Jesse Jackson Addresses the 1988 Democratic Convention

“Dream of Things as They Ought to Be”

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Introduction

The 1988 Presidential election was a tortoise-and-hare race won by the slow-starting hare, Bush. Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis said the race would be a "marathon." He promised a "Massachusetts Miracle" for the nation's economy, and raised millions of dollars early in the primary season. With this advantage, he held off a crowded Democratic field that included Jesse Jackson, Missouri Representative Richard Gephardt, Illinois Senator Paul Simon, and Tennessee Senator Al Gore.

When the Democrats came to Atlanta for their national convention, Jesse Jackson's ongoing campaign provided the most excitement. His sweeping and inspiring convention address, excerpted below, made millions rethink their decision not to take his campaign seriously.

George Bush had defeated his main Republican opponent, Kansas Senator Bob Dole, long before the party's convention in New Orleans. Still, the vice president was running 20 percentage points behind Dukakis in national polls. He immediately raised the stakes of the campaign with a series of sharply negative speeches and ads that questioned Dukakis's leadership. The Democrat never responded with the fire Americans demand of their Presidents, and Bush never looked back, winning 40 states in the general election.

From "Common Ground and Common Sense," delivered by Reverend Jesse Jackson at the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta:

What's the fundamental challenge of our day? It is to end economic violence. Most poor people are not lazy. They're not black. They're not brown. They're mostly white, and female and young. Most poor people are not on welfare.

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 change the beds you slept in in these hotels last night and can't get a union contract. They work every day.

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 . . .

Young America, hold your head high now. We can win . . .

Wherever you are tonight, I challenge you to hope and to dream. Don't submerge your dreams. 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. . . .

Dream on the high road of sound values. Do not surrender to drugs. The best drug policy is no first use. Never surrender, young America.

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.

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't understand my situation. I understand. 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, South Carolina, 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 know people are saying you're nothing and nobody, and can never be anything. I understand.

I wasn't born in the hospital. Mama didn't have insurance. 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 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. Around 6 o'clock she would get off the Alta Vista bus; then we would bring up the leftovers and eat our turkey — leftovers, 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, underclass — when 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. 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.

  • Subjects:
    Politics, The Presidency
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