January 19, 2004
For Immediate Release
Martin Luther King's birthday is a day to not only remember one of the greatest Americans of the last century but to rededicate ourselves to advancing his work in this new century.
This year would have marked Martin Luther King's 75th birthday. He would have deserved to spend his days in comfort and ease looking back with satisfaction on a life in which he had changed America for the better in ways matched only by a handful of individuals in our nation's history. But we all know that he wouldn't be resting and satisfied - he'd be restless and striving to push America towards realizing the bold faith of its founding.
Of course, Martin Luther King was struck down by an act of anger and hatred and so it falls to all Americans who believe in progress and this nation's promise to join together in the hope that the sum of our united efforts can equal the bracing and original voice that we so tragically lost.
Yet, even in his own day, Reverend King never marched alone. Instead, he mobilized and motivated an army of Americans who believed that the high-minded principles upon which our nation was founded could be more than just inspiring rhetoric voiced by many but experienced by few. He made us believe that every American, no matter what their race, should have the opportunity to succeed and to live the American dream. And he knew that discrimination has no place in a nation founded on the principles of freedom and justice.
Martin Luther King's life serves as both a source of inspiration - and a challenge to us today. A challenge to not just defend the achievements of the past or to defeat those who would turn their back on accomplishments of the civil rights movement, but to advance the cause and work for which Reverend King gave his life.
Like so many other men and women across this great country, Dr. King's work had an enormous influence on my life. As a young man, I saw close up the injustice of a system that sent black men overseas to die for democracy while at home their families were denied basic civil rights. I served with a band of brothers in Vietnam where color, religion, and background all melted away to an understanding that we were all simply "Americans." And I vowed then to fight for this kind of understanding and stand up to the injustice for the rest of my life.
As a Senator, I voted for every major piece of Civil Rights legislation to come before Congress since 1985, including the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. I also voted for the Equal Rights Amendment, and support the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. I have fought for the economic justice that is embodied in the minority-owned businesses that are the lifeblood of our economy. I have fought all attempts to undermine affirmative action. And I have strongly opposed the appointment of extreme judges who would seek to undo Dr. King's life's work.
Yet, Martin Luther King never presented himself as a leader for one group but as a leader who believed in one America - in redeeming our nation's soul and restoring our democracy. And that's the cause we are struggling for today.
Everywhere I go in the course of this campaign from our big cities to small towns and family farms in Iowa, I realize we are all living in Martin Luther King's America. A place where millions of Americans work everyday to make equality a reality. A place where people treat their jobs as citizens seriously. A place where the evils Martin Luther King combated - "racial injustice, poverty, and war" - still plague our planet and call out for a real response. And a place where everyday people have the confidence to do in our time what Martin Luther King did in his - restore our country's promise and renew our spirit once again.