Selma Voting Rights March Commemoration Selma, AL March 04, 2007 Barack Obama
“You know, several weeks ago, after I had announced that I was running for the Presidency of the United States, I stood in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois; where Abraham Lincoln delivered his speech declaring, drawing in scripture, that a house divided against itself could not stand. And I stood and I announced that I was running for the presidency. And there were a lot of commentators, as they are prone to do, who questioned the audacity of a young man like myself, haven’t been in Washington too long. […] But I got a letter from a friend of some of yours named Reverend Otis Moss Jr. in Cleveland[…] giving me encouragement and saying how proud he was that I had announced and encouraging me to stay true to my ideals and my values and not to be fearful. And he said, if there’s some folks out there who are questioning whether or not you should run, just tell them to look at the story of Joshua because you’re part of the Joshua generation. So I just want to talk a little about Moses and Aaron and Joshua, because we are in the presence today of a lot of Moseses. We’re in the presence today of giants whose shoulders we stand on, people who battled, not just on behalf of African Americans but on behalf of all of America; that battled for America’s soul, that shed blood , that endured taunts and formant and in some cases gave — torment and in some cases gave the full measure of their devotion. Like Moses, they challenged Pharaoh, the princes, powers who said that some are atop and others are at the bottom, and that’s how it’s always going to be. […] Thank God, He’s made us in His image and we reject the notion that we will for the rest of our lives be confined to a station of inferiority, that we can’t aspire to the highest of heights, that our talents can’t be expressed to their fullest. And so because of what they endured, because of what they marched; they led a people out of bondage. They took them across the sea that folks thought could not be parted. They wandered through a desert but always knowing that God was with them and that, if they maintained that trust in God, that they would be all right. And it’s because they marched that the next generation hasn’t been bloodied so much. […] If you want to change the world, the change has to happen with you first and that is something that the greatest and most honorable of generations has taught us, but the final thing that I think the Moses generation teaches us is to remind ourselves that we do what we do because God is with us. You know, when Moses was first called to lead people out of the Promised Land, he said I don’t think I can do it, Lord. I don’t speak like Reverend Lowery. I don’t feel brave and courageous and the Lord said I will be with you. Throw down that rod. Pick it back up. I’ll show you what to do. The same thing happened with the Joshua generation. Joshua said, you know, I’m scared. I’m not sure that I am up to the challenge, the Lord said to him, every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon, I have given you. Be strong and have courage, for I am with you wherever you go. Be strong and have courage. It’s a prayer for a journey. A prayer that kept a woman in her seat when the bus driver told her to get up, a prayer that led nine children through the doors of the little rock school, a prayer that carried our brothers and sisters over a bridge right here in Selma, Alabama. Be strong and have courage. When you see row and row of state trooper facing you, the horses and the tear gas, how else can you walk? Towards them, unarmed, unafraid. When they come start beating your friends and neighbors, how else can you simply kneel down, bow your head and ask the Lord for salvation? When you see heads gashed open and eyes burning and children lying hurt on the side of the road, when you are John Lewis and you’ve been beaten within an inch of your life on Sunday, how do you wake up Monday and keep on marching? Be strong and have courage, for I am with you wherever you go. We’ve come a long way in this journey, but we still have a long way to travel. We traveled because God was with us. It’s not how far we’ve come. That bridge outside was crossed by blacks and whites, northerners and southerners, teenagers and children, the beloved community of God’s children, they wanted to take those steps together, but it was left to the Joshua’s to finish the journey Moses had begun and today we’re called to be the Joshua’s of our time, to be the generation that finds our way across this river. There will be days when the water seems wide and the journey too far, but in those moments, we must remember that throughout our history, there has been a running thread of ideals that have guided our travels and pushed us forward, even when they’re just beyond our reach, liberty in the face of tyranny, opportunity where there was none and hope over the most crushing despair. Those ideals and values beckon us still and when we have our doubts and our fears, just like Joshua did, when the road looks too long and it seems like we may lose our way, remember what these people did on that bridge. Keep in your heart the prayer of that journey, the prayer that God gave to Joshua. Be strong and have courage in the face of injustice. Be strong and have courage in the face of prejudice and hatred, in the face of joblessness and helplessness and hopelessness. Be strong and have courage, brothers and sisters, those who are gathered here today, in the face of our doubts and fears, in the face of skepticism, in the face of cynicism, in the face of a mighty river. Be strong and have courage and let us cross over that Promised Land together. Thank you so much everybody. God bless you.” hmmm… I am certain that Barack Obama will face another onslaught of criticism because of yesterday’s speech but I for one was moved to excitement as I listened to this politician stand behind a pulpit and ask the spirit to move him before delivering this message. He has faced such disdain for his naivety and idealism from his more seasoned counterparts. They listen to his speeches and sift through his platform believing there is nothing but overreaching dreams without substance to back them up. Cynicism has such a tight grip on the throat of our government that we won’t allow ourselves to pass that one breath of fresh air. This is not some green young man spouting out lofty and foolish ideals. He is intelligent and introspective (a quality some politicians seem to fear in themselves; most likely due to what they might discover). He proposes solutions and invites challenges. He calls both the people and the government to recognize their faults and their possibilities. If one were being rash they might accuse him of being a politician who rides the fence; unwilling to lay blame for fear he might find himself on the wrong side come a fallout. As you read his book and listen to his speeches you’ll begin to identify something entirely different. People can be wary of someone who does not dig his heels into the sand and prepare to fight to the death the people who are in opposition of his own views. In this case: those who fault our government for the state of our country and consider it their responsibility to restore it and those who feel the blame and responsibility lies with the people that government serves. In the midst of all these people whose lens only shows them the black and the white Obama is working his way through the grays, the blues, and the yellows. He sees the myriad of situations and is attempting to award each the consideration it deserves. This may be a case of those who oversimplify by only seeing the world through the major picture and those who fixate on the minute details. In this speech (which I suggest reading in its entirety; try http://www.barackobama.com) as in many of his other speeches Obama considers both the macro and the micro views of the issues facing our country. He reviews the arguments behind education and health while humanizing it with recognition of the individual people these national issues affect. “A hope gap. A hope gap that still pervades too many communities all across the country and right here in Alabama. So the question is, then, what are we, the Joshua generation, doing to close those gaps? Are we doing every single thing that we can do in Congress in order to make sure that early education is adequately funded and making sure that we are raising the minimum wage so people can have dignity and respect? Are we ensuring that, if somebody loses a job, that they’re getting retrained? And that, if they’ve lost their health care and pension, somebody is there to help them get back on their feet? Are we making sure we’re giving a second chance to those who have strayed and gone to prison but want to start a new life? Government alone can’t solve all those problems, but government can help. It’s the responsibility of the Joshua generation to make sure that we have a government that is as responsive as the need that exists all across America. That brings me to one other point, about the Joshua generation, and that is this — that it’s not enough just to ask what the government can do for us– it’s important for us to ask what we can do for ourselves.” There is no question that this man will have to face his own faults and shortcomings as he works for an opportunity to lead this country. Still, when a government as weary as ours is offered a chance to have new life breathed into it we should allow it to pervade us for as long as possible. We have been viewing the same issues through the same lenses for too long. Our sight is so blind from the tarnish that we can not properly see what lies before us. It would do us well to take the lessons and wisdom granted us by a Moses generation and marry it with the idealism and freshness of a Joshua generation in order to fully recognize our dreams. Seeing that happen is a time to get excited.