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Common Ground And Common Sense
Jesse Jackson

Democratic National Convention, Atlanta, Georgia, July 20, 1988 (Transcribed from the video, GREAT SPEECHES, VOLUME VII)

{Tonight} we pause and give praise and honor to God for being good enough to allow us to be at this place at this time. When I look out at this convention, I see the face of America, red, yellow, brown, black and white, we're all precious in God's sight­the real rainbow coalition. All of us all of us who are here think that we are seated. But we're really standing on someone's shoulders. Ladies and gentlemen, Mrs. Rosa Parks. The mother of the civil rights movement.

I want to express my deep love and appreciation for the support my family has given me over these past months. They have endured pain, anxiety, threat and fear. But they have been strengthened and made secure by a faith in God, in America and in you. Your love has protected us and made us strong. To my wife, Jackie, the foundation of our family; to our five children whom you met tonight; to my mother, Mrs. Helen Jackson, who is present tonight; and to my grandmother, Mrs. Maltilda Burns; my brother, Chuck, and his family; my mother-in-law, Mrs. Gertrude Brown, who just last month at age 61 graduated from Hampton Institute, a marvelous achievement; I offer my appreciation to Mayor Andrew Young who has provided such gracious hospitality to all of us this week.

And a special salute to President Jimmy Carter. President CarterPresident Carter restored honor to the White House after Watergate. He gave many of us a special opportunity to grow. For his kind words, for his unwavering commitment to peace in the world and for the voters that came from his family, every member of his family, led by Billy and Amy, I offer my special thanks to the Carter family.

My right and my privilege to stand here before you has been wonwon­in my lifetime­by the blood and the sweat of the innocent. Twenty-four years ago, the late Fanny Lou Hamer and Aaron Henry­who sits here tonight from Mississippi­were locked out onto the streets of Atlantic City, the head of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. But tonight, a black and white delegation from Mississippi is headed by Ed Cole, a black man, from Mississippi, 24 years later.

Many were lost in the struggle for the right to vote. Jimmy Lee Jackson, a young student, gave his life. Viola Luizzo, a white mother from Detroit, called nigger lover, and brains blown out at point blank range. Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney­two Jews and a black ­found in a common grave, bodies riddled with bullets in Mississippi. The four darling little girls in the church in Birmingham, Alabama. They died that we might have a right to live. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lies only a few miles from us tonight. Tonight he must feel good as he looks down upon us. We sit here together, a rainbow, a coalition­the sons and daughters of slave masters and the sons and daughters of slaves sitting together around a common table, to decide the direction of our party and our country. His heart would be full tonight.

As a testament to the struggles of those who have gone before; as a legacy to those who have come after; as a tribute to the endurance, the patience, the courage of our forefathers and mothers; as an assurance that their prayers are being answered that their work has not been in vain and hope is eternal; tomorrow night my name will go in nomination for the Presidency of the United States of America.

We meet tonight at the crossroads, a point of decision. Shall we expand, be inclusive, find unity and power or suffer division and impotence? We come to Atlanta, the cradle of the Old South, the crucible of the New South. Tonight there is a sense of celebration because we are moved­fundamentally moved from racial battlegrounds by law to economic common ground. Tomorrow we'll challenge to move to higher ground, common ground.

Think of Jerusalem, the intersection where many trails met, a small village that became the birthplace for three great religions­Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Why was this village so blessed? Because it provided a crossroads for [sic] different people met, different cultures, different civilizations could meet and find common ground. When people come together flowers always flourish. The air is rich with the aroma of a new spring.

Take New York, the dynamic metropolis. What makes New York so special? It's the invitation at the Statue of Liberty "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses who yearn to breathe free. Not restricted to England only, many people, many cultures, many languages with one thing in common, they yearn to breathe free, common ground.

Tonight in Atlanta, for the first time in this century we convene in the South. A state where governors once stood in schoolhouse doors; where Julian Bond was denied his seat in the state legislature because of his conscientious objection to the Vietnam war. A city that through its five black universities has graduated more black students than any city in the world. Atlanta, now a modern intersection of the New South.

Common ground, that's the challenge of our party tonight. Left wing, right wing, progress will not come through boundless liberalliberal [sic] liberalism, nor static conservatism, but at the critical mass of mutual survivalnot at boundless liberalism nor static conservatism, but at the critical mass of mutual survival. It takes two wings to fly whether you're a hawk or a dove, you're just a bird living in the same environment in the same world. The Bible teaches that when lions and lambs be down together, none will be afraid and there will be peace in the valley. It sounds impossible. Lions eat lambs. Lambs sensibly flee from lions. Yet even lions and lambs find common ground. Why? Because neither lions nor lambs want the forest to catch on fire. Neither lions nor lambs want acid rain to fall. Neither lions nor lambs can survive nuclear war. If lions and lambs can find common ground surely we can as well as civilized people.

The only time that we win is when we come together. In 1960, John Kennedy, the late John Kennedy, beat Richard Nixon by only 112,000 votes, less than one vote per precinct. He won by the margin of our hope. He brought us together, he reached out. He had the courage to defy his advisors and inquire about Dr. King's jailing in Albany, Georgia. We won by the margin of our hope, inspired by courageous leadership. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson brought both wings together. The thesis, the antithesis and the creative synthesis and together we won. In 1976, Jimmy Carter unified us again and we won. When we do not come together we never win. In 1968, division and despair in July led to our defeat in November. In 1980, rancor in the spring and the summer led to Reagan in the fall. When we divide we cannot win. We must find common ground as a basis for survival and development and change and growth.

Today when we debated, differed, deliberated, agreed to agree, agreed to disagree, when we had the good judgment to argue a case and did not self destruct, George Bush was just a little further away from the White House and a little closer to private life.

Tonight I salute Governor Michael Dukakis, he has runhe has run a well managed and a dignified campaign. No matter how tired or how tried he always resisted the temptation to stoop to demagoguery. I've watched a good mind fast at work and steel nerves guiding his campaign out of the crowded field without appeal to the worst in us. I've watched his perspective grow as his environment has expanded. I've seen his toughness and tenacity close up. Know his commitment to public service. Mike Dukakis' parents were a doctor and a teacher. My parents, a maid, a beautician and a janitor. There's a great gap between Brookline, Massachusetts and Haney Street, the Fieldcrest Village Housing Projects in Greenville, South Carolina. He studied law, I studied theology. There are differences of religion, region and race, differences in experiences and perspectives, but the genius of America is that out of the many we become one. Providence has enabled our paths to intersect. His forebears came to America on immigrant ships. My foreparents [sic] came to America on slave ships, but whatever the original ships we're in the same boat tonight. Our ships could pass in the night if we have the false sense of independence or they could collide and crash. We would lose our passengers. We can seek a higher reality and a greater good. Apart we can drift on the broken pieces of Reaganomics, satisfy our baser instincts and exploit the fears of our people. At our highest, we can call upon noble instincts and navigate this vessel to safety.

The greater good is the common good. As Jesus said, "Not my will, but thine be done." It was his way of saying there's a higher good beyond personal comfort or position. The good of our nation is at stake. Its commitment to working men and women, to the poor and the vulnerable, to the many in the world. With so many guided missiles and so much misguided leadership the stakes are exceedingly high. Our choice, full participation in a democratic government or more abandonment and neglect. And so this night, we choose not a false sense of independence, not our capacity to survive and endure. Tonight we choose interdependency and our capacity to act and unite for the greater good.

Common good is finding commitment and new priorities to expansion and inclusion. A commitment to expanded participation in the Democratic party at every level. A commitment to a shared national campaign strategy and involvement at every level. A commitment to new priorities that ensure that hope will be kept alive. A common ground commitment to a legislative agenda for empowerment for the John Connor's bill­universal, on site, same day registration everywhere. A commitment to D.C. statehood and empowerment. D.C. deserves statehood. A commitment to economic set-asides. A commitment to the Dellam's bill for comprehensive sanctions against South Africa. A shared commitment to a common direction, common ground; easier said than done.

Where do you find common ground at the point of challenge? This campaign has shown that politics need not be marketed by politicians, packaged by pollsters and pundits. Politics can be [sic] moral arena where people come together to find common ground. We find common ground at the plant gate that closes on workers without notice. We find common ground at the farm auction where a good farmer loses his or her land to bad loans or diminishing markets. Common ground at the school yard where teachers cannot get adequate pay and students cannot get a scholarship and can't make a loan. Common ground at the hospital admitting room where somebody tonight is dying because they cannot afford to go upstairs to a bed that's empty waiting for someone with insurance to get sick. We are a better nation than that. Common ground.

What is leadership if not present help in a time of crisis? And so I met you at the point of challenge: in Jay, Maine where paperworkers were striking for fair wages; in Greenville, Iowa where family farmers struggled for a fair price; in Cleveland, Ohio where working women seek comparable worth; in McFarland, California where the children of Hispanic farm workers may be dying from poisoned land­dying in clusters with cancer; in AIDS hospice in Houston, Texas where the sick support one another, where they've been rejected by their own parents and friends. Common ground.

America is not a blanket woven from one thread, color, one cloth. When I was a child growing up in Greenville, South Carolina and Grandmama could not afford a blanket she didn't complain and we did not freeze. Instead she took pieces of old cloth­patches; wool, silk, gabardine croca sack. Only patches barely good enough to wipe off your shoes with, but they didn't stay that way very long. With sturdy hands and a strong cord she sewed them together into a quilt­a thing of beauty and power and culture.

Now, Democrats, we must build such a quilt. Farmers, you seek fair prices and you are right, but you cannot stand alone. Your patch is not big enough. Workers, you fight for fair wages, you're right, but your patch, labor, is not big enough. Women, you seek comparable worth and pay equity, you're right, but your patch is not big enough. Women, mothers who seek Headstart and day care and pre-natal care on the front side of life rather than jail care and welfare on the back side of life, you're right, but your patch is not big enough. Students, you seek scholarships, you're right, but your patch is not big enough. Blacks and Hispanics, when we fight for civil rights we are right, but our patch is not big enough. Gays and lesbians, when you fight against discrimination and a cure for AIDS, you're right, but your patch is not big enough. Conservatives and progressives, when you fight for what you believe­right wing, left wing, hawk, dove­you're right from your point of view, but your point of view is not enough. But don't despair, be as wise as my grandmama. Pull the patches and the pieces together­bound by a common thread. When we form a great quilt of unity and common ground we'll have the power to bring about health care and housing and jobs and education and hope to our nation.

We the people can win. We stand at the end of a long dark night of reaction. We stand tonight united in the commitment to a new direction. For almost eight years, we've been led by those who view social good coming from private interests, who view public life as a means to increase private wealth. They've been prepared to sacrifice the common good of the many to satisfy the private interest and the wealth of a few. We believe in a government that's a tool of our democracy in service to the public, not an instrument of the aristocracy in search of private wealth. We believe in government with the consent of the governed­of, for and by the people.

We must then emerge into a new day with a new direction. Reaganomics, based on the belief that the rich had too much moneytoo little money and the poor had too much. That's classic Reaganomics. They believe that the poor had too much money and the rich had too little money so they engaged in reverse Robin Hood­took from the poor, gave the rich, paid for by the middle class. We cannot stand four more years of Reaganomics in any version, in any disguise.

How do I document that case? Seven years later, the richest one percent of our society pays twenty percent less in taxes, the poorest ten percent pay twenty percent more­Reaganomics. Reagan gave the rich and the powerful a multi-billion dollar party. Now the party is over. He expects the people to pay for the damage. I take this principal position, convention, let us not raise taxes on the poor and the middle class, but those who had the party, the rich and the powerful, must pay for the party.

I just want to take common sense to high places. We're spending 150 billion dollars a year defending Europe and Japan 43 years after the war is over. We have more troops in Europe tonight than we had seven years ago. Yet the threat of war is ever more remote. Germany and Japan are now creditor nations. That means they [sic] got a surplus. We are a debtor nation, means we are in debt. Let them share more of the burden of their own defense. Use some of that money to build decent housing. Use some of that money to educate our children. Use some of that money for long-term health care. Use some of that money to wipe out these slums and put America back to work.

I just want to take common sense to high places. If we can bail out Europe and Japan, if we can bail out Continental Bank and Chrysler and Mr. Iacocca make [sic] eight thousand dollars a hour, we can bail out the family farmer.

I just want to make common sense. It does not make sense to close down 650,000 family farms in this country while importing food from abroad, subsidized by the U.S. government. Let's make sense. It does not make sense to be escorting oil tankers up and down the Persian Gulf, paying $2.50 for every $1.00 worth of oil we bring out while oil wells are capped in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. I just want to make sense.

Leadership must meet the moral challenge of its day. What's the moral challenge of our day? We have public accommodations. We have the right to vote. We have open housing. What's the fundamental challenge of our day? It is to end economic violence. Plant closing without notice, economic violence. Even the greedy do not profit long from greed. Economic violence. Most poor people are not lazy. They're not black. They're not brown. They're mostly white and female and young. But whether white, black or brown, a hungry baby's belly turned inside out is the same color. Color it pain. Color it hurt. Color it agony. Most poor people are not on welfare.

Some of them are illiterate and can't read the want-ad sections. And when they can, they can't find a job that matches their address. They work hard every day, I know. I live amongst them. I'm one of them. I know they work. I'm a witness. They catch the early bus. They work every day. They raise other people's children. They work every day. They clean the streets. They work every day. They drive dangerous cabs. They work every day. They change the beds you slept in in these hotels last night and can't get a union contract. They work every day.

No more. They're not lazy. Someone must defend them because it's right, and they cannot speak for themselves. They work in hospitals. I know they do. They wipe the bodies of those who are sick with fever and pain. They empty their bedpans. They clean out their commode. No job is beneath them, and yet when they get sick, they cannot lie in the bed they made up every day. America, that is not right. We are a better nation than that. We are a better nation than that.

We need a real war on drugs. You can't just say no. It's deeper than that. You can't just get a palm reader or an astrologer; it's more profound than that. We're spending $150 billion on drugs a year. We've gone from ignoring it to focusing on the children. Children cannot buy $150 billion worth of drugs a year. A few high profile athletes­athletes are not laundering $150 billion a year­bankers are. I met the children in Watts who unfortunately in their despair, their grapes of hope have become raisins of despair, and they're turning on each other and they're self-destructing­but I stayed with them all night long. I wanted to hear their case. The said, "Jesse Jackson, as you challenge us to say no to drugs, you're right. And to not sell them, you're right. And to not use these guns, you're right." And, by the way, the promise of CETA­they displaced CETA. They did not replace CETA. We have neither jobs nor houses nor services nor training­no way out. Some of us take drugs as anesthesia for our pain. Some take drugs as a way of pleasure­both short-term pleasure and long-term pain. Some sell drugs to make money. It's wrong, we know, but you need to know that we know. We can go and buy the drugs by the boxes at the port. If we can buy the drugs at the port, don't you believe the federal government can stop it if they want to?

They say, "We don't have Saturday night specials any more." They say, "We buy AK-47s and Uzis, the latest lethal weapons. We buy them across the counter on Long Beach Boulevard." You cannot fight a war on drugs unless and until you gonna [sic] to challenge the bankers and the gun sellers and those who grow them. Don't just focus on the children, let's stop drugs at the level of supply and demand. We must end the scourge on the American culture.

Leadership. What difference will we make? Leadership cannot just go along to get along. We must do more than change presidents. We must change direction. Leadership must face the moral challenge of our day. The nuclear war build-up is irrational. Strong leadership cannot desire to look tough, and let that stand in the way of the pursuit of peace. Leadership must reverse the arms race. At least we should pledge no first use. Why? Because first use begats first retaliation, and that's mutual annihilation. That's not a rational way out. No use at all­let's think it out, and not fight it out, because it's an unwinnable fight. Why hold a card that you can never drop? Let's give peace a change.

Leadership­we now have this marvelous opportunity to have a breakthrough with the Soviets. Last year, 200,000 Americans visited the Soviet Union. There's a chance for joint ventures into space, not Star Wars and the war arms escalation, but a space defense initiative. Let's build in space together, and demilitarize the heavens. There's a way out.

America, let us expand. When Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev met, there was a big meeting. They represented together one-eighth of the human race. Seven-eighths of the human race was locked out of that room. Most people in the world tonight­half are Asian, one-half of them are Chinese. There are 22 nations in the Middle East. There's Europe; 40 million Latin Americans next door to us; the Caribbean; Africa­a half-billion people. Most people in the world today are yellow or brown or black, non-Christian, poor, female, young, and don't speak English­in the real world. This generation must offer leadership to the real world. We're losing ground in Latin America, the Middle East, South Africa, because we're not focusing on the real world, that real world. We must use basic principles, support international law. We stand the most to gain from it. Support human rights; we believe in that. Support self-determination; we'll build on that. Support economic development; you know it's right. Be consistent, and gain our moral authority in the world.

I challenge you tonight, my friends, let's be bigger and better as a nation and as a party. We have basic challenges. Freedom in South Africa­we've already agreed as Democrats to declare South Africa to be a terrorist state. But don't just stop there. Get South Africa out of Angola. Free Namibia. Support the front-line states. We must have a new, humane human rights assistance policy in Africa.

I'm often asked, "Jesse, why do you take on these tough issues? They're not very political. We can't win that way." If an issue is morally right, it will eventually be political. It may be political and never be right. Fannie Lou Hamer didn't have the most votes in Atlantic City, but her principles have outlasted every delegate who voted to lock her out. Rosa Parks did not have the most votes, but she was morally right. Dr. King didn't have the most votes about the Vietnam war, but he was morally right. If we're principled first, our politics will fall in place.

"Jesse, why did you take these big bold initiatives?" A poem by an unknown author went something like this:

We mastered the air, we've conquered the sea,

Annihilated distance and prolonged life,

We were not wise enough to live on this earth

Without war and without hate.

(As for Jesse Jackson,)

I'm tired of sailing my little boat,

Far inside the harbor bar.

I want to go out where the big ships float,

Out on the deep where the great ones are.

And should my frail craft prove too slight,

The waves that sweep those billows o'er.

I'd rather go down in the stirring fight,

Than drown to death in the sheltered shore.

We've got to go out, my friends, where the big boats are. And then, for our children, young America, hold your head high now.

We can win. We must not lose you to drugs and violence, premature pregnancy, suicide, cynicism, pessimism and despair. We can win. Wherever you are tonight, I challenge you to hope and to dream. Don't submerge your dreams. Exercise above all else, even on drugs, dream of the day you're drug-free. Even in the gutter, dream of the day that you'll be up on your feet again. You must never stop dreaming. Face reality, yes. But don't stop with the way things are; dream of things as they ought to be. Dream. Face pain, but love, hope, faith, and dreams will help you rise above the pain. Use hope and imagination as weapons of survival and progress, but you keep on dreaming, young America. Dream of peace. Peace is rational and reasonable. War is irrationable [sic] in this age and unwinnable.

Dream of teachers who teach for life and not for living. Dream of doctors who are concerned more about public health than private wealth. Dream of lawyers more concerned about justice than a judgeship. Dream of preachers who are concerned more about prophecy than profiteering. Dream on the high road of sound values.

And in America, as we go forth to September, October and November and then beyond, America must never surrender to a high moral challenge. Do not surrender to drugs. The best drug policy is a no first use. Don't surrender with needles and cynicism. Let's have no first use on the one hand, or clinics on the other. Never surrender, young America. Go forward. America must never surrender to malnutrition. We can feed the hungry and clothe the naked. We must never surrender. We must go forward. We must never surrender to illiteracy. Invest in our children. Never surrender; and go forward. We must never surrender to inequality. Women cannot compromise ERA or comparable worth. Women are making 60 cents on the dollar to what a man makes. Women cannot buy meat cheaper. Women cannot buy bread cheaper. Women cannot buy milk cheaper. Women deserve to get paid for the work that you do. It's right and it's fair.

Don't surrender, my friends. Those who have AIDS tonight, you deserve our compassion. Even with AIDS you must not surrender in your wheelchairs. I see you sitting here tonight in those wheelchairs. I've stayed with you. I've reached out to you across our nation. Don't you give up. I know it's tough sometimes. People look down on you. It took you a little more effort to get here tonight. And no one should look down on you, but sometimes mean people do. The only justification we have for looking down on someone is that we're going to stop and pick them up. But even in your wheelchairs, don't you give up. We cannot forget 50 years ago when our backs were against the wall, Roosevelt was in a wheelchair. I would rather have Roosevelt in a wheelchair than Reagan and Bush on a horse. Don't you surrender and don't you give up. Don't surrender and don't give up.

Why can I challenge you this way? "Jesse Jackson, you don't understand my situation. You be on television. You don't understand. I see you with the big people. You don'tyou don't understand my situation." I understand. You see me on TV but you don't know the me that makes me, me. They wonder why does Jesse run, because they see me running for the White House. They don't see the house I'm running from. I have a story. I wasn't always on television. Writers were not always outside my door. When I was born late one afternoon, October 8th, in Greenville, S.C., no writers asked my mother her name. Nobody chose to write down our address. My mama was not supposed to make it. And I was not supposed to make it. You see, I was born to a teen-age mother who was born to a teen-age mother.

I understand. I know abandonment and people being mean to you, and saying you're nothing and nobody, and can never be anything. I understand. Jesse Jackson is my third name. I'm adopted. When I had no name, my grandmother gave me her name. My name was Jesse Burns until I was 12. So I wouldn't have a blank space, she gave me a name to hold me over. I understand when nobody knows your name. I understand when you have no name. I understand. I wasn't born in the hospital. Mama didn't have insurance. I was born in the bed at house [sic]. I really do understand. Born in a three-room house, bathroom in the backyard, slop jar by the bed, no hot and cold running water. I understand. Wallpaper used for decoration? No. For a windbreaker. I understand. I'm a working person's person, that's why I understand you whether you're black or white. I understand work. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I had a shovel programmed for my hand. My mother, a working woman. So many days she went to work early with runs in her stockings. She knew better, but she wore runs in her stockings so that my brother and I could have matching socks and not be laughed at at school. I understand. At 3 o'clock on Thanksgiving Day we couldn't eat turkey because mama was preparing someone else's turkey at 3 o'clock. We had to play football to entertain ourselves and then around 6 o'clock she would get off the Alta Vista bus; and we would bring up the leftovers and eat our turkey­leftovers, the carcass, the cranberries around 8 o'clock at night. I really do understand.

Every one of these funny labels they put on you, those of you who are watching this broadcast tonight in the projects, on the corners, I understand. Call you outcast, low down, you can't make it, you're nothing, you're from nobody, subclass, underclass­when you see Jesse Jackson, when my name goes in nomination, your name goes in nomination. I was born in the slum, but the slum was not born in me. And it wasn't born in you, and you can make it. Wherever you are tonight you can make it. Hold your head high, stick your chest out. You can make it. It gets dark sometimes, but the morning comes. Don't you surrender. Suffering breeds character. Character breeds faith. In the end faith will not disappoint. You must not surrender. You may or may not get there, but just know that you're qualified and you hold on and hold out. We must never surrender. America will get better and better. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. Keep hope alive. On tomorrow night and beyond, keep hope alive.

I love you very much. I love you very much.