January 10, 2017: President Barack Obama’s Farewell Address

BARACK OBAMA RESOURCE

obama_banner_2017

REFERENCE SOURCE:

SPEECHES

Remarks by the President in Farewell Address

Source: WH, 1-10-17

McCormick Place
Chicago, Illinois

8:02 P.M. CST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Chicago!  (Applause.)  It’s good to be home!  (Applause.)  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  All right, everybody sit down.  (Applause.)  We’re on live TV here.  I’ve got to move.  (Applause.)  You can tell that I’m a lame duck because nobody is following instructions.  (Laughter.)  Everybody have a seat.  (Applause.)

My fellow Americans — (applause) — Michelle and I have been so touched by all the well wishes that we’ve received over the past few weeks.  But tonight, it’s my turn to say thanks.  (Applause.)  Whether we have seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people, in living rooms and in schools, at farms, on factory floors, at diners and on distant military outposts -– those conversations are what have kept me honest, and kept me inspired, and kept me going.  And every day, I have learned from you.  You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.  (Applause.)

So I first came to Chicago when I was in my early 20s.  And I was still trying to figure out who I was, still searching for a purpose in my life.  And it was a neighborhood not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills.  It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  I can’t do that.

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.

After eight years as your President, I still believe that.  And it’s not just my belief.  It’s the beating heart of our American idea –- our bold experiment in self-government.  It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.

What a radical idea.  A great gift that our Founders gave to us:  The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat and toil and imagination, and the imperative to strive together, as well, to achieve a common good, a greater good.

For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation.  It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom.  It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande.  (Applause.)  It’s what pushed women to reach for the ballot.  It’s what powered workers to organize.  It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima, Iraq and Afghanistan.  And why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs, as well.  (Applause.)

So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional — not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change and make life better for those who follow.  Yes, our progress has been uneven.  The work of democracy has always been hard.  It’s always been contentious.  Sometimes it’s been bloody.  For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back.  But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some.  (Applause.)

If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history — (applause) — if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9/11 — (applause) — if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens –- (applause) — if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high.  But that’s what we did.  (Applause.)  That’s what you did.

You were the change.  You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.  (Applause.)

In 10 days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy.

AUDIENCE:  Nooo —

THE PRESIDENT:  No, no, no, no, no — the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected President to the next.  (Applause.)  I committed to President-elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me.  (Applause.)  Because it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.

We have what we need to do so.  We have everything we need to meet those challenges.  After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth.  Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours.  But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works.  Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people.  (Applause.)  Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.

That’s what I want to focus on tonight:  The state of our democracy.  Understand, democracy does not require uniformity.  Our founders argued.  They quarreled.  Eventually they compromised.  They expected us to do the same.  But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity -– the idea that for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.  (Applause.)

There have been moments throughout our history that threatens that solidarity.  And the beginning of this century has been one of those times.  A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism -– these forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy, as well.  And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs, and protect our homeland.  In other words, it will determine our future.

To begin with, our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity.  And the good news is that today the economy is growing again.  Wages, incomes, home values, and retirement accounts are all rising again.  Poverty is falling again.  (Applause.)  The wealthy are paying a fairer share of taxes even as the stock market shatters records.  The unemployment rate is near a 10-year low.  The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower.  (Applause.)  Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years.  And I’ve said and I mean it — if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system and that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it.  (Applause.)

Because that, after all, is why we serve.  Not to score points or take credit, but to make people’s lives better.  (Applause.)

But for all the real progress that we’ve made, we know it’s not enough.  Our economy doesn’t work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class and ladders for folks who want to get into the middle class.  (Applause.)  That’s the economic argument.  But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic ideal.  While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind — the laid-off factory worker; the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — that’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.

But there are no quick fixes to this long-term trend.  I agree, our trade should be fair and not just free.  But the next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas.  It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.

And so we’re going to have to forge a new social compact to guarantee all our kids the education they need — (applause) — to give workers the power to unionize for better wages; to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now, and make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and individuals who reap the most from this new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their very success possible.  (Applause.)

We can argue about how to best achieve these goals.  But we can’t be complacent about the goals themselves.  For if we don’t create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.

There’s a second threat to our democracy — and this one is as old as our nation itself.  After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America.  And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic.  Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.  Now, I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10, or 20, or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say.  (Applause.)  You can see it not just in statistics, you see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.

But we’re not where we need to be.  And all of us have more work to do.  (Applause.)  If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.  (Applause.)  If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.  (Applause.)  And we have shown that our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.  Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.

So if we’re going to be serious about race going forward, we need to uphold laws against discrimination — in hiring, and in housing, and in education, and in the criminal justice system.  (Applause.)  That is what our Constitution and our highest ideals require.  (Applause.)

But laws alone won’t be enough.  Hearts must change.  It won’t change overnight.  Social attitudes oftentimes take generations to change.  But if our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction — Atticus Finch — (applause) — who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

For blacks and other minority groups, it means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face — not only the refugee, or the immigrant, or the rural poor, or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who, from the outside, may seem like he’s got advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change.  We have to pay attention, and listen.  (Applause.)

For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ‘60s — (applause) — that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness.  When they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment but the equal treatment that our Founders promised.  (Applause.)

For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, and Italians, and Poles — who it was said we’re going to destroy the fundamental character of America.  And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened.  (Applause.)

So regardless of the station that we occupy, we all have to try harder.  We all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.  (Applause.)

And that’s not easy to do.  For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions.  The rise of naked partisanship, and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste — all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.  And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there. (Applause.)

And this trend represents a third threat to our democracy.  But politics is a battle of ideas.  That’s how our democracy was designed.  In the course of a healthy debate, we prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them.  But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter — (applause) — then we’re going to keep talking past each other, and we’ll make common ground and compromise impossible.  (Applause.)

And isn’t that part of what so often makes politics dispiriting?  How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on preschool for kids, but not when we’re cutting taxes for corporations?  (Applause.)  How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing?  It’s not just dishonest, this selective sorting of the facts; it’s self-defeating.  Because, as my mother used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.  (Applause.)

Take the challenge of climate change.  In just eight years, we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil; we’ve doubled our renewable energy; we’ve led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet.  (Applause.)  But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change.  They’ll be busy dealing with its effects: more environmental disasters, more economic disruptions, waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.

Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to solve the problem.  But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country — the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.  (Applause.)

It is that spirit, born of the Enlightenment, that made us an economic powerhouse — the spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral; the spirit that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket.

It’s that spirit — a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might — that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression; that allowed us to build a post-World War II order with other democracies, an order based not just on military power or national affiliations but built on principles — the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion, and speech, and assembly, and an independent press.  (Applause.)

That order is now being challenged — first by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets and open democracies and and civil society itself as a threat to their power.  The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile.  It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.

Because of the extraordinary courage of our men and women in uniform, because of our intelligence officers, and law enforcement, and diplomats who support our troops — (applause)

— no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years.  (Applause.)  And although Boston and Orlando and San Bernardino and Fort Hood remind us of how dangerous radicalization can be, our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever.  We have taken out tens of thousands of terrorists — including bin Laden.  (Applause.)  The global coalition we’re leading against ISIL has taken out their leaders, and taken away about half their territory.  ISIL will be destroyed, and no one who threatens America will ever be safe.  (Applause.)

And to all who serve or have served, it has been the honor of my lifetime to be your Commander-in-Chief.  And we all owe you a deep debt of gratitude.  (Applause.)

But protecting our way of life, that’s not just the job of our military.  Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear.  So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.  (Applause.)

And that’s why, for the past eight years, I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firmer legal footing.  That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, reformed our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties.  (Applause.)  That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans, who are just as patriotic as we are.  (Applause.)

That’s why we cannot withdraw from big global fights — to expand democracy, and human rights, and women’s rights, and LGBT rights.  No matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem, that’s part of defending America.  For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression.  If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.

So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid.  (Applause.)  ISIL will try to kill innocent people.  But they cannot defeat America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight.  (Applause.)  Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world — unless we give up what we stand for — (applause) —  and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.

Which brings me to my final point:  Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.  (Applause.)  All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.  (Applause.)    When voting rates in America are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should be making it easier, not harder, to vote.  (Applause.)  When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service.  (Applause.)  When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our congressional districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes.  (Applause.)

But remember, none of this happens on its own.  All of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging.

Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift.  But it’s really just a piece of parchment.  It has no power on its own.  We, the people, give it power.  (Applause.)  We, the people, give it meaning.  With our participation, and with the choices that we make, and the alliances that we forge.  (Applause.)  Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms.  Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law.  That’s up to us.  America is no fragile thing.  But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.

In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but “from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken…to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth.”  And so we have to preserve this truth with “jealous anxiety;” that we should reject “the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties” that make us one.  (Applause.)

America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter into public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen not just as misguided but as malevolent.  We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.  (Applause.)

It falls to each of us to be those those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.  Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy:  Citizen.  (Applause.)  Citizen.

So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands.  It needs you.  Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.  If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.  (Applause.) If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing.  (Applause.)  If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.  (Applause.)  Show up.  Dive in.  Stay at it.

Sometimes you’ll win.  Sometimes you’ll lose.  Presuming a reservoir of goodness in other people, that can be a risk, and there will be times when the process will disappoint you.  But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, and to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire.  And more often than not, your faith in America — and in Americans — will be confirmed.  (Applause.)

Mine sure has been.  Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers.  I have mourned with grieving families searching for answers, and found grace in a Charleston church.  I’ve seen our scientists help a paralyzed man regain his sense of touch.  I’ve seen wounded warriors who at points were given up for dead walk again.  I’ve seen our doctors and volunteers rebuild after earthquakes and stop pandemics in their tracks.  I’ve seen the youngest of children remind us through their actions and through their generosity of our obligations to care for refugees, or work for peace, and, above all, to look out for each other.  (Applause.)

So that faith that I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change — that faith has been rewarded in ways I could not have possibly imagined.  And I hope your faith has, too.  Some of you here tonight or watching at home, you were there with us in 2004, in 2008, 2012 — (applause) — maybe you still can’t believe we pulled this whole thing off.  Let me tell you, you’re not the only ones.  (Laughter.)

Michelle — (applause) — Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, girl of the South Side — (applause) — for the past 25 years, you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend.  (Applause.)  You took on a role you didn’t ask for and you made it your own, with grace and with grit and with style and good humor.  (Applause.)  You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody.  (Applause.)  And the new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model.  (Applause.)  So you have made me proud.  And you have made the country proud.  (Applause.)

Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women.  You are smart and you are beautiful, but more importantly, you are kind and you are thoughtful and you are full of passion.  (Applause.)  You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily.  Of all that I’ve done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad.  (Applause.)

To Joe Biden — (applause) — the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware’s favorite son — you were the first decision I made as a nominee, and it was the best.  (Applause.)  Not just because you have been a great Vice President, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother.  And we love you and Jill like family, and your friendship has been one of the great joys of our lives.  (Applause.)

To my remarkable staff:  For eight years — and for some of you, a whole lot more — I have drawn from your energy, and every day I tried to reflect back what you displayed — heart, and character, and idealism.  I’ve watched you grow up, get married, have kids, start incredible new journeys of your own.  Even when times got tough and frustrating, you never let Washington get the better of you.  You guarded against cynicism.  And the only thing that makes me prouder than all the good that we’ve done is the thought of all the amazing things that you’re going to achieve from here.  (Applause.)

And to all of you out there — every organizer who moved to an unfamiliar town, every kind family who welcomed them in, every volunteer who knocked on doors, every young person who cast a ballot for the first time, every American who lived and breathed the hard work of change — you are the best supporters and organizers anybody could ever hope for, and I will be forever grateful.  (Applause.)  Because you did change the world.  (Applause.)  You did.

And that’s why I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than when we started.  Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans, it has inspired so many Americans — especially so many young people out there — to believe that you can make a difference — (applause) — to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.

Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country.  You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America.  (Applause.)  You know that constant change has been America’s hallmark; that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace.  You are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward.  You’ll soon outnumber all of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.  (Applause.)

My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you.  (Applause.)  I won’t stop.  In fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days.  But for now, whether you are young or whether you’re young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President — the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago.  I’m asking you to believe.  Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.

I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written:  Yes, we can.  (Applause.)

Yes, we did.  Yes, we can.  (Applause.)

Thank you.  God bless you.  May God continue to bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
8:53 P.M. CST

September 20, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Speech to the 71st Session of the United Nations General

BARACK OBAMA RESOURCE

obama_banner_2017

REFERENCE SOURCE:

SPEECHES

Address by President Obama to the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Source: WH, 9-20-16

The United Nations
New York, New York

10:29 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. President; Mr. Secretary General; fellow delegates; ladies and gentlemen:  As I address this hall as President for the final time, let me recount the progress that we’ve made these last eight years.

From the depths of the greatest financial crisis of our time, we coordinated our response to avoid further catastrophe and return the global economy to growth.  We’ve taken away terrorist safe havens, strengthened the nonproliferation regime, resolved the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomacy.  We opened relations with Cuba, helped Colombia end Latin America’s longest war, and we welcome a democratically elected leader of Myanmar to this Assembly.  Our assistance is helping people feed themselves, care for the sick, power communities across Africa, and promote models of development rather than dependence.  And we have made international institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund more representative, while establishing a framework to protect our planet from the ravages of climate change.

This is important work.  It has made a real difference in the lives of our people.  And it could not have happened had we not worked together.  And yet, around the globe we are seeing the same forces of global integration that have made us interdependent also expose deep fault lines in the existing international order.

We see it in the headlines every day.  Around the world, refugees flow across borders in flight from brutal conflict.  Financial disruptions continue to weigh upon our workers and entire communities.  Across vast swaths of the Middle East, basic security, basic order has broken down.  We see too many governments muzzling journalists, and quashing dissent, and censoring the flow of information.  Terrorist networks use social media to prey upon the minds of our youth, endangering open societies and spurring anger against innocent immigrants and Muslims.  Powerful nations contest the constraints placed on them by international law.

This is the paradox that defines our world today.  A quarter century after the end of the Cold War, the world is by many measures less violent and more prosperous than ever before, and yet our societies are filled with uncertainty, and unease, and strife.  Despite enormous progress, as people lose trust in institutions, governing becomes more difficult and tensions between nations become more quick to surface.

And so I believe that at this moment we all face a choice. We can choose to press forward with a better model of cooperation and integration.  Or we can retreat into a world sharply divided, and ultimately in conflict, along age-old lines of nation and tribe and race and religion.

I want to suggest to you today that we must go forward, and not backward.  I believe that as imperfect as they are, the principles of open markets and accountable governance, of democracy and human rights and international law that we have forged remain the firmest foundation for human progress in this century.  I make this argument not based on theory or ideology, but on facts — facts that all too often, we forget in the immediacy of current events.

Here’s the most important fact:  The integration of our global economy has made life better for billions of men, women and children.  Over the last 25 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut from nearly 40 percent of humanity to under 10 percent.  That’s unprecedented.  And it’s not an abstraction.  It means children have enough to eat; mothers don’t die in childbirth.

Meanwhile, cracking the genetic code promises to cure diseases that have plagued us for centuries.  The Internet can deliver the entirety of human knowledge to a young girl in a remote village on a single hand-held device.  In medicine and in manufacturing, in education and communications, we’re experiencing a transformation of how human beings live on a scale that recalls the revolutions in agriculture and industry.  And as a result, a person born today is more likely to be healthy, to live longer, and to have access to opportunity than at any time in human history.

Moreover, the collapse of colonialism and communism has allowed more people than ever before to live with the freedom to choose their leaders.  Despite the real and troubling areas where freedom appears in retreat, the fact remains that the number of democracies around the world has nearly doubled in the last 25 years.

In remote corners of the world, citizens are demanding respect for the dignity of all people no matter their gender, or race, or religion, or disability, or sexual orientation, and those who deny others dignity are subject to public reproach.  An explosion of social media has given ordinary people more ways to express themselves, and has raised people’s expectations for those of us in power.  Indeed, our international order has been so successful that we take it as a given that great powers no longer fight world wars; that the end of the Cold War lifted the shadow of nuclear Armageddon; that the battlefields of Europe have been replaced by peaceful union; that China and India remain on a path of remarkable growth.

I say all this not to whitewash the challenges we face, or to suggest complacency.  Rather, I believe that we need to acknowledge these achievements in order to summon the confidence to carry this progress forward and to make sure that we do not abandon those very things that have delivered this progress.

In order to move forward, though, we do have to acknowledge that the existing path to global integration requires a course correction.  As too often, those trumpeting the benefits of globalization have ignored inequality within and among nations; have ignored the enduring appeal of ethnic and sectarian identities; have left international institutions ill-equipped, underfunded, under-resourced, in order to handle transnational challenges.

And as these real problems have been neglected, alternative visions of the world have pressed forward both in the wealthiest countries and in the poorest:  Religious fundamentalism; the politics of ethnicity, or tribe, or sect; aggressive nationalism; a crude populism — sometimes from the far left, but more often from the far right — which seeks to restore what they believe was a better, simpler age free of outside contamination.

We cannot dismiss these visions.  They are powerful.  They reflect dissatisfaction among too many of our citizens.  I do not believe those visions can deliver security or prosperity over the long term, but I do believe that these visions fail to recognize, at a very basic level, our common humanity.  Moreover, I believe that the acceleration of travel and technology and telecommunications — together with a global economy that depends on a global supply chain — makes it self-defeating ultimately for those who seek to reverse this progress.  Today, a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself.

So the answer cannot be a simple rejection of global integration.  Instead, we must work together to make sure the benefits of such integration are broadly shared, and that the disruptions — economic, political, and cultural — that are caused by integration are squarely addressed.  This is not the place for a detailed policy blueprint, but let me offer in broad strokes those areas where I believe we must do better together.

It starts with making the global economy work better for all people and not just for those at the top.  While open markets, capitalism have raised standards of living around the globe, globalization combined with rapid progress and technology has also weakened the position of workers and their ability to secure a decent wage.  In advanced economies like my own, unions have been undermined, and many manufacturing jobs have disappeared.  Often, those who benefit most from globalization have used their political power to further undermine the position of workers.

In developing countries, labor organizations have often been suppressed, and the growth of the middle class has been held back by corruption and underinvestment.  Mercantilist policies pursued by governments with export-driven models threaten to undermine the consensus that underpins global trade.  And meanwhile, global capital is too often unaccountable — nearly $8 trillion stashed away in tax havens, a shadow banking system that grows beyond the reach of effective oversight.

A world in which one percent of humanity controls as much wealth as the other 99 percent will never be stable.  I understand that the gaps between rich and poor are not new, but just as the child in a slum today can see the skyscraper nearby, technology now allows any person with a smartphone to see how the most privileged among us live and the contrast between their own lives and others.  Expectations rise, then, faster than governments can deliver, and a pervasive sense of injustice undermine people’s faith in the system.

So how do we fix this imbalance?  We cannot unwind integration any more than we can stuff technology back into a box.  Nor can we look to failed models of the past.  If we start resorting to trade wars, market distorting subsidies, beggar thy neighbor policies, an overreliance on natural resources instead of innovation — these approaches will make us poorer, collectively, and they are more like to lead to conflict.  And the stark contrast between, say, the success of the Republic of Korea and the wasteland of North Korea shows that central, planned control of the economy is a dead end.

But I do believe there’s another path — one that fuels growth and innovation, and offers the clearest route to individual opportunity and national success.  It does not require succumbing to a soulless capitalism that benefits only the few, but rather recognizes that economies are more successful when we close the gap between rich and poor, and growth is broadly based. And that means respecting the rights of workers so they can organize into independent unions and earn a living wage.  It means investing in our people — their skills, their education, their capacity to take an idea and turn it into a business.  It means strengthening the safety net that protects our people from hardship and allows them to take more risks — to look for a new job, or start a new venture.

These are the policies that I’ve pursued here in the United States, and with clear results.  American businesses have created now 15 million new jobs.  After the recession, the top one percent of Americans were capturing more than 90 percent of income growth.  But today, that’s down to about half.  Last year, poverty in this country fell at the fastest rate in nearly 50 years.  And with further investment in infrastructure and early childhood education and basic research, I’m confident that such progress will continue.

So just as I’ve pursued these measures here at home, so has the United States worked with many nations to curb the excesses of capitalism — not to punish wealth, but to prevent repeated crises that can destroy it.  That’s why we’ve worked with other nations to create higher and clearer standards for banking and taxation — because a society that asks less of oligarchs than ordinary citizens will rot from within.  That’s why we’ve pushed for transparency and cooperation in rooting out corruption, and tracking illicit dollars, because markets create more jobs when they’re fueled by hard work, and not the capacity to extort a bribe.  That’s why we’ve worked to reach trade agreements that raise labor standards and raise environmental standards, as we’ve done with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, so that the benefits are more broadly shared.

And just as we benefit by combatting inequality within our countries, I believe advanced economies still need to do more to close the gap between rich and poor nations around the globe.  This is difficult politically.  It’s difficult to spend on foreign assistance.  But I do not believe this is charity.  For the small fraction of what we spent at war in Iraq we could support institutions so that fragile states don’t collapse in the first place, and invest in emerging economies that become markets for our goods.  It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

And that’s why we need to follow through on our efforts to combat climate change.  If we don’t act boldly, the bill that could come due will be mass migrations, and cities submerged and nations displaced, and food supplies decimated, and conflicts born of despair.  The Paris Agreement gives us a framework to act, but only if we scale up our ambition.  And there must be a sense of urgency about bringing the agreement into force, and helping poorer countries leapfrog destructive forms of energy.

So, for the wealthiest countries, a Green Climate Fund should only be the beginning.  We need to invest in research and provide market incentives to develop new technologies, and then make these technologies accessible and affordable for poorer countries.  And only then can we continue lifting all people up from poverty without condemning our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair.

So we need new models for the global marketplace, models that are inclusive and sustainable.  And in the same way, we need models of governance that are inclusive and accountable to ordinary people.

I recognize not every country in this hall is going to follow the same model of governance.  I do not think that America can — or should — impose our system of government on other countries.  But there appears to be growing contest between authoritarianism and liberalism right now.  And I want everybody to understand, I am not neutral in that contest.  I believe in a liberal political order — an order built not just through elections and representative government, but also through respect for human rights and civil society, and independent judiciaries and the rule of law.

I know that some countries, which now recognize the power of free markets, still reject the model of free societies.  And perhaps those of us who have been promoting democracy feel somewhat discouraged since the end of the Cold War, because we’ve learned that liberal democracy will not just wash across the globe in a single wave.  It turns out building accountable institutions is hard work — the work of generations.  The gains are often fragile.  Sometimes we take one step forward and then two steps back.  In countries held together by borders drawn by colonial powers, with ethnic enclaves and tribal divisions, politics and elections can sometimes appear to be a zero-sum game.  And so, given the difficulty in forging true democracy in the face of these pressures, it’s no surprise that some argue the future favors the strongman, a top-down model, rather than strong, democratic institutions.

But I believe this thinking is wrong.  I believe the road of true democracy remains the better path.  I believe that in the 21st century, economies can only grow to a certain point until they need to open up — because entrepreneurs need to access information in order to invent; young people need a global education in order to thrive; independent media needs to check the abuses of power.  Without this evolution, ultimately expectations of people will not be met; suppression and stagnation will set in.  And history shows that strongmen are then left with two paths — permanent crackdown, which sparks strife at home, or scapegoating enemies abroad, which can lead to war.

Now, I will admit, my belief that governments serve the individual, and not the other way around, is shaped by America’s story.  Our nation began with a promise of freedom that applied only to the few.  But because of our democratic Constitution, because of our Bill of Rights, because of our ideals, ordinary people were able to organize, and march, and protest, and ultimately, those ideals won out — opened doors for women and minorities and workers in ways that made our economy more productive and turned our diversity into a strength; that gave innovators the chance to transform every area of human endeavor; that made it possible for someone like me to be elected President of the United States.

So, yes, my views are shaped by the specific experiences of America, but I do not think this story is unique to America.  Look at the transformation that’s taken place in countries as different as Japan and Chile, Indonesia, Botswana.  The countries that have succeeded are ones in which people feel they have a stake.

In Europe, the progress of those countries in the former Soviet bloc that embraced democracy stand in clear contrast to those that did not.  After all, the people of Ukraine did not take to the streets because of some plot imposed from abroad.  They took to the streets because their leadership was for sale and they had no recourse.  They demanded change because they saw life get better for people in the Baltics and in Poland, societies that were more liberal, and democratic, and open than their own.

So those of us who believe in democracy, we need to speak out forcefully, because both the facts and history, I believe, are on our side.  That doesn’t mean democracies are without flaws.  It does mean that the cure for what ails our democracies is greater engagement by our citizens — not less.

Yes, in America, there is too much money in politics; too much entrenched partisanship; too little participation by citizens, in part because of a patchwork of laws that makes it harder to vote.  In Europe, a well-intentioned Brussels often became too isolated from the normal push and pull of national politics.  Too often, in capitals, decision-makers have forgotten that democracy needs to be driven by civic engagement from the bottom up, not governance by experts from the top down.  And so these are real problems, and as leaders of democratic governments make the case for democracy abroad, we better strive harder to set a better example at home.

Moreover, every country will organize its government informed by centuries of history, and the circumstances of geography, and the deeply held beliefs of its people.  So I recognize a traditional society may value unity and cohesion more than a diverse country like my own, which was founded upon what, at the time, was a radical idea — the idea of the liberty of individual human beings endowed with certain God-given rights.  But that does not mean that ordinary people in Asia, or Africa, or the Middle East somehow prefer arbitrary rule that denies them a voice in the decisions that can shape their lives.  I believe that spirit is universal.  And if any of you doubt the universality of that desire, listen to the voices of young people everywhere who call out for freedom, and dignity, and the opportunity to control their own lives.

This leads me to the third thing we need to do:  We must reject any forms of fundamentalism, or racism, or a belief in ethnic superiority that makes our traditional identities irreconcilable with modernity.  Instead we need to embrace the tolerance that results from respect of all human beings.

It’s a truism that global integration has led to a collision of cultures; trade, migration, the Internet, all these things can challenge and unsettle our most cherished identities.  We see liberal societies express opposition when women choose to cover themselves.  We see protests responding to Western newspaper cartoons that caricature the Prophet Muhammad.  In a world that left the age of empire behind, we see Russia attempting to recover lost glory through force.  Asian powers debate competing claims of history.  And in Europe and the United States, you see people wrestle with concerns about immigration and changing demographics, and suggesting that somehow people who look different are corrupting the character of our countries.

Now, there’s no easy answer for resolving all these social forces, and we must respect the meaning that people draw from their own traditions — from their religion, from their ethnicity, from their sense of nationhood.  But I do not believe progress is possible if our desire to preserve our identities gives way to an impulse to dehumanize or dominate another group. If our religion leads us to persecute those of another faith, if we jail or beat people who are gay, if our traditions lead us to prevent girls from going to school, if we discriminate on the basis of race or tribe or ethnicity, then the fragile bonds of civilization will fray.  The world is too small, we are too packed together, for us to be able to resort to those old ways of thinking.

We see this mindset in too many parts of the Middle East.  There, so much of the collapse in order has been fueled because leaders sought legitimacy not because of policies or programs but by resorting to persecuting political opposition, or demonizing other religious sects, by narrowing the public space to the mosque, where in too many places perversions of a great faith were tolerated.  These forces built up for years, and are now at work helping to fuel both Syria’s tragic civil war and the mindless, medieval menace of ISIL.

The mindset of sectarianism, and extremism, and bloodletting, and retribution that has been taking place will not be quickly reversed.  And if we are honest, we understand that no external power is going to be able to force different religious communities or ethnic communities to co-exist for long.  But I do believe we have to be honest about the nature of these conflicts, and our international community must continue to work with those who seek to build rather than to destroy.

And there is a military component to that.  It means being united and relentless in destroying networks like ISIL, which show no respect for human life.  But it also means that in a place like Syria, where there’s no ultimate military victory to be won, we’re going to have to pursue the hard work of diplomacy that aims to stop the violence, and deliver aid to those in need, and support those who pursue a political settlement and can see those who are not like themselves as worthy of dignity and respect.

Across the region’s conflicts, we have to insist that all parties recognize a common humanity and that nations end proxy wars that fuel disorder.  Because until basic questions are answered about how communities co-exist, the embers of extremism will continue to burn, countless human beings will suffer — most of all in that region — but extremism will continue to be exported overseas.  And the world is too small for us to simply be able to build a wall and prevent it from affecting our own societies.

And what is true in the Middle East is true for all of us.  Surely, religious traditions can be honored and upheld while teaching young people science and math, rather than intolerance. Surely, we can sustain our unique traditions while giving women their full and rightful role in the politics and economics of a nation.  Surely, we can rally our nations to solidarity while recognizing equal treatment for all communities — whether it’s a religious minority in Myanmar, or an ethnic minority in Burundi, or a racial minority right here in the United States.  And surely, Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel, but Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.  We all have to do better as leaders in tamping down, rather than encouraging, a notion of identity that leads us to diminish others.

And this leads me to the fourth and final thing we need to do, and that is sustain our commitment to international cooperation rooted in the rights and responsibilities of nations.

As President of the United States, I know that for most of human history, power has not been unipolar.  The end of the Cold War may have led too many to forget this truth.  I’ve noticed as President that at times, both America’s adversaries and some of our allies believe that all problems were either caused by Washington or could be solved by Washington — and perhaps too many in Washington believed that as well.  (Laughter.)  But I believe America has been a rare superpower in human history insofar as it has been willing to think beyond narrow self-interest; that while we’ve made our share of mistakes over these last 25 years — and I’ve acknowledged some — we have strived, sometimes at great sacrifice, to align better our actions with our ideals.  And as a consequence, I believe we have been a force for good.

We have secured allies.  We’ve acted to protect the vulnerable.  We supported human rights and welcomed scrutiny of our own actions.  We’ve bound our power to international laws and institutions.  When we’ve made mistakes, we’ve tried to acknowledge them.  We have worked to roll back poverty and hunger and disease beyond our borders, not just within our borders.

I’m proud of that.  But I also know that we can’t do this alone.  And I believe that if we’re to meet the challenges of this century, we are all going to have to do more to build up international capacity.  We cannot escape the prospect of nuclear war unless we all commit to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and pursuing a world without them.

When Iran agrees to accept constraints on its nuclear program that enhances global security and enhances Iran’s ability to work with other nations.  On the other hand, when North Korea tests a bomb that endangers all of us.  And any country that breaks this basic bargain must face consequences.  And those nations with these weapons, like the United States, have a unique responsibility to pursue the path of reducing our stockpiles, and reaffirming basic norms like the commitment to never test them again.

We can’t combat a disease like Zika that recognizes no borders — mosquitos don’t respect walls — unless we make permanent the same urgency that we brought to bear against Ebola — by strengthening our own systems of public health, by investing in cures and rolling back the root causes of disease, and helping poorer countries develop a public health infrastructure.

We can only eliminate extreme poverty if the sustainable development goals that we have set are more than words on paper. Human ingenuity now gives us the capacity to feed the hungry and give all of our children — including our girls — the education that is the foundation for opportunity in our world.  But we have to put our money where our mouths are.

And we can only realize the promise of this institution’s founding — to replace the ravages of war with cooperation — if powerful nations like my own accept constraints.  Sometimes I’m criticized in my own country for professing a belief in international norms and multilateral institutions.  But I am convinced that in the long run, giving up some freedom of action — not giving up our ability to protect ourselves or pursue our core interests, but binding ourselves to international rules over the long term — enhances our security.  And I think that’s not just true for us.

If Russia continues to interfere in the affairs of its neighbors, it may be popular at home, it may fuel nationalist fervor for a time, but over time it is also going to diminish its stature and make its borders less secure.  In the South China Sea, a peaceful resolution of disputes offered by law will mean far greater stability than the militarization of a few rocks and reefs.

We are all stakeholders in this international system, and it calls upon all of us to invest in the success of institutions to which we belong.  And the good news is, is that many nations have shown what kind of progress is possible when we make those commitments.  Consider what we’ve accomplished here over the past few years.

Together, we mobilized some 50,000 additional troops for U.N. peacekeeping, making them nimble, better equipped, better prepared to deal with emergencies.  Together, we established an Open Government Partnership so that, increasingly, transparency empowers more and more people around the globe.  And together, now, we have to open our hearts and do more to help refugees who are desperate for a home.

We should all welcome the pledges of increased assistance that have been made at this General Assembly gathering.  I’ll be discussing that more this afternoon.  But we have to follow through, even when the politics are hard.  Because in the eyes of innocent men and women and children who, through no fault of their own, have had to flee everything that they know, everything that they love, we have to have the empathy to see ourselves.  We have to imagine what it would be like for our family, for our children, if the unspeakable happened to us.  And we should all understand that, ultimately, our world will be more secure if we are prepared to help those in need and the nations who are carrying the largest burden with respect to accommodating these refugees.

There are a lot of nations right now that are doing the right thing.  But many nations — particularly those blessed with wealth and the benefits of geography — that can do more to offer a hand, even if they also insist that refugees who come to our countries have to do more to adapt to the customs and conventions of the communities that are now providing them a home.

Let me conclude by saying that I recognize history tells a different story than the one that I’ve talked about here today.  There’s a much darker and more cynical view of history that we can adopt.  Human beings are too often motivated by greed and by power.  Big countries for most of history have pushed smaller ones around.  Tribes and ethnic groups and nation states have very often found it most convenient to define themselves by what they hate and not just those ideas that bind them together.

Time and again, human beings have believed that they finally arrived at a period of enlightenment only to repeat, then, cycles of conflict and suffering.  Perhaps that’s our fate.  We have to remember that the choices of individual human beings led to repeated world war.  But we also have to remember that the choices of individual human beings created a United Nations, so that a war like that would never happen again.  Each of us as leaders, each nation can choose to reject those who appeal to our worst impulses and embrace those who appeal to our best.  For we have shown that we can choose a better history.

Sitting in a prison cell, a young Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that, “Human progress never rolls on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God.”  And during the course of these eight years, as I’ve traveled to many of your nations, I have seen that spirit in our young people, who are more educated and more tolerant, and more inclusive and more diverse, and more creative than our generation; who are more empathetic and compassionate towards their fellow human beings than previous generations.  And, yes, some of that comes with the idealism of youth.  But it also comes with young people’s access to information about other peoples and places — an understanding unique in human history that their future is bound with the fates of other human beings on the other side of the world.

I think of the thousands of health care workers from around the world who volunteered to fight Ebola.  I remember the young entrepreneurs I met who are now starting new businesses in Cuba, the parliamentarians who used to be just a few years ago political prisoners in Myanmar.  I think of the girls who have braved taunts or violence just to go to school in Afghanistan, and the university students who started programs online to reject the extremism of organizations like ISIL.  I draw strength from the young Americans — entrepreneurs, activists, soldiers, new citizens — who are remaking our nation once again, who are unconstrained by old habits and old conventions, and unencumbered by what is, but are instead ready to seize what ought to be.

My own family is a made up of the flesh and blood and traditions and cultures and faiths from a lot of different parts of the world — just as America has been built by immigrants from every shore.  And in my own life, in this country, and as President, I have learned that our identities do not have to be defined by putting someone else down, but can be enhanced by lifting somebody else up.  They don’t have to be defined in opposition to others, but rather by a belief in liberty and equality and justice and fairness.

And the embrace of these principles as universal doesn’t weaken my particular pride, my particular love for America — it strengthens it.  My belief that these ideals apply everywhere doesn’t lessen my commitment to help those who look like me, or pray as I do, or pledge allegiance to my flag.  But my faith in those principles does force me to expand my moral imagination and to recognize that I can best serve my own people, I can best look after my own daughters, by making sure that my actions seek what is right for all people and all children, and your daughters and your sons.

This is what I believe:  that all of us can be co-workers with God.  And our leadership, and our governments, and this United Nations should reflect this irreducible truth.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
11:17 A.M. EDT

May 7, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Howard University Commencement Ceremony

BARACK OBAMA RESOURCE

obama_banner_2017

REFERENCE SOURCE:

SPEECHES

Remarks by the President at Howard University Commencement Ceremony

Source: WH, 5-7-16

Howard University
Washington, D.C.

11:47 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you!  Hello, Howard!  (Applause.)  H-U!

AUDIENCE:  You know!

THE PRESIDENT:  H-U!

AUDIENCE:  You know!

THE PRESIDENT:  (Laughter.)  Thank you so much, everybody.  Please, please, have a seat.  Oh, I feel important now.  Got a degree from Howard.  Cicely Tyson said something nice about me.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  I love you, President!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.

To President Frederick, the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, fellow recipients of honorary degrees, thank you for the honor of spending this day with you.  And congratulations to the Class of 2016!  (Applause.)  Four years ago, back when you were just freshmen, I understand many of you came by my house the night I was reelected.  (Laughter.)  So I decided to return the favor and come by yours.

To the parents, the grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, all the family and friends who stood by this class, cheered them on, helped them get here today — this is your day, as well.  Let’s give them a big round of applause, as well.  (Applause.)

I’m not trying to stir up any rivalries here; I just want to see who’s in the house.  We got Quad?  (Applause.)  Annex.  (Applause.)  Drew.  Carver.  Slow.  Towers.  And Meridian.  (Applause.)  Rest in peace, Meridian.  (Laughter.)  Rest in peace.

I know you’re all excited today.  You might be a little tired, as well.  Some of you were up all night making sure your credits were in order.  (Laughter.)  Some of you stayed up too late, ended up at HoChi at 2:00 a.m.  (Laughter.)  Got some mambo sauce on your fingers.  (Laughter.)

But you got here.  And you’ve all worked hard to reach this day.  You’ve shuttled between challenging classes and Greek life.  You’ve led clubs, played an instrument or a sport.  You volunteered, you interned.  You held down one, two, maybe three jobs.  You’ve made lifelong friends and discovered exactly what you’re made of.  The “Howard Hustle” has strengthened your sense of purpose and ambition.

Which means you’re part of a long line of Howard graduates.  Some are on this stage today.  Some are in the audience.  That spirit of achievement and special responsibility has defined this campus ever since the Freedman’s Bureau established Howard just four years after the Emancipation Proclamation; just two years after the Civil War came to an end.  They created this university with a vision — a vision of uplift; a vision for an America where our fates would be determined not by our race, gender, religion or creed, but where we would be free — in every sense — to pursue our individual and collective dreams.

It is that spirit that’s made Howard a centerpiece of African-American intellectual life and a central part of our larger American story.  This institution has been the home of many firsts:  The first black Nobel Peace Prize winner.  The first black Supreme Court justice.  But its mission has been to ensure those firsts were not the last.  Countless scholars, professionals, artists, and leaders from every field received their training here.  The generations of men and women who walked through this yard helped reform our government, cure disease, grow a black middle class, advance civil rights, shape our culture.  The seeds of change — for all Americans — were sown here.  And that’s what I want to talk about today.

As I was preparing these remarks, I realized that when I was first elected President, most of you — the Class of 2016 — were just starting high school.  Today, you’re graduating college.  I used to joke about being old.  Now I realize I’m old.  (Laughter.)  It’s not a joke anymore.  (Laughter.)

But seeing all of you here gives me some perspective.  It makes me reflect on the changes that I’ve seen over my own lifetime.  So let me begin with what may sound like a controversial statement — a hot take.

Given the current state of our political rhetoric and debate, let me say something that may be controversial, and that is this:  America is a better place today than it was when I graduated from college.  (Applause.)  Let me repeat:  America is by almost every measure better than it was when I graduated from college.  It also happens to be better off than when I took office — (laughter) — but that’s a longer story.  (Applause.)  That’s a different discussion for another speech.

But think about it.  I graduated in 1983.  New York City, America’s largest city, where I lived at the time, had endured a decade marked by crime and deterioration and near bankruptcy.  And many cities were in similar shape.  Our nation had gone through years of economic stagnation, the stranglehold of foreign oil, a recession where unemployment nearly scraped 11 percent.  The auto industry was getting its clock cleaned by foreign competition.  And don’t even get me started on the clothes and the hairstyles.  I’ve tried to eliminate all photos of me from this period.  I thought I looked good.  (Laughter.)  I was wrong.

Since that year — since the year I graduated — the poverty rate is down.  Americans with college degrees, that rate is up.  Crime rates are down.  America’s cities have undergone a renaissance.  There are more women in the workforce.  They’re earning more money.  We’ve cut teen pregnancy in half.  We’ve slashed the African American dropout rate by almost 60 percent, and all of you have a computer in your pocket that gives you the world at the touch of a button.  In 1983, I was part of fewer than 10 percent of African Americans who graduated with a bachelor’s degree.  Today, you’re part of the more than 20 percent who will.  And more than half of blacks say we’re better off than our parents were at our age — and that our kids will be better off, too.

So America is better.  And the world is better, too.  A wall came down in Berlin.  An Iron Curtain was torn asunder.  The obscenity of apartheid came to an end.  A young generation in Belfast and London have grown up without ever having to think about IRA bombings.  In just the past 16 years, we’ve come from a world without marriage equality to one where it’s a reality in nearly two dozen countries.  Around the world, more people live in democracies.  We’ve lifted more than 1 billion people from extreme poverty.  We’ve cut the child mortality rate worldwide by more than half.

America is better.  The world is better.  And stay with me now — race relations are better since I graduated.  That’s the truth.  No, my election did not create a post-racial society.  I don’t know who was propagating that notion.  That was not mine.    But the election itself — and the subsequent one — because the first one, folks might have made a mistake.  (Laughter.)  The second one, they knew what they were getting.  The election itself was just one indicator of how attitudes had changed.

In my inaugural address, I remarked that just 60 years earlier, my father might not have been served in a D.C. restaurant — at least not certain of them.  There were no black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.  Very few black judges.  Shoot, as Larry Wilmore pointed out last week, a lot of folks didn’t even think blacks had the tools to be a quarterback.  Today, former Bull Michael Jordan isn’t just the greatest basketball player of all time — he owns the team.  (Laughter.)  When I was graduating, the main black hero on TV was Mr. T.  (Laughter.)  Rap and hip hop were counterculture, underground.  Now, Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday night, and Beyoncé runs the world.  (Laughter.)  We’re no longer only entertainers, we’re producers, studio executives.  No longer small business owners — we’re CEOs, we’re mayors, representatives, Presidents of the United States.  (Applause.)

I am not saying gaps do not persist.  Obviously, they do.  Racism persists.  Inequality persists.  Don’t worry — I’m going to get to that.  But I wanted to start, Class of 2016, by opening your eyes to the moment that you are in.  If you had to choose one moment in history in which you could be born, and you didn’t know ahead of time who you were going to be — what nationality, what gender, what race, whether you’d be rich or poor, gay or straight, what faith you’d be born into — you wouldn’t choose 100 years ago.  You wouldn’t choose the fifties, or the sixties, or the seventies.  You’d choose right now.  If you had to choose a time to be, in the words of Lorraine Hansberry, “young, gifted, and black” in America, you would choose right now.  (Applause.)

I tell you all this because it’s important to note progress.  Because to deny how far we’ve come would do a disservice to the cause of justice, to the legions of foot soldiers; to not only the incredibly accomplished individuals who have already been mentioned, but your mothers and your dads, and grandparents and great grandparents, who marched and toiled and suffered and overcame to make this day possible.  I tell you this not to lull you into complacency, but to spur you into action — because there’s still so much more work to do, so many more miles to travel.  And America needs you to gladly, happily take up that work.  You all have some work to do.  So enjoy the party, because you’re going to be busy.  (Laughter.)

Yes, our economy has recovered from crisis stronger than almost any other in the world.  But there are folks of all races who are still hurting — who still can’t find work that pays enough to keep the lights on, who still can’t save for retirement.  We’ve still got a big racial gap in economic opportunity.  The overall unemployment rate is 5 percent, but the black unemployment rate is almost nine.  We’ve still got an achievement gap when black boys and girls graduate high school and college at lower rates than white boys and white girls.  Harriet Tubman may be going on the twenty, but we’ve still got a gender gap when a black woman working full-time still earns just 66 percent of what a white man gets paid.  (Applause.)

We’ve got a justice gap when too many black boys and girls pass through a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails.  This is one area where things have gotten worse.  When I was in college, about half a million people in America were behind bars.  Today, there are about 2.2 million.  Black men are about six times likelier to be in prison right now than white men.

Around the world, we’ve still got challenges to solve that threaten everybody in the 21st century — old scourges like disease and conflict, but also new challenges, from terrorism and climate change.

So make no mistake, Class of 2016 — you’ve got plenty of work to do.  But as complicated and sometimes intractable as these challenges may seem, the truth is that your generation is better positioned than any before you to meet those challenges, to flip the script.

Now, how you do that, how you meet these challenges, how you bring about change will ultimately be up to you.  My generation, like all generations, is too confined by our own experience, too invested in our own biases, too stuck in our ways to provide much of the new thinking that will be required.  But us old-heads have learned a few things that might be useful in your journey.  So with the rest of my time, I’d like to offer some suggestions for how young leaders like you can fulfill your destiny and shape our collective future — bend it in the direction of justice and equality and freedom.

First of all — and this should not be a problem for this group — be confident in your heritage.  (Applause.)  Be confident in your blackness.  One of the great changes that’s occurred in our country since I was your age is the realization there’s no one way to be black.  Take it from somebody who’s seen both sides of debate about whether I’m black enough.  (Laughter.)  In the past couple months, I’ve had lunch with the Queen of England and hosted Kendrick Lamar in the Oval Office.  There’s no straitjacket, there’s no constraints, there’s no litmus test for authenticity.

Look at Howard.  One thing most folks don’t know about Howard is how diverse it is.  When you arrived here, some of you were like, oh, they’ve got black people in Iowa?  (Laughter.)  But it’s true — this class comes from big cities and rural communities, and some of you crossed oceans to study here.  You shatter stereotypes.  Some of you come from a long line of Bison.  Some of you are the first in your family to graduate from college.  (Applause.)  You all talk different, you all dress different.  You’re Lakers fans, Celtics fans, maybe even some hockey fans.  (Laughter.)

And because of those who’ve come before you, you have models to follow.  You can work for a company, or start your own.  You can go into politics, or run an organization that holds politicians accountable.  You can write a book that wins the National Book Award, or you can write the new run of “Black Panther.”  Or, like one of your alumni, Ta-Nehisi Coates, you can go ahead and just do both.  You can create your own style, set your own standard of beauty, embrace your own sexuality.  Think about an icon we just lost — Prince.  He blew up categories.  People didn’t know what Prince was doing.  (Laughter.)  And folks loved him for it.

You need to have the same confidence.  Or as my daughters tell me all the time, “You be you, Daddy.”  (Laughter.)  Sometimes Sasha puts a variation on it — “You do you, Daddy.”  (Laughter.)  And because you’re a black person doing whatever it is that you’re doing, that makes it a black thing.  Feel confident.

Second, even as we each embrace our own beautiful, unique, and valid versions of our blackness, remember the tie that does bind us as African Americans — and that is our particular awareness of injustice and unfairness and struggle.  That means we cannot sleepwalk through life.  We cannot be ignorant of history.  (Applause.)  We can’t meet the world with a sense of entitlement.  We can’t walk by a homeless man without asking why a society as wealthy as ours allows that state of affairs to occur.   We can’t just lock up a low-level dealer without asking why this boy, barely out of childhood, felt he had no other options.  We have cousins and uncles and brothers and sisters who we remember were just as smart and just as talented as we were, but somehow got ground down by structures that are unfair and unjust.

And that means we have to not only question the world as it is, and stand up for those African Americans who haven’t been so lucky — because, yes, you’ve worked hard, but you’ve also been lucky.  That’s a pet peeve of mine:  People who have been successful and don’t realize they’ve been lucky.  That God may have blessed them; it wasn’t nothing you did.  So don’t have an attitude.  But we must expand our moral imaginations to understand and empathize with all people who are struggling, not just black folks who are struggling — the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender person, and yes, the middle-aged white guy who you may think has all the advantages, but over the last several decades has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change, and feels powerless to stop it.  You got to get in his head, too.

Number three:  You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy.  I’ll repeat that.  I want you to have passion, but you have to have a strategy.  Not just awareness, but action.  Not just hashtags, but votes.

You see, change requires more than righteous anger.  It requires a program, and it requires organizing.  At the 1964 Democratic Convention, Fannie Lou Hamer — all five-feet-four-inches tall — gave a fiery speech on the national stage.  But then she went back home to Mississippi and organized cotton pickers.  And she didn’t have the tools and technology where you can whip up a movement in minutes.  She had to go door to door.  And I’m so proud of the new guard of black civil rights leaders who understand this.  It’s thanks in large part to the activism of young people like many of you, from Black Twitter to Black Lives Matter, that America’s eyes have been opened — white, black, Democrat, Republican — to the real problems, for example, in our criminal justice system.

But to bring about structural change, lasting change, awareness is not enough.  It requires changes in law, changes in custom.  If you care about mass incarceration, let me ask you:  How are you pressuring members of Congress to pass the criminal justice reform bill now pending before them?  (Applause.)  If you care about better policing, do you know who your district attorney is?  Do you know who your state’s attorney general is?  Do you know the difference?  Do you know who appoints the police chief and who writes the police training manual?  Find out who they are, what their responsibilities are.  Mobilize the community, present them with a plan, work with them to bring about change, hold them accountable if they do not deliver.  Passion is vital, but you’ve got to have a strategy.

And your plan better include voting — not just some of the time, but all the time.  (Applause.)  It is absolutely true that 50 years after the Voting Rights Act, there are still too many barriers in this country to vote.  There are too many people trying to erect new barriers to voting.  This is the only advanced democracy on Earth that goes out of its way to make it difficult for people to vote.  And there’s a reason for that.  There’s a legacy to that.

But let me say this:  Even if we dismantled every barrier to voting, that alone would not change the fact that America has some of the lowest voting rates in the free world.  In 2014, only 36 percent of Americans turned out to vote in the midterms — the secondlowest participation rate on record.  Youth turnout — that would be you — was less than 20 percent.  Less than 20 percent.  Four out of five did not vote.  In 2012, nearly two in three African Americans turned out.  And then, in 2014, only two in five turned out.  You don’t think that made a difference in terms of the Congress I’ve got to deal with?  And then people are wondering, well, how come Obama hasn’t gotten this done?  How come he didn’t get that done?  You don’t think that made a difference?  What would have happened if you had turned out at 50, 60, 70 percent, all across this country?  People try to make this political thing really complicated.  Like, what kind of reforms do we need?  And how do we need to do that?  You know what, just vote.  It’s math.  If you have more votes than the other guy, you get to do what you want.  (Laughter.)  It’s not that complicated.

And you don’t have excuses.   You don’t have to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar or bubbles on a bar of soap to register to vote.  You don’t have to risk your life to cast a ballot.  Other people already did that for you.  (Applause.) Your grandparents, your great grandparents might be here today if they were working on it.  What’s your excuse?  When we don’t vote, we give away our power, disenfranchise ourselves — right when we need to use the power that we have; right when we need your power to stop others from taking away the vote and rights of those more vulnerable than you are — the elderly and the poor, the formerly incarcerated trying to earn their second chance.

So you got to vote all the time, not just when it’s cool, not just when it’s time to elect a President, not just when you’re inspired.  It’s your duty.  When it’s time to elect a member of Congress or a city councilman, or a school board member, or a sheriff.  That’s how we change our politics — by electing people at every level who are representative of and accountable to us.  It is not that complicated.  Don’t make it complicated.

And finally, change requires more than just speaking out — it requires listening, as well.  In particular, it requires listening to those with whom you disagree, and being prepared to compromise.  When I was a state senator, I helped pass Illinois’s first racial profiling law, and one of the first laws in the nation requiring the videotaping of confessions in capital cases.  And we were successful because, early on, I engaged law enforcement.  I didn’t say to them, oh, you guys are so racist, you need to do something.  I understood, as many of you do, that the overwhelming majority of police officers are good, and honest, and courageous, and fair, and love the communities they serve.

And we knew there were some bad apples, and that even the good cops with the best of intentions — including, by the way, African American police officers — might have unconscious biases, as we all do.  So we engaged and we listened, and we kept working until we built consensus.  And because we took the time to listen, we crafted legislation that was good for the police — because it improved the trust and cooperation of the community — and it was good for the communities, who were less likely to be treated unfairly.  And I can say this unequivocally:  Without at least the acceptance of the police organizations in Illinois, I could never have gotten those bills passed.  Very simple.  They would have blocked them.

The point is, you need allies in a democracy.  That’s just the way it is.  It can be frustrating and it can be slow.  But history teaches us that the alternative to democracy is always worse.  That’s not just true in this country.  It’s not a black or white thing.  Go to any country where the give and take of democracy has been repealed by one-party rule, and I will show you a country that does not work.

And democracy requires compromise, even when you are 100 percent right.  This is hard to explain sometimes.  You can be completely right, and you still are going to have to engage folks who disagree with you.  If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want.  And if you don’t get what you want long enough, you will eventually think the whole system is rigged.  And that will lead to more cynicism, and less participation, and a downward spiral of more injustice and more anger and more despair.  And that’s never been the source of our progress.  That’s how we cheat ourselves of progress.

We remember Dr. King’s soaring oratory, the power of his letter from a Birmingham jail, the marches he led.  But he also sat down with President Johnson in the Oval Office to try and get a Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act passed.  And those two seminal bills were not perfect — just like the Emancipation Proclamation was a war document as much as it was some clarion call for freedom.  Those mileposts of our progress were not perfect.  They did not make up for centuries of slavery or Jim Crow or eliminate racism or provide for 40 acres and a mule.  But they made things better.  And you know what, I will take better every time.  I always tell my staff — better is good, because you consolidate your gains and then you move on to the next fight from a stronger position.

Brittany Packnett, a member of the Black Lives Matter movement and Campaign Zero, one of the Ferguson protest organizers, she joined our Task Force on 21st Century Policing.  Some of her fellow activists questioned whether she should participate.  She rolled up her sleeves and sat at the same table with big city police chiefs and prosecutors.  And because she did, she ended up shaping many of the recommendations of that task force.  And those recommendations are now being adopted across the country — changes that many of the protesters called for.  If young activists like Brittany had refused to participate out of some sense of ideological purity, then those great ideas would have just remained ideas.  But she did participate.  And that’s how change happens.

America is big and it is boisterous and it is more diverse than ever.  The president told me that we’ve got a significant Nepalese contingent here at Howard.  I would not have guessed that.  Right on.  But it just tells you how interconnected we’re becoming.  And with so many folks from so many places, converging, we are not always going to agree with each other.

Another Howard alum, Zora Neale Hurston, once said — this is a good quote here:  “Nothing that God ever made is the same thing to more than one person.”  Think about that.  That’s why our democracy gives us a process designed for us to settle our disputes with argument and ideas and votes instead of violence and simple majority rule.

So don’t try to shut folks out, don’t try to shut them down, no matter how much you might disagree with them.  There’s been a trend around the country of trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view, or disrupt a politician’s rally.  Don’t do that — no matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths.  Because as my grandmother used to tell me, every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance.  Let them talk.  Let them talk.  If you don’t, you just make them a victim, and then they can avoid accountability.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge them.  Have the confidence to challenge them, the confidence in the rightness of your position.  There will be times when you shouldn’t compromise your core values, your integrity, and you will have the responsibility to speak up in the face of injustice.  But listen.  Engage.  If the other side has a point, learn from them.  If they’re wrong, rebut them.  Teach them.  Beat them on the battlefield of ideas.  And you might as well start practicing now, because one thing I can guarantee you — you will have to deal with ignorance, hatred, racism, foolishness, trifling folks.  (Laughter.)  I promise you, you will have to deal with all that at every stage of your life.  That may not seem fair, but life has never been completely fair.  Nobody promised you a crystal stair.  And if you want to make life fair, then you’ve got to start with the world as it is.

So that’s my advice.  That’s how you change things.  Change isn’t something that happens every four years or eight years; change is not placing your faith in any particular politician and then just putting your feet up and saying, okay, go.  Change is the effort of committed citizens who hitch their wagons to something bigger than themselves and fight for it every single day.

That’s what Thurgood Marshall understood — a man who once walked this year, graduated from Howard Law; went home to Baltimore, started his own law practice.  He and his mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston, rolled up their sleeves and they set out to overturn segregation.  They worked through the NAACP.  Filed dozens of lawsuits, fought dozens of cases.  And after nearly 20 years of effort — 20 years — Thurgood Marshall ultimately succeeded in bringing his righteous cause before the Supreme Court, and securing the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that separate could never be equal.  (Applause.)  Twenty years.

Marshall, Houston — they knew it would not be easy.  They knew it would not be quick.  They knew all sorts of obstacles would stand in their way.  They knew that even if they won, that would just be the beginning of a longer march to equality.  But they had discipline.  They had persistence.  They had faith — and a sense of humor.  And they made life better for all Americans.

And I know you graduates share those qualities.  I know it because I’ve learned about some of the young people graduating here today.  There’s a young woman named Ciearra Jefferson, who’s graduating with you.  And I’m just going to use her as an example.  I hope you don’t mind, Ciearra.  Ciearra grew up in Detroit and was raised by a poor single mom who worked seven days a week in an auto plant.  And for a time, her family found themselves without a place to call home.  They bounced around between friends and family who might take them in.  By her senior year, Ciearra was up at 5:00 am every day, juggling homework, extracurricular activities, volunteering, all while taking care of her little sister.  But she knew that education was her ticket to a better life.  So she never gave up.  Pushed herself to excel.  This daughter of a single mom who works on the assembly line turned down a full scholarship to Harvard to come to Howard.  (Applause.)

And today, like many of you, Ciearra is the first in her family to graduate from college.  And then, she says, she’s going to go back to her hometown, just like Thurgood Marshall did, to make sure all the working folks she grew up with have access to the health care they need and deserve.  As she puts it, she’s going to be a “change agent.”  She’s going to reach back and help folks like her succeed.

And people like Ciearra are why I remain optimistic about America.  (Applause.)  Young people like you are why I never give in to despair.

James Baldwin once wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Graduates, each of us is only here because someone else faced down challenges for us.  We are only who we are because someone else struggled and sacrificed for us.  That’s not just Thurgood Marshall’s story, or Ciearra’s story, or my story, or your story — that is the story of America.  A story whispered by slaves in the cotton fields, the song of marchers in Selma, the dream of a King in the shadow of Lincoln.  The prayer of immigrants who set out for a new world.  The roar of women demanding the vote.  The rallying cry of workers who built America.  And the GIs who bled overseas for our freedom.

Now it’s your turn.  And the good news is, you’re ready.  And when your journey seems too hard, and when you run into a chorus of cynics who tell you that you’re being foolish to keep believing or that you can’t do something, or that you should just give up, or you should just settle — you might say to yourself a little phrase that I’ve found handy these last eight years:  Yes, we can.

Congratulations, Class of 2016!  (Applause.)  Good luck!  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  I’m proud of you.

END
12:33 P.M. EDT

January 12, 2016: President Barack Obama’s 2016 State of the Union Address

BARACK OBAMA RESOURCE

obama_banner_2017

REFERENCE SOURCE:

SPEECHES

Remarks of President Barack Obama – State of the Union Address As Delivered

Source: WH, 1-12-16

9:10 P.M. EST

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans:

Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union. And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter. (Applause.) I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa. (Laughter.) I’ve been there. I’ll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips. (Laughter.)

And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low. But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families. So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform — (applause) — and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse. (Applause.) So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again.

But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients. And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.Fixing a broken immigration system. (Applause.) Protecting our kids from gun violence. (Applause.) Equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) Paid leave. (Applause.) Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.) All these things still matter to hardworking families. They’re still the right thing to do. And I won’t let up until they get done.

But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year. I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond. I want to focus on our future.

We live in a time of extraordinary change — change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world. It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families. It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away. It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality. And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

America has been through big changes before — wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights. Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears. We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.” Instead we thought anew, and acted anew. We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people. And because we did — because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril — we emerged stronger and better than before.

What was true then can be true now. Our unique strengths as a nation — our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law — these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come.

In fact, it’s that spirit that made the progress of these past seven years possible.  It’s how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  It’s how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector; how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops and veterans, and how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.

But such progress is not inevitable. It’s the result of choices we make together. And we face such choices right now. Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer — regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress.

First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?(Applause.)

Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us — especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change? (Applause.)

Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman? (Applause.)

And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact: The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world. (Applause.) We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history. (Applause.) More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half. Our auto industry just had its best year ever. (Applause.) That’s just part of a manufacturing surge that’s created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years. And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters. (Applause.)

Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction. (Applause.) Now, what is true — and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious — is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up.

Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated. Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition. As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise. Companies have less loyalty to their communities. And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing. It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to. And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody. We’ve made progress. But we need to make more. And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job. The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering. In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and — (applause) — offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one. We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids. (Applause.)

And we have to make college affordable for every American. (Applause.) No hardworking student should be stuck in the red. We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income. And that’s good. But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college. (Applause.)Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year. (Applause.) It’s the right thing to do. (Applause.)

But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber. (Laughter.) For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher. Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain. But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process.

That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever. We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.) And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today. That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about. It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage. Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far. (Applause.) And in the process, health care inflation has slowed. And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon. (Applause.) A little applause right there. (Laughter.) Just a guess. But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security. Say a hardworking American loses his job — we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him. If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills. And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him. That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty. America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up. And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don’t have children.(Applause.)

But there are some areas where we just have to be honest — it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years. And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations. (Applause.) And it’s an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy. I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed. There is red tape that needs to be cut. (Applause.) There you go! Yes! (Applause.) But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense. (Applause.) Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered. Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did. (Applause.) Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns. It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts. (Applause.)

The point is, I believe that in this new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less. The rules should work for them. (Applause.) And I’m not alone in this. This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders. (Applause.) And I want to spread those best practices across America. That’s part of a brighter future. (Applause.)

In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative. And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer: How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. (Laughter.) We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight. And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon. (Applause.)

Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA. America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver. America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride. America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world. (Applause.) That’s who we are.

And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit. We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online. (Applause.) We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day. But we can do so much more.

Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer. Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.) So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done. And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control. (Applause.) For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.(Applause.)

Medical research is critical. We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources. (Applause.) Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it. (Applause.)

But even if — even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record — until 2015 turned out to be even hotter — why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.)

Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history. Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power. On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal — in jobs that pay better than average. We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy — something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support. And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth. (Applause.)

Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either. (Applause.)

Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources. Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future — especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. We do them no favor when we don’t show them where the trends are going. That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system. (Applause.)

Now, none of this is going to happen overnight. And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo. But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve — that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve. And it’s within our grasp.

Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world. And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air. Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker. Let me tell you something. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. (Applause.) Period. It’s not even close. It’s not even close. (Applause.) It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world. (Applause.) No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin. Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead — they call us. (Applause.)

I mean, it’s useful to level the set here, because when we don’t, we don’t make good decisions.

Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time. But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength. In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states.

The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia. Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition. Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria — client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit. And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system. And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks. (Applause.) Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage. They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country. Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies. We have to take them out./p>

But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages — they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. (Applause.) That is the story ISIL wants to tell. That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don’t need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions. (Applause.) We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed. (Applause.)

And that’s exactly what we’re doing. For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology. With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons. We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.

If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL. Take a vote. (Applause.) Take a vote. But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them. If you doubt America’s commitment — or mine — to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden. (Applause.) Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell. When you come after Americans, we go after you. (Applause.) And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits. (Applause.)

Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there. For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world — in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia. Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks. Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees. The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it’s done with the best of intentions. (Applause.) That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it’s the lesson of Iraq — and we should have learned it by now. (Applause.)

Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power. It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.

That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war. (Applause.)

That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa. (Applause.) Our military, our doctors, our development workers — they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia. It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America. With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do. You want to show our strength in this new century? Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it. It’s the right thing to do. (Applause.)

Let me give you another example. Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America. That’s why we restored diplomatic relations — (applause) — opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people. (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over — lift the embargo. (Applause.)

The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world — except when we kill terrorists — or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling. Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right. It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity.

When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids. When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick — (applause) — it’s the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores. Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS. That’s within our grasp. (Applause.) And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria — something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year. (Applause.)

That’s American strength. That’s American leadership. And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example. That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo. (Applause.) It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies. (Applause.) There’s a better way. (Applause.)

And that’s why we need to reject any politics — any politics — that targets people because of race or religion. (Applause.) Let me just say this. This is not a matter of political correctness. This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith.

His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I’m standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.” When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. (Applause.)It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country. (Applause.)

“We the People.” Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that’s how we might perfect our Union. And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

The future we want — all of us want — opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids — all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics.

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country — different regions, different attitudes, different interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice. It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention. And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

Too many Americans feel that way right now. It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task — or any President’s — alone. There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base. I know; you’ve told me. It’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. And a lot of you aren’t enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor.

But that means if we want a better politics — and I’m addressing the American people now — if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President. We have to change the system to reflect our better selves. I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around. (Applause.) Let a bipartisan group do it. (Applause.)

We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections. (Applause.) And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution — because it’s a problem. And most of you don’t like raising money. I know; I’ve done it. (Applause.) We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder. (Applause.) We need to modernize it for the way we live now.(Applause.) This is America: We want to make it easier for people to participate. And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

But I can’t do these things on my own. (Applause.) Changes in our political process — in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected — that will only happen when the American people demand it. It depends on you. That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people.

What I’m suggesting is hard. It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don’t care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter. But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future. Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure. And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

We can’t afford to go down that path. It won’t deliver the economy we want. It will not produce the security we want. But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world.

So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it — our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.) We need every American to stay active in our public life — and not just during election time — so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day.

It is not easy. Our brand of democracy is hard. But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far. Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word — voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.

And they’re out there, those voices. They don’t get a lot of attention; they don’t seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing. I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours. I see you, the American people. And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off.

I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early because he knows she might someday cure a disease.

I see it in the American who served his time, and made mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over — and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance. The protester determined to prove that justice matters — and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe. (Applause.)

I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught. (Applause.)

I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count — because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

That’s the America I know. That’s the country we love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Undaunted by challenge. Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. (Applause.) That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future. I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.

And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong. (Applause.)

Thank you, God bless you. God bless the United States of America.

###

November 30, 2015: President Obama’s Speech at the First Session of COP21

BARACK OBAMA RESOURCE

obama_banner_2017

REFERENCE SOURCE:

SPEECHES

Remarks by President Obama at the First Session of COP21

Source: WH, 11-30-15

Le Bourget
Paris, France

12:47 P.M. CET

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  President Hollande, Mr. Secretary General, fellow leaders.  We have come to Paris to show our resolve.

We offer our condolences to the people of France for the barbaric attacks on this beautiful city.  We stand united in solidarity not only to deliver justice to the terrorist network responsible for those attacks but to protect our people and uphold the enduring values that keep us strong and keep us free. And we salute the people of Paris for insisting this crucial conference go on — an act of defiance that proves nothing will deter us from building the future we want for our children.  What greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it?

Nearly 200 nations have assembled here this week — a declaration that for all the challenges we face, the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other.  What should give us hope that this is a turning point, that this is the moment we finally determined we would save our planet, is the fact that our nations share a sense of urgency about this challenge and a growing realization that it is within our power to do something about it.

Our understanding of the ways human beings disrupt the climate advances by the day.  Fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000 — and 2015 is on pace to be the warmest year of all.  No nation — large or small, wealthy or poor — is immune to what this means.

This summer, I saw the effects of climate change firsthand in our northernmost state, Alaska, where the sea is already swallowing villages and eroding shorelines; where permafrost thaws and the tundra burns; where glaciers are melting at a pace unprecedented in modern times.  And it was a preview of one possible future — a glimpse of our children’s fate if the climate keeps changing faster than our efforts to address it.  Submerged countries.  Abandoned cities.  Fields that no longer grow.  Political disruptions that trigger new conflict, and even more floods of desperate peoples seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own.

That future is not one of strong economies, nor is it one where fragile states can find their footing.  That future is one that we have the power to change.  Right here.  Right now.  But only if we rise to this moment.  As one of America’s governors has said, “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it.”

I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it.

Over the last seven years, we’ve made ambitious investments in clean energy, and ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions.  We’ve multiplied wind power threefold, and solar power more than twentyfold, helping create parts of America where these clean power sources are finally cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  We’ve invested in energy efficiency in every way imaginable.  We’ve said no to infrastructure that would pull high-carbon fossil fuels from the ground, and we’ve said yes to the first-ever set of national standards limiting the amount of carbon pollution our power plants can release into the sky.

The advances we’ve made have helped drive our economic output to all-time highs, and drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly two decades.

But the good news is this is not an American trend alone.  Last year, the global economy grew while global carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels stayed flat.  And what this means can’t be overstated.  We have broken the old arguments for inaction.  We have proved that strong economic growth and a safer environment no longer have to conflict with one another; they can work in concert with one another.

And that should give us hope.  One of the enemies that we’ll be fighting at this conference is cynicism, the notion we can’t do anything about climate change.  Our progress should give us hope during these two weeks — hope that is rooted in collective action.

Earlier this month in Dubai, after years of delay, the world agreed to work together to cut the super-pollutants known as HFCs.  That’s progress.  Already, prior to Paris, more than 180 countries representing nearly 95 percent of global emissions have put forward their own climate targets.  That is progress.  For our part, America is on track to reach the emissions targets that I set six years ago in Copenhagen — we will reduce our carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.  And that’s why, last year, I set a new target:  America will reduce our emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels within 10 years from now.

So our task here in Paris is to turn these achievements into an enduring framework for human progress — not a stopgap solution, but a long-term strategy that gives the world confidence in a low-carbon future.

Here, in Paris, let’s secure an agreement that builds in ambition, where progress paves the way for regularly updated targets — targets that are not set for each of us but by each of us, taking into account the differences that each nation is facing.

Here in Paris, let’s agree to a strong system of transparency that gives each of us the confidence that all of us are meeting our commitments.  And let’s make sure that the countries who don’t yet have the full capacity to report on their targets receive the support that they need.

Here in Paris, let’s reaffirm our commitment that resources will be there for countries willing to do their part to skip the dirty phase of development.  And I recognize this will not be easy.  It will take a commitment to innovation and the capital to continue driving down the cost of clean energy.  And that’s why, this afternoon, I’ll join many of you to announce an historic joint effort to accelerate public and private clean energy innovation on a global scale.

Here in Paris, let’s also make sure that these resources flow to the countries that need help preparing for the impacts of climate change that we can no longer avoid.  We know the truth that many nations have contributed little to climate change but will be the first to feel its most destructive effects.  For some, particularly island nations — whose leaders I’ll meet with tomorrow — climate change is a threat to their very existence.  And that’s why today, in concert with other nations, America confirms our strong and ongoing commitment to the Least Developed Countries Fund.  And tomorrow, we’ll pledge new contributions to risk insurance initiatives that help vulnerable populations rebuild stronger after climate-related disasters.

And finally, here in Paris, let’s show businesses and investors that the global economy is on a firm path towards a low-carbon future.  If we put the right rules and incentives in place, we’ll unleash the creative power of our best scientists and engineers and entrepreneurs to deploy clean energy technologies and the new jobs and new opportunities that they create all around the world.  There are hundreds of billions of dollars ready to deploy to countries around the world if they get the signal that we mean business this time.  Let’s send that signal.

That’s what we seek in these next two weeks.  Not simply an agreement to roll back the pollution we put into our skies, but an agreement that helps us lift people from poverty without condemning the next generation to a planet that’s beyond its capacity to repair.  Here, in Paris, we can show the world what is possible when we come together, united in common effort and by a common purpose.

And let there be no doubt, the next generation is watching what we do.  Just over a week ago, I was in Malaysia, where I held a town hall with young people, and the first question I received was from a young Indonesian woman.  And it wasn’t about terrorism, it wasn’t about the economy, it wasn’t about human rights.  It was about climate change.  And she asked whether I was optimistic about what we can achieve here in Paris, and what young people like her could do to help.

I want our actions to show her that we’re listening.  I want our actions to be big enough to draw on the talents of all our people — men and women, rich and poor — I want to show her passionate, idealistic young generation that we care about their future.

For I believe, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that there is such a thing as being too late.  And when it comes to climate change, that hour is almost upon us.  But if we act here, if we act now, if we place our own short-term interests behind the air that our young people will breathe, and the food that they will eat, and the water that they will drink, and the hopes and dreams that sustain their lives, then we won’t be too late for them.

And, my fellow leaders, accepting this challenge will not reward us with moments of victory that are clear or quick.  Our progress will be measured differently — in the suffering that is averted, and a planet that’s preserved.  And that’s what’s always made this so hard.  Our generation may not even live to see the full realization of what we do here.  But the knowledge that the next generation will be better off for what we do here — can we imagine a more worthy reward than that?  Passing that on to our children and our grandchildren, so that when they look back and they see what we did here in Paris, they can take pride in our achievement.

Let that be the common purpose here in Paris.  A world that is worthy of our children.  A world that is marked not by conflict, but by cooperation; and not by human suffering, but by human progress.  A world that’s safer, and more prosperous, and more secure, and more free than the one that we inherited.

Let’s get to work.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
1:01 P.M. CET

June 26, 2015: President Barack Obama Eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney

BARACK OBAMA RESOURCE

obama_banner_2017

REFERENCE SOURCE:

SPEECHES

Remarks by the President in Eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney

Source: WH, 6-26-15

College of Charleston
Charleston, South Carolina

2:49 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Giving all praise and honor to God.  (Applause.)

The Bible calls us to hope.  To persevere, and have faith in things not seen.

“They were still living by faith when they died,” Scripture tells us. “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on Earth.”

We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith.  A man who believed in things not seen.  A man who believed there were better days ahead, off in the distance.  A man of service who persevered, knowing full well he would not receive all those things he was promised, because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed.

To Jennifer, his beloved wife; to Eliana and Malana, his beautiful, wonderful daughters; to the Mother Emanuel family and the people of Charleston, the people of South Carolina.

I cannot claim to have the good fortune to know Reverend Pinckney well.  But I did have the pleasure of knowing him and meeting him here in South Carolina, back when we were both a little bit younger.  (Laughter.)  Back when I didn’t have visible grey hair.  (Laughter.)  The first thing I noticed was his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humor — all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly a heavy burden of expectation.

Friends of his remarked this week that when Clementa Pinckney entered a room, it was like the future arrived; that even from a young age, folks knew he was special.  Anointed.  He was the progeny of a long line of the faithful — a family of preachers who spread God’s word, a family of protesters who sowed change to expand voting rights and desegregate the South.  Clem heard their instruction, and he did not forsake their teaching.

He was in the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23.  He did not exhibit any of the cockiness of youth, nor youth’s insecurities; instead, he set an example worthy of his position, wise beyond his years, in his speech, in his conduct, in his love, faith, and purity.

As a senator, he represented a sprawling swath of the Lowcountry, a place that has long been one of the most neglected in America.  A place still wracked by poverty and inadequate schools; a place where children can still go hungry and the sick can go without treatment.  A place that needed somebody like Clem.  (Applause.)

His position in the minority party meant the odds of winning more resources for his constituents were often long.  His calls for greater equity were too often unheeded, the votes he cast were sometimes lonely.  But he never gave up.  He stayed true to his convictions.  He would not grow discouraged.  After a full day at the capitol, he’d climb into his car and head to the church to draw sustenance from his family, from his ministry, from the community that loved and needed him.  There he would fortify his faith, and imagine what might be.

Reverend Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean, nor small.  He conducted himself quietly, and kindly, and diligently.  He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone, but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen.  He was full of empathy and fellow feeling, able to walk in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes.  No wonder one of his senate colleagues remembered Senator Pinckney as “the most gentle of the 46 of us — the best of the 46 of us.”

Clem was often asked why he chose to be a pastor and a public servant.  But the person who asked probably didn’t know the history of the AME church.  (Applause.)  As our brothers and sisters in the AME church know, we don’t make those distinctions. “Our calling,” Clem once said, “is not just within the walls of the congregation, but…the life and community in which our congregation resides.”  (Applause.)

He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not just words; that the “sweet hour of prayer” actually lasts the whole week long — (applause) — that to put our faith in action is more than individual salvation, it’s about our collective salvation; that to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity but the imperative of a just society.

What a good man.  Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogized — after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say someone was a good man.  (Applause.)

You don’t have to be of high station to be a good man.  Preacher by 13.  Pastor by 18.  Public servant by 23.  What a life Clementa Pinckney lived.  What an example he set.  What a model for his faith.  And then to lose him at 41 — slain in his sanctuary with eight wonderful members of his flock, each at different stages in life but bound together by a common commitment to God.

Cynthia Hurd.  Susie Jackson.  Ethel Lance.  DePayne Middleton-Doctor.  Tywanza Sanders.  Daniel L. Simmons.  Sharonda Coleman-Singleton.  Myra Thompson.  Good people.  Decent people. God-fearing people.  (Applause.)  People so full of life and so full of kindness.  People who ran the race, who persevered.  People of great faith.

To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief.  Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church.  The church is and always has been the center of African-American life — (applause) — a place to call our own in a too often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.

Over the course of centuries, black churches served as “hush harbors” where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah — (applause) — rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement.  They have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice; places of scholarship and network; places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart — (applause) — and taught that they matter.  (Applause.)  That’s what happens in church.

That’s what the black church means.  Our beating heart.  The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate.  When there’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel — (applause) — a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founder sought to end slavery, only to rise up again, a Phoenix from these ashes.  (Applause.)

When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, services happened here anyway, in defiance of unjust laws.  When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps.  A sacred place, this church.  Not just for blacks, not just for Christians, but for every American who cares about the steady expansion — (applause) — of human rights and human dignity in this country; a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all.  That’s what the church meant.  (Applause.)

We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history.  But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act.  It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress.  (Applause.)  An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion.  An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.

Oh, but God works in mysterious ways.  (Applause.)  God has different ideas.  (Applause.)

He didn’t know he was being used by God.  (Applause.)  Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group — the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.  The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court — in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness.  He couldn’t imagine that.  (Applause.)

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley — (applause) — how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond — not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace.  (Applause.)

This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. (Applause.)  The grace of the families who lost loved ones.  The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons.  The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals — the one we all know:  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  (Applause.)  I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.  (Applause.)

According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned.  Grace is not merited.  It’s not something we deserve.  Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God — (applause) — as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.  Grace.

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.  (Applause.)  He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves.  (Applause.)  We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same.  He gave it to us anyway.  He’s once more given us grace.  But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens.  (Applause.)  It’s true, a flag did not cause these murders.  But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge — including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise — (applause) — as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.  (Applause.)  For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation.  We see that now.

Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers.  It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong — (applause) — the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.  (Applause.) It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.  It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union.  By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.  (Applause.)

But I don’t think God wants us to stop there.  (Applause.)  For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present.  Perhaps we see that now.  Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.  (Applause.)

Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate.  (Applause.)  Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system — (applause) — and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.  (Applause.)

Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal.  (Applause.)  So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote.  (Applause.)  By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace.  (Applause.)

For too long —

AUDIENCE:  For too long!

THE PRESIDENT:  For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.  (Applause.) Sporadically, our eyes are open:  When eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school.  But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day; the countless more whose lives are forever changed — the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happen to some other place.

The vast majority of Americans — the majority of gun owners — want to do something about this.  We see that now.  (Applause.)  And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions and ways of life that make up this beloved country — by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.  (Applause.)

We don’t earn grace.  We’re all sinners.  We don’t deserve it.  (Applause.)  But God gives it to us anyway.  (Applause.)  And we choose how to receive it.  It’s our decision how to honor it.

None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight.  Every time something like this happens, somebody says we have to have a conversation about race.  We talk a lot about race.  There’s no shortcut.  And we don’t need more talk.  (Applause.)  None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy.  It will not.  People of goodwill will continue to debate the merits of various policies, as our democracy requires — this is a big, raucous place, America is.  And there are good people on both sides of these debates.  Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete.

But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.  (Applause.)  Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual — that’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.  (Applause.)  To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change — that’s how we lose our way again.

It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits, whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.

Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the South, we have a deep appreciation of history — we haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”  (Applause.)  What is true in the South is true for America.  Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other.  That my liberty depends on you being free, too.  (Applause.)  That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past — how to break the cycle.  A roadway toward a better world.  He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind — but, more importantly, an open heart.

That’s what I’ve felt this week — an open heart.  That, more than any particular policy or analysis, is what’s called upon right now, I think — what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls “that reservoir of goodness, beyond, and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.”

That reservoir of goodness.  If we can find that grace, anything is possible.  (Applause.)  If we can tap that grace, everything can change.  (Applause.)

Amazing grace.  Amazing grace.

(Begins to sing) — Amazing grace — (applause) — how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.  (Applause.)

Clementa Pinckney found that grace.

Cynthia Hurd found that grace.

Susie Jackson found that grace.

Ethel Lance found that grace.

DePayne Middleton-Doctor found that grace.

Tywanza Sanders found that grace.

Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. found that grace.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace.

Myra Thompson found that grace.

Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it on to us.  May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure.  May grace now lead them home.  May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
3:28 P.M. EDT

March 7, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches

BARACK OBAMA RESOURCE

obama_banner_2017

REFERENCE SOURCE:

SPEECHES

President at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches

Source: WH, 3-7-15

Edmund Pettus Bridge

Selma, Alabama

2:17 P.M. CST

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you, President Obama!

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, you know I love you back.  (Applause.)

It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes.  And John Lewis is one of my heroes.

Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning 50 years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind.  A day like this was not on his mind.  Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about.  Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked.  A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones.  The air was thick with doubt, anticipation and fear.  And they comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung:

“No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.”

And then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, and a book on government — all you need for a night behind bars — John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America.

President and Mrs. Bush, Governor Bentley, Mayor Evans, Sewell, Reverend Strong, members of Congress, elected officials, foot soldiers, friends, fellow Americans:

As John noted, there are places and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided.  Many are sites of war — Concord and Lexington, Appomattox, Gettysburg.  Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character — Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.

Selma is such a place.  In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history — the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham; and the dream of a Baptist preacher — all that history met on this bridge.

It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the true meaning of America.  And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others, the idea of a just America and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America — that idea ultimately triumphed.

As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation.  The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

We gather here to celebrate them.  We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching towards justice.

They did as Scripture instructed:  “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”  And in the days to come, they went back again and again.  When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came –- black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope.  A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing.  (Laughter.)  To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.

In time, their chorus would well up and reach President Johnson.  And he would send them protection, and speak to the nation, echoing their call for America and the world to hear:  “We shall overcome.”  (Applause.)  What enormous faith these men and women had.  Faith in God, but also faith in America.

The Americans who crossed this bridge, they were not physically imposing.  But they gave courage to millions.  They held no elected office.  But they led a nation.  They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, countless daily indignities –- but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.  (Applause.)

What they did here will reverberate through the ages.  Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible, that love and hope can conquer hate.

As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them.  Back then, they were called Communists, or half-breeds, or outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse –- they were called everything but the name their parents gave them.  Their faith was questioned.  Their lives were threatened.  Their patriotism challenged.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?  (Applause.)  What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people –- unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?  (Applause.)

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience.  That’s why it’s not a museum or a static monument to behold from a distance.  It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:  “We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  (Applause.)

These are not just words.  They’re a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny.  For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all of our citizens in this work.  And that’s what we celebrate here in Selma.  That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.  (Applause.)

The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge, that’s the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny.  It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot, workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.  (Applause.)

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths.  It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo.  That’s America.  (Applause.)

That’s what makes us unique.  That’s what cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity.  Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down that wall.  Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid.  Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule.  They saw what John Lewis had done.  From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest power and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom.

They saw that idea made real right here in Selma, Alabama.  They saw that idea manifest itself here in America.

Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed.  Political and economic and social barriers came down.  And the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus all the way to the Oval Office.  (Applause.)

Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for black folks, but for every American.  Women marched through those doors.  Latinos marched through those doors.  Asian Americans, gay Americans, Americans with disabilities — they all came through those doors.  (Applause.)  Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.

What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say.  And what a solemn debt we owe.  Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?

First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough.  If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done.  (Applause.)  The American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.

Selma teaches us, as well, that action requires that we shed our cynicism.  For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.

Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country.  And I understood the question; the report’s narrative was sadly familiar.  It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement.  But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed.  What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic.  It’s no longer sanctioned by law or by custom.  And before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.  (Applause.)

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, that racial division is inherent to America.  If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s.  Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed.  Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago.  To deny this progress, this hard-won progress -– our progress –- would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that Ferguson is an isolated incident; that racism is banished; that the work that drew men and women to Selma is now complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes.  We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true.  We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.

We know the march is not yet over.  We know the race is not yet won.  We know that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged, all of us, by the content of our character requires admitting as much, facing up to the truth.  “We are capable of bearing a great burden,” James Baldwin once wrote, “once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”

There’s nothing America can’t handle if we actually look squarely at the problem.  And this is work for all Americans, not just some.  Not just whites.  Not just blacks.  If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination.  All of us will need to feel as they did the fierce urgency of now.  All of us need to recognize as they did that change depends on our actions, on our attitudes, the things we teach our children.  And if we make such an effort, no matter how hard it may sometimes seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.  (Applause.)

With such an effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some.  Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on –- the idea that police officers are members of the community they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland, they just want the same thing young people here marched for 50 years ago -– the protection of the law.  (Applause.)  Together, we can address unfair sentencing and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and good workers, and good neighbors.  (Applause.)

With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity.  Americans don’t accept a free ride for anybody, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes.  But we do expect equal opportunity.  And if we really mean it, if we’re not just giving lip service to it, but if we really mean it and are willing to sacrifice for it, then, yes, we can make sure every child gets an education suitable to this new century, one that expands imaginations and lifts sights and gives those children the skills they need.  We can make sure every person willing to work has the dignity of a job, and a fair wage, and a real voice, and sturdier rungs on that ladder into the middle class.

And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge –- and that is the right to vote.  (Applause.)  Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote.  As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed.  Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor.

How can that be?  The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic efforts.  (Applause.)  President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office.  President George W. Bush signed its renewal when he was in office.  (Applause.)  One hundred members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right to protect it.  If we want to honor this day, let that hundred go back to Washington and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year.  That’s how we honor those on this bridge.  (Applause.)

Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or even the President alone.  If every new voter-suppression law was struck down today, we would still have, here in America, one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples.  Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar, the number of bubbles on a bar of soap.  It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life.

What’s our excuse today for not voting?  How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought?  (Applause.)  How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future?  Why are we pointing to somebody else when we could take the time just to go to the polling places?  (Applause.)  We give away our power.

Fellow marchers, so much has changed in 50 years.  We have endured war and we’ve fashioned peace.  We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives.  We take for granted conveniences that our parents could have scarcely imagined.  But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship; that willingness of a 26-year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.

That’s what it means to love America.  That’s what it means to believe in America.  That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.

For we were born of change.  We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.  We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people.  That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction — because we know our efforts matter.  We know America is what we make of it.

Look at our history.  We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, and entrepreneurs and hucksters.  That’s our spirit.  That’s who we are.

We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some.  And we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth.  That is our character.

We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free –- Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan.  We’re the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because we want our kids to know a better life.  That’s how we came to be.  (Applause.)

We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South.  (Applause.)  We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened up the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.

We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent.  And we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, and the Navajo code-talkers, and the Japanese Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied.

We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We’re the gay Americans whose blood ran in the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge. (Applause.)

We are storytellers, writers, poets, artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.

We’re the inventors of gospel and jazz and blues, bluegrass and country, and hip-hop and rock and roll, and our very own sound with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.

We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway.  (Applause.)

We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.”  We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”

That’s what America is.  Not stock photos or airbrushed history, or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American than others.  (Applause.)  We respect the past, but we don’t pine for the past.  We don’t fear the future; we grab for it.  America is not some fragile thing.  We are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes.  We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit.  That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe old age of 25 could lead a mighty march.

And that’s what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day.  You are America.  Unconstrained by habit and convention.  Unencumbered by what is, because you’re ready to seize what ought to be.

For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, there’s new ground to cover, there are more bridges to be crossed.  And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.

Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person.  Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.”  “We The People.”  “We Shall Overcome.”  “Yes We Can.”  (Applause.)  That word is owned by no one.  It belongs to everyone.  Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.

Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer.  Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding our union is not yet perfect, but we are getting closer.  Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile.  Somebody already got us over that bridge.  When it feels the road is too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah:  “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on [the] wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not be faint.”  (Applause.)

We honor those who walked so we could run.  We must run so our children soar.  And we will not grow weary.  For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.

May He bless those warriors of justice no longer with us, and bless the United States of America.  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

END
2:50 P.M. CST

The First Family waits with former President George W. Bush, former First Lady Laura Bush prior to the walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia wait with former President George W. Bush, former First Lady Laura Bush prior to the walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches, in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)