Barack Obama photo

Remarks in Washington, DC at Take Back America 2007

June 19, 2007

It has now been a little over four months since we began this campaign. And everywhere we've been - whether it's Oakland or Cleveland, Atlanta or Austin - we've been getting these inspiring, humbling crowds of thousands. For a lot of people, it's the first political event of their lifetime.

I'd like to take all the credit myself, but I know that's not the only reason they're coming. There is a hunger in this country right now - a longing for something new that we haven't seen in years. And whenever I stop and think about it, I'm reminded of what got me into public service in the first place.

The year after college, I decided to move to Chicago. It was a time where factory closings were sweeping the Midwest, and thousands were being laid off, and they were boarding up homes and businesses.

On the South Side of Chicago, where neighborhoods were struggling to rebuild after the closing of nearby steel plants, a group of churches came together and decided that they could make a difference. And they hired me to help.

The salary was $12,000 a year plus enough money to buy an old, beat-up car, so I took the job and became a community organizer. We went to work setting up job training programs for the unemployed and after school programs for kids. And block by block, we turned those neighborhoods around.

It was the best education I ever had, because I learned in those neighborhoods that when ordinary people come together, they can achieve extraordinary things. And so later, when I finished law school, I turned down the corporate job offers and I came back to Chicago to continue the work I started.

I organized a voter registration drive that signed up 150,000 new voters to help elect Bill Clinton in 1992. I joined a civil rights law practice, and I started teaching constitutional law - because unlike some occupants of the White House, I actually believe in the Constitution.

And after a few years, people started coming up to me and telling me I should run for state Senate. So I jumped in the race. And I shook every hand I could and passed out flyers to whoever would take them. But the one question I'd get from people more than any other was, "You seem like a nice young man. You've done all this great work. You've been a community organizer, and you teach law school, you're a civil rights attorney, you're a family man - why would you wanna go into something dirty and nasty like politics?"

And I understand the question, and the cynicism. We all understand it.

We understand it because we've all seen that politics in this town is no longer a mission - it's a business. Our politics has never been pure, but there's a sense that in the last several years, the race for money, and influence, and power has left the hopes and concerns of most Americans in the dust. You're worried about how you'll pay for college, or health care, or save for retirement, but when you turn on the TV or open the newspaper, all you see from Washington is another scandal, or a petty argument, or the persistent stubbornness of a President who refuses to end this war in Iraq.

As the rest of us have turned away from this kind of politics in cynicism and frustration, we know what's filled the void. The lobbyists and influence-peddlers with the cash and the connections - the ones who've turned government into a game only they can afford to play. It's the pharmaceutical companies that get to write our drug bills while the price of prescriptions skyrockets for the rest of us. It's the oil lobbyists that get to meet with the same White House that silences the scientists who warn us about the destruction of our planet.

You know who I'm talking about here. They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we're here to tell them it's not for sale.

People tell me I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I promise you this - I've been here long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.

The cynicism we feel about what politics can achieve today is no accident. It has to do with a failure of leadership. It has to do with the philosophy they've peddled in this town for the last six years - a philosophy of trickle-down and on-your-own that says government has no role in solving the challenges we face and so it shouldn't even try.

It's a theory that's easy to talk about when you're playing politics in Washington, but harder to defend when you actually see what it does to average Americans.

I met a family in Iowa City with a small business of fifteen years who is now facing bankruptcy because of their medical bills. Try telling them they're on their own.

I spoke with workers in Newton who were watching their Maytag plant close down and their shops get shipped overseas. Try telling them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Try saying "tough luck" to the families who still don't have homes in New Orleans, or the 45 million Americans without health care, or the 15 million children born into poverty in the richest nation on Earth.

This is not who we are. This is not how America has persevered through war and depression, through struggles for civil rights and women's rights and worker's rights. We have come this far as a nation because we believe in a different kind of politics - because we believe in a different vision for America.

We believe that we rise or fall as one people. We believe that we each have a stake in one another - that I am my brother's keeper; that I am my sister's keeper. We believe that what happens to that family in Iowa, or to those Maytag workers - that matters to us, even if it's not our family, or our job. And what's more - in the face of our cynicism, and our doubts, and the power and influence we see in Washington, we believe that this kind of America is possible.

The time for the can't-do, won't-do, won't-even-try style of politics is over. It's time to turn the page.

Some of our more cynical friends in the media tease me from time to time for always talking about hope. But the reason I do is because I've seen its power.

No one thought those South Side neighborhoods had a chance when I got there. But we banded together, and we kept working, and we taught people to stand up to their government when it wasn't standing up for them.

When I got to the Illinois state Senate, people said it was too hard to take on the issue of money in politics - that our state had too long a history, and too many entrenched interests. But I knew we had the people of Illinois on our side, and I even found a few folks on the other side of the aisle who were willing to listen, and we passed the first major ethics reform in twenty-five years.

People told me I couldn't reform a death penalty system that had sent 13 innocent people to death row. But we did that. They doubted whether we could put government back on the side of average people - but we put tax cuts in the pockets of the working families who needed them instead of the folks who didn't. And I passed health care reform that insured another 150,000 children and parents.

So I know that change is possible. I know that turning the page is possible. This isn't just the rhetoric of a campaign, it's been the cause of my life - a cause I will work for and fight for every day as your President.

It's not enough just to change parties in this election. If we hope to truly transform this country, we have to change our politics too. It's time to turn the page.

It's time to turn the page on health care - to bring together unions and businesses, Democrats and Republicans, and to let the insurance and drug companies know that while they get a seat at the table, they don't get to buy every chair.

I have a universal health care plan that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family's premiums by up to $2500 a year. It's a plan that lets the uninsured buy insurance that's similar to the kind members of Congress give themselves. If you can't afford that, you'll get a subsidy to pay for it. And it goes further than any other proposed plan in cutting the cost of health care by investing in technology and preventative care, breaking the stranglehold the drug and insurance industries have on the health care market, and helping business and families shoulder the cost of the most expensive conditions so that an illness doesn't lead to a bankruptcy. And I promise you this - I will sign a universal health care plan that covers every American by the end of my first term in office as your President. Count on it.

It's time to turn the page on education - to move past the slow decay of indifference that says some schools can't be fixed and some kids just can't learn.

As President, I will launch a campaign to recruit and support hundreds of thousands of new teachers across the country, because the most important part of any education is the person standing in the front of the classroom. It's time to treat teaching like the profession it is. It's time to pay our teachers what they deserve. And when it comes to developing the high standards we need, it's time to stop working against our teachers and start working with them. We can do this.

It's time to turn the page on energy - to break the political stalemate that's kept our fuel efficiency standards in the same place for twenty years; to tell the oil and auto industries that they must act, not only because their future's at stake, but because the future of our country and our planet is at stake as well.

As President, I will place a cap on carbon emissions, and require companies who can't meet the cap to buy credits from those who can. This will generate millions of dollars to invest in renewable sources of energy and create new jobs and even a new industry in the process. I'll put in place a low-carbon fuel standard that will take 50 million cars' worth of pollution off the road. And I'd raise the fuel efficiency standards for our cars and trucks because we know we have the technology to do it and it's time we did. We can do this.

It's time to turn the page for all those Americans who want nothing more than to have a job that can pay the bills and raise a family. Let's finally make the minimum wage a living wage and tie it to the cost of living so we don't have to wait another ten years to see it rise. Let's put the jobless back to work in transitional jobs that can give them a paycheck and a sense of pride, let's help our workers advance with job training and life-long education, and let's finally allow our unions to do what they do best and lift up the middle-class in this country once more. And when you head to Capitol Hill in a little bit to rally for the Employee Free Choice Act, say it loud enough so that the folks on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue can hear you - in this country, we believe that if the majority of workers in a company want a union, they should get a union. We can do this.

We can do all of this. But before we do, we have to begin by turning the page and ending this war.

I am proud that I stood up in 2002 and urged our leaders not to take us down this dangerous path. I've said it before and I'll say it again - this is a war that should've never been authorized and never been waged.

So many of us knew this back then, even when it wasn't popular to say so.

We knew back then this war was a mistake. We knew back then that it was dangerous diversion from the struggle against the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th. We knew back then that we could find ourselves in an occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.

But the war went forward. And now, we've seen those consequences and we mourn for the dead and wounded.

I was in New Hampshire the other month when a woman told me that her nephew was leaving for Iraq. And as she started telling me how much she'd miss him and how worried she was about him, she began to cry. And she said to me, "I can't breathe. I want to know, when am I going to be able to breathe again?"

It is time to let this woman know she can breathe again. It's time to start bringing our troops home - not a year from now or a month from now - but now.

I introduced a plan in January that would've already started bringing our troops home by now, with the goal of bringing all combat brigades home by March 31st, 2008.

Now, we know the President vetoed a bipartisan plan just like this one a few weeks ago. And I'm proud I voted against giving a blank check to the man who said he sees us keeping our troops in Iraq for as long as we have in Korea.

But we can't give George Bush the last word here. We are sixteen votes away in the Senate from ending this war. And so we need to keep turning up the pressure on all those Republican Congressmen and Senators who refuse to acknowledge the reality that the American people know so well. We will call them, and knock on their doors, and we will bring our troops home. It's time to turn the page.

It's time to show the world that America is still the last, best hope of Earth. This President may occupy the White House, but for the last six years the position of leader of the free world has remained open.

It's time to fill that role once more. Whether it's terrorism or climate change, global AIDS or the spread of weapons of mass destruction, America cannot meet the threats of this new century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. It's time for us to lead.

It's time for us to close Guantanamo and restore the right of habeus corpus. It's time to show the world that we are not a country that ships prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far off countries. That we are not a country that runs prisons which lock people away without ever telling them why they are there or what they are charged with. We are not a country which preaches compassion to others while we allow bodies to float down the streets of a major American city.

That is not who we are.

We are America. We are the nation that liberated a continent from a madman, that lifted ourselves from the depths of Depression, that won Civil Rights, and Women's Rights, and Voting Rights for all our people. We are the beacon that has led generations of weary travelers to find opportunity, and liberty, and hopeon our doorstep. That's who we are.

I was down in Selma, Alabama awhile back, and we were celebrating the 42nd anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It was a march of ordinary Americans - maids and cooks, preachers and Pullman porters who faced down fire hoses and dogs, tear gas and billy clubs when they tried to get to the other side. But every time they were stopped, every time they were knocked down, they got back up, they came back, and they kept on marching. And finally they crossed over. It was called Bloody Sunday, and it was the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement.

When I came back from that celebration, people would say, oh, what a wonderful celebration of African-American history that must have been. And I would say, no, that wasn't African-American history. That was a celebration ofAmerican history - it's our story.

And it reminds us of a simple truth - a truth I learned all those years ago as an organizer in Chicago - a truth you carry by being here today - that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.

I am confident about my ability to lead this country. But I also know that I can't do it without you. This campaign that we're running has to be about your hopes, and your dreams, and what you will do. Because there are few obstacles that can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change.

That's how change has always happened - not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up.

And that's exactly how you and I will change this country.

If you want a new kind of politics, it's time to turn the page.

If you want an end to the old divisions, and the stale debates, and the score-keeping and the name-calling, it's time to turn the page.

If you want health care for every American and a world-class education for all our children; if you want energy independence and an end to this war in Iraq; if you believe America is still that last, best hope of Earth, then it's time to turn the page.

It's time to turn the page for hope. It's time to turn the page for justice. It is time to turn the page and write the next chapter in the great American story. Let's begin the work. Let's do this together. Let's turn that page. Thank you.

* As prepared for delivery

Barack Obama, Remarks in Washington, DC at Take Back America 2007 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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