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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Delivers Remarks at the National Action Network's Dr. Martin Luther King Day Celebration

January 21, 2019

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you. Happy King Day, everybody. Happy King Day, everybody.

[Applause]

This is a powerful day. This is a day it’s good we’re together because we have things to remember, things to think about, and lots of things to do. Now, when it comes to doing things, when it comes to action, where else would you go but the National Action Network?

[Applause]

And I want to say about Rev – when you listen to him talk about his youth, talk about the impact that Dr. King and his movement had on the thinking of the young Al Sharpton, the Poor People’s Campaign, the efforts to organize people not just for the racial justice they so richly deserved, for the civil rights they so richly deserved but for the economic justice they needed as well.

[Applause]

That is what Dr. King told us and that’s what Al Sharpton took up from literally the time he was a young child. Let’s thank Rev for always staying true to Dr. King’s values and message.

[Applause]

And I want to thank all the leaders who are here, all the activists who are here, all the elected officials who are here, and two [inaudible] of this movement, two people who have lit the way for us for decades and decades – of course, Mayor David Dinkins, thank you for all you have done.

[Applause]

And a woman who brings energy and fight every single time – whatever she is having for breakfast, I want to have too – Hazel Dukes, thank you.

[Applause]

So, I want to pick up on a point that Rev made – it’s very powerful. The folks who invoke Dr. King but don’t believe in what Dr. King believed in. The way this holiday gets celebrated, too often – I would call it the sanitized version, the simplified version, the desiccated version. It’s not the whole Dr. King that a lot of times is remembered because when you think of his most famous speech, which was absolutely beautiful, it speaks about unity and it speaks about equality. And we need those things. But Dr. King spoke about a struggle for justice and not just racial justice, as I said. He believed you couldn’t have racial justice without economic justice.

[Applause]

He believed the status quo was broken and that people were being – they had their hopes withheld, their possibilities withheld because of institutional racism. And that racism did not just deny civil rights. It took away economic possibility. It took away the chance for people to live a decent life. That’s what he spoke about.

Now, Dr. King, in 1967, he spoke to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He literally called for a complete overhaul of the United States economy. He talked about the need for redistribution. He talked about the fact that power and wealth were concentrated in very, very few hands.

That was 1967. Dr. King, although he would be proud of us for some of the advances we have made a society in some areas, if he looked at the question of where all the wealth and power is, he would say today it’s concentrated in even fewer hands than it was then and that his vision has not been realized.

Listen to what he said that day in 1967 – “Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort – those outer walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.”

Couldn’t be clearer – if we do not have opportunity, if we do not have a chance of living a decent life, if we cannot feed our families, if we cannot meet ends meet what kind of rights do we have?

So, that’s what he saw way back then. Now, today in this city, in this country people are working harder and harder. They’re literally working longer and longer hours but they’re getting less and less for it.

They are working longer and longer hours – that means they have less and less time with their own families, less and less time for themselves. Is that the society Dr. King would have wished for us?

He wished for us something better. So, here, in this city, we are going to lead the way. We are going to show it can be done. We’re going to show that working people will get the wages they deserve, the benefits they deserve, the life they deserve. And one thing we’re going to do in New York City – and we’re going to show the nation it can be done – we are guaranteeing health care for every New Yorker.

[Applause]

I don’t care who you are, I don’t care if you’re young or old, I don’t care if you are a citizen or undocumented – you need health care.

[Applause]

And if you look at our faith traditions, it doesn’t say you get health because you are a citizen but you don’t because you aren’t. That’s not how the Bible teaches us. Everyone deserves the right to health care.

[Applause]

From this point on every New Yorker gets a health care card. If they don’t have insurance they get a simple health care card, they get a primary care doctor, they get a specialist when they need it, they actually get to go to the doctor not just the emergency room.

[Applause]

And one other thing I want to mention we’re doing in this city to try to live in the image of Dr. King in today’s world – we’re saying to all those people who work so hard, who get so little back – there are almost half-a-million New Yorkers who don’t get a single day off that’s paid. They don’t get a single paid vacation day. They don’t get a single day for themselves and their family.

We’re going to pass a law that says every New Yorker has a right to two weeks of paid time off, Paid Personal Time, every single year.

[Applause]

If we can’t do that, what kind of society are we? We are not here just to work and work and work and never get a chance to live life. That’s not what Dr. King wished for us.

And I’ll say one more thing – the changes that we’ll continue to make right here – you know for a long time the status quo in this society tried to shunt aside so many people because of color, because of class, and tried to say if you lived in a certain place there’s something lesser about you. We know for decades and decades our brothers and sisters who lived in public housing did not get their fair share.

We know they were ignored. It was supposed to be public housing to respect people and help them on their way forward. Instead it became treated as a negative stereotype that people need a little bit of help and it was treated like there was something wrong with them but there was never anything wrong with them. The people who live in public housing today are the backbone of New York City. They are the people who make New York City work.

[Applause]

We hear their voices. We see them and we want to serve them. And I’m here to announce something – there’s actually some good news on this King Day. Over the last five years we have worked to make sure that residents of NYCHA get good jobs. And the efforts are paying off. The training and the placement and the preparation, it connected them to the work they deserve – and I can report that we now have placed 15,000 New York City public housing residents in good jobs so they can have a better life.

[Applause]

And we are going to do more. We’re going to remind our brothers and sisters in the labor movement – and Dr. King loved the labor movement but he wanted the labor movement to treat everyone equally and open up opportunity for everyone. So we are going to push labor a little bit more and we’re going to push for the kinds of apprenticeships that will uplift the residents of NYCHA.

And we’re going to open up more opportunity. We’re going to open the doors of Amazon in Queens for people who live in public housing. We’re going to open the doors in Brownsville, Brooklyn – wherever there is opportunity, I want to see public housing residents benefit.

That’s what we aim to do in this city. Brother and sisters, Dr. King did not want us to just give speeches. He would never have wanted his day celebrated just with words. He would have loved the National Action Network because it’s all about uplifting the next person and the next person and the next person.

Let us commit ourselves to that and we will live in the image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Thank you and God bless you all.

[Applause]

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