A packed house of over 1,600 people gathered to hear San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen YulÃn Cruz and Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams give keynote addresses at Rep. Jan Schakowsky's 17th annual "Ultimate Women's Power Lunch" April 23 at the Hilton Chicago.
Abrams ( who could become the first Black woman governor in United States history ) opened with the story of her childhood living in poverty in Mississippi that some people in the state call "South Chicago." She said her parents perseverance has inspired her throughout her life.
"They said go to church, school and take care of each other," said Abrams.
Abrams explained that her parents wanted them to be grounded in faith that had morals and ethics but the faith she was raised in has discriminated against people "because of who they love or who they are." She said her faith runs counter to what the church says about LGBTQ people.
In terms of going to school, Abrams said it took a lot for her parents to excuse her from class because they thought education was the best way to succeed in life and that "no one can take what is in your mind." She noted that she is the only public education advocate running for Georgia governor. Abrams explained that she believes education should go from cradle to career.
Abrams noted that taking care of one another means volunteering in the community like her family did when she was growing up. As far as legislation is concerned, Abrams said this means expanding Medicaid, criminal justice reform and statewide civil rights protections for LGBTQ people. She explained that in the past few years she has helped flip six GOP state districts blue and that was before the blue wave. Abrams also reminded everyone that Georgia's primary is May 22.
"Georgia is not a red state; we are blue, but a little confused," said Abrams.
"There are a whole lot of 'nasty women' in the house," Cruz said as she took the stage, referencing then-presidential candidate Donald Trump's 2016 reference to Hillary Clinton.
Cruz spoke about her grandmother being the first one in her family to read and write and was the one who shielded her from poverty her entire life.
Sept. 20, 2017, changed Cruz's life because of Hurricane Maria and earlier Irma which she calls a "one, two punch to the gut." She said about 75,000 people are still without electricity or running water to this day.
Cruz spoke about her meeting with President Donald Trump, whom she thought would help Puerto Rico, and the fact that he would not look her in the eyes or shake her hand. She also brought up the infamous paper towel incident as another example of his indifference. She called him the "hater-in-chief" and said "someone should take that damn Twitter account away from him."
Saving lives and standing up for injustice and intolerance is what Cruz said drives her as a person and elected official. She noted that Trump's response to the people of Puerto Rico violated human and civil rights. Cruz said it is a "moral imperative" to help people when a crisis occurs.
Cruz recognized Illinois Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker ( who was in attendance ) for the monetary assistance he and his family provided to the people of Puerto Rico last Dec.
"The American people care, the Democratic party cares," said Cruz.
Cruz spoke about the conditions on the island today, which are still dire, and said the only way to change that is to vote for Democrats on Nov. 6. She said "second place is not an option." Cruz explained that 27 million Latinx people did not vote in 2016 and that has to change.
Ahead of Abrams and Cruz's remarks, Schakowsky noted the importance of getting the federal Equal Rights Amendment passed in the Illinois House of Representatives and called on everyone to contact their representatives to vote yes on the bill. She said this would make Illinois the 37th out of 38 states needed for this amendment to be added to the United States Constitution.
"The resistance is unprecedented," said Schakowsky.
Schakowsky said these are "unsettling times" especially for immigrant families. When Schakowsky called on the audience to raise their hands if they had immigrant grandparents most of the room had their hands up. She explained that "this is who we are, this is what America is."
"Everyone needs to have a personal plan for what your role will be so we can win back Congress," said Schakowsky.
Schakowsky also spoke about the importance of donating to Democratic candidates like Abrams and others as well as Cruz's non-profit, Somebody Help Us, which supports Puerto Rican relief and recovery efforts following Hurricane's Irma and Maria.
In speaking about past victories; Schakowsky said Virginia House Delegate Danica Roem, Sen. Doug Jones and Rep. Conor Lamb are examples of how to turn red areas blue. She also noted the work the Parkland student activists and local organizers of Chicago's March for Our Lives rally are doing around gun control and fighting back against the NRA.
"Donald Trump will be remembered as the president who awakened the sleeping giant that ushered in the most progressive era in United States history," said Schakowsky.
Schakowsky also recognized the many elected officials in the room including Reps. Cheri Bustos, Bill Foster, Mike Quigley, Brad Schneider and Charlie Crist ( who were brought onstage ); congressional candidates Sean Casten ( IL-6 ), Betsy Dirksen Londrigan ( IL-13 ), Lauren Underwood ( IL-14 ), Michigan state Rep. Gretchen Driskell ( MI-7 ), Iowa state Rep. Abby Finkenauer ( IA-1 ) and Andy Kim ( NJ-3 ); Illinois Treasurer Mike Frerichs; Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx; Cook County Clerk David Orr; Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer; Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia; Alds. James Cappleman, Sue Sadlowski Garza, Joe Moore, Michael Scott, Jr. and Debra Silverstein; Metropolitan Water Reclamation District ( MWRD ) Board President Mariyana Spyroupolos and MWRD Commissioners Josina Morita, Debra Shore and Kari Steele among others.
Casten, Londrigan, Underwood, Driskell and Kim all spoke about why they decided to run for office and how their personal stories will drive how they legislate if they are elected.
Other speakers included Mendoza, Women of the World Founder and Executive Director Donna Gutman and Democratic Cook County Commissioner candidate Donna Miller.
To donate, visit somebodyhelpusalguienayudenos.com/ and staceyabrams.com .