January 16, 2017

Senator Warren Delivers Remarks on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Video available here

BOSTON, MA - U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered the following remarks this morning at the 47th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast:

Each year, we come together on this day to remember-to remember Dr. King's vision for a better, fairer, more prosperous, and more just society.

We come together to celebrate-to celebrate the achievements of the civil rights movement.

And we come together to affirm-to affirm that we will continue this fight until every child in this country has a real opportunity to build a future, until every child has a chance to live Dr. King's dream.

And like many of you, this year I am less focused on the celebration and more focused on the fight.

Our country faces hard times, and all of us bear a responsibility to act. That is an important lesson we take from the fights of the Civil Rights Era - and from leaders like Dr. King and John Lewis.

When Donald Trump says that our friend John Lewis is all talk and no action, he is talking about a man who was beaten to the ground with a club, his skull fractured, while leading a peaceful march for voting rights. A man who literally put his body on the line - his life on the line - and bled for our country for justice and equality.

To demean John Lewis is to demean all those who give their lives for a cause bigger than themselves. It is to demean those who give their lives to the cause of expanding opportunity for everyone in this country. It is wrong, and we must stand up and say it is wrong.

When I went to Alabama for the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery, I took the seat behind John Lewis on the bus. As we drove along, I asked him about his work leading the civil rights battles, and what it was like when he and many others faced angry mobs, death threats, and beatings.

And he told me something I will never forget. He said that his parents didn't want him to get involved in the civil rights movement. They didn't want him to "cause trouble." But he had done it anyway. He told me: "Sometimes it is important to cause necessary trouble."
And that's it: necessary trouble.

In less than a week, we will witness the transfer of power from the current president to the next one.

We know the conscience of the current president. We know the character of the current president. And we will miss him dearly.

But half a century ago, it was people like John Lewis who taught us that the conscience of a nation is not the conscience of its president.

Half a century ago, it was a KING who taught us character of a nation is not the character of its president.

No. This is a democracy - and in our democracy, the conscience and the character our nation is whatever We the People choose is the conscience and character of our nation.

WE decide whether to stand up to injustice or to shield our eyes. WE decide whether to stand together or break apart.

We can be whatever we choose to be - but we must choose to do it together. Nothing - nothing - is guaranteed. But it is our responsibility - the responsibility of each and every American - to make those choices. To define the character of our nation. To build a better future for all of us.

And to fulfill that responsibility, sometimes it is important to cause "necessary trouble." John Lewis understood that. Dr. King understood that. They shocked the people of our nation - the conscience of our nation - the character of our nation - and that nation responded.

Now, more than ever, it is time once again for all of us to cause "necessary trouble." All of us. Not just congressmen, not just senators - all of us. We all have an obligation to act. To do more. To be more. To do better. To be better.

We must take this chance to reaffirm our core values as a country - to state loudly and clearly what we stand for as Americans and what we will fight for.

First: there is no place for bigotry in these United States-none. We believe in basic dignity and respect for EVERY human being, and we will fight back against discrimination, wherever and whenever it occurs. There will be no compromise on this.

Second: we believe in building economic opportunity not just for some of our children, but for all of our children. America is working great for those at the top, and it's time to make America work great for the rest of the country. Every person in this country-regardless of race, creed, or economic background - every person in this country deserves a fighting chance to build a real future.

Fighting against hate or fighting to build economic opportunity-It's not an either/or choice. We must do both. They go hand-in-hand. And to do that, we need to be honest about what's happening in America right now.

To build a future for every kid in this country, we cannot ignore a broken criminal justice system. We cannot ignore a broken voting rights system. We cannot ignore decades of systemic racism that have kept black and brown Americans from having the same opportunities as white Americans in this country.

To build a future for every kid in this country, we cannot ignore that too many of our African Americans friends, family, neighbors literally fear dying in the streets at the hands of those sworn to protect them.

To build a future in this country, we cannot ignore efforts to restrict the rights of our fellow citizens at the ballot box.

To build a future in this country, we cannot ignore the threats of the president elect to round up our fellow human beings and put millions of them out of this country, to tear millions of families apart.

Each and every one of us is called on to open our eyes and to fight for a better, a fairer, a more prosperous, and a more just America. That's what Dr. King called on us to do. That's what today's reality calls on us to do. This is the way we will, someday, make Dr. King's dream a reality.