John F. Kerry photo

Remarks to the 95th Annual NAACP Convention in Philadelphia

July 15, 2004

Thank you for that wonderful introduction. I understand that you've been having trouble getting some speakers.

Seriously, thank you for the invitation. Some people may have better things to do, but there's no place I'd rather be right now than right here in Philadelphia with the NAACP.

As a campaigner, I know a little something about scheduling conflicts and hostile environments. But when you're president of the United States, you can pretty much say where you want to be. And when you're president, you need to talk to all the people – and that's exactly what I intend to do. I will be a president who truly is a uniter, not one who seeks to divide our nation by race, riches or any other label. You know, the president may be too busy to speak to you now, but I assure you, he'll have plenty of free time after November 2nd.

Later today, John Edwards and I will embark on a series of front-porch tours – going to the homes of ordinary citizens across this nation and talking with them about the values that matter most to them -- values you live by everyday: Family. Responsibility. Service. Opportunity. Inclusion. Fairness. Faith. And the most revolutionary value of all – that we are all created equal.

What better place to kick off our front porch tour than here in Philadelphia, on the front porch of American democracy. What better neighbors to visit with first than the NAACP. For 95 years you have met, marched, litigated, legislated, registered, prayed, sang, gone to jail and challenged this nation to live out the values that unite us -- the ideals of equal opportunity, fairness and justice that are enshrined in the Constitution. You have not always been greeted with open arms. But you have never flinched from speaking truth to power and you have never lost faith in the American Dream. Who wouldn't want to sit on the front porch of neighbors like that? And, you know what, we have a lot to talk about.

When I look around this city – when I look around neighborhoods and towns and cities across this nation, I see what so many of you see everyday.

We see jobs to be created.

We see families to house.

We see violence to stop.

We see children to teach – and children to care for.

We see too many people without health care and too many people of color suffering and dying from chronic diseases like asthma, cancer, AIDS and diabetes.

When we look at what is happening in America today, we ask ourselves where are the deeds. Scripture teaches us: "It is not enough, my brother, to say you have faith, when there are no deeds ... Faith without works is dead."

Fifty years ago, Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP turned their faith into deeds when you fought and won Brown v Board of Education. Forty years ago, Lyndon Johnson, Dr. King and the NAACP turned their faith into deeds when the nation passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And next year the nation will again be reminded that you turned faith into deeds 40 years ago to push for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Today, we have an administration in Washington that looks at the challenges we face here and around the world and says this is the best we can do. They say what we have now is the best economy of our lifetimes. They have even called us pessimists for speaking truth to power. Well, I say the most pessimistic thing you can say is that America can't do better.

Don't tell us 1.8 million lost jobs is the best we can do, when we can create millions of new jobs. We can do better...and we will.

Don't tell us unemployment is not a problem, when we see that African American unemployment is now above 10 percent – double the rate for whites. It is unacceptable in the wealthiest nation on earth that we tolerate vast and growing pockets of poverty -- from the hills of Appalachia to the streets of Philadelphia. Making life better for the working poor is part of my vision for a stronger America. We can do better...and we will.

Don't tell us crumbling and overcrowded schools and underpaid teachers are the best we can do. We have the means to give all our children a first-rate education. We can do better...and we will.

Don't tell us we have to accept racial profiling, hate crimes, or the assault by right wing judges on our precious civil rights progress. We can do better and we will.

Don't tell us that in the strongest democracy on earth, a million disenfranchised African Americans and the most tainted election in history is the best we can do. We can do better...and we will.

Don't tell us in the richest country in the world, that we can't do better than 44 million people uninsured. Nearly 60 percent of Hispanics and 43 percent of African Americans lacked health insurance for all or part of the last two years. We can do better...and we will.

W.E.B. Du Bois talked about the two Americas years ago. He called it "a nation within a nation." John Edwards and I have talked about that divide for many years now.

Our job, between now and November is to end the division between the fortunate America and the forgotten America. We must come together to build one America.

During the course of this campaign I've met young people who want nothing more than to be able to find a job in the place they were raised. I've met steelworkers and mineworkers and autoworkers who have seen their jobs and equipment unbolted before their eyes and shipped overseas. Some have even had to train their foreign replacements. I've spent time with seniors who have worked for a lifetime but can't pay for their medicines or hardly make ends meet. And I have talked with parents full of hope and ambition for their children but they don't know what to do about classrooms that are overcrowded and teachers who are underpaid. And they are worried that they won't be able to afford to send their kids to college.

My faith teaches me, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Let me tell you where my heart is: it's with the middle class who are the heart of this country; it's with the working families who built this country; it's with the veterans who saved this country; with the cops and firefighters and soldiers who protect this country; and it is with the children who are the future of this country. They deserve a president who believes in them, who shares their values, and who will fight with every fiber of my being to uphold them.

John Edwards and I have the vision and values to bring our country together again and build stronger communities. For us and for you values are not just talk. They're not just words. Values are the way we make the lives of all Americans better.

And I am running for president because I believe that what matters most is not the narrow values that divide, but the shared values that unite all of us in this country.

Let me tell you what values mean to me and John Edwards.

Values mean creating opportunity and fighting for good paying jobs that let American families actually get ahead. It means fighting for tax cuts for middle class families – to help provide relief for Americans who are getting squeezed. The wealthiest Americans don't need more tax cuts, but middle class families do. We will cut taxes for 98 percent of Americans. And we will add new middle class tax cuts to help families pay for health care, college tuition and child care – they'll help hard working Americans get ahead.

Creating opportunity also means creating good-paying jobs. More than a million Americans who were working three years ago have lost their jobs. African-American unemployment is now at 10 percent – double the rate for whites. And the new jobs finally being created pay an average of $9,000 less a year.

We have a plan to keep and create good paying jobs here at home. Did you know that right now your tax dollars are being used to ship jobs from Philadelphia and Baltimore, Detroit and Boston overseas? That's inexcusable. When I am president, no longer will American workers have to subsidize the loss of their own jobs.

Values also mean giving all our children a first-rate education, with smaller classrooms and better paid teachers. Today, we see two school systems in America: one for the well off and one for the left out. For us and for you values mean opening the doors of opportunity to all our children. John Edwards and I have a plan to invest in our future, provide the needed funding and put a good teacher in every classroom – so that finally and truly no child is left behind.

Values mean making health care affordable and accessible for all Americans. In the last four years, four million people have lost their health insurance. Millions more are struggling to afford it. When I am in the White House we are going to change that. We are going to stop being the only industrial nation on the face of the earth that doesn't understand that health care is not a privilege for the wealthy, the connected or the elected. Health care is a right for all Americans.

We've got a plan to get the waste and greed out of our health care system and help families save up to $1,000 on their premiums.

Values mean making our country independent of Mideast oil. We've got a plan to invest in new technologies and alternative fuels and protect our environment, so that no young American in uniform is ever held hostage to our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Values mean building a strong military and leading strong alliances, so no young American is ever put in harm's way because we needlessly insisted on going it alone. In our Administration, we'll never go to war because we want to; we'll only go to war because we have to.

Finally, I believe in the value of American leadership in the world. Today, a massive humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Darfur, Sudan, where 300,000 people or more may die in the coming months. This administration must stop equivocating. These government sponsored atrocities should be called by their rightful name – genocide. The government of Sudan and the people of Darfur must understand that America stands prepared to act, in concert with our allies and the UN, to prevent the further loss of innocent lives. The United States must lead the UN Security Council in sanctioning the planners and perpetrators of genocide and authorizing an international humanitarian intervention. As president, I will bring the full weight of American leadership to address this crisis and to promote the democratic hopes of people throughout Africa, Haiti and the Caribbean.

And no crisis challenges the American conscience more than the growing global AIDS pandemic. This audience needs no reminder of the bitter toll that AIDS has exacted here at home. As president, I will make a commitment that by 2008, we will double the amount that America spends fighting global epidemics like AIDS to $30 billion. Fighting AIDS will make us safer, because societies ravaged by AIDS are more likely to become failed states and havens for terrorists. But more than that, fighting AIDS is a moral obligation. How can we see the suffering of so many and turn aside or do too little? If we do not help, who will?

This is the most important election of our lifetime. Our health care is on the line. Our jobs are on the line. Our children's future is on the line. America's role in the world is on the line.

That is why we cannot accept a repeat of 2000. This November, thanks to the efforts of the NAACP and heightened vigilance across the nation, we are not only going to make sure that every vote counts; we're going to make sure that every single vote is counted.

One way to do that is to fulfill the promise of election reform by reauthorizing the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and vigorously enforcing all our voting rights laws. It is a great injustice to us all when African-Americans are denied their fundamental right to vote. On Election Day in your cities, my campaign will provide teams of election observers and lawyers to monitor elections and enforce the law.

I am also happy to report that we have included language in our convention platform calling for legislative action that will ensure that voting systems are accessible, independently auditable, accurate and secure. We intend to enforce the fundamental constitutional right of every American to vote – to ensure that the Constitution's promise is fully realized and that, in disputed elections, every vote is counted fully and fairly. We learned our lesson in 2000, and I add my voice to those who have vowed: never again.

But this election is more in your hands more than in mine. Over the next four months, we need you to do what nobody in America does better -- register voters and get them to the polls.

We can provide a new direction for America if we remember that in all the great movements for civil rights and equal rights, the environment and economic justice for all, we have come together as one America to give life to our highest ideals.

When I was in Vietnam, I served on a small boat in the Mekong Delta with men who came from places as diverse as South Carolina and Iowa...Arkansas and California. We were literally all in the same boat – and we came together as one. No one asked us our politics. No one cared where we went to school or what our race or backgrounds were.

We were just a band of brothers who all fought under the same flag and all prayed to the same God. Today, we're a little older, we're a little greyer. But we still know how to fight for our country. And what we are fighting for is an America where all of us truly are in the same boat.

My friends, the America we believe in is calling us to service once again, and we must answer.

The great poet Langston Hughes put it this way:

Let America be America again...Let it be the dream it used to be...for those whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain must bring back our mighty dream again.

With your help, in 2004, we can...we must...we will...bring back our mighty dream again.

Thank you and God bless you all.

John F. Kerry, Remarks to the 95th Annual NAACP Convention in Philadelphia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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