Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, an Episcopalian, spoke out on matters of poverty and racial inequality at the Rev. Dr. William Barber II’s Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on Sunday in Goldsboro, North Carolina.
Greenleaf Christian Church and Poor People’s Campaign: A National Campaign for a Moral Revival co-sponsored the two-hour gathering featuring Mayor Buttigieg and urged action on issues including systemic racism, voter suppression, public education, and access to healthcare, among others.
“We believe something is more at stake than just one election,” Barber said during his introduction. “But who America is electing to be. Will we elect to continue to be a country that ignores the plight of 140 million poor and low wealth people?”
Barber is the architect of the “Moral Monday” movement, which consisted of protests against mainly Republican policies in the North Carolina statehouse. Even so, on Sunday, Barber insisted, “We are not a Left or Right movement, conservative or liberal. We are a movement concerned about moral issues and the moral demand to fully address poverty and low wealth in this nation and to address the interlocking injustices.”
After his introduction, Barber invited Buttigieg to answer questions from himself, Durham minister Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and various audience members.
The first question came from a couple, including a veteran, who asked Buttigieg how he planned to prioritize the alleviation of poverty.
The culprit behind poverty, answered Buttigieg, is primarily due to policy decisions, including the federal minimum wage being allowed to lapse. “People in this country need to get paid more. This is simple, straightforward, and it is not happening,” he answered.
“We need to make sure that everybody has access to the benefits you need to get by,” Buttigieg said. “This administration has cut SNAP food aid for those in poverty. Nobody is better off in a country where some are going hungry.”
After speaking of poverty broadly, Barber then turned the discussion to what he called “interlocking injustices,” including systemic racism and voter suppression. “If a state is a racist voter suppression state and people are using that suppression to acquire power, then those that acquire power also push policies or deny policies that could impact and change poverty, health care, and living wages,” Barber said.
“As president, what would you do to address racist voter suppression and racist gerrymandering that is hurting our democracy?” Barber asked Buttigieg.
In his answer, Buttigieg stressed the importance of automatic voter registration and ensuring the polls are open earlier as practical ways to address voter suppression.”The reality is we’re going to need a twenty-first-century voting rights act that restores and advances what was laid out originally,” he offered. “We have to make sure our democratic defenses are stronger.”
Though Buttigieg outlined gerrymandering’s racial tactics, it’s disappointing that he did not provide any clear solutions.
Public education was also apart of the conversation. A retired pastor, alongside his ten-year-old grandson, spoke against “underfunding and resegregation” in the public school system. He then asked Buttigieg, “If you get to appoint the next Secretary of Education, what will be the education priorities of your administration?”
“Very first consideration for a Secretary of Education is that they believe in public education. Because I don’t think we have that right now,” Buttigieg answered to applause. “Second is that they believe in equity in public education. Third, is that they be willing to commit resources with the backing of the president, of course, who will be willing to go to Congress and go to bat for this to make sure that everybody has access to quality education.”
“Whether you thrive, should not come down to whether you were fortunate enough to win an admissions lottery to one of a handful of schools,” he added.
Access to health care, or health care coverage, was another hot button topic during the discussion. “What is your plan to guarantee access to health care for everyone in this country as quickly as possible?” asked a mother whose son died at age 32.
“For anybody to talk of morality, when we are called to heal the sick and politicians have blocked Medicaid expansion is unconscionable,” Buttigieg declared. “But we’ve got to do more.”
Buttigieg then explained that his health care plan is to make sure all are insured, calling it “Medicare for all who want it.” If anyone did not enroll in a medical insurance plan, then Buttigieg’s proposal would automatically enroll the individual in Medicare.
“It’s not cheap,” he admitted. “It’s 1.5 trillion dollars over ten years. But compared to the cost of business, as usual, I think it’s a bargain.” To pay for his plan, Buttigieg explained that Medicare has to negotiate the price of drugs with pharmaceutical companies and to roll back corporate tax rate cuts.
In closing, “religious nationalism” was addressed by two Raleigh-area clergy. They believe the Christian faith has been distorted by “religious nationalism and extremism” in the public square. This is a narrative, they argue, that ignores systemic racism and demonizes LGBTQ people and women’s rights. They then asked Buttigieg how he would use his position as president to unify the country.
“While I would impose my religious faith on nobody else,” Buttigieg answered, “I will be transparent about the fact that I follow a God who came into this world, not in riches but in poverty, not as a citizen but as a refugee, not as a political authority but as a political dissident who died for it.” That view of Christ, he said, instructs how he works to ensure liberty for the oppressed, the marginalized, and the poor.Google+