You are here

Pelosi Remarks at Detroit NAACP's 58th Annual 'Fight for Freedom' Fund Dinner

Detroit – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered the keynote address at the Detroit NAACP’s 58th annual “Fight for Freedom” Fund dinner.  Below are the Leader’s remarks as delivered:

“Good evening everyone.  You know it is customary at a time like this for a person to get up and say: ‘It is my pleasure to be here this evening.’  But it really is and let me tell you why; while the Reverend was speaking out and talking about my accomplishments, and this and that – he was, shall we say, generous in his presentation, while Dr. Anthony was doing that, Wendelaya his little girl, who is going to be two years old in a few weeks said: ‘Daddy, what are you doing?’

[Laughter]

“I love when she does that.  It’s really a family affair to be sitting next to a two year old.  A couple of seats down is her grandmother, a couple of seats away is Emma – 108 years old.  As you can see, this is a multi-generational evening and an important one at that.  Dr. Anthony – I don’t know whether to call you – Doctor, Mr. President, Reverend?  So many titles.

Reverend Anthony.  Reverend is fine

“Reverend is fine?  So many titles; so much leadership; so much knowledge.  Thank you.  For your generous gift of time to the community, for your leadership for civil rights and equality in this city and across the country. 

“Thank you Monica – who has left us – for sharing him with us and for carrying those responsibilities.

“I want to congratulate the co-chairs tonight – I’ve never seen anything quite like tonight.  What a successful evening.  So many of you, such accomplished awardees.  So I want to thank Reverend Jackson and Leon Richardson for their leadership in making this all possible.  And to thank Donnell White for his work too.

“Now I was thinking as I was coming here, what I would talk to you about.  As I was listening to the speeches, I was quietly thinking of the message I was going to take back to Congress of what I saw here this evening.  First of all, as the Leader of the House Democrats, let me extend greetings of Congress to the NAACP Detroit Chapter and to each and every one of you, to congratulate the awardees, to thank the sponsors, to pay my respects to the NAACP here in Detroit.  And the respect of my colleagues.

“I think it’s important to note that the House Democratic Caucus is over 50 percent women and minorities.  Isn’t that a wonderful thing?  And they all send you their respects and best wishes.

“When I go back, I will tell them the message of hope that the Mayor gave us this evening.  Thank you, Mr. Mayor for your fighting spirit and for your message.  Isn’t he a wonderful Mayor?  We don’t need anybody else around here running this city.

“I want to express my gratitude and that of our Caucus to all of you for sending such a distinguished congressional delegation to the Congress of the United States.  You’ve heard them speak tonight.  I see how they are so respected by all of you, but I want you to know how respected they are in Congress and by people from across the country.

“Our two, your two Senators – I say our because they are such great leaders in all of the subjects that are your game changers: jobs, health care, safety, voter participation – all of the game changers.  They are leaders.  Carl Levin, great Senator, I can’t think of anyone who has done more for our men and women and for our veterans – and he does so every single day.  Thank you, Carl Levin.

“And your [Senator] Debbie Stabenow, a champion for Make It In America and for our farmers.  She’s great and respected – a leader.  Gary Peters, a champion for ‘Make It In America,’ good paying American jobs, starting with the auto industry here.  For Sandy Levin, really a leader as the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and he will be again standing up for American workers day in and day out.  I know that Bob King and the UAW workers can vouch for that.  And I know that our most senior Member of Congress had been here, John Dingell with his wife Debbie.  In a few weeks, we will be honoring him for being the longest serving Member of Congress in the history of the United States – the longest serving Member of the House. 

“I want to acknowledge also our newest Member from Michigan, Dan Kildee, following in the footsteps of Dale Kildee, a great Member of Congress too.  I tell you about them because you should know, again, that they are great.  I want you to know that we think they are great in the Congress as well.  They are leaders.

“And as I listened to them talk about the struggle and all of the awardees and the presenters, talking about the struggle, I was reminded of a [story] that I wanted to convey to you before I talk about the subject of jobs and health care and your paying chapters.

“I was told that a Presbyterian minister in a country in Africa posted a prayer on the wall at a hospital there.  The prayer said: ‘Then it won’t last; I pass you this life and happily go to meet my neighbor.  When I come before God, people say to me, ‘show me your wounds.’  And if I have no wounds to show him, he will say, ‘was nothing worth fighting for? – was nothing worth fighting for?’ 

“Well, we all know that we’ve all collected our wounds and certainly in the history of NAACP, we will proudly present these wounds because something was very, very worth fighting for and that was the dignity and worth of every person to be treated with dignity and to share equality.

“This week has been a very special one for me.  On Wednesday, in the House of Representatives, Terry Sewell, one of our new Members – first African-American women to be elected from Alabama to the Congress – brought legislation to the floor, which we passed overwhelmingly, designating a Congressional Gold Medal for the four little girls who died in the bombing in Birmingham so long ago.

“Yesterday, I traveled to Montgomery, Alabama and visited all of the memorials there.  I was there for something at the Southern Poverty Law Center, dedicating a museum, I was there to see the water, our reflection back from the water and the names of those who died fighting for civil liberties and civil rights in the South over a period of time.  Seeing my reflection: ‘What are you going to do about it?’  And I was there because of your former Chairman Julian Bond.  So, the gold medal Wednesday, yesterday in Alabama, all of it in preparation for my coming to see you here this evening – to bring all of that spirit, all that you have done.

“Now, I have some NAACP credentials myself because although I represent San Francisco in the Congress and I am a member of the NAACP there, I actually was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland.  My father was Mayor most of my life, when I was in the first grade to when I went away to college he was still Mayor, Thomas D’Alesandro, and my brother later was Mayor.  And I witnessed, growing up, I witnessed so many leaders, including Thurgood Marshall, for civil rights – including some extraordinary women, I was reminded of – when I saw Emma [Didlake] get her award – Lillie Jackson, known as ‘Mother Freedom,’ who built the Baltimore NAACP to what it was then – the largest branch in the United States.  Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Lillie’s daughter who married into the Mitchell family, great civil rights leaders, but in her own right she was the first African- American woman to become a lawyer in the state of Maryland.  And she went on to lead the charge to desegregate schools there.

“And thanks to another young woman, at the time a teenager, Ann Jealous, she would then desegregate her own high school, Western High School, in Baltimore – the name may be familiar to you, her son is Ben Jealous, President, the Chairman of the NAACP.  President of NAACP.

“So all of these connections, all of this commitment, all of this prominently, all of this admiration, for all of you runs deep.  So these women – Rosa Parks, Emma Didlake – isn’t she unbelievable?  Isn’t she unbelievable?  And these women made a commitment – and to JoAnn Watson and all of the honorees this evening indicate that women still make their mark.

“I want to tell my colleagues when I go back, that 101 years ago, a small group of committed action leaders in this city took a leap of faith in St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church to form the Detroit Branch of the NAACP.  Right from the start, it was quickly becoming a national movement of civil rights.  Detroit stood there in the forefront, in the front lines of the battle for justice, and fairness, dignity for our people, and the strength of our democracy.

“During that time, the NAACP, the Detroit NAACP since then saw victories to end discrimination in housing and segregation in schools.  Detroit witnessed the empowerment of African-American business owners, workers, and families and we all know that more needs to be done.  We have work to do.

“I will tell them of the pride that you take, that 50 years ago in June 1963, before the March on Washington even, Reverend Martin Luther king Jr. led tens, tens of thousands of people through the streets of this city during the Great March on Detroit.  Was anybody here then?  What is now known and we see it on the t-shirts as the ‘Freedom Walk.’  Here in Detroit, Dr. King told the audience of his extraordinary dream, two months before he made the march on Washington.  Here in Detroit, he spoke of securing ‘a new sense of dignity, a new sense of self-respect for African-Americans.’  Here in Detroit, he warned against ‘gradualism,’ which he would also later do in Washington, offering the fitting metaphor the ‘Motor City,’ ‘the Motor City  should refuse to put on the brakes;’ that ‘the motor’s cranked up and we’re moving forward down the highway of freedom towards the city of equality.’  That’s what he said at Detroit.

“Today, Detroit is still engaged in a great, long, march for civil rights and a campaign to preserve the dignity of all Americans and to preserve the dignity of Detroit.  Indeed, for this reason and many others, your theme tonight could not be more perfect: ‘Freedom must never be defaulted – it must be forever exalted.’

“In our time, half-a-century later – half-a-century after Dr. King stirred the souls of a nation, the question remains: how do you truly ensure that freedom is forever exalted?  Dr. King gave us this challenge.  In your game changers that I’ve seen this evening, you give us a path.  The game change to meet the challenge about what must be advanced: economic sustainability, education, health care access for all, public safety, federal justice and voter empowerment.  These game changers are essential, not only to us as individuals; they are essential to strengthen the middle class, which is the backbone of our democracy.  If we don’t take your lead, and make that change to make those game changers a reality, our democracy will be weakened.  And so they are critical, they completely mirror the theme of the Democrats in Congress to reignite the American Dream, to build ladders of opportunity for people who work hard and play by the rules, take responsibility.  So they can achieve their success to give everyone a chance.  Clearly, we have work to do. 

“And so, what are we doing about it?  What are we doing about it?  Well, in order to – what’s happening?  What’s new on these topics.  We must achieve economic sustainability by restoring confidence in our economy, creating jobs, and expanding businesses.  It’s not just enough to create jobs; we want the community to have ownership and equity to be employers, as well as the employees.  We want to invest in building the infrastructure and innovation of America.  And that we have to do this enabling of everyone in America to achieve prosperity.  Training workers and increasing the minimum wage to a living wage.  We must address our disparity among – we call it disparity in our country. 

“Around the time Dr. King made his speech, the proportion of the average CEO to the average worker in the company, around 1970, the average CEO of the top 100 companies made about 40 times what the average worker did.  And in the past few years, the average CEO [wage] versus the average worker [wage] has risen to over 350 times the average worker.  Is that not changeable?  Thank you.  And the thing is that is not sustainable for individuals, for families, when it’s not sustainable for the middle class, it is not sustainable for a democracy.  We must make it a national priority to place economic justice at the heart of economic growth, to end this disparity once and for all.  And we have work to do. 

“These priorities of job creation are the centerpiece of President Obama’s budget and in his statement of the State of the Union Address, he said: ‘we must center our fight to ensure that a fair shot for all Americans to live out the American Dream is realized.’  Related to the disparity of income, this disparity in education, the NAACP second game changer: jobs, economic growth; second, education.  In his, the President’s address, he calls, and in his budget, he talks about education from early childhood to lifetime learning.  Now remember this, those who want to cut the budget and cut education are actually increasing the deficit because nothing brings more to the Treasury than the education of the American people.

“We should all applaud President Obama for making universal pre-school a cornerstone of his budget, of his blueprint -- and nothing brings more to the Treasury, as I said, nothing brings more to families, to children, to families, to our community, to our economy, to innovation, to keeping America number one, to being competitive, than the education of the American people.  So, part of it, is not, it is a mistake [to cut education].

“As President Kennedy once said: ‘Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education’ – because, as NAACP knows, education is the key to success no matter what your race, or where you live.  Education is essential to opportunity and equality, a game changer for every student seeking to learn and grow.  So we must press for education equality.  That means we must have the best education for all of America’s children, all of them.  We took a big, giant step on your next game changer – health care access for all Americans – and as Reverend Anthony so generously presented how hard it was to get the job done, it was absolutely necessary, necessary.  It might interest you to know, that the day after we passed the [Affordable Care Act], the President called me and said: ‘Yesterday, when you passed the health care bill, I was happier than I was the night I was elected President of the United States.’  Always thinking of the people.

“I said: ‘Well, I was pretty happy last night myself, Mr. President, but I wasn’t happier than the night you were elected President of the United States because if you weren’t elected President of the United States, we would not be able to pass this legislation.’  It took everyone.  And I hope you take some level of satisfaction for the role that you played because you’re placing this on the agenda, on the ongoing basis.  Here tonight at this engagement.  You were with us, pushing open that gate.  After we did pass the bill, the press said: ‘what did you do?  Jump over?  Fly in?  Whatever it was.’  I said: ‘No, we pushed open the gate.’  And you were right there with us.  Thank you for the work you did.

“Right now, what’s happening, what’s happening, what’s new – is the implementation of health care and I hope that the NAACP will be, help people navigate the implementation, so they have access to their right to quality, affordable health care.

“In terms of public safety, number four or five, we can probably get, we must prevent gun violence.  We must keep and we will keep working to pass legislation to get the job done.  Let’s salute our two great Senators, Senator Levin and Senator Stabenow for their courageous leadership on the subject of gun violence and their courageous work.  On these issues, when we talk about jobs, or education, around all of these issues, especially talking about jobs, and health care, and education, the President has this in his budget, he has it in his budget, he’s asking the Republicans to go to the table to reconcile our differences in public so that we can have a budget that creates jobs, reduces the deficit, and takes us forward.

“The Republican answer has been sequestration.  Now, you tell me if this is the statement of values, as a budget is supposed to be: four million Meals on Wheels eliminated under sequestration; 70,000 kids taken off of Head Start; the list goes on.  As Carl Levin talked about earlier, the list goes on and on and it only gets worse.  We must go to the table and we need your help calling for a budget that again reflects our values.  Right now, the President isn’t getting the cooperation that any President of the United States should receive.  We are – we have work to do.  We will continue to fight for those budget priorities and for, again, we will not rest until we accomplish gun safety in our country until we keep our children safe at home, at school.  We will not have accept the defeat of the background check bill – it will be brought up again, I’m absolutely certain.  We cannot rest until the job is done.  Now I know that all of this, all of this would be much easier, as Jocelyn mentioned.  Jocelyn Benson mentioned in her remarks if we could stop the voter suppression that is going on in our country.  This is absolutely essential. 

“When our House, our team – with Mr. Conyers, our Ranking Member on the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Clyburn our Assistant [Democratic] Leader, John Lewis – well-known to all of you – for taking the lead in addressing voter empowerment, voter empowerment.  And this issue, your fifth and final of the evening, game changer.  The [threat] to this game changer is a clear threat to our democratic system: those who have unlimited money, unidentified money, squeezing the airwaves, who have unfair regulations and rules the committee puts forth, to suppress the vote.  It’s a terrible combination.  And what does it produce?  It does not honor the vows of our founders, who sacrificed their lives, their liberty, their sacred honor, they said, to build a democracy – a government of the many, not a government of money.  So we have issued a, we have issued a DARE: disclose – where is this money coming from?  Amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United.  Reform political giving to reduce the role of money, empower the people – your voice is your vote and the ones who diminish it, we will not let that happen.  But we all know that we have more to do to get that done.  If you reduce the role of money and increase the role of civility in politics, you will elect many more women, many more minorities and many more young people to office.  And you will have democracy, not an oligarchy – a government of the few, a government of the money.

“And so, with those issues like voter empowerment, jobs, education, ending disparity in education and in income in our country, public safety, and at the Supreme Court, justice, and the rest of it.  We have an important agenda to see to.  I’m very hopeful – I’m very – that we can accomplish it.  But in the near future, we have to keep fighting for the Voting Rights Act.  I was proud to stand on the steps of the Supreme Court with John Conyers, Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, other Members of Congress, including activists from all over the country, including LGBT activists who joined in that demonstration for the Voting Rights Act.

“Our message to the Supreme Court: when you weaken the Voting Rights Act, you weaken democracy in America.  We will not let that happen.  We’ve got a lot more work to do.  And so, the NAACP’s game changers is a path, it is a path, it addresses the path for our nation to go into the future in a way that strengthens the middle class.  Again, the backbone of our democracy.  After the struggles of the past – where we all got our wounds – this is how we embrace the opportunities of the future, heeding Dr. King’s call to keep our motors cranked up – are our motors cranked up – and moving down the highway of freedom together.

“Together, 50 years after Dr. King and thousands more took the ‘Freedom Walk’ in Detroit, through the streets of this city, let us finish the work of our forebears: to secure justice; to promote the common good; to uphold the promise of equality.  Together, let us push forward on the road toward the city of equality.  Let us honor Dr. King by honoring your courage tonight.  Freedom is never defaulted – when freedom is forever exalted.

“May God bless you, all of you.  May God bless the Detroit branch of the NAACP.  May God bless President Barack Obama.  And may God continue to bless the United States of America.  Thank you for the honor of being with you this very day.  Thank you, Reverend Anthony.  Thank you.”