If you are really concerned about how the criminal-justice system treats African Americans, the best way to protest is to vote, not just for senators and representatives, but for mayors and sheriffs and state legislators. Do what they just did in Philadelphia and Boston, and elect state’s attorneys and district attorneys who are looking at issues in a new light, who realize that the vast majority of law enforcement do the right thing in a really hard job, and we just need to make sure all of them do.
If you’re tired of politicians who offer nothing but thoughts and prayers after a mass shooting, you’ve got to do what the Parkland kids are doing. Some of them aren’t even eligible to vote yet. They’re out there working to change minds and registering people. And they’re not giving up until we have a Congress that sees your lives as more important than a campaign check from the NRA. You’ve got to vote.
If you support the #MeToo movement, you’re outraged by stories of sexual harassment and assault, inspired by the women who’ve shared them, you’ve got to do more than retweet a hashtag. You’ve got to vote.
Part of the reason women are more vulnerable in the workplace is because not enough women are bosses in the workplace, which is why we need to strengthen and enforce laws that protect a woman in the workplace, not just from harassment, but from discrimination in hiring and promotions, and not getting paid the same amount for doing the same work. That requires laws, laws get passed by legislators. You’ve got to vote!
When you vote, you’ve got the power to make it easier to afford college, and harder to shoot up a school. When you vote, you’ve got the power to make sure a family keeps its health insurance, you could save somebody’s life. When you vote, you’ve got the power to make sure white nationalists don’t feel emboldened to march with their hoods off, or their hoods on, in Charlottesville in the middle of the day. Thirty minutes. Thirty minutes of your time—is democracy worth that?
We have been through much darker times than these, and somehow each generation of Americans carried us through to the other side. Not by sitting around and waiting for something to happen, not by leaving it to others to do something, but by leading that movement for change themselves. And if you do that, if you get involved, and you get engaged, and you knock on some doors, and you talk with your friends, and you argue with your family members, and you change some minds, and you vote, something powerful happens. Change happens. Hope happens. Not perfection. Not every bit of cruelty and sadness and poverty and disease suddenly is stricken from the Earth.
There will still be problems. But with each new candidate that surprises you with a victory that you supported, a spark of hope happens. With each new law that helps a kid read, or helps a homeless family find shelter, or helps a veteran get the support he or she has earned, each time that happens, hope happens. With each new step we take in the direction of fairness and justice and equality and opportunity, hope spreads. And that can be the legacy of your generation.
You can be the generation that, at a critical moment, stood up and reminded us just how precious this experiment in democracy really is, just how powerful it can be when we fight for it, when we believe in it. I believe in you. I believe you will help lead us in the right direction, and I will be right there with you every step of the way.
Thank you, Illinois. God bless. God bless this country we love. Thank you.