Bernie Sanders

Remarks at the National Action Network Convention in New York City

April 05, 2019

[As prepared for delivery.]

Let me begin by thanking the National Action Network (NAN) and Reverend Al for the great work that you do every single day.

Yesterday, as everyone here knows, was the 51st anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - one of the great leaders in American history.

We are here today at a pivotal moment in the fight for racial justice and, as that struggle goes forward, there is both good news and bad news.

The very good news is that, despite enormous opposition, we have made real progress in many areas -- including the political arena. Despite those who said it couldn't happen, we elected Barack Obama, America's first black president in 2008, and reelected him in 2012. After the 2018 election, the Congressional Black Caucus now has the largest number of members in its entire history. And in that same election year we saw Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum and Ben Jealous run great campaigns for governor in Georgia, Florida and Maryland. And while they lost, we saw Mandela Barnes and Garlin Gilchrist become the first elected black lieutenant governors in Wisconsin and Michigan.

So, have we made progress in civil rights in this country? No question about it. But do we still have a very long way to go to end the institutional racism which permeates almost every aspect of our society? Absolutely -- and that's the bad news that keeps us up at night.

It gives me no pleasure to say this but today we have a president who is a racist, sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe and a religious bigot. The job of an American president is to try and bring us together - black and white, Latino, Native American, Asian American. But, tragically, we now have a president who tries to win votes by dividing us up - and, together, we are going to put an end to that.

During Donald Trump's presidency, we've seen a sharp rise in hate crimes -- and that rise comes as this country continues to be plagued by institutional racism and racial inequality.

As many of you know, my campaign for president is about taking on the handful of extraordinarily wealthy and powerful people in this country who have unbelievable power over the economic and political life of this country. It makes no sense to me that, at a time when millions of Americans are working two or three jobs just to survive, the three wealthiest people in our country own more wealth than the bottom half of Americans and the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 92 percent. It makes no sense to me that at a time when hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and when millions are leaving school deeply in debt, 46% of all new income goes to the top 1%.

So, as your president, there will be nothing more important to me than taking on the incredible level of economic and wealth disparity we see in this country, a disparity which is now worse than anytime since the 1920s.

But this is what we also know: that we must take on the disparity within the disparity, the racial disparities which exist in this country which are also growing wider and wider.

Today, the infant mortality rate in black communities is more than double the rate for white communities, and the death rates from cancer and many other diseases is far higher for blacks. Black women are more than three times more likely to die from pregnancy than white women.

So when we talk about disparity, we are talking about the need for more black doctors, more black dentists, more black nurses, more black psychologists. We are talking about guaranteeing healthcare to all as a right, but at the same time ending the long-standing disparities which exist within the health care system.

When we talk about disparities, we are talking about black children who face harsher punishment in schools than other students and school districts in predominantly non-white communities that receive $23 billion less in funding than white school districts.

We are talking about black men who are sentenced to 19 percent more jail time for committing the exact same crime as white men, and African Americans who are jailed at more than 5 times the rate of whites. Our job, together, is to end disparities in education and to bring fundamental reform to a broken criminal justice system.

Today, studies show African American job applicants receive far fewer job callbacks than other job applicants -- and we still see the same levels of hiring discrimination that we saw 30 years ago. Together, we must end the disparities and racism that exist in employment practices.

Today, African Americans often face higher interest rates on loans and mortgages than others with a similar credit score, and black small businesses are unable to get the affordable credit they need to grow and expand. Together, we will end redlining in the financial services industry.

Today, at a time when women in this country earn about 80 cents on the dollar compared to men, black women earn all of 61 cents for every dollar white men make. That is unacceptable. We believe in equal pay for equal work, whether you're a man or a woman, man, black, white, Latino or whatever.

Today, on the 400th anniversary of the first Africans being brought to this country in slavery, the average black family now has one tenth the wealth of the average white family. The truth is that this racial wealth gap exists because slavery, segregation, Jim Crow and predatory lending stole wealth from African Americans. That racial wealth gap must be repaired, and institutional racism must be rooted out wherever it exists.

Like many of you here, I have been fighting for economic, social and racial justice. As this presidential campaign begins, I believe that is the defining difference between President Trump and me.

Donald Trump is a man who has said he believes Nazis and white supremacists are "very fine people."

I am the son of an immigrant whose family was murdered by the Nazis – and so, from a very young age, I knew that we must stand up to bigotry wherever it exists.

When the Trump family's real estate empire was discriminating against black people here in New York, I and others in the civil rights movement were protesting that kind of housing discrimination at the University of Chicago, and marching on Washington with Dr. King.

When Donald Trump was stoking racial resentments in the 1980s by claiming African Americans get too many privileges, and then by demanding the death penalty for black teenagers who were wrongly accused in the Central Park 5 murder, we in Burlington, Vermont were pressuring South Africa to end apartheid and I was helping Jesse Jackson challenge the establishment in his historic campaign for president.

When Donald Trump was promoting the racist so-called birther conspiracy theory against President Obama, I was campaigning for President Obama's reelection.

When Donald Trump and his Republican allies were trying to suppress the black vote in the 2016 general election, I was campaigning for Hillary Clinton, and pressing for automatic voter registration to expand the vote.

When Donald Trump was cheering on the possibility of a housing crisis that led to the financial crisis, and then later rolled back financial and predatory lending regulations, I was working to regulate Wall Street and break up the banks to prevent another financial crisis and recession that ended up reducing the typical black family's wealth by almost $100,000.

When Donald Trump was appointing an Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, with a long history of racist "tough on crime" policies, I was working with all of you to push for criminal justice reform initiatives to end the war on drugs and end the cash bail system that disproportionately harms African Americans.

And when Trump has been boosting private prisons and defunding schools, I have been campaigning for jobs and education, not more jails and incarceration.

Brothers and sisters: We are now building a grassroots movement to, not just win the Democratic nomination, not just defeat Donald Trump, but to transform this country and create a government that works for all of us, not just the 1 percent. And I am proud to tell you that movement now has over 1 million volunteers on board in every state in the country. That's historic.

What our campaign also recognizes is that no president, no matter how well intentioned, can do it alone. We must be in this together. So let me very briefly tell you what some of our agenda is about.

When we are in the White House, we are finally going to create a Medicare for All single payer system that guarantees healthcare to every man, woman and child in this country, and substantially reduces the cost of prescription drugs. Healthcare is a human right, not a privilege.

When we are in the White House we are not going to cut Social Security, as many Republicans want to do. We are going to expand Social Security. Every American deserves to live out their retirement years with dignity.

When we are in the White House, we are going to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour – which would provide a raise to tens of millions of Americans and more than 1 in 3 African American workers.

When we are in the White House, we are going to make public colleges and universities tuition free. We are also going to invest in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which have been a critical gateway for black students to get advanced degrees.

When we are in the White House we are going to end the absurdity of large corporations like Amazon making billions in profits, owned by the wealthiest person in his country, paying nothing in federal income taxes. Instead of giving a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the 1 percent and large corporations, as Trump did, we're going to make hem pay their fair share of taxes.

When we are in the White House, we are going to end the disgusting Republican efforts to suppress the vote. If you are 18 in this country, you have the right to vote. End of discussion. We are going to make it easier for people to vote, not harder.

And when we are in the White House, we aren't going to consider rolling back anti-discrimination rules, we are not going to reduce enforcement of civil rights laws, and we are not going to intensify the war on drugs, as Donald Trump has tried to do.

We are going to protect those rules. We are going to strengthen that enforcement. We are going to have a zero-tolerance policy for police brutality. And we are going to fundamentally reform a criminal justice system that gives bailouts to bankers and jail sentences to non-violent drug offenders.

Brothers and sisters: We have an enormous amount of work in front of us and the path forward will not be easy. But whether it is a broken criminal justice system, or massive disparities in the availability of financial services, or health disparities, or environmental disparities, or educational disparities - our job is, and we will, to create a nation in which all people are treated equally. That is what we must do, and that is what we will do.

If we don't allow Trump and his friends to divide us up. If we stand together, urban and rural, north, south, east and west.

If we understand that there really is no such thing as a red state or a blue state - but that we are a nation in which in every state the majority of working people are struggling hard to provide a decent life for their kids.

If we stand together, believing in justice and human dignity. If we believe in love and compassion. The truth is that there is nothing we cannot accomplish.

Let us go forward together.

Bernie Sanders, 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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