State Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas’ Address to the California Democratic Party Convention

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    [State Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas’ speech on reparations was one of the highlights of the State Party Convention, held in Downtown LA over Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to her and her staff for sharing the text and allowing us to reprint it]

    Good Afternoon, Delegates of the California Democratic Party! I’m Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas. Welcome to our Hood – the marvelous 28th District! 

    I’m honored to address this grand assembly about an issue that weighs heavily on my heart: The need for Reparations and how California will lead the way to finally heal the soul of this nation. 

    The harms against Black people in this country date back to 1619, when Africans were first brought to America – not as immigrants, but as slaves – against their will.

    Unlike no other human experience in America, millions of Black people were ripped from their homeland 5,000 miles away, auctioned off like cattle, kept in terrorizing bondage, and forced to endure genocidal labor under the most inhumane conditions. 

    An estimated $20 trillion was amassed on the backs of enslaved labor, making the U.S. the largest economic power in the world. Creating the oldest wage theft claim that has yet to be paid.

    While the multi-racial Civil Rights Movement – led by African Americans – demanded that America live up to its proclaimed ideals of democracy, liberty and justice, the truth is that Black people have been enslaved longer than we have been free in this country. And we continue to drown in the disparities created by systemic racism.

    In California, disparities between Black and white residents reflect widening gaps in life expectancy, income, home values, educational outcomes and incarceration, and are a testament to governmental policies rooted in anti-Black racism. 

    Although segregation technically ended under the Civil Rights Act, disproportionate negative conditions persist for Black people in California and across the country in strikingly similar ways. That’s not a coincidence—it’s systemic.

    Let me be clear: Nothing will ever fully repair the horrors of slavery and the ensuing harm done to Black people in this nation. 

    But reparations is what some have rightly called “the seed capital,” a down payment for the nation we are becoming. 

    Friends, look around this room. We are the new Moral Majority. Black, LatinX, API, LGBTQ, Jewish, Immigrants, Women. And our first course of business must be to hold our state accountable for the vilest of American atrocities rooted in hate and division. Passing reparations for Black people in California sends a clear message to the U.S. that we reject all atrocities by a government that would allow Black slave children to live in shackles and put Brown children in cages.

    Given our multiracial make-up, it makes sense we would be the first state to wrestle with the past and determine how to adequately address why it is critical to recompense Black people. 

    Our Reparations Task Force must lead the way as a model for other states. What we do here in California to repair the harms of slavery and Jim Crow will be transformative for the country we want to be.

    Let’s set the record straight: Reparations for Black Americans is not setting a precedent. Many nations across the globe – including the U.S. – have paid reparations for their gross violations of international human rights law.

    Our Reparations Task Force is using guidelines set by the United Nations as their standard for addressing reparations under its international humanitarian act.

    These standards include an official apology for the harm. And compensation to those harmed.

    Reparations is an opportunity for us to stand united for the long overdue justice for Black people.

    The Black community has been on the frontlines of ensuring that Americans live up to its creed of democracy. It’s time to recognize our sacrifice by repaying this debt and repairing the harm. 

    The historic and necessary step toward reparations for Black people centers our values as a 21st Century Democratic Party. And where California goes, so does the nation. Reparations means going into an American future where generations can live free from the weight of the bigotry of the past.

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