Six month ago to the day, the world watched a bloody and brutal insurrection unfold, stoked by a defeated President and his supporters, in a doomed attempt to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power — the bedrock of our democratic republic.
Let’s be clear — these attacks were not just aimed at a building but at the very foundation of our government, our society — this was a direct assault on our democracy itself.
But these broadsides did not end on January 6th. They’ve continued unabated until this very day. While we no longer see active storming of federal buildings the theatre of combat has shifted to legislatures, the courts and to the hearts and minds of voters across the country. The opponents to free and fair elections push regressive proposals that degrade trust in the sanctity of the vote. Trafficking in misinformation and disinformation, they’ve utilized every tool at their disposal to make it more difficult for citizens to be a part of the democratic process — especially those that they think threaten their power.
This past Saturday, late in the evening dozens of white supremacists marched on Philadelphia filled with hatred and chanting the same bile heard in Charlottesville. As news spread of their presence in the city I was reminded of a conversation I’d had with my grandmother two years ago. She called me with pain in her voice and tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry baby, I’m so sorry baby. I thought we had fixed some of this stuff and here you are talking about the same things.” I refuse to have to have that conversation with my grandkids. All of us should refuse. Our mission, our patriotic duty must be to make the prescient words of our founding documents real in our lifetime.
That is why today I’m laying out my vision for a new day in American democracy. This eight-point agenda is critical to securing our democracy now and into the future.
It’s been famously said that, “an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” That is why at the cornerstone of my vision and the first bill I will introduce once I’m elected to the US Senate is the creation of a Civilian Democracy Corps, housed under AmeriCorps, to reinvigorate the teaching of civic education and how to spot misinformation and disinformation. Around the world, America is engaged in the painstaking work of aiding new democracies in their development, but we must also do that work here at home. These Civilian Democracy Corps members would go all across the country and work with schools, nonprofits, and community organizations to teach civic education to folks of all ages.
If we’re going to have a Democracy, we have to continually educate our people about how it works. We must also reckon with the fact that monopolistic tech and media companies have raked in enormous amounts of money as misinformation and disinformation have run rampant on their platforms. It is a national security threat we must address head on.
Second, I renew my call to end the Jim Crow Filibuster. The filibuster enables a minority of Senators to block legislation supported by the majority. Our government derives its power from us and the filibuster has been used repeatedly to silence us and block movement on vital legislation overwhelmingly supported by the American people. The filibuster is not sacred, but voting is, equality is, justice is.
Thirdly, with the filibuster gone we must pass HR1 better known as the For the People Act, a comprehensive set of reforms to voting and elections that would make voting dramatically easier, removes the ability of states to enact the voter suppression measures that has been proliferated in recent years, end partisan gerrymandering, and take on the poison of dark money in our politics. Big corporations and their “elected employees” have been able to drown out the voices of everyday people from the political process and it must end. Just last week the Supreme Court made the problem even worse, and HR1 must be the response.
American heroes like John Lewis, who was beaten and bled to preserve and expand the right to vote represents the best of us. But we must do more than praise his legacy and the legacy of those whom he marched alongside, we must pass The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, point four of my plan. This bill would re-enact the 1965 Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress. The Supreme Court, led by radical conservative justices, has again and again taken a hammer to the core tenants of the VRA and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act would secure them. But the right-wing activist nature of our federal courts compels our attention.
Point number five: To save the courts, we must expand the courts. Let me be clear, it was Mitch McConnell ignoring the constitution and his own made up precedent that packed the court. We need to expand the Supreme Court, as has been done multiple times to rebalance the scales of justice. Senate Republican packing of the court has made it deeply politicized and responsive almost solely to big corporate interests and the Federalist Society.
I know there are those who say disrupting Senate tradition by ending the filibuster or by expanding the Supreme Court risks breaking the very body I desperately want to fix. But the truth is the Senate is already deeply broken, and the only tradition we risk disrupting is the tight grip of power wielded by an ever-contracting group of well off and well connected interests that benefit from the status quo.
Senator McConnell has made it clear that if he regains control of the Senate, he will not allow President Biden to fill a vacancy prior to 2024 if there is an opening. This after refusing to confirm President Obama’s nominee and filing the seat of Justice Ginsburg 17 days before an election. Mitch has plainly said that he is 100% focused on blocking the President’s agenda and the filibuster and a radical activist court are his tools of choice. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” We must disarm him of his tools of obstruction. Period.
The current status quo has done nothing more than silence voices that must be heard. That’s why, for points six and seven of my plan, I reaffirm my unwavering commitment to DC Statehood and to self determination for Puerto Rico.
Finally, point number eight: to move forward we can’t ignore the past — or we are doomed to repeat it. Last week I introduced state legislation to create an annual day of remembrance on January 6th to be known as ‘Democracy Observance Day’. All Americans and Pennsylvanians must remember January 6 as a day that shook the foundations of our democratic republic. Democracy is fragile, and we all have a duty to protect it in the face of conspiracy theories, lies, and violence.
Securing our democracy is about securing a future for working families. Protecting the right to vote goes hand in hand with making sure that Democracy actually works for working people. When we think about our Democracy it’s more than just voting. It’s about all the different ways we make our voices heard. It’s about making folks’ voices heard in the workplace so they can have better wages, protections and good benefits. It’s about people being able to peacefully protest without fear of being harmed at the hands of law enforcement. It’s about using our collective voices to speak up about the dueling crises of climate change, debt, gun violence and fully funded schools.
In his first inaugural President Lincoln said, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
As we stand here at Gettysburg we reflect on the fact that every time we’ve seen America at an inflection point such as this. Every time we’ve seen America choose those better angels of our nature, we’ve also seen a new generation of leadership — calling for change. A new generation that’s unafraid to rise up and call America higher. A new generation demanding we live out the words of our creed.
On July 4th, 2017 as fireworks exploded overhead my mother Kelly took her last breath. But the wisdom she left me with is forever imprinted on my heart. She’d say, “nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.”
Those words serve as an indelible reminder that democracy requires something of us — every single one of us. It required the ultimate sacrifice of so many men who gave their lives on this consecrated ground to preserve the union. It required something on the enslaved and abolitionists who risked everything to chart a path to freedom. It required something of the suffragettes who rightly believed that they were created equal too. It required something of the heroes who sat at diner counters while being spit on and lambasted, fighting off dogs and water hoses because they knew a change was going to come. It required something of the brave souls who fought back at Stone Wall for the right to pursue their happiness. It requires something of us now.