Beto officially kicked off his campaign for President of the United States at a public grassroots rally with more than 6,000 supporters in his hometown of El Paso. During the speech, O’Rourke shared his positive, unifying vision for bridging divides and bringing together Americans from all walks of life to overcome the greatest set of challenges this country has ever faced. His remarks focused on the urgent need to take on powerful special interests to address the most profound issues facing the nation including climate change, criminal justice reform, access to universal, guaranteed, high-quality health care, immigration laws that reflect our values and ensuring that this economy works for all Americans.
We’re grateful to all of you for being here today, especially those of you who made the trip to El Paso. We wanted to make this announcement in El Paso because I was born here and grew up here; because Amy and I are raising our children here; and most of all, because I believe this city represents the best of what this country can be.
El Paso is the Ellis Island for much of the Americas.
For more than a century, we’ve welcomed generations of newcomers from across the Rio Grande – families who’ve traveled hundreds, even thousands of miles, many to escape brutal violence and crushing poverty – to do better for themselves and their kids but also because they were called to contribute to this country’s greatness our shared success and they have.
Over the years, our city has been home to leaders of great struggles for civil rights and workers’ rights – the Mexican-Americans who led the Chicano Movement, the women who organized the Farah Strike, black El Pasoans like Lawrence Nixon and Thelma White who secured voting rights and ensured that this city would become one of the first in the south to outlaw segregation and integrate public education.
And this city has also distinguished itself in military service to country – from Marcelino Serna in WWI to the Bolanos brothers in Vietnam to those whose lives are on the line tonight half a world away – all of us back home in El Paso are thinking about you at this very moment.
Today, we’re part of the largest binational community in the Western Hemisphere, and for two decades running, one of the safest cities in America – not despite the presence of immigrants and asylum seekers, but because of them; because we’ve learned not to fear our differences, but to respect and embrace them; because our community is enriched by many languages, many cultures, many traditions, and one quintessentially American belief: that we are, in the words of Dr. King, “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
This community gives me inspiration and has given me every chance I’ve had in life. The great public school teachers at Mesita who believed in me. The small business community that gave me the opportunity to work for them when we started our own small business twenty years ago – the people I worked with to create high value, high tech jobs in a city that had so much talent, just looking for an opportunity to express itself.
In 2005 I was elected to the El Paso city council not as a democrat or a republican, but as an El Pasoan trying to ensure greater opportunity for all. We worked to improve our transit system, protect our open spaces, and invest in people and neighborhoods to help ensure every one of us could live to our full potential. And we took on the tough fights – including extending healthcare to same sex partners of city employees – despite the political consequences.
Every week I held a town hall meeting. Open to questions, criticism, new ideas and different ways of doing things. Each one of those meetings, and each person who showed up, made me more accountable, more responsive, more reflective of the community — you made me a better leader.
And in 2012 you gave me the chance to serve this community in Congress. Against the establishment and against the odds we ran a grassroots campaign, knocking on tens of thousands of doors, listening and talking about tough issues including veteran suicide and ending the war on drugs.
In office, I delivered on improving the performance at the VA in El Paso, on expanding access to mental healthcare for veterans nationally, on protecting public lands and improving security, trade and travel at our border with Mexico. We supported the service members and families stationed at Fort Bliss. You helped me find the Republican colleagues with whom we could find the common ground and with whom we could get the job done. And we did.
It is El Paso’s story that I told throughout Texas, all 254 counties, when we ran to represent this state in the U.S. senate. We ran a campaign of all people, no PACs. Didn’t matter how red or blue, how urban or rural, everyone matters, everyone counts, and so I showed up everywhere with both the courage of my convictions and a willingness to learn from the people I sought to serve.
And though we did not win that race, this state and its 38 electoral votes now matter like never before. We have a seat at the table. And the people of Texas including those here in El Paso made it happen, voters, volunteers, pop up office— young voter turnout up nearly 500%; We won Republican, Independent and traditional Democratic constituencies.
A state that had ranked 50th in voter turnout thanks to voter ID laws and gerrymandering was able to transcend those barriers and send new members to Congress, new members to the state legislature and 17 African American women to judicial positions in Harris county, literally changing the face of criminal justice in our biggest city, the most diverse city in America. And we did it all by running on a progressive agenda that never wrote anyone off and we never took anyone for granted.
And today it is from El Paso that I officially launch this campaign to serve you as the next President of the United States of America.
This is a campaign for America, for everyone in America.
Like so many of you, Amy and I have decided that at this moment of truth we must give it our all. And though it means time away from Ulysses and Molly and Henry, we also know that they depend on us to do everything in our power while there is still time to act. This moment is our test – the generations that follow ours, the people of the future, are counting on us – and we cannot be found wanting.
The challenges before us are the biggest of our lifetimes. Millions without healthcare; an economy that works too well for too few and not at all for too many; and the opportunity to avert the worst consequences of climate change fading in the face of our inaction. We must overcome these challenges, but to do so we must first ask how the world’s wealthiest most powerful country has found itself in such a perilous position.
On Campaign Finance
For too long in this country, the powerful have maintained their privilege at the expense of the powerless. They have employed fear and division — based on differences in race or ethnicity, geography and faith — to keep us apart, and angry and afraid of one another.
Unrestrained, money and influence have warped this country’s priorities and its very democracy. It has invited cynicism, distrust and disengagement from Americans who see a government in thrall to those who can pay for access and outcomes.
A vigorous democracy – both economic and political – is the only check on the inertia of power, on the corruption and capture of our institutions, and the only means to elevate the voices and lives of our fellow citizens.
But when the safeguards of our democracy are manipulated by those in power — when members of congress choose their own voters, when the supreme court says that corporations are people and money is speech, when special interests and PACs can purchase elections and legislation, when voting rights are withdrawn — then we risk becoming a democracy in name only, where the idea that this country holds that we are all born equal to equal opportunity is justifiably seen as a lie by those who experience gross differences in justice, in education, in health, in economic advancement.
These challenges and the threats to our democracy cannot be met by half measures or with only half the country. It’s gonna take all we’ve got and it’s gonna take all of us.
The differences between us — where we live, who we love, to whom we pray, how long our families have been in this country, the color of our skin, the party to which we belong — those differences cannot be allowed to define us or divide us now. Before we are anything else, let us be Americans first and together do the work of this country.
So if we believe in universal, guaranteed, high quality healthcare – because we see the consequences to our fellow Americans who go without – then let us come together around a policy that prioritizes affordability of prescription drugs, lowers the costs of premiums and ensures that in a country where one of the largest providers of mental health care services is our county jail system, a country where we have a maternal mortality crisis that is 3x as deadly for women of color — that universal healthcare means everyone gets primary healthcare, mental healthcare — and universal also means every woman makes her own decisions about her own body.
We can give every American and every business the choice to enroll in Medicare without eliminating plans that many Americans like for their families because they work for their families. This means every one of us is able to afford our prescriptions, see a doctor, take our children to a therapist. No one priced out. No one denied care. No one left behind. The goal of universal, guaranteed high-quality health care must be achieved as quickly and as surely as possible.
If we believe in an economy that works for all, then let us invest in a world-class Pre-k through 12 public education system and ensure that we are paying our educators a living wage so that they don’t have to work a second or third job.
Let’s graduate young women and men from high school who are career ready as well as college ready, able to pursue debt-free higher education or a job that provides purpose and a real paycheck.
Let’s strengthen unions and ensure a path to apprenticeships and careers. Guarantee that one job is enough by paying every working American a true living wage.
Let’s partner with rural communities on infrastructure, schools, hospitals, and broadband internet.
Let’s make sure farmers can make a profit while they grow the food and fiber that feeds and clothes not just this country, but so much of the world.
Let’s give them access to technologies and markets that make solving climate change a source of new income.
Let’s ensure everyone can succeed regardless of their family dynamics, their gender, their sexual orientation or their race. Paid family leave. Equal pay for women. No discrimination in the workplace, and access to capital for communities that have been effectively shut out of capital, home loans and wealth for generations.
On Criminal Justice Reform
If we believe in real criminal justice reform in the face of the largest prison population on the face of the planet — one disproportionately comprised of people of color — let us not just end the prohibition of marijuana, or the expungement of the records of those arrested solely for possession of a substance legal in most of this country — let’s go beyond ending cash bail, prisons for profit and the war on drugs and confront the true legacy of slavery, of segregation and suppression, of how people have been criminalized and kept down based on their race and ethnicity. Only that truth will allow us to begin to repair the damage done and keep us from repeating the same injustices.
If we believe that this country’s success is premised on the fact that immigrants and asylum seekers from the world over have found a home here, then let us forever free Dreamers from any fear of deportation by making them U.S. citizens. Let’s bring millions more of our fellow Americans out of the shadows and on to a path to contribute even more to our country’s success.
Let’s not only honor our asylum laws and never again take another child from another parent at their most desperate and vulnerable moment, but guarantee that all separated families are reunited. Let’s acknowledge that every man, every woman, every child in detention — including those behind fences and barbed wire under our international bridges connecting us with Mexico — are our fellow human beings and deserve to be treated like human beings.
On National Security
Let’s ensure our security not through walls and militarization, but by investing in our ports of entry where the vast majority of everything and everyone that ever comes into this country first enters, supporting the women and men of the CBP and treating one another — regardless of our status or how many generations, or days, we’ve been in this country — with dignity and respect.
And if we’re serious about security, let this country of immigrants – Republicans, Independents and Democrats – rewrite our immigration laws in our own image, from our own experiences, and in the best traditions of this great country.
If we are truly grateful to the veterans who have fought this country’s wars – who came back from Vietnam to a country that did not understand or thank them for their service, who are coming back from wars that are 27 years long in Iraq, 17 in Afghanistan — then let us not only ensure that we meet every single part of our obligation to them — their PTSD treated, a roof over the head of every homeless vet, an investment in the treatments and conditions unique to combat and service — let us also make sure that before we enter yet another war that we have exhausted every single peaceful alternative and that we end the wars that have no definition of victory or strategy to win them and bring these service members back home to their families and their communities.
On Climate Change
If we understand that climate change is real and is caused by our own excess and inaction, that the floods, fires and droughts that we are currently experiencing are only going to get much worse if this planet warms another 1-degree Celsius, then let us organize this country around an historic effort to free this economy from a dependence on greenhouse gas emissions, invest in the technologies and jobs in renewable energy that will speed this transition, and reassert our international leadership before it is too late.
Much as we met the existential threat to the western democracies of Nazi Germany nearly 80 years ago and at the same time helped to lift millions of Americans into the middle class, we have an opportunity now to meet an existential threat to this planet by ensuring that public health policy, economic policy, and the engine of a far more conscientious capitalism is put to work in service of our ability to meet this challenge.
It is important that this work ensures that every American benefits, including those poor and minority communities that have so often borne the brunt of climate change.
On Foreign Policy
And when it comes to international leadership — this current administration, responsible for spurning our true friends and alliances forged in sacrifice from the generations before ours, squandering a standing this country has enjoyed for nearly 80 years, must be replaced by an administration that strengthens our historic friendships, earns the respect of the world not just in how we treat people in other countries but how we treat people in our own country and brings the world together around otherwise intractable problems – from building on the Paris agreement to achieve even bolder action on climate, to pursuing nuclear disarmament, to ending our wars and finding peaceful, diplomatic paths forward.
We must focus on this hemisphere and once again make it a foreign policy priority of this country — we can either address the problems in Central America at our border or help the people of Central America address them at home. This country can once again take its place as the indispensable nation, doing what no other country can, for ourselves and for the world.
But if we want to do any of this — let us agree that our success as a country is based on the success of this democracy, the greatest mechanism devised to bring forth the power of people.
So every citizen must be able to cast their vote, have their voice heard. We must sign into law a new voting rights act, we must forever banish big money from our politics, end gerrymandering, and enact same-day voter registration in every part of the country.
On Economic Security
Let us also acknowledge that any hope of full political democracy must be premised on an unwavering pursuit of economic democracy.
Every child must see a future for themselves in this country, or we will have no future as a democracy.
The unprecedented concentration of wealth, power and privilege in the United States must be broken apart. Opportunity must be fully shared with all.
Si queremos enfrentar los retos de cuidado de salud por todos; de la reforma migratoria; del cambio climático —- necesitamos una democracia en que cada persona puede votar y ofrecer su voz. Pero también necesitamos una economía donde todos pueden participar, y tener un prospecto de éxito independiente de su genero, de su raza, de los cuantas generaciones su familia tiene a dentro o aparte de los estados unidos. El exito de este pais depende en el exito de cada persona en este pais.
We will not be defined by our fears or the smallness of our differences; we will instead be known by our ambitions, our aspirations and the resolve, the creativity, the service and sacrifice by which we will have achieved them.
Our ability to campaign this way — a campaign run for and by people – no PACs, no corporations – people from every state and territory — can bring us together not just towards a victory in the nominating process, not just in defeating president Trump, but in ensuring that we have the full power of people, of a movement, to accomplish this country’s priorities.
I am honored to run to serve you as President of the United States; and I am grateful to each one of you who will join this campaign and commit yourself in service to this great country of ours.
Together we can fulfill the promise of America, to ourselves, to each other, and to every generation that succeeds us.
Thank you and God bless America.