WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) delivered remarks at the National Urban League’s Annual Legislative Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. Before speaking at the National Urban League Empowerment Luncheon, Brown was presented the Hiram Revels Award for Achievement for his Commitment to the Dignity of Work.
Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, can be found below.
Thank you to Marc Morial, Clint Odom, Terri Sewell, all the Ohio leaders and everyone at the National Urban League who is here today.
Dr. King said that “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.”
It rolls in because of people like President Morial and Congresswoman Terri Sewell and all of you here today.
Despite all the forces trying to pull us back, you keep moving our country forward.
You push forward against a President who got his start questioning the legitimacy of the first black president.
You push forward against a justice system that is too often unjust.
You push forward against efforts to suppress the vote and silence the voices of people all across this country.
I had the honor of joining the Selma jubilee this year for my fifth time. As we joined hands and walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, it was not simply a commemoration, but a call to action – a recommitment and acknowledgement of all the work we have left to do.
All over the country, voting rights are under attack. We saw it on the Supreme Court, when they gutted the Voting Rights Act. We saw it in Georgia – they stole that election from Stacey Abrams.
That’s why our work to fight back is important.
I’m working on legislation to make it so you can register to vote when you do your taxes.
Voting rights are the bedrock on which all movements for justice are built. But the ballot box is the tool – not the end in itself.
After the Voting Rights Act passed Congress, Dr. King didn’t declare victory and go home. He called Selma only “Phase One.” He took the Civil Rights Movement north to Chicago, to fight for fair housing. He launched the Poor People’s Campaign to fight for economic justice.
Dr. King understood better than anyone the deep connection between civil rights and workers’ rights. He was martyred fighting for sanitation workers in Memphis.
Dr. King taught that all work has dignity. No job is menial, he said, if it pays an adequate wage.
Dignity of work means hard work should pay off for everyone, no matter who you are or what kind of work you do. Dignity of work means passing equal pay laws so that a black woman is paid as much as a white man for the same job. Dignity of work means everyone can afford health care and housing, and we finally undo the long legacy of redlining.
Dignity of work means undoing the legacy of decades of lending and housing discrimination that has robbed too many African American families of economic opportunity and the ability to build wealth. It means developing deliberate policy solutions to right those wrongs.
We need investments in everything from education to infrastructure in communities that have been held back for far too long – not more tax cuts for rich people.
It means recognizing that, yes, we must reform our justice system. And also recognizing that by the time someone is in a position to benefit from criminal justice reform, our society has already failed them. We have to make economic opportunities and good-paying jobs available for everyone, in all communities.
President Trump has used his phony populism to divide Americans. That’s not populism.
Populism is never racist. It is never anti-Semitic. It doesn’t pass tax cuts for millionaires and cut funding for head start. Populists don’t lie. And they don’t push some people down. Populists lift everyone up.
President Trump divides to distract. He uses racism and demonizes immigrants to distract from the fact that the White House looks like a retreat for Wall Street, and that he has used it to make himself and people like him richer.
But we won’t let him distract. Because we love this country too much. This is our America and we will not cede the hallowed ground of patriotism to extremists.
That’s the work you do every day. Thank you so much.