Obama election night speech in Illinois, 2004
Thank you, Illinois. Let me begin by thanking all of the people who have been involved in this effort. From downstate to upstate, city, suburb, from every community throughout the state. Let me say how grateful I am to all of you for the extraordinary privilege of standing here this evening. Let me thank, because I will forget later on, it is a thankless task, let me thank the best political staff that there has been put together in this state. They are wonderful. You know who you are. You guys have been outstanding. I appreciate all of you. Let me thank my pastor Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. of Trinity United church of Christ. Fellow Trinitarians out there. Let me thank all the elected officials that stood by me through thick and thin. But most of all let me thank my family. I am so grateful to my nephew Avery, my niece Leslie, my mother-in-law Mary, my brother-in-law Craig Robinson. His wonderful girlfriend, Kelly. My sister Maya, my new niece Suhaila right there, my brother-in-law Conrad. And most of all my two precious daughters Malia Obama and Sasha Obama. And the biggest star in the obama family until the two girls grow up. The love of my life, Michelle Obama, give it up to Michelle. Give it up!
Before I begin let me also thank the service of the person whose seat I'm going to be replacing. Peter Fitzgerald comes from another party, yet he served ably and with integrity and I’m grateful for his service and we shall applaud the service that he provided to us.
656 days ago I announced in a room a little smaller than this — it was a lot smaller — that I was announcing for the United States Senate. At the time, as many of you know, people were respectful but nevertheless skeptical. They knew the work we had done to provide health insurance to children who didn't have it, to help make the tax system more fair, to reform a death penalty system that was broken. But they felt that in a nation as divided as ours there was no possibility that someone who looked like me could ever aspire to United States senate. They felt that in a fearful nation like this someone named Barack Obama couldn't hope to win an election.
Yet here we stand because we had a different concept and notion of the American people. We understood that there was a core of decency to the American people. That there was a set of shared values that extended beyond race and region, extended beyond income and ethnicity. A belief that every child in America should have a decent shot at life. A belief that we are brothers and sisters. And that we have mutual obligations towards each other, and that those mutual obligations express themselves not only in our family, not only in our workplaces, not only in our places of worship, but also through our government. We believed in the possibility of a government that was just as decent as the American people are. And we knew that despite the misinformation, despite the bitterness, despite the partisan politics, that when you talk to people those common values would come out. That the innate instincts of the American people would surface, if we could speak to them, if we could connect to them, if we could talk to them directly.
And because of the efforts of so many of you in this room, we had the resources, we had the manpower, we had the capacity to touch each and every one of those hearts throughout the state.
And so as a consequence, I had a chance to hear the stories of people. And they would tell me we don’t expect our government to solve all our problems. We know that we have to teach all our own children initiative and self-respect and a sense of family and faith and community. But what we also know is that government can help provide us with the basic tools we need to live out the American dream. And we also know that we’re tired of politicians who are attacking each other instead of attacking problems. And that if we can come together as one people that we can make progress and close the gap between the ideal of America and its reality.
And today we stand here in the Land of Lincoln, the man who once called for us to appeal to the better angels of our nature, we stand here as testimony to that belief that Lincoln articulated: the possibilities of appealing to those better angels. We stand here as one people, as one nation, proclaiming ourselves to be one America with a capacity to work together to create a better future for each other. And what a magnificent gift that is to the nation. How wonderful it is that we have been able to accomplish this without negative ads and without the normal partisan politics and just focusing on the issues that matter to people: healthcare, and jobs and education.
And it is because of you that I have been able to do that. Because you created a protective garment over this campaign. Your spirit allowed us to run the kind of campaign that we’ve been able to run. We have had some good breaks in this campaign. There is no doubt about it. And I am under no illusion that we come out of this assuming that all people throughout the state of Illinois agree with me on every single position. But I think that what we’ve showed is that all of us can disagree without being disagreeable; that we can set aside the scorched-earth politics, the slash and burn politics of the past. We can consign that to the past. We can look forward to the future. We can build step by step to ensure that we arrive at the practical common sense solutions that all of us hope for. That's what this campaign has been about.
But we also have to remind ourselves that this is really just the end of the beginning. This is not the end itself. In the ultimate equation we will not be measured by the margin of our victory, but we will be measured by whether we are able to deliver concrete improvements to the lives of so many people all across the state who are struggling.
We will be measured by whether those men all across the state in Galesburg, in Rockford and Decatur and Alton, those folks who have been laid off their jobs, seen their jobs move to Mexico or China, lost their health care, their pensions threatened, whether they are able to find jobs that allow them to support a family and maintain their dignity. We are going to be measured by how well we deliver the resources to the school districts all across the state who are in deficit spending. To make sure that our children have the teachers and the programs they need to excel. We are going to be measured by whether or not we can provide access and affordability to healthcare so that no families in Illinois are bankrupt when they get sick. We are going to be measured by whether our senior citizens can retire with some dignity and some respect. We are going to be measured by the degree to which we can craft a foreign policy in which we are not simply feared in the world but we are also respected. That's what we are going to be measured by.
I told some of you about a story a couple of days ago where during a rally that the clergy had organized on the South Side of Chicago I was asked to meet with a woman who had attended a reception beforehand. And she was a woman who had voted absentee for me already and wanted to shake my hand and take a picture with me. And she came to the reception and she was very gracious and said how proud she was to have voted for me and how proud she was of the campaign that we had run. We shook hands, we hugged, we took a picture and all of this would be unexceptional except for the fact that she was born in 1899. Her name was Margaret Lewis. She may be watching television tonight. She’s 104. She will be 105 on November 24.
And I have had much occasion over the last several days to think about Margaret Lewis. Trying to imagine what it would be like for this woman, an African American woman born in 1899, born in the shadow of slavery. Born in the midst of Jim Crow. Born before there were automobiles or roads to carry those automobiles. Born before there were airplanes in the sky, before telephones and televisions and cameras. Born before there were cell phones and the Internet. Imagining her life spanning three centuries, she lived to see World War I; she lived to see the Great Depression; she lived to see World War II; and she lived to see her brothers and uncles and nephews and cousins coming home and still sitting in the back of a bus.
She lived to see women get the right to vote. She lived to see F.D.R. drag this nation out of its own fear and establish the GI bill and social security and all the programs that we now take for granted. She saw unions rising up and she saw immigrant families coming from every direction making a better life for themselves in this nation.
And yet she still was held back by her status until finally she saw hope breaking through the horizon and the Civil Rights Movement. And women who were willing to walk instead of riding the bus after long day's work doing somebody else's laundry and looking after somebody else's children. And she saw young people of every race and every creed take a bus down to Mississippi and Alabama to register voters and some of them never coming back. And she saw four little girls die in a Sunday school and catalyze a nation. And then she saw the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed.
And she saw people lining up to vote for the first time and she was among those voters and she never forgot it. And she kept on voting each and every election, each and every election she kept voting thinking that there was a better future ahead despite her trials despite her tribulations, continually believing in this nation and its possibilities. Margaret Lewis believed. And she still believes at the age of 104 that her voice matters, that her life counts, that her story is sacred, just lake the story of every person in this room and the stories of their parents and grandparents, the legacy that we’ve established. The history of so many people building calloused hand, by calloused hand, brick by brick a better future for our children.
That's what America understands that we don't just inherit the world from our parents, but we also borrow it from our children. And that is why tonight; as we stand here we have to understand that we have another join ahead and it is going to be a journey even more challenging than the one we have already embarked on. There are people today right now who are as skeptical about the future as they were at the outset of this campaign. There are people who are saying that the country is too divided, that the special interests are too entrenched. That there is no possibility that one person in the senate can ever make a difference, they don't believe that we can provide affordable healthcare to families across the state of Illinois. They are not convinced we can provide economic development for rural communities that have been forgotten. They don't really ascribe to the notion that in this competitive global economy we can still assure that every person gets a living wage. They are skeptical of the possibilities that our children can enjoy a better future than we had.
And for those skeptics who believe that we can accomplish what we set out to accomplish, if our minds are clear and our heart is pure and we believe in a just and merciful God, I say to them look at this crowd tonight, look at this election today, and I have three words for them.
The same three words that we started the campaign, the same three words that we finished the primary, the same three words that are going to carry us, because as Dr. King said, "The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice as long as we help bend it that way."
I have three words for them. What are those words? Yes, we can. Thank you Illinois and I love you. Thank you. Thank you Illinois.