Activism

Progressive Values Are America's Values, Sen. Elizabeth Warren Tells Netroots Nation In Keynote Speech

When progressives fight for working Americans they can win, Warren tells crowd.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren at Netroots Nation 2014.
Photo Credit: YouTube.com

Editor's note: Following is the text of Sen. Elizabeth Warren's speech Friday at Netroots Nation, as transcribed by AlterNet.

A lot of us in this room have a lot of history. Five years ago, I was fighting hard for a new consumer agency to keep the big banks from charging families on mortgages and credit cards. I went to see a lot of experts in Washington. I went to try to talk to people about the idea for this agency. The economy had crashed. Here was one way that we could fix things so it wouldn’t happen again. This is one way to level the playing field a little bit for families.

So I went and talked to these experts—and a lot of people on our side—and they almost all told me the same two things. The first thing they said was, “Great idea. This could actually make a real difference in people’s lives. The second thing they said was, “Don’t do it. Don’t even get out there and fight for it. Don’t do it because the biggest banks in this country will hate it and you will lose.” Well, the experts got that half-right. No surprise, the big banks really did hate it. They spent—are you ready for this—in addition to all their campaign contributions and everything else—they spent more than a million dollars a day for more than a year, lobbying against financial reforms. They really put their money where their mouth is on this one.

But the experts were also very wrong. We fought back and we won. We won—and that’s what I want to talk about today. We won because you and a zillion other people across this country got in the fight. We won because you got out there. You broke news. You wrote opinion pieces. You organized petitions. You built coalitions. You kept that idea alive. You called out sleazy lobbyists and cowardly politicians. You said we—we the people—will have this agency and you are the ones who won. You won this fight.

And you know, it matters. These fights really do matter. That agency is almost three years old now and it has already forced the biggest financial institutions in this country to return more than $4 billion to consumers they cheated. But never miss the central point of this story. The CFPP is proof of how democracy can work in the 21st century. It is proof that if we push back against the biggest, strongest, most ruthless lobbying effort in the country; that if we push back hard that we can win. We fight, we win.

Now understand, we don’t don’t win every time. And we are still trying to figure out how to make it all work. But we have united our voices and when we unite our voices, we can win. We did it in my Senate race. When Wall Street said that they would send money to Scott Brown by the double bucket fulls, and we pushed back and managed to win by eight points. You did it, when you got out there and stopped SOPA, you did it by getting organized and fighting back. So, we don’t win every time, but we’re learning to win. We’re learning to win and we will keep winning. We will fight and we will win—that’s my message today.

I want to talk about what we’re up against. I want to talk about what’s happening in this country. And make no mistake, this isn’t easy. We can’t win what we won’t fight for, and it will be a hard fight. Today, many powerful companies look for every possible way they can to boost their profits; to boost their CEO bonuses. They try to run more efficient companies. They try to grow faster. They try to beat out the competition. But many of them have another plan. They use their money and their connections to try to capture Washington and rig the rules in their favor. From tax policy to retirement security, those with power fight to make sure that every rule tilts in their favor. Everyone else just gets left behind. That’s what we’re up against. That’s what democracy is up against.

Just look at the big banks. They cheated American families, crashed the economy, got bailed out, and now the biggest banks are even bigger than they were when they were too big to fail in 2008. They still swaggered through Washington, blocking reforms, pushing around agencies. A kid gets caught with a few ounces of pot and goes to jail. But a big bank launders drug money and no one gets arrested.

But it isn’t just the big banks. Look at the choices the federal government makes right now. Our college kids are getting crushed by student loan debt. We need to rebuild our roads and bridges and upgrade our power grids. We need more investment in medical research and scientific research. But instead of building a future, this country is bleeding billions of dollars in tax loopholes and subsidies that go to the rich and powerful corporations. Billion dollar companies take advantage of every benefit they can squeeze out of the American government. And then they put together sleazy deals with foreign countries so they they can renounce their American citizenship and pay no taxes.

Billionaires pay taxes at lower rates than their secretaries. How does this happen? It happens because they all have lobbyists—lobbyists and Republican friends in Congress. Lobbyists and Republicans to protect every loophole and every privilege. The game is rigged and it isn’t right. It is not fair.

Or take a look at what happens with trade deals. For big corporations, trade negotiations are like Christmas morning. They can get special gifts through trade negotiations that they could never get through Congress. How does that happen? Because trade negotiations are held in secret, so that big corporations can do their work behind closed doors. Giant corporations get insider access to promote their interests while workers’ rights and environmental regulations are just gutted. From what I hear, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, telecom, big polluters, outsourcers, are all smacking their lips at the possibility of rigging the upcoming trade deals.

Now stop and ask yourself, why are trade deals secret? I’ve actually heard supporters say, ‘They have to be secret, because if people knew what was going on they would be opposed.’ It’s true. It’s actually true. It’s from the supporters… Well, if people would be opposed, then we shouldn’t have those trade deals.

The tilt in the playing field is everywhere. When conservatives talk about opportunity, they mean opportunity for the rich to get richer and the powerful to get more powerful. They don’t mean opportunity for a young person with $100,000 in student loan debt to try to build a future. They don’t mean opportunities for someone out of work to get back on their feet. They don’t mean opportunities for someone who worked hard all their life to retire with dignity. The game is rigged, and the rich and powerful have lobbyists and lawyers and plenty of friends in Congress. Everybody else, not so much.

So the way I see this, we can whine about it. We can whimper about it. Or we can fight back. I’m fighting back.

Let’s talk about this fight. This is a fight over economics, a fight over privilege, a fight over power. But deep down it is a fight over values. Conservatives and their powerful friends will continue to be guided by their internal motto, ‘I’ve got mine. The rest of you are on your own.’ Well, we’re guided by principle, and it’s a pretty simple idea. We all do better when we work together and invest in building a future.

We know that this economy grows when hard-working families have the opportunity to improve their lives. We know that this country gets stronger when we invest in helping people succeed. We know that our lives improve when we care for our neighbors and we help build a future—not just for some of our kids, but for all of our kids. That’s what we believe in. These are progressive ideas. These are progressive values. These are America’s values. And these are the values we are willing to fight for.

So sometimes we have to get together and we have to talk about what are our values. We have to talk about what does it mean to be a progressive. We have to talk about about what does it mean to be American. So let’s spend a minute talking about what we believe in.

We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement and we are willing to fight for it. We are willing to fight for it. We believe in science… and we are willing to fight for it. We believe that the Internet shouldn’t be rigged to benefit big corporations… and we will fight for it. We believe that no one should work fulltime and still live in poverty… and we are willing to fight for it. We will fight for it. Let me add to that we believe that fast food workers deserve a livable wage and when they take to picket lines we are proud to fight along side of them.

We believe that students are entitled to get an education without being crushed by debt, and we are willing to fight for it. We believe that after a lifetime of work that people are entitled to retire with dignity. And that means protecting Social Security, Medicare and pensions, and we are willing to fight for it. Oh—we believe, but I can’t believe that I have to say this in 2014—we believe in equal pay for equal work. And we are willing to fight for it. We believe that equal means equal, and that’s true in marriage, it’s true in the workplace, it’s true in all America. And we are willing to fight for it.

We believe that immigration has made this country strong and vibrant and that means we’ve got to be willing to fight for it… Oh—and we believe that corporations are not people, and we have rights and we will overturn [Supreme Court decisions] and we will fight for it.

And in this room, this is where it happens. This is 21st century democracy. This is the future of America. This is where we decide that we the people will fight for what we believe in. We’re going to do this and we are going to win.  

A video of the speech is below:

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights, campaigns and elections, and many social justice issues. He is the author of "Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting" (AlterNet Books, 2008).

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