This is my transcription of John Edwards's "Realizing the Dream" speech (minus a few introductory comments and asides to members of the audience) as delivered yesterday at the Riverside Church in Harlem, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., denounced the Vietnam War in the last year of his life:
January 14, 2007
Thank all of you for being here....
It's an honor to be here in this extraordinary place, in this hallowed place, in this sanctuary, where so many have stood together for causes of righteousness and justice. In this church, the faithful and the firebrand have stood together, and they've joined in the noblest pursuits in American history: the fight and struggle for equality, and for peace. And the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was, above all things, a man of peace.
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As he put it then, there comes a time--not just for Dr. King, but for all of us--when silence is betrayal--not just betrayal of your own personal convictions, not just betrayal of your country, but a betrayal of our--all of our joint responsibility to each other, to our brothers and sisters, not just in America, but all across the globe.
And actually, the thing that I remember most about that sermon, given a year before he died, is that he did not direct his demands to the government of the United States of America, which was about to escalate the War in Vietnam. Instead, he spoke to the American people, calling on us to break our silence, calling on us to accept our own responsibility and to help lead what he spoke of as a "revolution of values"--a revolution whose starting place is with each of us. But the force of that revolution is the belief that we cannot--cannot stand by and hope that someone else will right the wrongs of the world.
And this is my view, is the heart and soul of what we need to remember. It is the heart and soul of realizing the dream. Because there does come a time, for all of us, when silence is betrayal. There does come a time when we have to each one of us refuse to wait for others to act--a moment when we realize, as one of Dr. King's great teachers, Gandhi, said, we have to be the change that we want to see in the world.
That time is here again. It's with us today. Dr. King taught us well. I believe, as I know many of you do, that it is a betrayal, a betrayal to stand silent and watch 37 million of our own brothers and sisters who literally worry about surviving, every single day. It is a betrayal to stand silent while the disparity between the rich and the poor gets worse and worse and worse, every single day in America, in the richest nation on the face of the planet.
And I also believe that it is a betrayal not to speak out against an escalation of the War in Iraq.
The issue, brothers and sisters, the issue is not only how we got into Iraq. The issue is how do we now get out of Iraq. And I want to say, because I just heard a gentleman ask the question a few minutes ago, I want to say for anybody in this room who doesn't know it, I voted for this War, and I was wrong. I take responsibility for that vote. It is not anyone else's responsibility. I accept responsibility for that.
And the challenge today is not how do we achieve a military victory in Iraq. There will never be a military victory in Iraq. The question is how do we achieve a political solution that will actually bring peace.
Escalation is not the answer, and all you have to do is listen to our own generals to know it's not the answer. The answer is for the Iraqi people and others in that part of the world to take responsibility, to take responsibility for their own country. The best way for that to happen is for America to make clear that we are leaving Iraq, and the best way to make clear that we are leaving Iraq is to actually start leaving Iraq.
This is why I've spoken out against an escalation of this War, and I've urged others to do the same. It's why Congress must step up, now, and stop this President from putting more troops in harm's way.
If you're in Congress and you know that this war is going in the wrong direction, and you know that we should not escalate this War in Iraq, it is no longer okay to study your options and keep your own private counsel.
Silence is betrayal. Speak out, and stop this escalation now. You have the power, members of Congress, to prohibit this President from spending any money to escalate this War--use that power. Use it now. Do not allow this President to make another mistake and escalate this War in Iraq.
And I say to all of you--not just members of Congress, all of you who are here today--and the millions like us around the world who know that this is a mistake--your job is to reject the easy way of apathy and to choose instead, to choose the hard path, the path of action.
Silence is betrayal. Speak out. Tell your elected leaders to block this misguided plan that's destined to cost us more money, and more important, more American lives. And you tell them, when they hear your voice, you tell them that the reward of courage is trust, and we desperately need trust in America today, in our leaders.
If we change course in Iraq, we've at least taken the first step to helping restore America's moral leadership in the world, and make no mistake, America must lead. We are the preeminent power in the world today. We are the only potential stabilizing force in the world today. But as Dr. King himself said, "Power properly understood is nothing more than the ability to achieve purpose."
Our purpose must be to restore America's leadership, moral leadership, in the world. When we speak out about the ongoing genocide in Sudan and Darfur, when we speak out against thousands and thousands of children in Africa being born with AIDS, an entire new generation of children with AIDS--(Why? Because their mother can't pay for a four-dollar dose of medicine.)--the United States of America is better than this. We're better than this. Our people are better than this. When we speak out against human rights abuses in China and other parts of the world, when we speak out, not just about...poverty in the United States of America, but poverty across the globe--half of our planet, three billion people, live on two dollars or less a day--the United States of America is better than this.
Where is America? Where is the America that all of us believe in? Raw power alone--if anything has been proven over the last few years, it is that raw power alone will not make you a leader. You have to actually have the moral authority to lead. If we want to lead, if we want to actually have the moral authority to lead, we cannot stand idly by and watch hundreds of thousands of people be slaughtered in Darfur, in western Sudan. We cannot stand idly by and see thousands of children born with AIDS every single day in Africa. We cannot stand idly by and watch half the planet live on two dollars or less a day. We are better than this. The United States of America is better than this.
Our purpose has to be to ignite the revolution of values that Dr. King dreamed about. And to build a culture of responsibility--our responsibility--our responsibility to speak out against unfairness and injustice--our responsibility to give voice to the millions in America who have no voice.
It has to start now--right now. Don't think that your only obligation to this country is to pick the next politician that you're going to vote for and hope that that politician's going to go to Washington, D.C. and solve this country's problems and solve the world's problems--it is a fantasy. It will never happen. You have to take action. You have to take responsibility. That's exactly what Dr. King was talking about 40 years ago from this pulpit. It is not okay to stand idly by. Silence is betrayal.
To solve these problems, we have got to counter apathy with action. We have to replace cynicism with service. We have to stop looking to others, and start looking to ourselves. To solve these problems, we have to break the silence. We need to break the silence about the extraordinarily deep divisions between the haves and the have-nots. We have to break the silence...about the millions of our own people who are trying every day just to survive. We need to break the silence about 46-47 million of our own people who are worried sick that if they wake up in the middle of the night with a sick four-year-old, they're going to have to go to the local emergency room and beg for health care. We need to break the silence about our country's addiction to fossil fuels and about the damaging effect that these greenhouse gases are having on God's gift to us, this green Earth.
These are the great moral imperatives of our time, and by breaking the silence about them we are not breaking faith with our country, with our flag, with our forefathers or with our brave men and women in uniform. We're not breaking faith; we're keeping faith. We're keeping faith with a nation that we believe in. We're keeping faith with our better angels. It is time. It is time, brothers and sisters, for America to be patriotic about something other than war.
It is time. In fact, patriotism is about refusing to support something that you know is wrong and having the courage to speak out with strength and passion and backbone for something you know is right. A true American patriot does not stand on the side and watch things occur in front of him. And I have to tell you, in the last couple of years, I have seen--actually, over my entire life--I have seen what happens when Americans do something, when you take responsibility, when you take action.
...I've been running a poverty center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill--proud of the work that we've done there--and I've been all across America...and it does break my heart to see this extraordinary division that still exists, the two Americas that I and others have talked about in the past, but I have to tell you, it is inspiring to see what Americans do when they take action.
I have seen, when ordinary Americans got tired of waiting for the Congress to finally raise the minimum wage in America, they organized, we raised money, we got ballot petitions signed, and in six states in this past election, we finally raised the minimum wage. Not only that. We have gone all across this country and organized workers into unions, so that they could have a voice--thousands and thousands of workers who were living in poverty. Now they're earning a decent wage, now they have health care coverage, now they have a pension. They have a chance at a decent life again. And by the way...on the day that Dr. King was shot and killed in Memphis, he was standing with sanitation workers, so that they could have a decent wage, so that they could have a decent life. I've seen it with an effort to make college available to kids who committed, if they went to college and we paid their tuition and books, they would work while they were there.
And here in New York, you saw it, when a 50-year-old construction worker, Wesley Autrey, refused to wait for someone else to rescue a young man who had fallen onto the subway tracks--knowing, I'm sure, at that moment, that in all likelihood he would lose his life. And I have to say to all of you, I asked myself, and I bet some of you did, would I have done it? Would I have done it?
In the end, it comes down to what Dr. King called life's most persistent and urgent question: what are you doing for others? What are we doing for others? What are we doing to strengthen this great nation of ours? What are we doing to give every American--every American--a chance at the blessings of this country? What are we doing so that America--Americans and America--can once again exist in a fair and just world?
In the end we know, all of us, that these are the only questions worth asking. Answering them is the only work worth doing. The world needs to see us doing it. The world needs to see that we understand that we have a responsibility not just to ourselves, but to humanity. The world needs to see our better angels. God bless the memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. God bless the memory of Coretta Scott King. And God bless all of you. Thank you very much.
The Hillary Clinton camp's comments in reply seem to have been inspired, the way I see it, by the excerpts released by Edwards which mention John McCain by name, seemingly opening things up to presidential politics as usual. But the speech as delivered by Edwards does not mention McCain, making Hillary look much worse for explicitly politicizing this speech than she already does for her unquestioning support of the President. Cool.