WASHINGTON — Five prominent senators with eyes on the White House came here Wednesday facing a challenge from some of the most potent forces in the Democratic party to offer a unifying vision for the progressive movement that is about more than just opposing President Donald Trump.
In what amounted to an early round of candidate speed dating, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris each made a 10-minute pitch at the “We The People” Summit, and then took questions from attendees representing groups like the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Sierra Club, Indivisible and the Communications Workers of America.
From Booker, there was a pitch centered around addressing criminal justice reform and the systemic racism that is holding communities of color back. The New Jersey senator also sought to redefine patriotism at a time when President Donald Trump has castigated NFL athletes for refusing to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.
“Patriotism is love of country — and you cannot love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women,” he said. “And before you tell me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people.”
Warren praised the role of labor unions in fighting for better wages and worker protections for a crowd that also included a regional chapter of the SEIU. And she trained her fire on what she said was corruption across government, including the federal courts, citing a recent high court ruling in an arbitration case that will make it harder for non-union workers to take collective action to fight alleged violations of workplace laws.
“I’m angry, but I’m ready to fight back,” she said. “I’m here because I believe in democracy and I believe in fighting back. We’re going to hose out this cesspool of corruption.”
For Sanders, who won the endorsement of the CWA in 2016 in his nomination fight against Hillary Clinton, the setting allowed him to resurface his policies that are increasingly mainstream within the Democratic Party, even as he remains an independent. And he continued to push the party further toward his more populist stances.
“In a democracy we may disagree on this or that issue but the results should be based on one person, one vote, not the Koch Brothers and other billionaires pouring $400 million into this midterm election. Not candidates going all over the country not to talk to working people, but to sit in the living room of a handful of billionaires who will tell them what they, billionaires, want,” he said.
On that point, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York also called for larger corporations to do more to share financial successes with their own workers before shareholders. She called income inequality “the greatest risk we have to our democracy right now.”
“We have to change how we think about our economy and reward work,” she said.
Harris, the final speaker, spoke in more general terms about the need for Democrats and progressives to fight for the ideals they feel are core to our national identity, and have at times uncomfortable conversations — “Speak the truth” — with Americans about what was holding back a great nation.
“We will fight for our country. We will show what it means to love our country. We will take action,” she said.