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Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

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What Dr. King's Speech Might Have Sounded Like Today

Posted: 08/05/11 04:20 PM ET

Introduction
Tonight, or in the very near future, I want everyone within the sound of my voice to read or re-read 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 have often thought: "I wonder what Dr. King's speech would sound like if he were to give it today?"

Well I'm not presumptuous enough to pretend that I know what he would say.

I don't.

But I thought it would be challenging and interesting to go through his speech -- change as little as possible -- but insert today's circumstances and my own thoughts of how I think Dr. King's speech might have sounded if he were to give it today -- so that's what I propose to do tonight.

And I thought it would be especially appropriate to give it tonight -- in light of the budget cutting deal, the bounced check and insufficient funds deal -- that was passed today in Congress.

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

I make no pretense that my paraphrased version of Dr. King's speech does his original version justice -- but the following is my paraphrased version of that speech after reflecting on today's budget deal.

Paraphrasing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have A Dream Speech"
(Or What Dr. King's Speech Might Have Sounded Like If Given In 2011)

[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 Right to Vote]

I would have been happy today to join with those willing to take a balanced approach of budget cuts and revenue enhancements to bring about the greatest deficit 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 great 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 two hundred and twenty-four years later, the American people are not free of deficits and debt.mTwo hundred and 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 and 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 and 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 its 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 quick-sands 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 the moment. This sweltering summer of American's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of jobs and equality. Twenty-eleven (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 all 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 to 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 having jobs.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the 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 is leaving them uncompetitive in a new world market. We can never be satisfied as long as our health care system is ranked thirty-seventh 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 in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, with its wicked unemployment and suffering families -- one day right there in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana all families will be able to enjoy full employment, social and economic justice, and all will be able to join hands as sisters and brothers.

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 everyday.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of deficits and debt a stone of economic hope and justice. 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 ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom and a public education of equal high quality for all of America's children ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom 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 and safe, sanitary and affordable housing ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom and equal rights for women, 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 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 we allow freedom, full employment, social and economic justice to ring; and when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and women, white men and women, Jews, Gentiles and Muslims, Protestants and Catholics, gays and straights, those who are whole and those who are disabled, 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.

Closing

I want to remind everyone that I just finished giving my paraphrased version of what I thought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have A Dream" speech might have been like if he had given it today -- especially in light of the budget cutting, insufficient funds and bounced check deal that Congress just passed today.

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 everyone to read or re-read Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech at your earliest convenience.

And I yield back my time.