9 Amazing Moments from Liz Warren's Speech Attacking Racist Policing, Voter Suppression and Predatory Economics

The federal government must act to stop police and societal violence against African-Americans, abolish race-based barriers to voting rights, and curtail racist businesses from perpetuating economic injustices, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, said Sunday in a major speech at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute.


“We should use our powers not to create conditions of oppression that lead to violence, but conditions of freedom that lead to peace,” Warren began, quoting Kennedy’s first U.S. Senate speech championing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Violence, voting and economic exploitation were the themes of her speech, which connected the brutal realities that lead to the Civil Right movement a half-century ago to the urgent demands of the Black Lives Matter movement today. 

“I speak today with the full knowledge that I have not personally experienced and can never truly understand the fear, the oppression, and the pain that confronts African Americans every day,” Warren said. “But none of us can ignore what is happening in this country. Not when our black friends, family, neighbors literally fear dying in the streets… This is the reality all of us must confront, as uncomfortable and ugly as that reality may be. It comes to us to once again affirm that black lives matter, that black citizens matter, that black families matter.”

What follows are nine excerpts from her hour-long speech.

1. Americans must understand how oppression works: “Violence was not the only tool. African Americans were effectively stripped of citizenship when they were denied the right to vote. The tools varied—literacy tests, poll taxes, moral character tests, grandfather clauses-but the results were the same. They were denied basic rights of citizenship and the chance to participate in self-government.

“The third tool of oppression was to deliberately deny millions of African Americans economic opportunities solely because of the color of their skin. For much of the 20th Century… entire legal structures were created to prevent African Americans from building economic security through home ownership. Legally enforced segregation. Restrictive deeds. Redlining. Land contracts. Coming out of the Great Depression, America built a middle class, but systematic discrimination kept most African-American families from being part of it… It was a long and spiteful list.”

2. The Civil Rights struggle is far from over: “The tools of oppression were woven together, and the civil rights struggle was fought against that oppression wherever it was found—against violence, against the denial of voting rights, and against economic injustice… These laws made three powerful declarations: Black lives matter. Black citizens matter. Black families matter. [But] 50 years later, we have made real progress toward creating the conditions of freedom-but we have not made ENOUGH progress.”

3. Anti-Black Violence Hasn’t Stopped: “Fifty years later, violence against African Americans has not disappeared. Consider law enforcement. The vast majority of police officers sign up so they can protect their communities. They are part of an honorable profession that takes risks every day to keep us safe. We know that. But we also know - and say - the names of those whose lives have been treated with callous indifference. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray. Michael Brown. We’ve seen sickening videos of unarmed, black Americans cut down by bullets, choked to death while gasping for air - their lives ended by those who are sworn to protect them. Peaceful, unarmed protestors have been beaten. Journalists have been jailed. And, in some cities, white vigilantes with weapons freely walk the streets. And it’s not just about law enforcement either. Just look to the terrorism this summer at Emanuel AME Church. We must be honest: Fifty years after John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out, violence against African Americans has not disappeared.”

4. Black and Brown Voters Are Still Targeted: “What about voting rights? Two years ago, five conservative justices on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, opening the floodgates ever wider for measures designed to suppress minority voting. Today, the specific tools of oppression have changed-voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, and mass disfranchisement through a criminal justice system that disproportionately incarcerates black citizens. The tools have changed, but black voters are still deliberately cut out of the political process.”

5. Predatory Economics Is Still Widespread: “What about economic injustice? …In the 1960s and the 1970s, African-American men and women began to close the wage gap with white workers, giving millions of black families hope that they might build real wealth. But then, Republicans’ trickle-down economic theory arrived. Just as this country was taking the first steps toward economic justice, the Republicans pushed a theory that meant helping the richest people and the most powerful corporations get richer and more powerful… From 1980 to 2012, GDP continued to rise, but how much of the income growth went to the 90% of America - everyone outside the top 10% - black, white, Latino? None. Zero...

“For African-Americans, who were so far behind earlier in the 20th Century, this means that since the 1980s they have been hit particularly hard… [Then] the 2008 housing collapse destroyed trillions in family wealth across the country, but the crash hit African-Americans like a punch in the gut. Because middle class black families’ wealth was disproportionately tied up in homeownership and not other forms of savings... Recently several big banks and other mortgage lenders paid hundreds of millions in fines, admitting that they illegally steered black and Latino borrowers into more expensive mortgages than white borrowers who had similar credit.”

6. Unjustified police violence must stop. “Policing must become a truly community endeavor—not in just a few cities, but everywhere. Police forces should look like, and come from, the neighborhoods they serve. They should reach out to support and defend the community—working with people in neighborhoods before problems arise. All police forces—not just some-must be trained to de-escalate and to avoid the likelihood of violence. Body cameras can help us know what happens when someone is hurt… Police are not occupying armies. This is America, not a war zone-and policing practices in all cities-not just some-need to reflect that.”

7. No more racist barriers in voting laws: “It’s time to call out the recent flurry of new state law restrictions for what they are: an all-out campaign by Republicans to take away the right to vote from poor and black and Latino American citizens who probably won't vote for them. The push to restrict voting is nothing more than a naked grab to win elections that they can’t win if every citizen votes.

“Two years ago the Supreme Court eviscerated critical parts of the Voting Rights Act. Congress could easily fix this, and Democrats in the Senate have called for restoration of voting rights. Now it is time for Republicans to step up to support a restoration of the Voting Rights Act—or to stand before the American people and explain why they have abandoned America's most cherished liberty, the right to vote.

“We need to update the rules around voting. Voting should be simple. Voter registration should be automatic. Get a driver's license, get registered automatically. Nonviolent, law-abiding citizens should not lose the right to vote because of a prior conviction. Election Day should be a holiday, so no one has to choose between a paycheck and a vote. Early voting and vote by mail would give fast food and retail workers who don’t get holidays day off a chance to proudly cast their votes. The hidden discrimination that comes with purging voter rolls and short-staffing polling places must stop.”

8. No more racist economic policies and practices: “We need less talk and more action about reducing unemployment, ending wage stagnation and closing the income gap between white and nonwhite workers… And one more issue, dear to my heart: It’s time to come down hard on predatory practices that allow financial institutions to systematically strip wealth out of communities of color. One of the ugly consequences of bank deregulation was that there was no cop on the beat when too many financial institutions figured out that they could make great money by tricking, trapping, and defrauding targeted families. Now we have a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and we need to make sure it stays strong and independent so that it can do its job and make credit markets work for black families, Latino families, white families—all families.

9. Progress means more protests and real activism: “The first civil rights battles were hard fought. But they established that Black Lives Matter. That Black Citizens Matter. That Black Families Matter. Half a century later, we have made real progress, but we have not made ENOUGH progress. As Senator Kennedy said in his first floor speech, ‘This is not a political issue. It is a moral issue, to be resolved through political means.’ So it comes to us to continue the fight, to make, as [Congressman] John Lewis said, the ‘necessary trouble’ [civil rights protests] until we can truly say that in America, every citizen enjoys the conditions of freedom.”

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