BARACK OBAMA: Hello, Illinois! SICK.! SICK.! Well well. I'm just checking to see if you're awake. Please take a seat, everyone. It's good to be home. It's good to see corn, beans. I was trying to explain to someone while we were flying, that's corn. That is beans. They were very impressed with my agricultural knowledge. Please, resign Amari, once again, for your excellent presentation.
Today I have a lot of good friends, including someone I served, who is one of the best senators in the country, and we are lucky that his senator, Dick Durbin, is here. I also noticed, of course, the former governor Edgar here, whom I had not seen in a long time, and somehow he has not aged and it was great to see him.
I want to thank everyone in the U of I system for making it possible for me to be here today. I am deeply honored with the Paul Douglas Award they have given me.
He is someone who set the path for both outstanding public service here in Illinois. Now, I want to start talking to the elephant in the room. I know that people still wonder why I did not speak at the beginning of 2017. The president of the student body sent a very attentive invitation. The students made a spectacular video, and when I declined, I heard that it was speculated that I was boycotting the campus until Antonio's pizza reopened. Then I want to be clear. I did not take sides in that debate about food late at night.
The truth is that, after eight years in the White House, I needed to spend a one-on-one time with Michelle if I wanted to stay married. And she says hello, by the way. I also wanted to spend some quality time with my daughters, who were suddenly young women when they came out the door. And I must add, by the way, now that I have a daughter in college, I can tell all the students here, your parents, that they cry in private. It's brutal Then please call Send a text message. We need to hear from you Just a little something.
The truth is that he was also determined to follow a wise American tradition of former presidents who gracefully left the political stage and left room for new voices and new ideas.
The truth is that he was also determined to follow a wise American tradition of former presidents who gracefully left the political stage and left room for new voices and new ideas.
Our first president, George Washington, should thank you for giving that example. After leading the colonies to victory as General Washington, there were really no restrictions for him. He was practically a god to those who had followed him in battle. There was no constitution. There were no democratic norms to guide what it should or could do. And he could have become almighty, could have potentially become president for life.
Instead, he resigned as commander-in-chief and returned to his country estate. Six years later, he was elected president. But after two terms, he resigned again and left at dusk.
The point made by Washington, the point that is essential for American democracy, is that in a government of and for the people, there should not be a permanent ruling class. There are only citizens, who through their elected and temporary representatives, determine our course and determine our character.
I am here today because this is one of those crucial moments in which each of us, as citizens of the United States, need to determine who we are. Just what we represent. And as a fellow citizen, not as a former president, but as a fellow citizen, I am here to deliver a simple message, and that is that you must vote because our democracy depends on it.
Now, some of you may think that I am exaggerating when I say that the November elections are more important than the ones I can remember in my life. I know that politicians say that all the time. I have been guilty of saying it sometimes, particularly when I was on the ballot. But just a look at recent headlines should tell you that this moment is really different. What is at stake is really higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more nefarious.
And it is not as if we had not had great elections before or great elections in our history. The fact is that democracy has never been easy, and our founding fathers discussed everything. We wage a civil war. We beat the depression. We have gone from periods of great progressive changes to immobile periods, most Americans live today, no doubt the students who are here have operated under some common assumptions about who we are and what we represent.
Outside the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression, the United States adapted a new economy, a 20th century economy, guiding our free market with regulations to protect health and safety and fair competition, empowering workers with movements unions, investing in science and infrastructure and educational institutions such as U of I, strengthening our primary and secondary education system, and uniting a social safety net. All this led to unparalleled prosperity and the emergence of a broad and deep middle class and the feeling that if he worked hard, he could climb the ladder of success.
Not all were included in this prosperity. There was much more work to be done. And in response to the stain of slavery and segregation and the reality of racial discrimination, the civil rights movement not only opened new doors for African Americans but also opened doors for women and Americans with disabilities and LGBT Americans. and others to make their own claims of full and equal citizenship.
And although discrimination continued to be a pernicious force in our society and continues to this day, and although there are controversies about how to guarantee true equality of opportunity, there has been at least a harsh agreement among the overwhelming majority of Americans that our country is stronger when all treated fairly, when judging people about the merits and the content of their character and not the color of their skin or the way they worship God or their last names. And that consensus then spread beyond our borders.
And from the remnants of the Second World War, we built a postwar architecture, a system of alliances and institutions to sustain freedom and oppose Soviet totalitarianism and help the poorest countries to develop. The American leadership around the world was not perfect. We made mistakes Sometimes we lost sight of our ideals. We had fierce discussions about Vietnam and had fierce discussions about Iraq. But thanks to our leadership, a bipartisan leadership and the efforts of Peace Corps diplomats and volunteers, and above all thanks to the constant sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, we not only reduce the prospects of war between the great world powers, not only do we win the Cold War, we help spread a commitment to certain values and principles such as the rule of law and human rights and democracy, and the notion of the inherent dignity and value of each individual.
And even those countries that did not respect those principles were still ashamed and at least had to allude to the idea, and that provided a lever to continually improve the perspectives of people around the world. That is the history of America. A story of progress, intermittent progress, incomplete progress, but progress. And that progress was not achieved only by a handful of famous leaders who delivered speeches. It was won by innumerable acts of silent heroism and dedication on the part of citizens, ordinary people, many of them not much older than you. It was won because, instead of being spectators of history, ordinary people fought and marched and mobilized and built, and yes, they voted to make history.
Of course, there has always been another darker aspect in the history of the United States. Progress does not just move in a straight line. There is a reason why progress has not been easy and why throughout our history, every two steps forward seems to take a step back. Every time we approach our founding ideals conscientiously, we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, the ideals that say every child should have an opportunity and every man and woman in this country who is willing to work Hard should to find a job and support a family and pursue their little peace of the American dream, ideals that say we have the collective responsibility to care for the sick and others and have the responsibility to preserve the incredible reward, the natural resources of this country and of this planet for future generations; every time we approach those ideals, someone somewhere rejects it.
The status quo goes back. Sometimes the reaction comes from people who genuinely, if mistakenly, fear change. More often it is manufactured by the powerful and privileged who want to keep us divided and keep us angry and remain cynical because it helps them maintain the status quo and maintain their power and maintain their privileges. And you are coming of age during one of those moments.
It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. It is capitalizing on the resentments that politicians have fueled for years, a fear and anger that are rooted in our past, but also born of the enormous upheavals that have taken place in their brief lives.
By the way, it's short. When I heard that Amari was 11 years old when they chose me, now he started a company, that was yesterday!
But think about it. You have come of age in a smaller and connected world, where demographic changes and the wind of change have stirred not only traditional economic arrangements, but also our social arrangements and our religious commitments and civic institutions. Most of you do not remember a moment before September 11, when you did not have to take off your shoes at an airport. Most of you do not remember a time when the United States was not at war or when money, images and information could travel instantaneously around the world. Or when the weather did not change faster than our efforts to address it.
This change has happened fast, faster than at any other time in human history. And it created a new economy that has unleashed incredible prosperity, but it has also profoundly disrupted people's lives. For those with unique skills or access to technology and capital, a global market has meant unprecedented wealth. For those who were not so lucky, for the factory worker, for the clerk or even the middle management, those same forces may have erased their work or at least not put them in a position to request an increase, and wages were reduced and accelerated inequality, those at the top of the economic pyramid have been able to influence the government to skew things even more in their direction.
Reduce taxes to wealthier Americans, eliminate regulations and weaken workers' protections, reducing the safety net. So you've come of age in a time of growing inequality, a fracture of economic opportunity. And that growing economic division aggravated other divisions in our country. Regional, racial, religious, cultural. And it made it difficult to create consensus on the problems. It made politicians less willing to compromise, which increased the stalemate, which made people even more cynical about politics. And then the reckless behavior of the financial elites unleashed a massive financial crisis.
Ten years ago, this week, a crisis that resulted in the worst recession in all of our lives and caused years of hardship for the American people. For many of your parents, for many of your families. Most of you were not old enough to fully focus on what was happening at that time, but when I took office in 2009, we lost 800,000 jobs per month. 800,000. Millions of people were losing their homes. Many were worried that we were entering a second great depression.
So we work hard to end that crisis, but also to break some of these longer-term trends. The actions we took during that crisis returned the economy to healthy growth and began the longest run of registered job creation. And we covered another 20 million Americans with health insurance and reduced our deficits by more than half, in part by making sure that people like me who have been given incredible opportunities in this country pay our fair share of taxes for help people to come after me.
And by the time I left office, family income was close to its historic high, and the rate of uninsured people reached a record low, poverty rates were falling. I mention this simply when you hear how well the economy is doing at this time, let's remember when this recovery started. I'm glad it continues, but when you hear about this economic miracle that's been happening, when the work numbers come out, the monthly work numbers and suddenly the Republicans say it's a miracle, I have to remind them, in reality, those The work numbers are the same as in 2015 and 2016 and, anyway. I'm digressing.
So we made progress, but, and this is the truth, my administration could not reverse the trends of 40 years in only eight, especially once the Republicans took over the House of Representatives in 2010 and decided to block everything we did . Even things that they used to support.
So we take the economy out of the crisis, but to this day, too many people who once felt solidly middle class still feel a very real and very personal economic insecurity. Although we eliminated bin Laden and reduced the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we got Iran to stop its nuclear program, the world is still full of threats and disorder that are transmitted through people's televisions every day. And these challenges make people worry and fray our civic confidence and make many people feel that the solution is at stake and the game is manipulated and no one is taking care of them.
Especially those communities outside our large urban centers. And even though their generation is the most diverse in history with a greater acceptance and celebration of our differences than ever before, that is the kind of conditions that are ripe to be exploited by politicians who have no scruples or shame to take advantage of the dark history of the United States. of racial and ethnic and religious division. Appealing to the tribe, appealing to fear, confronting one group against another, telling people that order and security will be restored if it were not for those who do not look like us or who do not sound like us or pray as they do. We do, it's an old playbook. It is as old as time.
And in a healthy democracy, it does not work. Our antibodies come into play, and people of good will from across the political spectrum call the intolerant and fearful and work to engage and do things and promote the best angels of our nature.
But when there is a void in our democracy, when we do not vote, when we take our basic rights and liberties for granted, when we move away and stop paying attention and stop committing ourselves and stop believing and looking for the most novel fun, the electronic versions of bread and circus, then other voices fill the void.
It is based on a policy of fear, resentment and reduction of personnel and demagogues promise simple solutions to complex problems. There is no promise to fight for the little man, even when they serve the richest and most powerful. There is no promise to clean up corruption and then plunder it. They begin to undermine the rules that guarantee accountability and try to change the rules to further entrench their power. They appeal to racial nationalism that is barely veiled, if it is hidden. Sounds familiar?
I understand that this is not just a matter of Democrats versus Republicans or Liberals versus Conservatives. At various times in our history, this type of policy has infected both parties. The Southern Democrats were the greatest defenders of slavery. It took a Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, to finish it. Although it was a Democratic president and a majority Democratic congress driven by young protesters and protesters who got the civil rights law and the right to vote on the finish line, those historic laws were also passed because of the leadership of Republicans like Everett himself. Illinois. Dirksen So neither party has had a monopoly on wisdom.
Neither party has been exclusively responsible for us backing up instead of backing down. But I have to say this because sometimes we hear a plague in their two houses. In recent decades, it was not true when Jim Edgar was governor here in Illinois.
But in recent decades, the policy of division, resentment and paranoia unfortunately found a home in the Republican party. This Congress has advocated the elimination of campaign finance laws to give billionaires outside influence on our policy. They systematically attacked voting rights to make it difficult for young people, minorities and the poor to vote. Tax reductions were applied without taking deficits into account. He broke through the safety net where he could, issued dozens of votes to remove health insurance from ordinary Americans, embraced conspiracy theories like those around Benghazi or my birth certificate, rejected science, rejected facts about things like climate change, embraced a growing absolutism of a willingness to default on the debt of the United States by not paying our bills and refusing to meet, considering a qualified candidate for the Supreme Court because it turned out to be nominated by a Democratic president.
None of this is conservative. I do not pretend to pretend that I am channeling Abraham Lincoln now, but that is not what he had in mind, I think, when he helped form the Republican party. It is not conservative. It sure is not normal. It is radical. It is a vision that says that the protection of our power and those who support us is the only thing that matters even when it hurts the country. It is a vision that says that the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions set the agenda, and in the last two years, this vision is coming to its logical conclusion.
So, with the Republicans who control Congress and the White House, without checks or balances, they have provided another $ 1.5 trillion in tax cuts to people like me, to whom I promise they do not need it and who do not even intend to pay . they. It is supposed to be the supposedly party of fiscal conservatism. Suddenly, deficits do not matter. Even though only two years ago, when the deficit was lower, they said that I could not afford to help working families or elderly people in Medicare because the deficit was in an existential crisis. What changed? What changed?
They are subsidizing corporate polluters with taxpayers' money, which allows dishonest lenders to take advantage of veterans, consumers and students again. They have done it so that the only nation on Earth to withdraw from the global climate agreement, is not North Korea, it is not Syria, it is not Russia or Saudi Arabia, it is us. The only country There are many countries in the world. We are the only ones
They are undermining our alliances, making peace with Russia. What happened to the Republican Party? Their central organizing principle in foreign policy was the fight against communism, and now they are rubbing elbows with the former head of the KGB.
Actively blocking the legislation that defends our elections from the Russian attack. What happened? Their sabotage of the affordable care law has already cost more than 3 million Americans their health insurance, and if they are still in power next fall, it is better that they believe they do it again. They have said it. In a healthy democracy, there are checks and balances in this type of behavior, this kind of inconsistency, but at this moment there is nothing. The Republicans who know best in Congress, and they are there, say: yes, we know that this is crazy, we are still doing everything possible to protect this behavior from scrutiny or responsibility or consequence, it seems absolutely reluctant to find the backbone to safeguard the institutions that make our democracy work.
And, by the way, the claim that everything will work out because there are people inside the White House who secretly are not following the president's orders, that's not a check. I'm serious here. That's not how our democracy is supposed to work. These people are not chosen. They are not responsible. They are not doing us a service actively promoting 90% of the crazy things that are coming out of this white house, and then saying, do not worry, we are avoiding the other 10%.
This is not how things are supposed to work. This is not normal. These are extraordinary times. And they are dangerous times.
But here is the good news. In two months we have the opportunity, not the certainty, but the possibility of restoring a certain appearance of good sense in our politics. Because in reality there is only real control over bad policies and the abuse of power. That's you. You and your vote. Look, Americans will always have disagreements about politics. This is a great country. It is a strident country.
I am a democrat. I believe that our policies are better and we have a broader and more audacious vision of equality, justice and inclusive democracy. We know that there are many jobs that young people do not have the opportunity to occupy or that they do not receive enough or do not receive benefits such as insurance. For young people it is more difficult to save for a rainy day and much less to retire.
So the Democrats are not just pursuing old good ideas like a higher minimum wage, but they're running good new ideas like Medicare for all, providing seats to workers at corporate meetings, reversing the most egregious corporate tax cuts to ensure that college students graduate. .
We know that people are tired of toxic corruption and that democracy depends on transparency and accountability, so Democrats are not only pursuing good ideas such as requiring presidential candidates to publish their tax returns, but also good new ideas. how to prohibit the lobbyists from paying them for foreign governments.
We know that climate change does not just come. Is here. So the Democrats are not only using good old ideas like increasing fuel consumption in our cars, what I did and what the Republicans are trying to reverse, but also good new ideas, like putting a price on carbon pollution.
We know that in a smaller and more connected world, we can not simply put the technology back in a box. We can not just put walls all over the United States. The walls do not exclude threats such as terrorism or diseases. And that is why we propose to lead our alliances and help other countries to develop and press against tyrants.
The Democrats talk about the reform of our immigration system, so yes, it is orderly, fair and legal, but it still receives fighters and dreamers from all over the world. That's why I'm a Democrat. That is a set of ideas that I believe in. But I am here to tell you that even if you do not agree with me or the Democrats in politics, even if you believe in more libertarian economic theories, even if you are evangelical and our position on certain social issues is a bridge too far, even if you believe that my assessment of immigration is wrong and the Democrats are not serious enough about immigration enforcement, I'm here to tell you that you should still worry about our current course and you should still want to see a restoration of honesty, the decency and legality in our government.
I should not be a Democrat or a Republican. It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not press the Attorney General or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a club to punish our political opponents. Or to explicitly ask the attorney general to protect the members of our own party from prosecution because an election is looming. I'm not making it up That is not hypothetical
It should not be democrat or republican to say that we do not threaten press freedom because they say things or publish stories that we do not like. I complained a lot about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to close them or call them enemies of the people. It should not be democratic or republican to say that we do not target certain groups of people based on how they look or how they pray.
We are Americans. We're supposed to face the thugs. Do not follow them We are supposed to face discrimination, and we are sure that it is supposed to rise clearly and unequivocally with Nazi sympathizers. How difficult can that be? Saying that the Nazis are bad.
I will be honest, sometimes I get into discussions with progressive friends about what the current political movement requires. There are well-intentioned and passionate people for social justice who think that things got so bad, the lines have been so sharply drawn, that we have to fight against fire. We have to do the same things to the Republicans as they do to adopt their tactics. Say whatever works. Invent things about the other.
I do not agree with that. It's not because I'm soft. It is not because I am interested in promoting an empty bipartisanship. I do not agree with that because it erodes our civic institutions and our civic trust and makes people more angry and yells at each other and makes people become cynical with the government, which always works better for those who do not believe in the power of collective action.
You do not need an effective government or a solid press or a reasoned debate to work when all you care about is maintaining power. In fact, the more cynical people are about government, the more angry and discouraged they are with respect to the prospects for change, the more likely the powerful are to maintain their power.
But we believe that to advance in this country, to solve problems and improve people's lives, we need a government that works well. We need our civic institutions to work. We need cooperation between people of different political convictions. And for that to work, we must restore our faith in democracy. We have to unite people, not separate them. We need majorities in Congress and state legislatures that are serious about the government and want to generate real changes and improvements in people's lives. And we will not win people by calling them names or discarding entire parts of the country as racist, sexist or homophobic.
When I say unite people, I mean all our people.
This whole notion that recently arose about Democrats who need to choose between trying to attract voters from the white working class or black voters and women and LGBT Americans, that does not make sense. I do not buy that. I got the votes of all the demographic groups. We win by reaching everyone, competing everywhere and fighting for every vote. And that is what we have to do in this election and in all subsequent elections. And we can not do that if we immediately ignore what others have to say from the beginning because they are not like us, because they are white or black or they are men or women or they are homosexual. or they are heterosexual.
If we think that in some way there is no way they can understand how I feel and, therefore, have no position to talk about certain issues, because we are only defined by certain characteristics, that does not work if we want a healthy state. We can not do that if we traffic at all when it comes to making democracy work, we have to be able to enter into the reality of people who are different, who have different experiences, who come from different backgrounds. We have to involve them even when it's frustrating. We have to listen to them, even when we do not like what they have to say.
Tenemos que esperar que podamos cambiar de opinión, y tenemos que permanecer abiertos a que ellos cambien la nuestra. Y eso no significa, por cierto, abandonar nuestros principios o ceder a la mala política con el interés de mantener alguna versión falsa de civilidad. Esa parece ser, por cierto, la definición de civilidad ofrecida por demasiados republicanos en el Congreso en este momento. Seremos amables siempre y cuando obtengamos el 100% de lo que queremos y no nos llames sobre las diversas formas en que lo aplicamos a las personas. Haremos clic en nuestras lenguas y emitiremos vagas declaraciones de decepción cuando el presidente haga algo escandaloso, pero en realidad no haremos nada al respecto. Eso no es civilidad. Eso es abdicar de tus responsabilidades. Pero de nuevo, estoy divagando. Hacer que la democracia funcione significa aferrarse a nuestros principios,
tener claridad sobre nuestros principios, y luego tener la confianza para entrar en la arena y tener un debate serio. También significa apreciar el progreso que no ocurre de una vez, pero cuando pones tu hombro al volante, si estás dispuesto a luchar por ello, las cosas mejoran. Y déjame decirte algo, especialmente a los jóvenes de aquí.
Mejor es bueno Solía contarle a mi joven personal todo el tiempo en la casa blanca. Mejor es bueno Esa es la historia del progreso en este país. No es perfecto, mejor. La ley de derechos civiles no terminó con el racismo, pero mejoró las cosas. La seguridad social no eliminó toda la pobreza de las personas mayores, pero mejoró las cosas para millones de personas. No dejes que la gente te diga que la pelea no vale la pena porque no obtendrás todo lo que quieres. La idea de que, bueno, ya sabes, hay racismo en Estados Unidos, así que no voy a molestarme en votar, no tiene sentido, eso no tiene sentido. Puedes hacerlo mejor. Mejor vale la pena luchar por siempre. Así es como nuestros fundadores esperaban que funcionara este sistema de autogobierno. A través de la prueba de ideas y la aplicación de la razón y la evidencia y la prueba, pudimos ordenar nuestras diferencias, y nadie obtendría exactamente lo que querían, pero sería posible encontrar una base para un terreno común. Y ese terreno común existe.
Tal vez no está de moda decir eso en este momento. Es difícil verlo con todas las tonterías en Washington. Es difícil escucharlo con todo el ruido. Pero existe un terreno común. Lo he visto. Lo he vivido Sé que hay personas blancas que se preocupan profundamente de que las personas negras sean tratadas injustamente. He hablado con ellos y los amo, y sé que hay personas negras que se preocupan profundamente por las luchas de los blancos rurales. Yo soy uno de ellos. Y tengo un historial para probarlo. Sé que hay evangélicos que están profundamente comprometidos con hacer algo sobre el cambio climático. Los he visto hacer el trabajo.
Sé que hay conservadores que piensan que no hay nada de compasión en separar a los niños inmigrantes de sus madres. Sé que hay republicanos que creen que el gobierno solo debe realizar algunas funciones mínimas, pero que una de esas funciones debería ser asegurarse de que casi 3,000 estadounidenses no mueran en un huracán y sus consecuencias.
El terreno común está afuera. Lo veo todos los días. Es solo cómo las personas interactúan, cómo las personas se tratan entre sí. You see it on the ball field. You see it at work. You see it in places of worship. But to say that common ground exists doesn’t mean it will inevitably win out.
History shows the power of fear and the closer that we get to Election Day, the more those invested in the politics of fear and division will work — will do anything to hang on to their recent gains. Fortunately, I am hopeful because out of this political darkness, I am seeing a great awakening of citizenship all across the country. I cannot tell you how encouraged I’ve been by watching so many people get involved for the first time or the first time in a long time. They’re marching and they’re organizing and they’re registering people to vote and they’re running for office themselves.
Look at this crop of Democratic candidates running for Congress and governor, running for the state legislature, running for district attorney, running for school board. It is a movement of citizens who happen to be younger and more diverse and more female than ever before, and that’s really useful. We need more women in charge. But we have first-time candidates. We have veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Record numbers of women. Americans who have previously maybe didn’t have an interest in politics as a career but laced up their shoes and rolled up their sleeves and grabbed a clipboard because they, too, believe this time’s different. This moment’s too important to sit out.
And if you listen to what these candidates are talking about in individual races across the country, you’ll find they’re not just running against something, they’re running for something. They’re running to expand opportunity and running to restore the honor to public service. And speaking as a Democrat, that’s when the Democratic party has always made the biggest difference in the lives of the American people. When we led with conviction and principle and bold new ideas. The antidote to a government controlled by a powerful few, a government that divides is a government by the organized, energized, inclusive many. That’s what this moment’s about. That has to be the answer.
You cannot sit back and wait for a savior. You can’t opt out because you don’t feel sufficiently inspired by this or that particular candidate. This is not a rock concert. This is not Coachella. We don’t need a messiah. All we need are decent, honest, hard-working people who are accountable and who have America’s best interests at heart. And they’ll step up and they’ll join our government, and they will make things better if they have support.
One election will not fix everything that needs to be fixed. But it will be a start. And you have to start it. What’s going to fix our democracy is you.
People ask me, what are you going to do for the election? No, the question is what are you going to do? You’re the antidote. Your participation and your spirit and your determination, not just in this election, but in every subsequent election and in the days between elections. Because in the end, the threat to our democracy doesn’t just come from Donald Trump or the current batch of Republicans in Congress or the Koch brothers and their lobbyists or too much compromise from Democrats or Russian hacking. The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference. The biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism.
Cynicism led too many people to turn away from politics and stay home on Election Day. To all the young people who are here today, there are now more eligible voters in your generation than in any other, which means your generation now has more power than anybody to change things. If you want it, you can make sure America gets out of its current funk. If you actually care about it, you have the power to make sure what we see is a brighter future. But to exercise that clout, to exercise that power, you have to show up. In the last midterm elections in 2014, fewer than one in five young people voted.
One in five. Not two in five or three. One in five. Is it any wonder this Congress doesn’t reflect your values and your priorities? Are you surprised by that? This whole project of self-government only works if everybody’s doing their part. Don’t tell me your vote doesn’t matter. I’ve won states in the presidential election because of 5, 10, 20 votes per precinct. And if you thought elections don’t matter, I hope these last two years have corrected that impression.
So if you don’t like what’s going on right now, and you shouldn’t, do not complain, don’t hashtag, don’t get anxious, don’t retreat, don’t binge on whatever it is you’re bingeing on, don’t lose yourself in ironic detachment, don’t put your head in the sand, don’t boo. Vote. Vote. If you are really concerned about how the criminal justice system treats African-Americans, the best way to protest is to vote. Not just for senators and representatives but for mayors and sheriffs and state legislators.
Do what they just did in Philadelphia and Boston and elect states attorneys and district attorneys who are looking at issues in a new light, who realize that the vast majority of law enforcement do the right thing in a really hard job, and we just need to make sure all of them do. If you’re tired of politicians who offer nothing but thoughts and prayers after a mass shooting, you’ve got to do what the parkland kids are doing. Some of them aren’t even eligible to vote yet. They’re out there working to change minds and registering people. And they’re not giving up until we have a Congress that sees your lives as more important than a campaign check from the you’ve got to vote.
If you support the #metoo movement, you’re outraged by stories of sexual harassment and assault, inspired by the women who have shared them, you’ve got to do more than retweet a hashtag. You’ve got to vote. Part of the reason women are more vulnerable in the workplace is because not enough women are bosses in the workplace. Which is why we need to strengthen and enforce laws that protect women in the workplace, not just from harassment, but from discrimination in hiring and promotion and not getting paid the same amount for doing the same work. That requires laws, laws get passed by legislators.
You’ve got to vote. When you vote, you’ve got the power to make it easier to afford college and harder to shoot up a school. When you vote, you’ve got the power to make sure a family keeps its health insurance. You could save somebody’s life. When you vote, you’ve got the
power to make sure white nationalists don’t feel emboldened to March with their hoods off or their hoods on in Charlottesville in the middle of the day. 30 minutes. 30 minutes of your time. Is democracy worth that?
We have been through much darker times than these. And somehow each generation of Americans carried us through to the other side. Not by sitting around and waiting for something to happen, not by leaving it to others to do something, but by leading that movement for change themselves. And if you do that, if you get involved and you get engaged and you knock on some doors and you talk with your friends and you argue with your family members and you change some minds and you vote, something powerful happens. Change happens. Hope happens. Not perfection, not every bit of cruelty and sadness and poverty and disease suddenly stricken from the Earth. There will still be problems, but with each new candidate that surprises you with a victory that you supported, a spark of hope happens.
With each new law that helps a kid read or helps a homeless family find shelter or helps a veteran get the support he or she has earned, each time that happens hope happens. With each new step we take in the direction of fairness and justice and equality and opportunity, hope spreads. And that can be the legacy of your generation.
You can be the generation that at a critical moment stood up and reminded us just how precious this experiment in democracy really is, just how powerful it can be when we fight for it, when we believe in it. I believe in you. I believe you will help lead us in the right direction, and I will be right there with you every step of the way. Thank you, Illinois. God bless you. God bless this country we love.