Gaston Hall erupted in deafening applause as Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) took to the stage for a Nov. 30 discussion with the Georgetown University community.
The event, titled “A Conversation with Senator Elizabeth Warren on Leveling the Playing Field,” was hosted by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics). Rebecca Pearcey, a GU Politics fall fellow and former political director and senior advisor for Warren’s presidential campaign, moderated the discussion.
Throughout the event, Warren discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable communities, such as low-income Americans, and legislative policy for increasing equity in the United States.
The first step to leveling the playing field in the wake of the pandemic is to see healthcare as a form of infrastructure that needs to be improved in an effort to better meet the needs of struggling Americans, according to Warren.
“The difference between having housing and not having housing is a huge health issue, as well as an education issue,” Warren said at the event. “These things link up, and we have to think about health infrastructure — it’s also about transportation, it’s also about housing, it’s also about food security — and so if we build out in that direction, it helps us all.”
The pandemic also exacerbated racial injustice in America, as Black Americans are 2.4 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white Americans and are less likely to have access to COVID-19 tests and treatments. Barriers like lack of access to insurance protection, transportation or child care can prevent minorities from accessing healthcare.
When Pearcey asked how the country should move forward after the pandemic disproportionately impacted Black and Brown individuals, Warren highlighted the work of Ibram X. Kendi, an anti-racist activist, historian of race policy and author of “Stamped From the Beginning.” Warren utilized Kendi’s expertise to explain what it means to move forward while prioritizing anti-racism.
“For me, it’s Ibram Kendi and anti-racism,” Warren said. “It is not enough to write a policy that so long as you didn’t deliberately discriminate against someone overtly and use words that say ‘not that group’ then it’s okay. The answer is you must stop and ask yourself with every one of these policies, what’s going on here? And who does this effect? And how is this affecting communities that have been left behind?”
Another way to level the playing field is by investing in children and parents in an effort to prioritize people who are going back to work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic across America, according to Warren.
“It’s universal childcare and pre-K, the best dollars that we can spend to invest in our babies,” Warren said. “Particularly when we’re talking about childcare, when we invest in our babies, we’re investing in our moms and dads so they can go back to work.”
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act on Nov. 19. The bill includes expanded access to child care and prekindergarten, a minimum corporate tax and other provisions intended to tackle climate and healthcare. However, Senate Republicans enacted the filibuster to block much of the Biden administration’s agenda, so the act will face an uphill battle in the Senate.
When asked by a student at the event about progressive tax policy, Warren advocated for a wealth tax she introduced during her presidential campaign, the Ultra-Millionaire Tax, that would tax the top 0.1% of Americans and generate $3.75 trillion in revenue that could be used to fund child care, eliminate student debt and improve infrastructure.
“Three trillion dollars over 10 years and we can make an investment in anybody and everybody under 25,” Warren said. “We should give them a real boost, just that one bit, and that’s what we need to do. We need to change tax law in America so that it focuses on those at the very top and says we are going to invest across the board in developing opportunities for all young people in this nation.”
Racial and socioeconomic inequalities in the United States continue to be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as billionaires have gained $1 trillion dollars while millions of Americans struggle with poverty.
Warren left students in the audience with a final piece of advice, encouraging them to engage in fights that are difficult, as they often become most impactful.
“You have to be willing to get into fights that you could lose,” said Warren. “If you’re always going to fight fights you can win, then that cannot be the test, because we will not make real change under the circumstances. What’s always tough to evaluate is if you’re going to lose this one, is the fight nonetheless important? And I mean well worth it. And the answer sometimes is you bet it is.”