Speeches from the 2008 Democratic National Convention
Jesse Jackson Jr.
Remarks to the 2008 Democratic National Convention
I’m sure Dr. King is looking down on us here in Denver, noting that this is the first political convention in history to take place within sight of his mountaintop.
On the day President Johnson submitted the Voting Rights Act to Congress, he said, “At times, history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom.”
So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was at Appomattox. So it was in Selma, Alabama. Tonight, I would like to add: and so it shall be in Denver, Colorado, with the nomination of Barack Obama to be President of the United States.
What a remarkable thing it is that the man who came to this convention four years ago as the keynote speaker is returning this year as our party’s nominee. But for those of us who’ve known Barack over his decade in public office in Illinois the yearning for change, the hunger for unity that he’s tapped into across the country has a familiar ring.
I remember when Barack first decided to run for the United States Senate. He’d had a remarkable career in the state Senate, reaching across the aisle to put a tax cut into the pockets of working families, to expand health care for more children and parents and to take on the lobbyists who had so much influence in Springfield.
But despite this record, most in Springfield didn’t take his candidacy all that seriously. The party establishment was skeptical of this young leader from the South Side. They didn’t know what to make of a man like Barack, with a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas and a funny name that few could pronounce. They didn’t see how this former community organizer could possibly defeat candidates with more money, more name recognition and more backing from “all the right people.”
But here’s the thing: that race wasn’t going to be decided in the halls of power in Springfield or the high rises on the lakefront. It was not going to be decided by the power brokers or opinion shapers. It was going to be decided by the people of Illinois. Illinois is America. It’s great cities and small towns, it’s old factories and new industries, it’s timeless Midwestern values of faith, family and hard work. And it’s black and white and Latino all living together, as one Illinois family, as one America. And the people of Illinois were hungry for change. From the old factory towns of our industrial north to the farms of our agrarian south, families had been struggling to meet the challenges of our global economy. And more often than not, they’d been harmed, rather than helped, by economic policies that failed to them get ahead and reach for their dreams.
But what they heard from Barack as he traveled across the state was a message of hope. Whether he was upstate or downstate; whether he was talking with folks who’d been laid off and seen their jobs shipped overseas or families struggling to keep up with rising costs; whether he was talking with recent immigrants who wanted to know that America had a place for them too, or African Americans who were falling further and further behind, Barack spoke of the same powerful idea. The idea that’s at the heart of who Barack is. The idea that’s at the heart of who we are as Americans. And the idea that’s at the heart of this campaign. That we all have a stake in each other; that the well-being of the “we” depends on the well-being of the “he” and “she”; and that in this country we rise and fall together as one people, as one nation.
And what I saw in that campaign is what I’m seeing today: ordinary men and women of all races, all religions, all walks of life coming together to demand a government in Washington that’s as honest and decent, as purposeful and responsible as the American people.
Fellow Democrats, this is an historic moment. I know. I grew up with the lessons of another generation, my father’s generation. I know his stories of struggle and sacrifice, of fear and division. I know America is still a place where dreams are too often deferred and opportunities too often denied.
But here’s what I also know. I know that while America may not be perfect, our union can always be perfected. I know what we can achieve when good people with strong convictions come together around a common purpose. And I know what a great leader can do to help us find common ground. America, we need such a leader today, a leader who can heal the wounds of the last eight years, a leader who knows that what unites us is greater than what divides us and that America is at its strongest when hard work is rewarded and all of our dreams are within reach.
I know Barack Obama. I’ve seen his leadership at work. I’ve seen the difference he’s made in the lives of people across Illinois. And that is why I know that for the sake of our children, our families, and the future we hold in common, he is the leader America needs right now. Forty-five years to the day after a young preacher called out, “Let freedom ring,” let history show in this fourth week of August in this Mile-High City, freedom in America has never rung from a higher mountaintop than it does here today.
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