We the People Membership Summit ... back >
April 1, 2019 - Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wrapped up the program.  "We want to restore this democracy to the hands of the people," Gillibrand stated.  "I can tell you the root of the problem is corruption and greed," she said.
Kirsten Gillibrand—Transcript of Opening Remarks

Hey everybody. Okay, I know I am the only thing keeping you from drinks so I'm going to keep my remarks short, and then answer all your questions. All right.

So I don't know if you saw my announcement speech, but I did it right out outside of Trump International. Did you see it?

Well the reason why I took the fight to him, is because President Trump is creating so much division and hate in this country, but he is very small. He is weak. He is a coward. He is a leader who actually punches down. He demonizes those who need our help, those who need our support. He demonizes the LGBTQ community, he demonizes our transgender troops. And when you have a bully like that as president of the United States, what it means is it loses who we are as a country.

Our country, at its best moments has always been strong. In fact, we don't even remember what it's like to have a president who's brave. Do you remember what it's like when a president says, Let's send a man to the moon, or when a president says let's pass the Civil Rights Act. That's what bravery looks like. It's when you're willing to take on the battles that no one else is willing to take on and you are willing to do the thing that is really hard to do. So what you're doing right now on the grassroots is exactly what our country is made of. You are fighting district by district, state by state. You flipped the House in 2018; thank you for doing the work.

We know that when our democracy is strong, the people's voices are heard. And I think what we're talking about here today is really meaningful. The fact that we want to restore this democracy to the hands of the people. If you want to do that, you have to go to the root of the problem. And I can tell you the root of the problem is corruption and greed. Anything that you want to achieve anything, whether it's the Green New Deal, whether it's healthcare, as a right and not a privilege, whether it's fixing our public schools, whether it's getting prescription drug prices down. I can show you what is standing in the way.

Let's look at gun violence. It is the NRA. They are funded by the gun manufacturers. The gun manufacturers care more about selling weapons than having universal background checks. They would rather sell a weapon to someone on the terrorist watch list, to someone who is gravely mentally ill with a violent background. That's why they are against the violence against women's act. They would rather sell a weapon to someone with a criminal conviction for violent crimes. And that's the truth of it. And that is the difference between capitalism and greed. They are defined by their greed.

Any other issue that you care about, let's say healthcare's as a right. Well, you have to be willing to take on the insurance companies. If you're unwilling to take on the insurance companies you will never get to healthcare is a right and not a privilege. That's why I'm for Medicare for All. And that's why we have to fight to pass Medicare for All.

So you're wondering why am I running for president and why am I going to win? Well let me tell you, I have a very different history, a very different story. I got my start in politics in upstate New York. Upstate New York in a very red place, in fact a two to one Republican district. When I decided to run for Congress, no one thought I could win. The only person who thought I could win was my mother. And that tells you a lot about her. By the time she was my age she was a second degree black belt in karate.

So I decide to look at this district and I call a friend of mine who's actually really smart, a pollster, understands these things, and I told him, I said, Jeffrey I really want to run for Congress in upstate New York where I'm from. The 20th congressional district. Please look it up and tell me my chances. He said, Oh, Kirsten, sorry, you can't win. And, you know, I'd been working for other candidates for 10 years, raising money, helping them get elected. I said you know Jeffrey, I could raise a lot of money. I could probably raise $2 million. I could get my message out. And he said, it's two to one Republican; there's not enough Democrats to vote for you. So I said, Well, what happens if I run the perfect campaign can't I win then. And he said, there are more cows and Democrats in your district. You actually cannot win. So then I said, Well, you know, this guy's a bit of a jerk, kind of a bully. What happens if he gets indicted? Clearly I could win then, right? He said, Well, it depends what he gets indicted for. So you can imagine how red, red, red this district was.

But I did run, I did raise close to $2 million, I ran close to a perfect campaign, and miracles do happen. But the one mistake he made is he never took me seriously. In fact, he looked at me and said, Uhh, she's just another pretty face. And of course I said, Thank you. And then I pivoted to talk about why I was running and that I wanted to get our troops out of Iraq. It was the number one issue in 2005, because we were mired in the Iraq war and no end in sight.

I also ran on—surprise, surprise—Medicare for All. Because even back then, in a two to one Republican district, when I traveled the district people couldn't afford health care. They couldn't afford it because back then we didn't even have the Affordable Care Act. People were dropped coverages as soon as they had a pre-existing condition. People were discriminated against. People couldn't afford it at all. And so they wanted a solution.

And I said, Well, how about letting anyone buy into Medicare at a price they can afford. Four or 5% of income. And they said yes, that's perfect, because it creates more competition, and it allows for lower prices and quality care. So when Senator Sanders introduced his bill, I got to work on the part about the transition, a four or five year transition to let people buy in, to create the competition, to bring the prices down, to get to single payer. That is the quickest way to get to single payer in America today and why I signed on to the bill.

So in conclusion, I want to talk to you about why I'm going to win. I think it's really important that we have a nominee who can talk to all of America, and really identify what's going on. Because people across America, no matter where they live, whether they live in the Bronx, whether they lived in Long Island, whether they lived in upstate New York, no matter where they lived in my state, they feel left behind, deeply, deeply left behind.

So you need an economy that can grow for all of us. You need access to higher education, no matter what block you grow up on. You need better public schools, you need universal pre-K, affordable daycare. You need to be able to have good public schools and higher ed. So how about one big idea? How about telling any young person in America today, if you are willing to do a year of public service, you get two years of community college or state school free. If you are willing to do two years of public service, you get four years free.

And the reason why this is such a good idea [is] because of two things. Number one, we need people in public service desperately. We need the next generation of teachers. We need the next generation of nurses and home health aides. We need people trained in the green jobs of the future, in STEM subjects. We need first responders and we need more people to enter the military. It's an expansion of the GI Bill. It will work, and it will change the heart of America.

So the antidote to President Trump who was spewed hate and division for the last two years he's been in office is to take and ask America's young people, ask what you could do for America not what America could do for you. And that's the truth of it. And so when they do public service, their hearts are changed and we change the character of this nation in a generation.

So I have 30 seconds left. So I'm going to leave you with one other big idea.

So as I've been traveling around the country, the biggest concern people have right now is underemployment. It's not unemployment, it's actually underemployment because people are working hard all across our state and the country, but they're not being paid enough to make it into the middle class, just not. They can't cobble together enough hours. They can't, they can't make ends meet. So why not make a commitment to America and say, if you want to work full time, if you are unemployed or underemployed, we will pay for your job training. So whether it's an estate school, a community college, a city college, a not for profit or an apprenticeship program, we will pay for your training to get a higher paying job so you can earn your way into the middle class. That is one of the best, cleanest ideas to take on institutional racism, to take on people who have been left behind and feel the economy is not built for them, for all the people who feel the system is rigged and know it. That is the best solution. So that is a way that I think we can make the economy grow and make sure every person in America has a chance to live up to their God-given potential.

So let me answer questions.

Jeremiah Lowery from Washington DC is a longtime advocate and community organizer [Sierra Club]: "...If elected president would you commit to a small donor public financing system for federal elections and why?"

Aaron McCall, LGBTQ activist and a leader with Indivisible in Orange County, California: "...First, do you believe in getting rid of the filibuster, and if not, how will you enact the change you are saying you want to enact with an obstructionist Republican Senate?"

Aaron McCall.
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