It’s not often that President Barack Obama speaks as the black president.
He did at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington that put the late Rev. Martin Luther King’s dream in focus for a nation. He did again last night, addressing a dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus, which traces its creation to six years after King’s march.
As he looked out from the Lincoln Memorial in August, he said last night, “it was impossible not to appreciate just how much progress we’ve made. It was impossible not to think of all the hearts that have been opened, all the laws that have been changed, all thanks to the quiet heroes who refused to give up or give in.
“And as I said on that day, to dismiss the magnitude of that progress, to somehow suggest that little has changed, dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of all those who paid the price to march in those years,” he said. “But what I also said — and I think there wasn’t a speaker there that day or on Saturday in the other commemoration of the march who didn’t make this point — we would also dishonor those heroes to suggest that the work of this nation is somehow complete… ”
“The men and women who founded this caucus recognized what Dr. King understood: That equality is not just an abstraction, it’s not just a formality,” Obama said. “It has to go hand in hand with economic opportunity; that in order to address the enduring legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, we’ve got to make it easier for every American to earn their piece of the American Dream. ”
“So fast forward to today, 50 years later. We all understand we have to be vigilant against any attempt to roll back our hard-won civil rights –- whether that means tearing down barriers put up by those who seek to restrict the right to vote, or making sure our criminal justice system works equally well for everybody, not just for some. But at a time when black unemployment remains twice as high as white unemployment, at a time when working Americans of all races have seen their incomes and wages stagnate even as corporate profits and the incomes of folks at the very top are soaring, we’ve got to pick up the torch of economic justice. We have to make this a country where anybody who works hard can earn their way into the middle class. And until we do, we will not let up and we will not rest, no matter how much resistance we get. We will keep on pressing forward because it’s good for America. It’s the right thing to do.”
He spoke of the benefits of the Affordable Health Care Act promising insurance for millions lacking it — this, as Congress faces a showdown over the House’s insistence on blacking “Obamacare” and potentially shutting down the government in the process. He spoke of the need for “access to a good education.” That includes making college “more affordable for every family.”
“There’s no better ticket to the middle class in this country,” he said.
“We can’t rest until we offer new ladders of opportunity for anyone willing to climb them. When you think about America, when you think about the ideal of this country, a big part of it is the idea of upward mobility, the idea that if you work hard you can get ahead. Well, over the last 30 years, upward mobility in this country has slipped out of reach for too many people. And that’s especially true in communities with large African-American populations. ”
“So we’ve got to do more to rebuild neighborhoods, help some of the hardest-hit towns in America get back on their feet. We’ve got to raise the minimum wage. Nobody who works full-time in the wealthiest nation on Earth should have to raise their children in poverty. Those are fights we need to win.”
“And finally, we can’t rest until all of our children can go to school or walk down the street free from the fear that they will be struck down by a stray bullet,” the president from Chicago said at the close of a week with another night of carnage by gunfire and the night before his address at 5 pm today to the families of victims of the Washington Navy Yard shootings. “Just two days ago, in my hometown of Chicago, 13 people were shot during a pickup basketball game, including a 3-year-old girl. Tomorrow night I’ll be meeting and mourning with families in this city who now know the same unspeakable grief of families in Newtown, and Aurora, and Tucson, and Chicago, and New Orleans, and all across the country — people whose loved ones were torn from them without headlines sometimes, or public outcry. But it’s happening every single day. ”
“These are the tasks before us,” the president said. “These are the challenges we face. It’s a tall order, all of it….”
“And part of the reason that I don’t get tired is because I’ve seen people who are in this audience and what you’ve done, the odds that you’ve overcome. I know sometimes the climb seems steep at any given moment. Sometimes it seems like the pettiness of our politics just is making things worse and worse…”
His opponents, he said, are “willing to shut down the government and potentially default for the first time in United States history because it bothers you so much that we’re actually going to make sure that everybody has affordable health care. Let me say as clearly as I can: It is not going to happen. We have come too far. We’ve overcome far darker threats than those. We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations. We’re not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point. And those folks are going to get some health care in this country — we’ve been waiting 50 years for it…”