A call for a progressive resurgence (Rep. Lynn Woolsey)

What a privilege to share the stage tonight with two great champions of workers and working families, two labor movement pioneers who have been carrying the liberal flame for decades.  Bill  Burrus and Liz Smith, thank you so much for being models for the rest of us.

I have a few questions for all of you:

Who here thinks that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have now consumed a trillion dollars in taxpayer money, are a source of national shame?  Who believes that these wars have bankrupted us morally and fiscally without diminishing the terrorism threat or advancing our national security objectives?

On the other hand, who believes that we can export American values abroad without invading and occupying sovereign nations?  Who believes that there could be nothing more patriotic, and nothing truer to ADA’s founding principles, than to oppose unnecessary wars that don’t keep America safe?  Who believes it’s long past time to bring our brave troops home?

And who here thinks that the American people deserve better than a crippling recession in which at least 1 in 10 adults can’t find work?  Who believes that if we can spend a trillion dollars on foreign wars and billions more on TARP, then we can afford investments in education, health care and job training?  Who here believes that it’s the American people that are “too big to fail”?

Although we  made a start on health care reform like the one that passed in March, who believes that we must continue the struggle for a public option and a single-payer system that is the fairest, most affordable and most efficient way to guarantee health coverage to every American? 

Who here thinks that the U.S. economy is only strong when the American workforce is empowered with the rights it deserves?  Who believes that organized labor is the foundation of the American middle class, one of our most powerful forces for economic security and upward mobility?  And who believes that we cannot stop fighting for the right of more people to join a union by passing the Employee Free Choice Act?

Who believes our laws should honor the sacrifice of working families and recognize the balancing act they must perform every day?  Who believes it’s high time we helped them with paid family leave, voluntary pre-k education, child care assistance and more?

Who here thinks that it’s time we diversify our energy economy, re-orienting it toward clean, renewable sources that can’t spill into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of thousands of gallons a day?

And who here shares my unwavering belief in the rights of every American family, including those that are led by two men or two women?  Who here thinks that every loving couple deserves to have their commitment recognized by the state if they so choose?  Who believes that the cause of marriage equality is as urgent today when it’s two people of the same gender as it was a generation ago for two people of a different race?

It is because I believe in these things with such pride and passion that I accept the presidency of Americans for Democratic Action tonight.

It is humbling but invigorating to occupy the post once held by American political and intellectual heroes, giants of liberalism like Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern; like Arthur Schlesinger and John Kenneth Galbraith; like Paul Wellstone, and, my dear friend Patsy Mink, both of whom were taken from us too soon; like my esteemed House colleagues Barney Frank, John Lewis and Jim McDermott; like the amazing man who is passing me the reins, Richard Parker.

But as rich a legacy as ADA has, this is not a moment for nostalgia.  Let’s be proud of our history.  Let’s absorb its lessons.  But let’s apply them to the imperatives of the moment and the challenges of the future.

Because if ever there were a moment that cries out for an unapologetic, full-throated articulation of the liberal values that have always ennobled America–his is it!

I would argue that we need it more now than we did during the eight dark years of right-wing rule that we recently put behind us.  During the disastrous Bush era, as important as it was that we stood our ground, there wasn’t much hope for profound progressive change.  We were largely playing defense.  Today, with Barack Obama in the White House and robust majorities on Capitol Hill, this is our time.  We have a chance to turn our priorities into policy, our values into the laws of the land.

So it is our obligation to be a friend and ally, but also a constructive critic at the appropriate times.  We cannot become complacent.  We must apply pressure.  We must hold feet to the fire.  We must give our leaders no choice but to do the right thing.  And, we must have their back when they do.

Every liberal triumph through the years has been the product of leadership not just by our elected officials, but by determined activists – many of them affiliated with ADA — who simply would not relent until justice was done and progress was made.

So I stand before you today with the title of an elected official but the heart and enthusiasm of an activist.  I will not be cowed or silenced.  I will be unabashed and unapologetic in my commitment to the liberal cause.

It’s a unique honor to help steer the direction of such a prestigious organization like ADA.  I will be your partner, but I don’t have any illusions about where the real strength of ADA resides – with the people in front of this podium and not behind it.  I have faith in your direction, your mission and in your existing leadership.  I can provide energy and ideas that will help us accelerate the progressive resurgence that American so badly needs– but you are the leaders.

Now let’s get to work.  Thank you very much.

Tags Barack Obama Jim McDermott

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