Speech

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A. Philip Randolph Institute (08/27/2013)

Secretary Anthony Foxx, remarks as delivered

Washington, DC

Thank you for the introduction, Clayola Brown, A.P.R.I .President. And thank you so much for inviting me.

This is quite a moment in our country’s history, 50 years after the African American March. A moment for us to reflect on what it took people to come to this wonderful city on that day, August 28, 1963--in spite of all the challenges those people had even in coming here. And to think about where we are today in relation to the central theme of that March, which was jobs and freedom.

You know, the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s legacy is clearly intertwined with the civil rights movement. In fact, as you all well know, A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin really had the idea to do this march, and this march would not have even happened had it not been for that vision.

And over the last 50 years, as we’ve achieved so much--and so much has happened in the way of experience and equality in the face of hardship and discrimination and, in some cases, violence--as many have said, we’ve made a lot of progress, but we’re not there yet.

Looking back at 1963 and thinking about what role I now play and our Department now plays in the path of connecting every American to 21st century opportunities, I’m reminded that even before the March On Washington, we were framing the path of freedom in the context of transportation.

When folks were escaping slavery, they didn’t get teleported out of it; they took the Underground Railroad.

When--in the middle part of the1950s, when there was a young woman who sat down and refused to get up—she did it on a transit bus.

And over more than a year, the folks in Montgomery, once they decided that the system wasn’t going to work just because it was right--that economics had to play a role--the discipline that the citizens of Montgomery exhibited in boycotting that bus system, and walking to work or carpooling to work, resulted in changes that spread across the South.

So it is in that context, that people--more than 200,000--traveled from near and far. And in most cases, coming out of the south, they couldn’t stop at a hotel, had to stop by the side of the road because they couldn’t use a rest room. If they got hungry, they had to dip into a bag they brought from home because they couldn’t stop at a restaurant. They came here to remind America that when we say the Pledge of Allegiance, we are all pledging to the same country.

The Civil Rights Movement was never about leapfrogging somebody else; it was about having the same opportunity as somebody else

Well, when we look at the infrastructure we’ve inherited--and by the way, in 2013, we as a nation, pretty much across the board, have learned to take the infrastructure we have for granted. But the infrastructure we have today is actually infrastructure that was built over many generations. And in many cases was a very visible example of the culture in which it was built.

So, at a certain point in our history, interstates were built that divided neighborhoods. At a certain point, transit systems were built kind of around places where people lived. At a certain level our transportation networks were built in a way that reflected the division in which they were created.

And yet, in 2013--I can tell you because I’ve seen it--there are leaders and communities, and efforts in communities across this country to take division and make it bridge-building, to make it connection, to make it an opportunity for everyone.

I was in Columbus, Ohio, just a few weeks ago. And in Columbus, there is a neighborhood and it’s a neighborhood called the King-Lincoln District. How appropriate, the King-Lincoln District--an area that was once vibrant, but today is highly African-American, highly minority, highly low-income.

And at a certain point in time, I-71 ran right through the middle of King-Lincoln.

That was before.

I just went to a groundbreaking announcement where the mayor of Columbus, Michael Coleman, is capping that freeway and reconnecting that community once again.

We are starting to see a time in which these connections are becoming more important to us. And I have to tell you, it’s not just in urban America. It’s in rural America, too.

The opportunity we have and the responsibility we have is to connect every single American to the 21st century economy.

When I was mayor of Charlotte, we had a little project called the Streetcar Project. And this was part of a long-range transit strategy.

We built light rail in an abandoned industrial area. And the whole community got behind it.

We’re building light rail up to the University area and everybody got behind it.

There’s one project that was connecting the two lowest income parts of the city, and all of a sudden the money had run out, and it became a fight,

Well, we were able to get a mile-and-a-half of that streetcar built, thanks to Secretary LaHood, and eventually that’s going to be a 9-mile stretch that’s going to run into part s of our community, that’s going to create jobs, that’s going to create a quality of life that this community is going to have.

So, what I’m really trying to say to you is that--and I think this is what you’ve heard the President say--the poetry on August 28, 1963, painted a very clear contrast between what our country should be and what our country was. It held a mirror up to America.

But the way we make progress isn’t always in poetry.

Sometimes, it’s in marching. Sometimes it’s in legislative office.

Sometimes, it’s in projects that we do through the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Sometimes it’s through the efforts the President is making on student loans.

Let me tell you about a couple of things in the infrastructure context that the President is doing that are very important to me.

The first is the President’s “Fix It First” initiative.

Do you know we have 100,000 bridges in this country that are, as the President said, eligible for Medicare?

I mean, think about it. We are the envy of the world, and we have bridges that need to get fixed.

And just a few years ago, we saw in Minneapolis, Minnesota, just an example of what happens when our systems don’t work.

It’s a safety issue. It’s also a mobility issue.

So the President has talked about corporate tax reform in the context of putting $50 billion into repairing our nation’s infrastructure.

He’s also--for FY 14--he’s talked about taking some of the savings from our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and investing those in our nation’’ infrastructure.

And getting back to 1963, jobs and freedom, I don’t know what will create more jobs and more freedom than an infrastructure system in this country that connects people to the 21st century economy.

So, that’s where we are. There’s a postscript to all of this. Because I know you’re people of action.

Well, here is what we do.

I find that these issues are incredibly local. Infrastructure is a big word; it’s almost an abstract word.

But, there are bridges right where you live that need to get fixed. There are roads where you live that need to get built or repaired. There are transit systems that are waiting on funding.

There are highways; there are airports; there are ports--you name it. There are projects right where you live that are waiting for action.

So, when you go back home, talk about those projects to the folks who represent you here in Washington.

Because, I promise you, when this issue becomes local, it will get national again.

We’ll get it done when folks on the ground are talking about projects that they know create jobs today and facilitate jobs in the future.

So, it’s a delight to be here--an honor to speak with you given everything I know about A. Philip Randolph and what he did to help the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters achieve what our folks needed when they were working on the railroads, and also as the dean of the civil rights movement, who had the vision for this march.

I want you know that, every day, there is someone out there in America who is waiting for us to act, and we need you on the ground to raise your voices to help us make an environment in which action becomes possible.

Thank you very much.

Updated: Tuesday, December 16, 2014