Transcript: Mayor de Blasio, First Lady McCray Deliver Public Address at Cooper Union

November 21, 2016

First Lady Chirlane McCray: Good morning.

Audience: Good morning.

First Lady: Thank you, everyone. What an honor it is to be on this great stage – and welcome, all of us, by a single prayer for unity and three beautiful voices. Listening to them, I was reminded of a weekend back in May – our weekend of faith for mental health. Over three days, 1,000 houses of worship representing a quarter-million New Yorkers began an open and honest conversation about mental health. I visited a mosque, I visited a synagogue, I visited a Catholic Church, a Baptist Church, an interdenominational church, and two Seventh-Day Adventist churches. I heard Spanish, I heard Hebrew, I heard Arabic, and I heard a whole lot of amens. But with all the different languages I heard, and with all the different beautiful faces, I always felt the exact same emotion. No matter where I was, I felt resolve. On that weekend we came together and made a promise – a promise to each other to work as one to create a city where every New Yorker can thrive.

Now, a lot has changed since May, especially over the last few weeks. Many New Yorkers are anxious about the future, our city’s future, our country’s future, our children’s future. But our spirit of resolve is stronger than ever. And the promises we made to each other are still ironed-clad. All across the City, New Yorkers are coming together once again and charting a course toward the future – a future that reflects our shared values, a future with room for everyone.

Now, I don’t want to sound naive here. The road to the future has certainly grown steeper and rockier since Election Day, but we must not give up, and we must remember what we have learned from those who have walked before us. Consider this Great Hall and all the history. On December 6th, 1866 – almost 150 years ago to the day – the Suffrage Movement gathered here to establish the Citizen’s Equal Rights Association. The first keynote speaker was Susan B. Anthony. Early in her remarks she told her allies, we believe this is the hour to establish the equality of every individual who is subject to the United – to the Government of the United States. It was not until 51 years, and nearly half-a-million hours later, proud suffragists once again gathered here at Cooper Union to celebrate winning the right to vote in New York.

[Applause]

And now, I stand here a descendant of people who were enslaved and the granddaughter of immigrants with the same rights – on paper – as everyone else in this room. Because people like Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and millions of other freedom fighters never gave up no matter how many times they got pushed back and knocked down. And they got knocked down a lot. Our past is not pretty and our rights are fragile. So, we must protect them, and we will with hope and joy in our hearts because, this work we do – it is not a job, it is not an obligation – this work we do is a way of life and it gives us strength – a strength that is rooted in love.

Can I get an amen for that?

An amen for love? I didn’t hear you.

Audience: Amen.

First Lady: Alright. It is now my great pleasure to introduce my closest partner in this work. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome my husband, and our mayor, Bill de Blasio.

[Applause]

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you.

[Applause]

Thank you, everyone.

[Applause]

I am so, so happy to gather with all of you in this powerful moment. And I also just have to say before I say anything else – can we just thank our First Lady for all she does?

[Applause]

I appreciate – she reminded us of the power of love, the power of togetherness, and that is why it is so important we gather together; gather together to strengthen each other, to support each other. I want to thank everyone for being here because this is a moment when New York City needs to stand tall. We need to stand together. I want to thank everyone who’s here – all the committed people, all the people who love this place because we need to focus our energies, prepare to show this entire country what New York City is all about – what we believe and why it is a better way.

We’ve been through elections before. It’s kind of hard in a moment where people are taking stock and where there’s still for so many a sense of shock, a sense of confusion. Sometimes it’s a little hard to remember history has shown us this path before. The other day a woman turned to me and said, wow, this feels like 1968. And I said, what do you mean? She said, you know, that was such a difficult a year. We lost great leaders. There was so much turmoil and a lot of us were shocked by the results of the presidential election. A lot of people were shocked in 1980. A lot of people were troubled at how the election was decided in 2000. It’s not the first time we have felt a sense of foreboding. But we also have to remember in each and every one of those instances, people regrouped. They took stock of the situation. They gathered together. And in many ways, we are stronger now. This city is stronger. The efforts of people who work for a fair and just society are stronger. Our ability to work together regardless of who we are, where we come from – that is stronger. And we’ll need that in this moment.

And we should never overrate the reality of a single election, because one of the most important things I want to talk about today is who we are as New Yorkers, who we have been for generations – something that doesn’t change because an election went a certain way. I want to talk about something more eternal about our values, about the strength of our identity as New Yorkers.

But I don't want to sugarcoat the situation. It’s important to say out loud – there’s a lot of fear out there. There’s a lot of people who are desperately worried about what this moment will mean for them and their families. And they’ve heard a very clear articulation of things that could happen that would fundamentally alter their lives, and for the worst.

You know, when you think about a family struggling to get by here in New York City or anywhere in the country, and they hear that the health insurance that’s made a huge difference in their lives may suddenly be taken away. In the public discourse, we talk about the proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. But what it means to a family is – the health insurance they prayed they could get could suddenly be gone, and where would they turn?

When we hear about tax cuts for the wealthy or for the corporations, well, that means fewer resources for the things that actually make this society whole. The affordable housing programs that so many New Yorkers depend on hang in the balance. The number one expense in their lives – will that support be there? They wonder, and they wonder fairly.

We think about the last decade and the dislocations so many people went through because the economy collapsed, the stock market crashed. And people wonder – will we be safe? And they hear about all the protections, all the regulations put in place to try and avoid another crash, and they worry – will those be gone? What will happen to my retirement?

People are feeling these issues very personally. For so many people, an ever sharper fear – will I be able to stay in this country? That’s what’s going through the minds, that’s what’s being talked about at the kitchen tables – the fear of deportation. In this city, that’s half a million of our fellow New Yorkers, but there are so many more of their family members who happen to be documented who fear their loved one will be torn from them. There are DREAMers – tens of thousands here in this city who came here as children, are deeply American in the way they feel, in the way they live their life. And imagine the notion that they don’t where they’re going to be a year. They don’t know if the only they’ve known will still be their country.

People who love America, live by the rules, and happen to be Muslim wonder if they’ll have to sign up for a registry, if they’ll have to somehow be separated from everyone else, and subject to a different set of rules. And sometimes you think about this delineation, and you say, well, could it really happen? Could we really go that far as a nation? And I always believe the people will help to correct the mistakes of leaders. But then again, I was being interviewed the other day and someone who believed in Muslim registration used the argument that it was legal because the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II was legal. That individual didn’t realize that later the Supreme Court said no it wasn’t.

[Laughter]

But it did happen here. And that should strengthen our resolve to make sure it never happens again.

We’ve heard a proposal to reinstitute stop and frisk to in so many ways undercut the relationship between our police and our community, to treat people as suspects even when they haven’t done anything wrong.

We’ve certainly seen language that sadly encourages hate speech. And we’ve seen an uptick in hate crimes.

And so, we worry. We worry about a nation that was meant to be inclusionary becoming exclusionary. We worry about deeper division. We worry about the negation of the American Dream – the very vision of this country we all grew up with, represented here by all these New Yorkers. How ironic that we worry about the decline of the American Dream against the backdrop of so many nostalgic messages about taking America back to a different time. That’s what so much of the campaign year was dominated by – a nostalgic vision that somehow was being used to undermine the very essence of the American Dream.

So, those are the fears.

As many of you know, I thought it was important to go to the President-elect and let him hear what so many New Yorkers were feeling, to let him hear that every one of those fears I delineated is real to them – that it means them and their families and their lives – to tell the President-elect to not just go and spend time with supporters at rallies, but to listen to the voices of the people, including those that don’t agree. And my essential message to him was to remember where you come from.

[Applause]

Because our history as New Yorkers – our history is so clear. We became great because this was a place for everyone, and there was a moment in the last year when the values of New York City were under attack on the debate stage. And President-elect Trump at the time stood up for New York. I hope he remembers every day what he saw over all those years in the city and doesn’t lose track of the very things that allowed him and countless others an opportunity – this place that is open to all, that believes in opportunity for all.

Now, we have to be clear, so much of what happened in the last year was about real anxiety of another kind. It is so important, as we contemplate the path forward, that we really look in the eye what so many people all around this country felt. They had a fear, too. So many people had a fear for their families – that their lives, their livelihoods, their ability to make ends meet, their ability to provide a better life for their children – that all of that was falling apart. Their anxiety, it was an economic anxiety, it was a real anxiety. To move forward, we have to understand that and we have to respond to it. In this city, we’re committed to addressing the root causes of so much of that anxiety, going head on at the income inequality and the loss of opportunity that caused so much pain. And the people will be watching – here, and all over the country, the people will be watching to see if that anxiety as well is addressed. In a very, very dynamic situation that will determine so much of how we move forward. 

Now, people are struggling to make sense of the reality, but here’s something we have to keep front and center. We have never in our history – literally never in our history – seen such a discord between the Electoral College results and the popular vote results. We have to realize this. As of this morning, Hillary Clinton is winning the popular vote by 1.5 million people.

[Applause]

And that is important to recognize because it reminds us that this is just begun, that there is not a mandate in this election for division or for undercutting opportunity. The people spoke one way – the Electoral College spoke the other way. And so now, the process begins of fighting issue by issue – and that process has yielded results that are different than elections time and time again. And we have a special obligation in New York City. We have a special obligation to be an example.

So, let’s talk about how we get to work and address this moment. I say with no fear of contradiction, we’re the greatest city in the world.

[Applause]

Well, now we get another chance to show it by how we comport ourselves in this moment. We have a chance to lead by example. Chirlane always likes to tell me – don’t tell me, show me. We have a chance to show the people of our nation a way forward. There are 8.5 million of us. We have a thriving economy, so much opportunity. We don’t live in perfect harmony, but we’ve found a way to live and let live. And we know how to support each other, and we know how to protect each other, and we know how to have each other’s backs.

There are a lot of people in this country who feel the same way, and we’re going to organize with them issue by issue. There’s so much common ground and we have to build something different. Leaders have to work together. Activists have to work together. Mayors have to work together all over this country, and always be proud of our values. And remember something – the President-elect talked during the campaign about the movement that he had built. Now, it’s our turn to build a movement – a movement of the majority that believes in respect and dignity for all.

[Applause]

We New Yorkers will stand together. We’re going to stand up for the needs for working people. We’re going to stand up for the right to organize. We’re going to stand up for our immigrant brothers and sisters. And we know that so many in this city fear being affronted, and we will stand with each and every one.

To all Latinos who heard their culture denigrated – we stand by you.

[Applause]

To all the African Americans who heard their history denied – we stand by you.

[Applause]

To all the women who heard their rights being threatened – we stand by you.

[Applause]

To all the Muslims who have heard their faith belittled – we stand by you.

[Applause]

To all those in the Jewish community who heard a resonance from history that gave them real fear and pause – we stand by you.

[Applause]

To all those in the LGBT community who heard a message of taking us backward – we will never go backward. We stand by you.

[Applause]

To all of you – we will protect you. This is your home.

[Applause]

As I say, we have a chance in New York City to provide an example. Set an example that will be watched. You see it every day in this city. Six million people ride the subway every day. They are of every background, faith, nation, income – squished together like sardines.

[Laughter]

I’m not going to call that perfect harmony, but –

[Laughter]

– But we make it work, don’t we?

[Laughter]

I was at a mosque the Friday night after the election in Midtown. I spoke to the Imam, and he said something almost offhanded, but it was so perfectly New York. He said, you know, there is a church nearby, there is a synagogue nearby – we get together, the minster, the rabbi and I – we compare notes and figure out how we can help each other. And he said it like it was just an everyday occurrence. And I thought in so many parts of the world how impossible that would be, and yet, in New York, how normal and commonplace that is.

[Applause]

In this great city – and I said this to the President-elect and I will say this everywhere I go because this is what our country needs to hear. In this great city, there are 900 Muslim-American members of the NYPD protecting all of us, and we say thank you.

[Applause]

This is who we are. Nothing is going to change that. The results of an election don’t change who we are. A single office holder doesn’t change who we are. A law that gets passed in Washington doesn’t change who we are. We are 8.5 million strong.

[Applause]

And we ain’t changing.

[Laughter]

We are always New York.

Somos siempre Nueva York.

[Applause]

And part of what’s important to remember is our own power in this moment here in New York City and in cities around the country, because in the confusion something important has gotten lost. There is not a national police force. You don’t go to federal schools to get your children an education. No. We in the City of New York, we protect our people with the NYPD. We provide education to our children with our New York City public schools. We provide healthcare with our public hospitals; and all over the country the same. Our constitution says it – that so much of what is decided in the governance of our people is decided at the local level, according to the values of the people who are governed. In the Declaration of Independence there is one of the most simple and powerful passages – it says, governments are instituted deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. We don’t consent to hatred.

[Applause]

And we will fight anything we see as undermining our values. And here is my promise to you as your mayor – we will use all the tools at our disposal to stand up for our people.

[Applause]

If all Muslims are required to register, we will take legal action to block it.

[Applause]

If the federal government wants our police officers to tear immigrant families apart, we will refuse to do it.

[Applause]

If the federal government tries to deport law-abiding New Yorkers who have no representation, we will step in. We will work and build on the work of the City Council to provide these New Yorkers with the lawyers they need to protect them and their families.

[Applause]

If the Justice Department orders local police to resume stop and frisk, we will not comply.

[Applause]

We won’t trade in neighborhood policing for racial profiling.

[Applause]

If there are threats to federal funding for Planned Parenthood of New York City, we will ensure women receive the healthcare they need.

[Applause]

If Jews, or Muslims, or members of the LGBT community, or any community are victimized and attacked, we will find their attackers, we will arrest them, we will prosecute them.

[Applause]

This is New York. Nothing about who we are changed on Election Day. 

We are always New York.

Somos siempre Nueva York.

I want you to say it with me – we are always New York.

Somos siempre Nueva York.

You did good.

[Applause]

So, I am clear, I’m going to stand up to anything that affronts our people. Our City government will stand up, but the greatest power is in you – the strength and the resiliency of New Yorkers. We set the tone. We set the example. And we could never give up. Not only do we depend on each other, people all over this nation, people all over this world look to this place. So, it is time for us to live up to their faith in New York City.

We are a beacon. It is well-known – you go around the world or any part of this great country you talk about New York City, and so many times you’ll see a warm smile come over people’s faces because they look to New York as something great. They look to New York as something special and irreplaceable. They love what we have achieved here. They respect it. In so many parts of the world they think of this – this place when they think of the greatness of America, and that is in so many ways because they know this as a place for everyone. They don’t think how much they’d like to go to New York City because New York City will reject them. They think how much they love New York City because it is a place open to all.

[Applause]

And I say this with a humility that this moment in history requires – although, New Yorkers are not always known for humility.

[Laughter]

But we can say with pride and humility at the same time, we have gone farther than many places in the world. We’ve overcome a lot of things that are still holding people back in many other places. It didn’t happen easily, it took work. A lot of people in this room worked very hard to ensure there was more respect for all, to ensure that rights were recognized and protected. But more and more, we’ve gotten there, and then that puts a responsibility on us.

I don’t say this to burden you. I say it to deputize you. From this point on, what we do matters even more because people are watching everywhere. They’re looking for an antidote. They’re looking for something that works. They need to be reminded there is a better way.

You are the key to that in what you do every day.

When we show here that harmony, prosperity, respect all can go together, it speaks volumes. We are who we are. We’re always New York, because we found a long time ago it’s a better way. It’s a better way to live. It’s a better way to treat others.

Now, there are things we have to do – real and specific things. I’m going to tell you some of them, because when there’s fear, when there’s doubt, that is the time to work harder, that is the time to feel even greater resolve.

So, let’s start this way – anyone who does not yet have an IDNYC, it’s time to sign up for one.

[Applause]

And we will never turn over the paper work to the federal government.

[Applause]

We need you to help your friends and family members sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act right now.

[Applause]

We need everyone to register to vote.

[Applause]

We need to pray –

[Applause]

– But not just in our own house of worship, we need to go to a different faith’s house of worship in solidarity.

[Applause]

It’s so important in this moment to volunteer, to help your city, to help those in need – and go to nycservice.org.

[Applause]

And when we see bias and when we see hate, we cannot be silent.

[Applause]

This city has learned the powerful and simple phrase as we’ve dealt with another challenge – by the way, a challenge that led the world to respect us even more – and that phrase is, if you see something, say something. Well, that applies to bias and that applies to hatred as well.

[Applause]

The NYPD is ready to act. The Human Rights Commission is ready to act. If you see someone in danger because of a bias attack, call 9-1-1. If you have information about acts of hatred and harassment and hate speech, call 3-1-1. But whatever you do, call so we can get to work stamping out all hatred and bias in this city.

[Applause]

And here’s a specific message to parents and to anyone who has a young person in your lives – talk to them. We’ve all heard the painful stories, and they’re real – children turning to their parents, turning to their teachers saying, am I going to be taken away? Or is my friend going to be taken away? It’s not something we would ever want our children to fear, but they do fear it right now.

Talk to them. Listen to them. Let them bring out their fears and concerns. Help them to understand that we, every day in this city, reject division. Show them by your example that you are doing something in the face of this challenge. Show them it can get better because you are acting now.

Here’s what I want to say as I conclude, and this is a challenging thought, but I think it is arguably the most essential. 

This election was not an end, it is a beginning.

[Applause]

And I want to affirm that by just giving you a very tangible sense of the history that teaches us. We’re here in this great hall. You heard of all the extraordinary people who spoke here, who gathered here. But if you were to leave the door and walk just a short distance, you could go to the site just blocks away of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, that gave birth to so much of the modern labor movement and so many of the ideas of fairness for working people. Out of that pain came fundamental change.

If you were to walk out the door – again, walking distance from here – 1917, the NAACP silent march that changed the trajectory of the Civil Rights Movement and led to what later was one of the greatest movements in American history.

If you were to walk out this door and go to Christopher Street, to the Stonewall Inn – 1969 – a place where the world changed once and for all.

There is something special in these streets. And history has not left us, it reminds us, it accompanies us. None of this is to say there wasn’t pain along the way, and challenges, and setbacks. But in each of those moments, people struggled, and they fought. And, arguably, the greatest contribution this city made to our nation, one that we feel in so much of our lives to this very minute – the vision of a New Deal came from Al Smith, and Franklin Roosevelt, and Fiorello LaGuardia – amazing ideas about how to respond to people’s pain, how to respond to their challenges, how to be there for them in a moment that no one had seen before.

We create a certain mythology today about the 1930’s and the New Deal, but, we have to remember, at that moment, people were in the great unknown in a way that almost unimaginable for us. Their lives were falling apart everywhere. Everywhere in this country people’s lives, their livelihoods, their families were threatened in the most profound way. There was no roadmap. There was no precedent. And slowly but surely, a movement developed, leaders developed, ideas developed, and people embraced a vision of how to move forward.

They were in the wilderness, but they chose a positive path, they chose a hopeful path. There were voices of division in those times, I guarantee you. There were demagogues. There were those who said the solution was to separate and blame. But that’s not what the people chose. The people chose a path that ultimately unified this nation and brought is forward.

Now, it’s our generation’s turn. We are experiencing a new challenge. We – yes, we’re in unchartered territory, but others who came before us did not turn away. They didn’t run and hide. They found a way to step up, step forward, look ahead.

We find ourselves just days away from one of our most beautiful holidays, and it’s a time, for its very name, that we take stock of our blessings.

And one thing I’m thankful every year is the spirit of this place. You know there’s a big parade every year, and last year that parade came under a threat and there were dire warnings. If you had a TV, a radio, a newspaper, if you were on the internet, you heard that there were threats against the parade.

People could have shirked from it. People could have stayed home. People could have been afraid. What did New Yorkers do? They came out in record numbers – the largest attendance of any Thanksgiving Parade we’ve ever had.

[Applause]

That is who we are. That is how we meet challenges. That’s who we are as New Yorkers and that’s who we are as Americans. And this is no less America because of one election.

It’s our country for all of us. And in this city, we will remember that every day, we will keep that dream alive and strong.

Somos siempre Nueva York.

We are always New York.

[Applause]

Thank you and God bless you all.


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