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Public Statements

I Have A Dream

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. JACKSON of Illinois. Mr. Speaker, tonight or in the very near future, I want everyone within the sound of my voice to read or reread Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, ``I Have a Dream'' speech, a speech that I usually refer to as his ``insufficient funds or bounced check'' speech.

I've often thought: I wonder what Dr. King's speech would sound like if he were here today to give it. Well, I'm not presumptuous enough to pretend that I know exactly what Dr. King would say. I really don't. But I thought it would be challenging and interesting to go through his speech, change it as little as possible, but insert today's circumstances and my own thoughts on how I think Dr. King's speech might have sounded if it were given today. So that's what I propose to do tonight. After all, on August 27, we will dedicate the King Memorial here in Washington, D.C., the day before his historic anniversary of the ``I Have a Dream'' speech on August 28.

As my colleagues have now departed this institution for the August recess to return to their homes far and near, I thought it would be especially appropriate that the final speech delivered after this very tumultuous debate would give reference and reverence to the extraordinary insight of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I also thought in light of the budget cutting deal and the bounced check and insufficient funds deal that was passed today in the Congress that it would also be appropriate.

So tonight I want to try and give what some might call an updated version of Dr. King's ``I Have a Dream'' speech and what it might have sounded like today.

Again, I make no pretense that my paraphrased version of Dr. King's speech does his original version any justice. But the following is my paraphrased version of that speech after reflecting upon today's budget deal.

Paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s ``I Have a Dream'' speech, and for those of you who are in your offices listening to the sound of my voice, you might want to Google or go on the Internet and actually find the true text of Dr. King's speech and actually compare it to my exercise.

Especially in light of today's budget deficits, cumulative debt, the need to raise the debt limit, and in the context of the need to also fight for jobs, education, health care, housing, equal rights for women, renewable energy, fair taxation and for the fundamental right to vote, Dr. King might have delivered this speech:

I would have been happy today to join with those willing to take a balanced approach to budget cuts and revenue enhancements to bring about the greatest deficit reduction and debt reduction along with the most massive full employment plan in the history of our Nation. But that is not what the President and congressional leaders negotiated.

Nine score and four years ago on September 17, 1787, 39 great Americans signed the U.S. Constitution as witnesses. This momentous decree came as a beacon light of hope to millions of Americans who had been seared in the flames of British injustice.

It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of taxation without representation.

But 224 years later, the American people are not free of deficits and debt. Two hundred twenty-four years later, the life of many Americans is still sadly crippled by the manacles of foreclosed homes and the chains of unemployment. Two hundred twenty-four years later, many Americans live on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. Two hundred twenty-four years later, many Americans still languish in the corners of American society and find themselves as exiles in their own land. And so we were elected as President and as Congresspersons to end this shameful condition.

In a sense, the American people are looking to our Nation's capital, the President and the Congress, to be able to cash a check. When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all Americans would be guaranteed the ``unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.''

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as many of her citizens are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, Congress has given many Americans a bad check, a check which has come back marked ``insufficient funds.'' But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this Nation. And so, many Americans are still waiting to cash this check, a check that will give them upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of a job and justice.

They are also looking to this President and this hallowed Congress to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of unemployment to the sunlit path of full employment. Now is the time to lift our Nation from the quicksands of inequality of income and wealth to the solid rock of economic justice. Now is the time to make full employment and social and economic justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the Nation to overlook the urgency of this moment. This sweltering summer of Americans' legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of jobs and equality. 2011 is not an end but a beginning, and those who hope that those who are currently blowing off steam and will soon be content will have a rude awakening if the Nation returns to business as usual, and there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until Americans are granted their full citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our Nation until the bright day of full employment and economic justice emerges.

But there is something that must be said to those who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of jobs and justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for jobs by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting oppressive economic forces with the spiritual force of unrelenting, but disciplined, determination.

This marvelous new militancy which has engulfed many Americans must not lead us into a distrust of all politics and all politicians, for some politics and politicians are committed to full employment, social and economic justice, and some politicians also realize that their destiny is tied up with this larger destiny. Some politicians have come to realize that their jobs as Congresspersons are inextricably bound to Americans also having jobs.

We cannot walk alone, and as we walk we must make a pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of social and economic justice, ``When will you be satisfied?'' We can never be satisfied as long as the American people are the victim of the unspeakable horrors of home foreclosures. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain a job at a livable wage. We cannot be satisfied as long as the education of America's children leaves them uncompetitive in a new world market. We can never be satisfied as long as our health care system is ranked 37th in the world. We cannot be satisfied as long as one person in America cannot vote or one American believes they have nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ``jobs and justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.''

I am not unmindful that many Americans are experiencing great trials and tribulations. Some Americans are fresh from job rejections, and some Americans have been refused an adjustment to their mortgage which has left their family battered by the storms of home foreclosures and staggered by the winds of homelessness. You have become the veterans of unearned suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go forward in Mississippi, go forward in Vermont, go forward in Michigan, go forward in Hawaii, go forward in Oregon, go forward in Florida, go forward in the ghettos and barrios of our cities and in rural Appalachia knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream. I have a dream that one day this Nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ``We hold these truths to be

self-evident, that all men are created equal.'' I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together around a table of brotherhood where full employment, high quality health care for all Americans, excellence in education for every child, and safe, sanitary and affordable housing for every family is their natural experience.

I have a dream that one day, absent the false excuse of sweltering deficits and debt and the heat of economic injustice, America will be transformed into an oasis of full employment, freedom and economic justice.

I have a dream that my two little children will one day live in a Nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, and that voting will be as natural as breathing, and no trickery or legal obstacles will be thrown in their path.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day over Michigan, over Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, with its wicked unemployment and suffering families, that one day right there in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, all of these families will be able to enjoy full employment, social and economic justice, and all will be able to join hands as brothers and sisters.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain and the crooked places will be made straight ``and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.''

This is my hope, and this is the faith that I go forward with every day.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of deficits and debt a stone of economic hope and justice for all Americans. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of unemployment and home foreclosures into a beautiful symphony of full employment and affordable housing. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free and fully employed one day.

And this will be the day. This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And if America is to be a great Nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom, full employment, and the right of private and public workers to organize into unions to protect their interests ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom and public education of equal high quality for all of America's children ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring and health care of equal high quality for all Americans ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom and a clean, safe, and sustainable environment ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring with safe and sanitary and affordable housing from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that, let freedom and equal rights for women, for gays and lesbians ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom, fair and progressive taxation ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom and the right and the ability to vote ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom, social and economic justice ring throughout America.

And when this happens, when, my friends, we allow freedom, full employment, social and economic justice to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every State and every city, we will be able to speed up the day when all of God's children, black men, white men, women, Jews, Gentiles, and Muslims, Protestants and Catholics, gays and straights, those who are whole and those who are handicapped, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last.

I want to remind everyone that I just finished giving my paraphrased version of what I thought Dr. King might have said had he been alive today and witnessed this debate, especially in light of the budget cutting, the insufficient funds, the bounced check deal that Congress passed on this day. I tried to remain as faithful as possible to the original speech, simply filling in my own thoughts and ideas in the current context, but I make no pretense to have done justice to the original version.

Again, I urge my friends and my colleagues and all those who can hear my voice to read or reread Dr. King's ``I Have a Dream'' speech at your earliest convenience.

Mr. Speaker, it is in this speech that Dr. King delivered the economic substance of his expectations of Democrats and Republicans in the Congress. America has issued all of us a bad check. It has come back marked ``insufficient funds.'' But we refuse to believe that the great vaults of opportunity of this Nation are bankrupt. If we can spend billions of dollars to put a man on the Moon, if we can spend billions of dollars on a war in Afghanistan, spend billions of dollars on a war in Iraq, spend tens of millions of dollars per week on a war in Libya, then, Mr. Speaker, this Congress can find enough money to put a man on his own two feet right here in America.

I have not given up on America, and I hope we don't give up on America.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.


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