It started with one of the most profound dreams mankind has ever had. The dream that we are all "equal". That every person should have an equal opportunity to pursue "happiness". That we should be governed by ourselves and not by Kings. The words were written into our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And the first President stepped down after two terms rather than be crowned a King. And the first two parties fought it out but respected the will of the voters and Jefferson followed Adams and said "We are all Republicans. We are all Federalists." And then, each step of the way, the dream was both realized and betrayed. Betrayed in the fact of slavery with us from the very beginning. Betrayed by the genocide against the original inhabitants of this land. Betrayed by the 3/5th compromise which said that slaves were 3/5th of a man.
But the dream was realized in the 1820s when for the first time (white) men without property could vote. And waves of immigrants from around the world came and made this their home and made better lives and changed the country. And in the 1840s men and women from New England realized the dream by advocating for the abolition of slavery. William Lloyd Garrison was dragged through the streets of Boston by the angry mob, the forefathers and mothers of those who shout hateful slogans at rallies today. He said "My country is the world, all mankind are my countrymen." He was a "real American". And the Civil War was fought, 700,000 people died and in the nation took a step forward toward realizing its dream. Not a dream for black people (this misses the point of the dream) but for all people.
The Heartbreaking American Journey took Lincoln's life, the first of many martyrs. And in the aftermath of the Civil War the dream was betrayed as the KKK rode through the night and men were hung from trees and Jim Crow was instituted and the nation lost its way.
And still millions of immigrants came and made this their home and found a better life, the dream being realized as it was being betrayed. A statute was placed in the harbor, holding a torch, welcoming people to a new world.
And there were great social movements for farmers and factory workers, the union movement, the Populists. The idea was born that the government could guaranty an income for people when they were old so that people did not die in poverty. The idea that children should not work in factories, that people should be paid a minimum wage, that working hours should be limited. The idea that rich people should pay a greater share of income taxes. (And we have to fight that battle again and again.) After decades of struggle, with opponents calling these ideas "socialism", these ideas were accepted, passed into law.
And in 1920 women got the vote. The idea that women were equal to men gradually came to be accepted, not without a struggle. The dream being realized. And in 2008 a woman running for President received 11 million votes.
The economy collapsed in the 1920s along with idea of an "unregulated market" and FDR rescued capitalism with the New Deal. The government was put on the side of the "common man."
In the 1950s and 1960s the Civil Rights Movement began and legalized segregation was overthrown after many people gave their lives. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to what is best in this country, to the dream. But the Heartbreaking American Journey took King's life as it had taken Lincoln's. And JFK, who inspired so many to believe again, who chose smart negotiation over nuclear holocaust during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And Robert Kennedy, who built a grand coalition of people of all colors.
I was born in 1960. I have lived the Heartbreaking American Journey. JFK killed when I was three. RFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. when I was eight. I marched against the Vietnam War. I watched McGovern lose in a Landslide. Nixon rule for six long years. I was ashamed of my country when it dropped naplam on children. Jimmy Carter offered the hope of restoring the dream but was ineffectual, repdudiated in another Landslide election. The Reagan Era begun. Morning in America. The great social programs rolled back. Jingoism triumphant. The idea that the market reigned supreme once again triumphant. (The zig zag of progress, relearning the same lessons again and again..)
Clinton offered hope of restoring the dream. But he was constrained by the radical right wing which took over the Congress and spent every waking hour trying to destroy him and his wife. And he was limited by his own personal failings. The ugliness of the anti-government movement was exposed in the worst terrorist attack in US history before 9/11 - in Oklahoma City - a homegrown white anti-government terrorist.
2000. The Supreme Court makes me embarrassed to be a lawyer. The dream was betrayed for eight long years - the images of tortured prisoners becoming the new logo for the USA - an image that connected us back to the lynchings, the long marches of Native Americans into concentration camps.
And so it comes to this moment. And all this was my way of trying to grapple with just how big this moment is. Because I am a romantic. Because I believe in the dream, so betrayed but also so realized. Of equality and yes of caring for each other and of respect for people of other nations. Of Due Process. And to watch the inconceivable happen before my eyes. My heart is racing. The often heartbroken heart is racing. Yes We Can.