, when the very soul of our nation is in jeopardy, when we face the fight of our lives. And with so much on the line, there's no place I'd rather be than standing shoulder to shoulder with you.

For me this fight is personal.

I grew up out in Oklahoma on the ragged edges of the middle class. My family was a paycheck to paycheck family. My daddy ended up as a janitor. My momma worked a minimum wage job at Sears.

I have three older brothers who all headed off to the military. That was their ticket to America's middle class.

Me? I was the late in life baby, the “surprise.”

I've had one dream — one dream since I was in second grade. I wanted to be a public-school teacher. Can we hear it for our public school teachers?

Like a lot of folks, I didn't live my life on a straight line. My folks didn't have money for college, but I got a scholarship. At 19, I fell in love and dropped out of school and got married. I took a job answering phones, like my mother. I thought this would be my life, that I wouldn't get the chance to be a teacher. And then I found a commuter college that cost $50 a semester.

And I made it. Count me among the blessed. I've lived my dream. I became a special needs teacher.

I am filled with gratitude. I have lived opportunity. And I'm in this fight because I believe in opportunity, not just for those born into privilege. I believe in opportunity for every single one of our children.

And today I want to talk about how opportunity gets snuffed out, how it gets taken away — and how we — you and me — how we can expand opportunity for people all across this country. There's a lot we can do, but I'm going to focus on just one part.

Teaching special needs kids is a calling. But I finished out the year visibly pregnant and didn't get invited back. Those were the days.

So there I was, at home with a baby. And I got this idea that I could go to law school. I got it altogether, and weeks before classes started, I was ready.

I just needed one thing: Daycare. But hey, how hard could that be?

I searched everywhere. The places were wrong. Or the prices were high. Or the waiting list was a mile long.

Finally, less than a week before classes started, I found a good place we could afford. Only one problem: They only took children who were dependably potty trained. Hmm. I had only a few days to get a not-yet-two-year-old dependably potty trained.

And I stand before you today courtesy of three bags of M&Ms and a cooperative toddler.

But here's the thing, child care never stopped being an issue. It was an ever-present weight I carried on my shoulders every day and it never let up.

Eventually, I graduated from law school, hugely pregnant with Baby Number Two — you may detect a pattern here. When I got my first real teaching job at a law school in Houston, I was beyond excited.

I loved teaching so I did whatever it took to make it work. Taking care of little ones, cooking and cleaning, doing laundry at 11:00 at night.

It was hard, but I could do hard. It was exhausting, but I could do exhausting.

The thing that eventually pulled me down? Yup. Child care.

One memory is still burned into my brain. Going in late in the afternoon to pick up Alex from daycare. There he was, dirty face and miserable in a soggy diaper. I tried to lay him down to change him, but he started kicking and screaming. Finally, I picked him up, along with his bag of stuff, and headed to the car. He kicked and screamed louder and louder, as I dropped things and got more and more upset. I stood there in the parking lot with baby snot and pee on my clothes, unable to get the car door open, completely overwhelmed.

In the previous few months we had tried it all. A baby sitter. A neighbor with kids. A daycare center. Another day care center. Everything had fallen apart.

One night, after I'd put both kids to bed, my 78-year-old Aunt Bee called long-distance from Oklahoma to see how I was doing. I said, “Fine.” Then, with no warning, I started to cry. I just couldn't hold it together any longer. I blurted it out: I told Aunt Bee I was going to quit my job. I hadn't thought about it, but everything came crashing down, and the words just fell out of my mouth.

I cried. I sobbed. I heaved. Finally, I blew my nose and got a drink of water. Then Aunt Bee said eleven words that changed my life forever. “I can't get there tomorrow, but I can come on Thursday.” Two days later, she arrived at the airport with seven suitcases and a Pekingese named Buddy — and she stayed for 16 years.

That story tells a basic truth: Nobody makes it on their own.

And it tells another basic truth: Without child care, millions and millions of American families simply won't make it at all.

Now, if every working mom in the country had an Aunt Bee, we'd be all be good. But that's not the case. I know how lucky I was to have Aunt Bee save the day. But think about all the moms in America who don't have an Aunt Bee.

Women working day and night constantly worried about their children. Are they safe? Are they happy? Are they getting first-rate educational chances that will give them a good start in school? Those questions gnaw on any mom, but they particularly gnaw on the moms who don't have great child care.

High-quality child care is out of reach for way too many families in this country. But it's even further out of reach for African American families struggling to make ends meet.

In more than half the states in America, one year of child care costs more than a year of in-state tuition at the public university.

On average, child care for one child costs the median African American household 22% of their income. Twenty-two percent. Try building a budget around that.

The numbers tell the story. Black women are more likely to be breadwinners for their families. They work more, get paid less, and are the least likely to afford decent child care.

This isn't just an accident of statistics. It's the legacy of decades of systemic discrimination against black women. Discrimination in pay. Discrimination in housing. Discrimination in finance. Discrimination in health care. Pile all that together, then make high quality child care expensive and hard to find, and it's little wonder that child care — or the lack of good child care — holds back one generation after another in communities of color.

That is just plain wrong. We're the richest country in the history of the planet. Access to high quality child care and education during the early stage of a child's life shouldn't be a privilege reserved for the children of the rich. It should be a right for every single child in America.

That's why I am proposing a big structural change: Universal Child Care and early education.

Now I know Rev. Sharpton takes this platform very seriously. This is not the place for talk. This is the place for ACTION — a real plan that we could pass into law.

So here's how my plan would work:

  • For starters, we'd expand our network of locally-licensed child care centers, preschool centers, and in-home child care options.
  • The federal government already provides child care for all military families, and we have 900,000 kids in top notch Head Start programs. So we build on that.
  • Right now, well-to-do parents are sending their 5 year olds, 4 year olds and 3 year olds to pre-school where they get ready for what's coming. My proposal makes that same option available to EVERY child. Getting smarter shouldn't be reserved just for children born into privilege.
  • Part 2, my plan pays child care workers like the professionals they are. More training, higher standards, and much better pay. These child care workers are disproportionately black and brown women , and they have been undervalued and underpaid for long enough.
  • Child care workers are educators, not babysitters. They deserve a livable wage.

My plan is not only possible, but it is free for millions of children and low cost for families with higher incomes.

Think about what this could mean for black families — and for America. People who today are paying more than a thousand dollars a month could get the highest quality care and pay nothing. That would be life-changing for millions of mothers — and fathers — around the country.

And here's the fun part — we already know how to pay for it. All we have to do is make the ultra-wealthy pay their fair share. I call it the ultra-millionaire tax. It requires households with a net worth of $50 million or more to pay a 2% tax. That one change — one change — would bring in all the money we would need to completely cover the cost of this universal child care and early education plan — and have $2 trillion left over!

And to everyone who says it's just too hard, here's what I know for sure: yeah, it's not easy to make big changes, but you don't get what you don't fight for.

And big, structural changes are worth fighting for. These are the kinds of big structural changes I would make as president, changes that would make opportunity in America available for everyone.

Last month in Memphis I met Latonya, a young mother who told about what it had been like when she was working and going to college. She struggled with child are over and over. She recalled the years in which she was often forced to choose between letting her young son babysit his even younger siblings or staying home from class and giving up her dream to build a future.

Like millions of Black women in America, Latonya faced the tough odds, made do with what she had and came out on top. Today she has an associates degree, a bachelors degree and a masters degree. But here's the kicker. Even with all of her diplomas, all of the progress she has made, child care is still holding her back. Her youngest is five years old, and he loves his school, but it costs $400 a month. Latonya said she can't afford it, and the cost still holds her back in taking on a better job.

How many women have this same story? How many parents are sidelined today because they can't get decent care for their kids?
And how many kids weren't ready for kindergarten? How many were parked in front of television sets for hours on end? How many got a worse start in school because their moms couldn't afford pre-pre-K or couldn't send them to the places with small classes and specialized teachers that all the wealthy folks send their kids to? How many of our kids didn't make it because America wouldn't invest in them?

And how many good, talented, dedicated pre-school teachers and child care workers gave up because the pay was worse than working at McDonald's? Again, all because America wouldn't invest in our kids.

Now it comes to us — and we can make change — big change — in this country. Change for ourselves, change for our children. Yes, we need universal child care.

But getting child care passed is a struggle because the people in Congress and the White House think they can ignore what the voters want. They plan to keep enough people away from the polls so that they can stay in power. They are working hard to shut down our democracy.

Just last year Republicans in North Carolina's Ninth Congressional District threw enough votes in the trash to rig an election. Massive voter suppression prevented Stacey Abrams from becoming the rightful Governor of Georgia.

They'll fight anyone who tries to stand up and push back. They'll do whatever it takes to stop a full and fair count. Because they know that there's more that unites us than divides us. They know that a durable majority of Americans believes in the promise of America. And they know that if all the votes are counted, we'll win every time.

So what's our job? We must fight back.

We need a constitutional amendment establishing a nationally-recognized right to vote — and a right to get that vote counted.

And I'll tell you something else, too. I'm not running for President just to talk about making real, structural change. I'm serious about getting it done. And part of getting it done means waking up to the reality of the United States Senate.

Last year the Senate passed a bill that would make lynching a federal crime. Last year. In 2018.

Do you know when the first bill to make lynching a federal crime was introduced? 1918.

One hundred years ago.

And it nearly became the law back then. It passed the House in 1922. But it got killed in the Senate — by a filibuster. And then it got killed again. And again. And again. More than 200 times. An entire century of obstruction because a small group of racists stopped the entire nation from doing what was right.

For generations, the filibuster was used as a tool to block progress on racial justice. And in recent years, it's been used by the far right as a tool to block progress on everything.

I've only served one term in the Senate — but I've seen what's happening. We all saw what they did to President Obama. I've watched Republicans abuse the rules when they're out of power, then turn around and blow off the rules when they're in power.

We just saw it happen again this week. Republicans spent years — years — exploiting the rules to slow down or block President Obama's mainstream judges and Executive nominees. But now that they're in power, they're unilaterally changing those rules to speed up and ram through President Trump's extreme nominees.

So let me be as clear as I can. When Democrats next have power, we should be bold and clear: we're done with two sets of rules — one for the Republicans and one for the Democrats.

And that means when Democrats have the White House again, if Mitch McConnell tries to do what he did to President Obama, and puts small-minded partisanship ahead of solving the massive problems facing this country, then we should get rid of the filibuster.

We can't sit around for 100 years while the rich and powerful get richer and more powerful and everyone else falls further and further behind. We can't sit around for 100 years while climate change destroys our planet, while corruption pervades every nook and cranny of Washington, and while too much of a child's fate in life still rests on the color of their skin.

Enough with that. When we win the election, we WILL make the change that we need in this country.

We come to this fight for child care — and for so much more. We come to this fight to build an America of our best values.

None of this will be easy. In fact, people will tell us to quit now, it's just too hard. But you don't get what you don't fight for! Yes, we can tax the billionaires. Yes, we can provide universal child care and pre-K for all our babies. Yes, we can ensure that every citizen gets to vote and gets that vote counted. Yes, we can become an America where the government represents the will of the people — all the people.

Yes, it will be hard. But this is our moment in history. We're called to make bold change. We're called to dream big, fight hard and win.

Elizabeth Warren, Remarks at the National Action Network Convention in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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