“I’ve got a plan for that.”
If you’ve been watching Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) shoot her shot in the 2020 Presidential campaign, you will be more than familiar with those words.
And that resounding assurance did not change on Saturday afternoon when she stepped on to the Power Stage at the 2019 ESSENCE Festival.
“It is good to be at a party with purpose and I am here with purpose. Our purpose is to take back the White House in 2020,” Warren said as she opened her remarks. “We must win, but winning is not enough. When we win we must make real change in this country, and yeah, I got a plan for that.”
Warren started telling her own personal story of grappling with access to childcare as a young professional, struggling to find work-life balance only to have babysitters quit on her and childcare centers not work out. She came out on the other end thanks to the help of one of her aunts. But not everyone has an aunt like she did, Warren acknowledged.
“How many women of my generation were just knocked off the tracks because of childcare, how many women of my daughter’s generation were knocked off the tracks, how many women and how many men today just get knocked off the tracks because childcare today is harder than it was two generations ago,” Warren said. “I’m running for president of the United States and yeah I got a lot of plans because [if] you want to get something done, you better have a plan to do it.”
At the top of Warren’s plans, as many of us already know, is her wealth tax – a tax on the top one-tenth of the one percent which would require the super-rich to give two cents on their 50 millionth and first dollar, and an additional two cents on every dollar after that.
“You know what we can do in America with two cents?” Warren asked, getting visibly excited as she listed the possibilities. “We could start by providing universal childcare to every baby 0 to 5 in this country. We could provide universal pre-K for every three-year-old and four-year-old in this country. We could raise the wages of every childcare worker and preschool teacher in this country.”
“And with that same two cents, we could do more. We could provide tuition-free technical school, community college and four-year college to every one of our kids who wants an education. We could also level the playing field and that means a $50 Billion investment into HBCUs,” she continued. “We could cancel student loan debt for 95% of the kids who got it. We can start to close that Black-white wealth gap.”
In the Q&A segment, speaking to Rev. Al Sharpton, ESSENCE CEO Michelle Ebanks and Founder and Chair of Essence Ventures Richelieu Dennis, Warren expanded on her ideas on the wealth gap, pointing out that it has led to a Black-white entrepreneurship gap.
“The principal reason is not that people don’t have good ideas, it’s not that they don’t work hard. It’s access to capital, that original investment,” Warren explained. “And in an America where the principal way of building wealth was home ownership, we’re still feeling the effects of redlining in the Black-white wealth gap, and it shows up to create an entrepreneurship gap. Out of that two-cent wealth tax, I’ve also reserved $7 billion, to make the investment in Black-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, close that entrepreneurship gap and level the playing field for everyone.”
She also pointed out that this is not a partisan issue. Outside of Washington, D.C. she insisted, a majority of Republicans also support the wealth tax.
“I’m starting with something that’s popular across political parties. Building a grassroots movement is not just about trying to get elected in 2020, it’s about building the movement for change come January 2021, and we’re going to start with that wealth tax and link it to what we can pay for with it,” she told Ebanks during the Q&A. “Because there’s support across the aisle when we talk about universal childcare when we talk about universal pre-K for all of our kids, and when we talk about canceling that student loan debt, boy people forget which party they belong to, they want to be a part of that.”
Warren of course, took a little bit of time to also address her other plan, including a plan to build 3.2 million new housing units to address the general impact of redlining that has been used to discriminate against the Black community, and a plan to address the maternal health crisis, where Black women are 3 and 4 times more likely to die of complications than their white counterparts.
“I have a plan to value the work of Black women. 70% of Black mothers are the primary wage earners in their families, but they earn only 61 cents on the dollar for what white men earn,” Warren added. “So, what I’ve decided is no more vague talk about this. On day one my plan is to use the power of the federal government on a half a trillion dollars of government contracts to make sure that every government contractor in this country doesn’t just talk the talk but walks the walk on equal pay for equal work and a truly diverse workforce that looks like America.”
She expanded on this idea further in the Q&A, noting that as president, she would sign an executive order insisting, “It’s not enough to talk the talk about equal pay for equal work, it’s not enough to talk the talk about the diversity of your workforce, you’ve got to walk the walk or you’re not getting those federal contracts.”
Through her speech and the Q&A, Warren referenced how importance a grassroots movement was to making real change, and pointing to that as the reason why she has refused to do closed-door fundraising and meetings with corporate CEOs.
“When I built these policy proposals I didn’t do this by myself, I did it by having a big, diverse staff…who work with me, but also by reaching out to as many groups as humanly possible because I want to hear how it works on the ground,” she told Dennis. “It’s how I stay grounded now, how I’m able to hear and reflect it in the plans. I’m trying to get this right but it’s also the commitment when I’m president. My administration will look like America. We’re going to raise the voices of all the people who haven’t been heard, that’s my job.”
Ending her speech, Warren acknowledged that she has been told that people have told her what she’s trying to accomplish is too hard, or that she’s trying to do much. But to Warren, she’s just following the path laid out before her.
“What do you think they said to the abolitionists?” she asked the crowd. “Just too hard, quit now.”
“What did they say to the suffragettes? Too hard, you won’t get this done, quit now. What did they say to the early union organizers? Just quit now,” she added. “What did they say to the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights movement? Quit now. What did they say to the LGBTQ activists who wanted equal marriage? Never happen, quit now.”
“But they didn’t quit. They got organized, they built a grassroots movement, they persisted, and they changed the course of American history,” Warren continued. “This is our chance to change the course of American history. This is our chance to get organized, to build a grassroots movement to persist.”