South Bend mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg spoke at the Greater Indianapolis NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet on Oct. 4. Below is a transcript of his speech, provided by his campaign.
Watch the video of his speech here.
Pete Buttigieg: I want to acknowledge tonight’s Honorary Chair and my fellow Hoosier mayor —Indianapolis has a great leader in Joe Hogsett, and I am thankful to call you a colleague. And I am very glad to be here, not only as the mayor of South Bend, as a Democratic candidate for president, but also — bringing greetings from the South Bend Branch, led by Apostle Michael Patton — as a longstanding Silver Life Subscribing member of the NAACP. And I trust president Bolling-Williams that afterwards, we can do the books and figure out how close I am to being complete in that regard — only to discover that there are higher levels, and I will see if I can up my status. I’m very grateful to everyone here recognizing 50 extraordinary years carrying on the courageous legacies of giants like the late Julian Bond, Myrlie Evers-Williams — all who lived up to that idea that “When We Fight, We Win.” And I believe there’s a few tables of South Bend folks right here in the house too.
Some have asked, what would possess a millennial Midwestern mayor to seek the American presidency? And honestly, this is not where I would have expected to be just a few short years ago, but I am doing this because of the moment we’re in. I believe we have come to a moment that will require all of us to stand together — everyone who has ever been singled out for exclusion. The time has come to recognize, among all of the different forms of exclusion that have harmed people in this country, that we have the chance to build a new kind of solidarity.
I come to this from the perspective of the mayor of a diverse city, having seen and sometimes lived, the ways in which the shadow of our nation’s history of discrimination has complicated every dimension of our lives. And in particular, complicated every dimension of black lives — from housing to health, from education to economic empowerment, from access to justice to access to the vote In South Bend, even as we came together to confront violence in our city, to ensure that public safety is overseen and driven by the community, still we have lost far too many lives — and far too many of them were black lives. Not only Eric Logan, who died in a violent encounter with police still being investigated to this day, but so many names: Ajurin, and Tysiona, and Brandon — and far, far too many more lost to violence that is swallowing our youth.
Even as we work to broaden economic empowerment — from a West Side small business resource center to help underserved entrepreneurs, to a disparity study giving us the basis for a race conscious city purchasing program — we see the hard data telling us of the enormous gap in wealth and income in our community. And even as we work to get out the vote every year, we see the consequences of the fact that we live in one of the only states in America that closes its polls at six o’clock. A state where those who came to the conclusion that their success depended on fewer people voting had the idea of voter ID that has now spread across the land — and where when you go to vote, you are greeted by a big poster with a ‘stop’ sign on it. You ever notice that in the polling place? That poster, as though designed to discourage people from voting if they’re intimidated. So I’ve seen the possibilities and the limitations of what can be done in a diverse community, a diverse state, while our nation continues to accept the unacceptable.
And I must also say that I come at the question of equality from a perspective shaped by my own search for belonging. I have not had the experience of being more likely to be pulled over while driving, or less likely to be called back for a job interview, or less likely to be believed when describing symptoms at a hospital simply because of the color of my skin — but I have heard so many stories of those who have. I am conscious that that is not my experience, and everyone should be conscious that race is not only something that is part of the experience of color. The very experience of whiteness is being able to afford to not always think about race. But I’ll also say that I am mindful of the fact that people very different from me helped to bring me some of the most important rights in my life. No different experiences of discrimination are alike, but I do know something of the conflict that breaks out in the heart of a young person when he realizes that a basic fact about him means that he will be more likely to be feared, hated, subject to random violence, and denied opportunities. And I also know something of the amazing power of activism and advocacy, solidarity and alliance, to help deliver more equal rights. As someone whose marriage exists by the grace of a single vote on the United States Supreme Court, I know why political decisions matter, why politics matters. It matters because the decisions they make in those big white buildings come into our lives, our neighborhoods, our homes, and our marriages.
And I’m running for president as a mayor of an American city because of the need for our national politics to rediscover its roots in the everyday lives of people in places like South Bend and Indianapolis. We cannot afford one more minute of the politics that we’re living with today — and I don’t only mean the corruption of the current administration, although that is horror enough. I mean the lack of urgency in tackling the issues that got our country here in the first place. Because if our economy and our democracy were working the way that they are supposed to, someone like the current president could never have come within cheating distance of the Oval Office to begin with.
I’m running because America is running out of time to deal with these challenges. Mindful of the words of James Baldwin, who said “there is never a time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now.” When we are a decade away of reaching the point of no return with climate, the time is now. When we are a few years away from having 100 million more guns on American streets, the time is now. When we are a few court decisions away from a woman’s right to choose not even existing, the time is now. When our democracy is slipping away — dollar after influential dollar, one suppressed vote and one misshapen district at a time — the time is now.
I’m tired of sending politicians to Washington to fight for us, and then they get there and seem to take more interest in the part about fighting than the part about us. I’m tired of pretending that this presidency is an aberration, that once it’s all over, we can go back to normal again. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the falsehood of this president’s slogan ‘Make America Great Again,’ it is that there is no such thing as ‘again’ in real life — just the future and making sure that it’s better than the past. So the time has come for a new generation of leadership, with ideas big enough and bold enough to meet this deep crisis and capable of unifying our nation to confront it. And that time is not four years from now, it is not a decade from now — it is right now.
When I launched this campaign, I understood that part of it meant reckoning with race in America, but it is one thing to understand this from the perspective of one life or one city — another to get the education that comes from the travels of a presidential candidate. In recent months, I’ve had the extraordinary privilege to sit down with moral giants like John Lewis and Vernon Jordan; break bread with trailblazers like Donna Brazile, Minyon Moore, and the Reverend Leah Daughtry. I’ve visited with folks on front porches in rural South Carolina and glittering dinners like the CVC Gala in Washington. I saw firsthand the powerful witness of Reverend William Barber, speaking of a Third Reconstruction to finally reckon with all that was achieved and then clawed back in the First Reconstruction after the Civil War, and the Second Reconstruction of the civil rights movement. And there’s the education I received a few months ago in Los Angeles at a tech incubator cofounded by the late Nipsey Hussle, where I met a fellow Hoosier, a 14 year old, who was touring the place at the same time as part of a student group. He was from right here in Indiana — Noblesville — and he told me that he was experiencing racial tension at his school. I said, what do you mean racial tension? He talked about being called racial slurs at his school, in Indiana, in 2019. He could be the next Black Bill Gates, but instead of being able to concentrate on his interests in engineering and coding, he’s having to navigate that at school today. And I’m thinking to myself, that’s not racial tension, that is abuse — and it’s got to end. So absorbing these stories, but also seeing the fierce belief that everyone has in the possibility of something better, has reaffirmed me of the importance of confronting systemic discrimination in all that we do.
Not only do we talk in this campaign about delivering affordable, universal health care — my plan to do that is called Medicare for All Who Want It. But also, we cannot talk about health without ignoring the fact that our health care system is burdened by racism when Black women are dying from maternal complications at three times the rate of white women and Black men face a higher risk of diabetes. We are having a healthy debate about education, and we talk a lot about supporting teachers, starting with a Secretary of Education who believes in public education. But that conversation is incomplete if it does not acknowledge that our schools are burdened by racism — not just the history that led to Brown vs. Board — but the reality that today, our schools are almost as segregated as they were then. There’s a debate about climate that makes it sound, sometimes, like climate change is happening only on the North Pole — but it is happening in the Midwest, it is happening in American neighborhoods, and it is happening disproportionately in Black neighborhoods. Climate is also an issue of justice, and the conclusion that I’ve reached is that if we do not tackle the problem of racial inequity in our lifetime, it will wreck the American project in my lifetime. So it’s not enough to talk about this as a specialty issue, something to discuss with minority voters only, which is why you’ll be seeing me talk about these issues not only at an NAACP dinner, but at a union lunch, at an American Legion breakfast, and in front of majority white audiences too. Everybody in America has to reckon with this, and I want it said in my candidacy and of my presidency, not only that we strengthened Black America, but then we helped all of America understand that this nation is not what we think it is until the equality is real.
We need everyone to appreciate that it is not enough simply to delete a racist policy and replace it with a neutral one and expect inequality to take care of itself. It doesn’t work that way. Left without remedy, an injustice does not heal, it compounds. In the same way that a dollar saved compounds over time, so does a dollar stolen. And that means the fact that some of these moments of generational theft happened a very long time ago don’t make it better, they make it worse, but it also means we can do something about it. The policies that created the inequality today, they were put in place intentionally aimed as precisely as the navigation of the ships that began sailing this way 400 years ago. Some of these policies though were not enacted centuries ago, but within living memory policies made it harder for some to access the GI bill, policies that hemmed people into neighborhoods and then gentrified them right out of them when they became desirable. So we’re going to need intentional action to reverse these harms and that is why I’m proud to have put forward the most comprehensive account of what to do of of my competitors. With a Douglass plan as ambitious as the Marshall plan that rebuilt Europe; only this time we’re investing right here at home. It’s a plan that recognizes that everything is connected. That every time we sit down to talk about a question like race and policing, by the end of the hour we’re talking not only about that, but also about economic empowerment. We can’t talk about economic empowerment without looking at education, and we can’t look at education without looking at neighborhoods and home ownership and health and voting. So we have to tackle all of this in a systemic way.
When I am president, we will honor the work of the pioneers, like many of those honored and some present today, by investing in rehabilitation and re-entry, doing everything in our power to ensure that police are professional and accountable, that we must, when we legalize marijuana, move on to eliminate incarceration for simple drug possession and have reforms that are retroactive to deal with the harms that we have seen. But just as important as criminal justice reform is, (inaudible) outgrow a policy debate that sometimes sounds like it would reduce the entire American Black experience to encounters with the justice system. Because for every discussion of so-called Black problems, we should be talking just as much about Black solutions. That’s where the business community comes in. That’s why under my administration, we proposed to triple the number of entrepreneurs from underserved backgrounds, especially people of color within 10 years, create a $10 billion fund to co-invest in entrepreneurs of color so a young coder from Noblesville has a better chance of fulfilling his aspirations. And we will set a new and much higher target of 25 percent of federal purchasing going to minority and woman owned forms, which could inject another 100 billion dollars into communities. We will dedicate $25 billion to the HBCUs that will train the next generation of Black engineers and entrepreneurs, artists and teachers and mayors and presidents. I want us to deliver a 21st century Homestead Act so that people living in historically redlined communities can acquire properties, take the title to them, and build wealth. Instead of being forced out by gentrification. We will designate health equity zones to help communities target strategies for what works for them and to help recruit more Black doctors, nurses, and health professionals with federal money. And to ensure that the voices of Black Americans are heard. It is time for a 21st century Voting Rights Act at sees to it that every eligible voter gets the opportunity to vote.
We can and we must do this to bring about a future where your race has no bearing on your health or your wealth, your life expectancy or your relationship with the justice system. But as important as the policy goals I want my presidency to achieve, it’s also the way we bring about these achievements because the presidency itself, the purpose of the presidency is not the glorification of the president. It is the unification of the people. This is the unwritten part of the job, the moral part of the job we maybe didn’t fully appreciate it until it was gone, and it is something we desperately need right now. The president in the White House stoking the fires of white supremacy, impacting our neighborhoods and stores and Walmarts. We could let fear hold us back from our great potential as a country or we could see ourselves in each other, recognizing that each of us has a story that can either separate us from or connect us to those around us. My experience is not the same as anyone else’s, but it propels me to make sure that anyone on the wrong side of exclusion in this country, which in some way or another is most of us has a voice in the White House.
The presidency matters. Words matter, choices matter, campaigns matter. And campaigns can begin to change history long before the first vote is even cast. There was proof of that right here in Indianapolis when it fell to Bobby Kennedy to deliver the dreadful news of the murder of Dr. King. At the corner of 17th and Broadway, he spoke of his own pain, his own loss, not pretending that his story or his pain was the same as anyone else’s, but seeing it as a bridge, a way into the hearts of others. He called for love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country. Words matter and leaders matter because they bring out whatever is inside of us. I refuse to believe that the world is made of good people and bad people. We are all people capable of good and bad things. And if a corrupt and lawless president has any supporters at all in this nation, it is because he has called out to what is smallest and meanest in each of us, what is cruelest and most backward looking in all of us. So the time has come for leaders who will bring out what is best in us, leaders who know how to make us bigger hearted and more secure, more tolerant of another, but more intolerant of the wait for the establishment of justice in this country.
These are the leaders we need today. We need business leaders who understand that justice is at stake in economic equity, that it matters where dollars go and how they are spent. We’re counting on those faith leaders, unafraid to speak out when those in power take from the poor and empower the rich, comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted. Leaders who raised the question, what of the scripture that says, whoever oppresses the poor taunts his maker. Leaders who insist that God does not belong to a political party in this country. And yes, we need a president who will never again allow the marginalized to be pitted against each other or the smallest part of any of us to be the thing that gets expression from the highest office in the land. We need a president who will stand on the rubble of what has been done to our most cherish norms and institutions and lead us into a better era, to embody that reconstruction where everyone is empowered and everyone belongs, one nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and justice for all.
Running for office is an act of hope. I know hope one out of fashion for a little while in politics, but as dark as these times are, you cannot do this unless you walk in hope that a better day is at hand. And I have great hope. I have great hope that by 2030 we’ll be able to look back at 2020 and say to the children who are confronting me at campaign events right now, “I’m sorry that it got that bad, but by 2020 we acted so that gun violence was no longer something that students had to worry about,” that by 2030 we can say, “I’m sorry, it got that bad, but we acted to make sure climate was not going to hold you back from opportunities in life. I’m sorry it got that bad, but in 2020 we started working towards the road where your race had no bearing on your health or your wealth or your relationship with law enforcement in this country.” We would be so proud of ourselves if we can make that happen. That is what I am hopeful for, and that is what I believe we can begin to do right now. Thank you for your struggle of justice. It inspires so many, and I’m proud to call myself an ally, a supporter of the work that you do, no matter what work I find myself doing here, in Washington, and beyond. Thank you.