Presidential candidates address RainbowPUSH on South Side

Presidential candidates address RainbowPUSH on South Side (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writer

Three Democratic congresswomen running for president, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii-2nd), addressed the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s RainbowPUSH convention on June 29 in Bronzeville, referencing their racial platforms as well as the impact of their religious beliefs on their political perspectives nine months before the Illinois primary.

Klobuchar, a University of Chicago Law School alumna, referenced her three years living in Hyde Park right off the bat, calling the neighborhood “ good for presidential aspirations.” She linked RainbowPUSH’s work to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, who ran Jackson’s presidential campaign in Minnesota before cultivating a reputation as “the conscience of the Senate” before his death in a 2002 plane crash.

“I didn’t come from a political machine — I say that in Chicago,” she joked, noting her first political involvement in lobbying the Minnesota Legislature to mandate 48-hour postpartum hospital stay for mothers and infants after her daughter was born sick, over the objection of the insurance industry. The former elected attorney for Minneapolis’ Hennepin County, she said she would take on criminal justice reform “as any good former prosecutor knows how to do.”

She framed her racial platform around notions of economic justice — “to tear down the barriers to success and make sure everyone has a seat at the table” with investments in health care, housing, college affordability, neighborhoods, childcare and raising the minimum wage. One in four Chicago children lives in poverty; Klobuchar said she would half the national rate in a decade and end it in a generation.

The granddaughter of an iron ore miner and the daughter of a newspaper columnist and a union schoolteacher, Klobuchar also discussed her father’s struggle with alcoholism, which she said he overcame through his faith, before making an appeal to the overwhelmingly African American audience over her plans for mental health care and addiction. “We know communities of color get hit with a lot more still with cocaine, with crack cocaine, with meth,” she said. “And so when we get this money from the big pharma companies, my plan covers not just opioid addiction.”

Gabbard, an Army combat veteran and the first Hindu member of Congress, said her Catholic father would read bedtime stories from the Bible alongside those from the Bhagavad Gita. “The core message I got from both of these scriptures was the message of love for God and love for others,” she said, remarking that aloha is a term for love and compassion as well as a greeting and a goodbye. Love, she said, “is a force that motivates us to take action.”

She discussed Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1959 remarks to the Hawaii State Legislature, during which he noted her home state’s success as a harmonious multi-racial society. “His call to action to all of us was very clear: that we will stand together, and together we will get to that promised land,” Gabbard said. “He called for us to stand united in that love, motivated by that care for each other to build that bright future together.”

Her service in Iraq highlighted the need to make the most of her life, and Gabbard said that her audience at the Apostolic Faith Church, 3823 S. Indiana Ave., shares that need every day against an exploitative health insurance system, out-of-touch politicians who lead the United States into an expensive, mercurial foreign policy, greedy industrial polluters and a “broken” criminal justice system “that favors the rich and punishes the poor.”

“This is why I’m running for president, to end this insanity, to end this wasteful regime-change wars, a new Cold War and arms race, and make sure that our precious resources — your taxpayer dollars — are going back into investing and serving your needs,” she said. “You deserve a president who will fight for you, who will put your interests ahead of the rich and powerful, who puts the interests of the people ahead of profits, people ahead of politics, who will fight for the people and our planet above all else.”

Warren, an expert on bankruptcy law who helped establish former President Obama’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before her 2012 election to the Senate, stressed the need for “principled leaders who have the courage to fight for their convictions” and “giants who know that social change is possible only when we cross lines of difference” for a “country in a time of crisis.”

She described being asked to teach Sunday school as a new mother and law professor in Texas and read Jesus’ teaching on dividing the sheep from the goats — when the righteous who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in strangers, clothe the naked and visit the sick and the imprisoned are promised reward by God — before delivering a Gospel homily.

“There is God in every one of us — not just in those that look like the Lord,” she said. “We are not called simply to observe.”

“We are called to act without promise of reward: We are called to act, because it is right,” she said. Instead of empty promises and vague ideas, Warren called “for real plans to make real changes in our lives and in our communities.” Her proposed two-cent “wealth tax” on “everything over $50 million” would provide universal childcare and pre-kindergarten and raised wages for teachers, with universal free tuition to technical colleges and public universities, $50 million towards historically Black colleges and universities and cancelled student loan debt.

To close the Black-White wealth gap, Warren pledged to fund Black entrepreneurs, combat redlining, end mass incarceration through banning private prisons and expand voting rights. “We will answer the call to build an America where federal solutions to local problems are made by communities, for communities, in communities, where nobody is forced to leave their community to find equal opportunity,” she said. “When I am president, we will create a country in which, like Matthew 25, every human being has value, and we turn our backs on no one. And we will start right here in Chicago.”

At a press conference after her speech, Warren said her detailed policy plans, which have become her campaign’s hallmark, all come from her faith. She said the country must confront its history of slavery and Jim Crow and stated her support for reparations for African Americans.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg also addressed RainbowPUSH in later speeches downtown.