During a “moment of crisis” for Democrats, Sen. Elizabeth Warren says her party needs to “grow a backbone.”
In a speech Saturday morning at the annual Progressive Congress Strategy Summit in Baltimore, Warren said the “crisis” moment began long before the election of President Donald Trump. According to the Massachusetts senator, Trump’s election was the “breaking point” in a 30-year trend in which the middle class was “squeezed harder and harder.”
The Democrat attributed the “economic crisis,” as she put it, to Republican policies and her own party’s complacency.
“No matter how extreme Republicans in Washington became, Democrats might grumble or whine, but when it came time for action, our party hesitated and pushed back only with great reluctance,” she said. “Far too often, Democrats have been unwilling to get out there and fight. That ends today. It’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone and to get out there and fight.”
Warren said “time is running out” for Democrats to stand up for the values they believe in, particularly at a time in which Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress.
“Many times, our side won’t win,” she said. “But we have our voices. And we will add our voices to the voices of millions of people in this country who are standing up to say that the character of this nation is not the character of its President.”
Read Warren’s full speech, as prepared for delivery, below:
I’m going to cut to the chase: We’re gathered today in Baltimore during a moment of crisis—for us as progressives, for us as Democrats, for us as Americans.
We’re in a moment of crisis, and I want to talk honestly about it.
Let’s start with a simple fact: Our moment of crisis didn’t begin with the election of Donald Trump.
We were already in crisis.
We were already in crisis because for years and years and years, Washington has worked just great for the rich and the powerful, but far too often, it hasn’t worked for anyone else.
We were already in a moment of crisis because for years and years and years, the economy has worked just great for those who have already made it, but far too often, it hasn’t worked for anyone else.
We were already in a moment of crisis because for years and years and years, we’ve been living in a nation where opportunity is quietly disappearing. A country that is giving fewer and fewer kids a real chance to succeed.
We all know that this country was never perfect. That systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, and bigotry meant opportunities weren’t spread equally. But over the past generation, we made a shift—a shift from a country bending in the right direction to one where the door to a better life—to a middle class life—has been getting further out of reach with every passing year.
For a long time, I have shouted from every rooftop I could find about how the middle class was on the ropes. How it was evaporating. How if we weren’t careful, it could be like the Arctic ice—melting every year, until it’s gone completely, never to return. And make no mistake, as the middle class melts, the opportunities for the poor shrink to the vanishing point.
People don’t just wake up one day and elect leaders like Donald Trump because hey, “everything is awesome, but what the hell, let’s roll the dice and make life interesting.”
People don’t elect leaders who break all the rules—who violate all the norms—when things are going pretty well.
They don’t elect leaders who campaign for office by attacking communities of color, or religious groups, or immigrants, or women when things are just swell.
Men like Donald Trump come to power when their countries are already in deep trouble. When the economies of their countries are deeply flawed. When people in those countries start to lose hope for a better future and start looking for someone to blame. And men like Donald Trump rise when those with money—and power—get a little worried about their own privileges and decide to help out one of their own who promises to look out for them.
In November, America elected Donald Trump.
Yes, the Russians helped.
Yes, the FBI director helped.
Yes, he lost the popular vote by three million.
But we cannot let ourselves off so easy. Not as progressives, not as Democrats. The excuses end now—right here in Baltimore. We hold ourselves accountable.
And we need to figure out what comes next.
There are some in the Democratic Party who urge caution. They say this is just a tactical problem. We need better data. We need better social media. We need better outreach. We need better talking points.
Better talking points? Are you kidding me? People are so desperate for economic change in this country that Donald Trump was just inaugurated as President, and people think we just have a messaging problem? What planet are they living on?
This is bigger than talking points and tactics, and yes, even than Twitter.
This country is in an economic crisis. For more than 30 years, working families, middle class families, poor families, students, seniors have been squeezed harder and harder, and now they are at the breaking point. Republican politicians have pushed one policy after another that has favored the rich and powerful over everyone else, and far too often, Democrats have gone right along. And no matter how extreme Republicans in Washington became, Democrats might grumble or whine, but when it came time for action, our party hesitated and pushed back only with great reluctance. Far too often, Democrats have been unwilling to get out there and fight.
That ends today. It’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone and to get out there and fight.
It’s up to us—the progressives. We need to make very clear that we, as progressives, as Democrats, as Americans, stand for a BOLD, progressive agenda. Stand for REAL solutions to this crisis. Stand for changes that will make a difference in the lives of millions of people. We need to make clear we will fight.
What do we fight for?
We fight for basic dignity and respect for every human being—everybody counts. All people are entitled to be treated with respect.
We fight for economic opportunity—not for those at the top, but for everyone. We believe that every one of our children deserves a fighting chance to build a real future.
We are not the minority party. We are the opposition party, and we need to talk about the key difference between us and them every day—and we need to say it in the plainest possible way:
Donald Trump has stirred ugly racism, sexism, and hatred in this country, and the Republican politicians smiled and climbed right into bed with him. That stink will be on them for decades to come. The national party that embraced bigotry. To every person in America, we need to say loud and clear: You don’t like how women are treated? Or Latinos? Or Muslims? Or African Americans? Always remember that the bigotry stirred up by Donald Trump is perfectly ok with the Republicans in Washington. They will confirm his Attorney General, they will look the other way on religious bans, they will shuffle their feet over a Supreme Court nominee who thinks employers should decide what kind of birth control women get. Republicans are afraid to stand up for what is right. Afraid to stand up for basic American values.
Well they can nurse their fear. We are not afraid. Democrats are the party of all the people—every single one. We believe everybody counts and everybody gets a chance. Nobody—nobody—gets cast aside. That’s the difference between Republicans and Democrats in Washington.
And one more: Donald Trump and the Republicans in Washington are on the side of the rich and powerful, and they are using every tool of government to help them get richer and more powerful. To every person in America, we need to say loud and clear: You think Wall Street has too much power in Washington? You think giant corporations call too many shots in government? You think billionaires get all the breaks while your family has to watch every nickel? Always remember: the Republicans are not on your side. They’re rushing to unleash the big banks. They’re rushing to gut the consumer agency that has forced banks to give $12B back to customers they cheated. They just pushed a backroom deal for giveaways to big oil companies and another for giveaways to investment advisers who cheat seniors. They’re ramming through a cabinet of ethically challenged billionaires with long histories of grinding working people into the dirt. And the corporate CEOs and the Wall Street bankers and the lobbyists are so happy they are doing little money dances in the halls of Congress.
The so-called “leaders” of the Republican Party can keep their rich friends.
That’s on them. But what’s on us? We need to be the party of hardworking people—every single one. We need to be the party of every family and every small businesses and every person who hasn’t made it yet. We need to be the party of every person who believes we should all get a chance to build something for ourselves and our families.
We need to say what we believe in, then we need to fight for those beliefs.
The world has changed a lot over the past few months, and let’s be honest—there’s no hotline number we can call to learn how best to deal with rising right-wing extremism in this country. Like a lot of you, I’m still finding my way, finding my footing, day by day, step by step. We make mistakes. But with each passing day, we learn.
The lesson of history is that when faced with a danger like Donald Trump, opposition needs to grow. Opposition needs to be focused. Opposition needs to be bold. Most of all, opposition needs to be willing to fight.
Things are moving fast, and time is running out—for us to grasp what has happened, and for us to make clear—in every way, from every mountaintop we can—that we will fight back.
- A Muslim ban? We will fight back!
- Ripping health care from millions of working people? We will fight back!
- A Secretary of Education who doesn’t believe in public education? We will fight back!
- Giveaways to giant banks so they can cheat people and blow up our economy again? We will fight back!
- A budget director who wants to cut Medicare and Social Security? We will fight back!
- A Supreme Court nominee who will take away women’s rights? We will fight back!
You bet we will fight back! And you better believe we’ll keep fighting for our progressive agenda.
Next week, many of us in this room return to Washington. Eyes will be on us. We do not control the government. Many times, our side won’t win. But we have our voices.
And we will add our voices to the voices of millions of people in this country who are standing up to say that the character of this nation is not the character of its President.
No. In our democracy, We the People decide the character of this nation.
When we protest, when we make phone calls, when we carry signs and ask questions, when we make our voices heard—that is when we affirm our uniquely American character. We will resist every single effort to make America into a small and spiteful place. We will resist every injustice. We will resist every effort to divide us. We will resist every effort to disgrace our Constitution. We will resist every single step toward the takeover of our government by billionaires, bankers and bigots.
This is not the moment we asked for, but it is the moment we have been called to. This is our test.
The hour to fight is upon us—and we are ready. We will fight back, side by side. We will fight back.