A community news source for residents of the HarriOak neighborhood in Oakland, CA.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Senator Barak Obama and Downtown Oakland

I wasn't going to vote for Obama but this speech changed my mind. At
one part, Obama makes remarks that are tailor-made for HarriOak:
"And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods -
parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage
pick-up and building code enforcement - all helped create a cycle of
violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us."

I love what this man is standing for, and I can't wait to help elect
him in November.

For video: http://www.moveon.org/r?r=3511&id=12333-632329-DNg66J&t=546

Philadelphia, PA | March 18, 2008
As Prepared for Delivery

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union."

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands
across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple
words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers
and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean
to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration
of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the
spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately
unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a
question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a
stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to
continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final
resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded
within our Constitution - a Constitution that had at its very core the
ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised
its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should
be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves
from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their
full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What
would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were
willing to do their part - through protests and struggle, on the
streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience
and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of
our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this
campaign - to continue the long march of those who came before us, a
march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more
prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment
in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the
challenges of our time unless we solve them together - unless we
perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories,
but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not
have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same
direction - towards a better future for our children and our

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and
generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own
American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.
I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a
Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white
grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth
while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in
America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married
to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and
slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters.
I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of
every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for
as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on
Earth is my story even possible.

It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But
it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that
this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we
are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to
the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this
message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through
a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some
of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where
the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of
African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At
various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me
either "too black" or "not black enough." We saw racial tensions
bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina
primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence
of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but
black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the
discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that
my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's
based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial
reconciliation on the cheap.

On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah
Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the
potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that
denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that
rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of
Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging
questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic
of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear
him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in
church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views?
Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your
pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply
controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to
speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a
profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white
racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above
all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts
in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart
allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful
ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive,
divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when
we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two
wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care
crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are
neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that
confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals,
there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation
are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first
place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that
if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those
sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You
Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the
caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that
I would react in much the same way.

But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met
more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my
Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love
one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man
who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured
at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and
who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by
doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering
to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison
ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of
my first service at Trinity:

"People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out,
a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the
rafters....And in that single note - hope! - I heard something else;
at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the
city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the
stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the
lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories - of survival,
and freedom, and hope - became our story, my story; the blood that had
spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church,
on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a
people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and
triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than
black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a
means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame
about...memories that all people might study and cherish - and with
which we could start to rebuild."

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black
churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in
its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and
the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services
are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full
of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to
the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and
cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the
struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias
that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright.
As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He
strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my
children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk
about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom
he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains
within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the
community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can
no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who
helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a
woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a
woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on
the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or
ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this
country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that
are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the
politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just
hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright
as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine
Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some
deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to
ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend
Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and
stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that
have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race
in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our
union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we
simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to
come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or
the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at
this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and
buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here
the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to
remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the
African-American community today can be directly traced to
inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under
the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't
fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the
inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the
pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through
violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to
African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access
FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police
force, or fire departments - meant that black families could not amass
any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history
helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and
the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of
today's urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and
frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family,
contributed to the erosion of black families - a problem that welfare
policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic
services in so many urban black neighborhoods - parks for kids to play
in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code
enforcement - all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and
neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other
African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the
late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the
law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's
remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but
rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to
make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of
the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who
were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination.
That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those
young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street
corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for
the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race,
and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways.
For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of
humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger
and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in
public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does
find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times,
that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial
lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in
the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised
to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds
us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life
occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed,
all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it
keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and
prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it
needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is
powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without
understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of
misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white
community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel
that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their
experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned,
no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've
worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped
overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are
anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in
an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to
be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense.
So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town;
when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in
landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice
that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their
fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced,
resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't
always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the
political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and
affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians
routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk
show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers
unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate
discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political
correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these
white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the
middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing,
questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington
dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that
favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of
white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without
recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens
the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been
stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics,
black and white, I have never been so naive as to believe that we can
get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a
single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my
faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working
together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in
fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more
perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the
burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means
continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of
American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances -
for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the
larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to
break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the
immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full
responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and
spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and
teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination
in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism;
they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American - and yes, conservative -
notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's
sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is
that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that
society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke
about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was
static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a
country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run
for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and
black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still
irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have
seen - is that America can change. That is the true genius of this
nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to
hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means
acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not
just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of
discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less
overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with
words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our
communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness
in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with
ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations.
It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to
come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health,
welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will
ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing
less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do
unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's
keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find
that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics
reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that
breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only
as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy,
as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly
news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every
day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only
question in this campaign whether or not the American people think
that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We
can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's
playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will
all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be
talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then
another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come
together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the
crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and
white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native
American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells
us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us
are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those
kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a
21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room
are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health
care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special
interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided
a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale
that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region,
every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the
real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take
your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas
for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and
creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under
the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from
a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been
waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by
caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they
have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my
heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this
country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after
generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today,
whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this
possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the
young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have
already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I'd like to leave you with
today - a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr.
King's birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia
who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had
been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the
beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable
discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they
were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got
cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and
lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when
Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so
Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really
wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish
sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told
everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was
so that she could help the millions of other children in the country
who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told
her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks
who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming
into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in
her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and
asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have
different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And
finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there
quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he
does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the
economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he
was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the
room, "I am here because of Ashley."

"I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of
recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is
not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs
to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as
so many generations have come to realize over the course of the
two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that
document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

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