Transforming America: A Roadmap for the Future
In our country, if you work hard, you ought to be able to take care of yourself and the people you love. That should be the fundamental promise of America. This is deeply personal to me because I got a real taste of opportunity: my father ended up as a janitor, but I got to be a public school teacher, law professor, a United States Senator, and a candidate for president. I’m deeply grateful, and I’m running for president because I want every kid to have a chance to build a future.
For too long, communities of color have been locked out of opportunity. Washington runs on two separate sets of rules: one set for the wealthy and well-connected and one for everyone else. The path to economic security is steep and rocky for millions of working people in this country, and it is steeper and rockier for Black Americans. Over the years, America’s middle class has been deliberately hollowed out, and families of color have been systematically discriminated against and denied their chance to build real security. This economic squeeze has touched every community in America; and for communities of color that have stared down structural racism for generations, the squeeze has been even tighter.
Here’s one example: home ownership. It’s the number one way middle-class families build wealth in our country. But until 1968, it was the official policy of the United States government to subsidize homeownership for white families and deny that same help to Black families. Once that discrimination was outlawed, the predatory lenders moved in. Government regulators looked the other way as Wall Street pushed the worst of the worst mortgages on Black families; and when it all came crashing down, the banks swooped in like vultures—pursuing the harshest foreclosure practices on the communities of color they scammed.
The results have been devastating. Today, Black homeownership is lower than when housing discrimination was legal in our country. And even decades after redlining was banned, Black borrowers and Latino borrowers are still more likely to be denied a mortgage than comparable white borrowers. Race matters—and if we ever hope to make the promise of America real for African Americans and other communities of color—we must fight tooth and nail to make big structural change in our country.
But that will never happen so long as billionaires and giant corporations call the shots in Washington. When the wealthy write the rules, it is corruption—plain and simple—and I have the strongest, most comprehensive anti-corruption bill since Watergate. Among other things, it would end lobbying as we know it, ban members of Congress from trading stocks, and force the Supreme Court to follow basic ethics rules. Every year, the rich and the powerful have lobbied Washington and paid off politicians to tilt the system just a little more in their direction and away from working people, poor people, and people of color.
Second, we change the rules of our economy. We should empower workers to elect corporate board members so big American companies are held accountable for failing to raise wages or shipping jobs overseas. We should impose a two percent wealth tax on the great fortunes of this country—$50 million and above—and we should use the money to invest in our children: universal childcare, universal pre-K, and universal pre-pre-K for our little ones. This is of particular need to Black families because they face especially high barriers in accessing affordable, high-quality care. With this plan, parents could work if they want to and every child could develop the skills needed to reach their full potential. My plan would also dramatically increase wages for America’s child-care workers—who are disproportionately women of color
It’s also time to attack the home-ownership gap in the country head on. The homeownership gap has led to a staggering wealth gap. Today, white families have a median net worth of about $171,000, while Black families’ net worth is about $17,600. I believe that the federal government has a central role to play in reversing this damage caused in large part by decades of government-sanctioned discrimination. That’s why I introduced legislation to produce more than three million affordable housing units and bring down rents. This would give a great boost to poor families and working families across the board—but I’ve gone further. For the first time in federal law, I’ve proposed dealing with federal redlining by providing down payment grants to people living in formerly redlined and currently lower-income areas. It would be a significant start in acknowledging—and starting to reverse—a long history of housing discrimination.
The third thing we must do is change the rules in our democracy. The right to vote is the key to determining whose voice will be heard in Washington, and that’s why powerful forces have fought to suppress the right of Black Americans to vote. In 2013, five conservative judges on the Supreme Court gutted one of the most important civil rights statues ever enacted in our country: the Voting Rights Act. They opened the floodgates for more measures to deliberately cut Black voters out of the political process, like voter ID laws, voter roll purges, and felon disenfranchisement laws.
We need a Voting Rights Act with real teeth. Senator Patrick Leahy and Congresswoman Terri Sewell have legislation that I’ve co-sponsored to reverse the damage done six years ago and strengthen the Voting Rights Act even more. Congress must bring it up for a vote – and every single representative and senator should have to pick a side. If they oppose the bill, they must explain why they are so afraid of everyone getting a chance to vote and everyone’s vote being counted.
I believe every vote should count equally, no matter where you live. It’s time we get rid of the Electoral College and elect our presidents with a national popular vote. We also need a constitutional amendment establishing the right to vote for every American citizen and ensure that their vote is counted. That would put more tools in our toolbox as we work to overturn racist voter suppression laws and end partisan gerrymandering that let politicians pick their voters instead of the other way around. I also support overturning Citizens United because democracy is not for sale. The right to vote is how we protect all our rights, and no candidate for president should be elected if they will not pledge to support full, meaningful voting rights
I’ve spent my whole grown-up life studying how America’s middle class has been hollowed out and how families of color have been shut out of their chance to build wealth. Long before I got into politics, I wrote about how Black Americans are more likely to fall into bankruptcy than white Americans, and how payday and subprime lenders are basically legally sanctioned corporate swindlers who prey on families of color. And I’ve always come back to this one central question: who does government work for?
Right now, our government works for the rich and the powerful, while people without power get dirt kicked in their faces. There are four words etched above the Supreme Court: Equal Justice Under Law. But in America, a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, yet a senior executive from a Wall Street bank can destroy the financial lives of millions of families and get a taxpayer bailout. Today, in America, for the exact same crimes, African Americans are more likely than whites to be arrested, charged, convicted, and given harsher sentences. We need real criminal justice reform—and we need it now. That means ending racial disparities in our justice system. It means banning private prisons. It means embracing community policing and demilitarizing our local police forces. It means comprehensive sentencing reform and rewriting our laws to decriminalize marijuana.
This is our moment in history. It is our time to build a government that is truly a government of the people, by the people, and for all people. And that starts with building an inclusive campaign and an administration that lives the values we fight for every day. I’m committed to this fight all the way.