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Former President Barack Obama has an inspiring message of hope for you all.
Hope can’t be emphasized enough in these dark, scary days of encroaching authoritarianism. It’s important, because people tend to cede power and feel disempowered in the face of rising fascism, when what we must do is stay engaged and fight at the ballot box – and that requires hope.
So here’s a dose of it from the master of hope, speaking Friday at a rally for Democratic candidates in College Park, Georgia.
“I think it’s fair to say that this country has gone through some tough times these past few years. We have been through some stuff,” President Barack Obama told a crowd in Georgia. “An erosion of basic civility and democratic norms in our politics, not just here and around the world…
So I get why people are anxious. I get why you might be worried. I understand why it might be tempting sometimes just to tune out, to watch football or Dancing with the Stars, but I’m here to tell you that tuning out is not an option. Despair is not an option. The only way to make this economy fairer is if we, all of us, fight for it.”
Watch here (Obama starts around 42 minutes):
President Obama continued, “The only way to save democracy is if we, together, nurture it and fight for it. And that starts with electing people who know you and see you and care about you. People who will struggle alongside you. People who will fight for you. And that’s what you did two years ago when you sent Joe Biden to the White House.”
“You did it twice when you voted twice to send Reverend Warnock to the U.S. Senate, along with Jon Ossoff. And so now you need to do it again, because there may be a lot of issues at stake in this election, but the basic question, the fundamental question that you should be asking yourself right now is, who will fight for you? Who cares about you? Who sees you? Who believes in you?
“That’s the choice in this election. Who will fight? Who will fight for working people who are struggling to pay their bills?”
AMEN. That’s it. That’s the message that everyone needs to be sharing with their communities. Instead of arguing with people, share with them that you vote for people who VOTE FOR YOU.
Then show them how they can look up how their representatives vote.
Did they vote against gas companies price gouging? Did they vote against holding Big Pharma accountable for price gouging sick people? Is there a social belief that is worth paying higher prices and enabling people whose party leader spreads hate and incites violence? What kind of country do we want to be? Do we want to take care of our elders, do we want to feel safe, do we want our Social Security when we retire? These are the choices facing us right now.
It’s hard to focus on issues when we are surrounded by violence and political terrorism. We definitely need to call that out and use it as an example of what’s at stake. But we also need to remember that we must not let the terrorists win. And for that, we need hope.
History teaches us to never cede power. Never give an inch. Fight for your democracy at the ballot box and in your community by talking with your neighbors and sharing your thoughts.
President Obama has always had a special way of injecting hope into the hearts of Americans. And let’s face it, hope is pretty hard to find right now amid the chaos, anger, violence, corporate billionaire takeovers, and rising fascism.
That’s why it’s important for readers to get this message from President Obama. It’s a message of hope, of empathy, and of empowerment. YES, WE CAN and YES, WE HAVE and YES, WE WILL.
Here are his edited slightly for length remarks:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hello, Atlanta. It’s good to be back in Georgia.
Yes, we can.
Thank you. Yes, it’s good to be back… Well, I miss you too. I’m glad to be back.
…I am here to ask you to vote for your next Secretary of State, Bee Nguyen, for your next governor, Stacey Abrams, for Congressman Sanford Bishop and to keep the Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock in the United States Senate.
You don’t have to wait for November 8th to cast your ballot. You can vote right now. Take a few minutes. Vote early at your polling place. They are open now until next Friday. Or you can vote at your polling place on November 8th. And if you’re not sure how or where to go, just go to IWillVote.com Let me repeat that, IWillVote.com, find out where, make a plan.
CROWD: We love you.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: I love you too, but I still want you to vote.
And after you’ve voted, I need you to grab your friends and your family, round up Cousin Pookie, make a plan to vote. Take them with you if you vote on Election Day. Because this election requires every single one of us to do our part. It is that important.
Now, I think it’s fair to say that this country has gone through some tough times these past few years. We have been through some stuff. We’re just now coming out of an historic pandemic that wreaked havoc on families, on schools, businesses, communities. Everybody was impacted. A lot of folks lost people that they love. And the pandemic highlighted, and in some cases made worse, problems that we have been struggling with for years, an economy that too often works for those at the very top, but not for ordinary people. Communities where too many of our children are out of school and then they’re out of work and then they’re out of hope. And that sometimes leads them to violence and despair. An erosion of basic civility and democratic norms in our politics, not just here and around the world. And I want to take a moment just to say a prayer for a friend of mine, Mr. Paul Pelosi, who was attacked. A politics where some in office or who aspire to office work to stir up division, to make folks as angry and as afraid of one another for their own advantage.
And all of this has been amped up, hyped up, 24/7, on social media, on platforms that oftentimes find controversy and conflict more profitable then telling the truth. So I get why people are anxious. I get why you might be worried. I understand why it might be tempting sometimes just to tune out, to watch football or Dancing with the Stars, but I’m here to tell you that tuning out is not an option. Despair is not an option. The only way to make this economy fairer is if we, all of us, fight for it.
The only way to save democracy is if we, together, nurture it and fight for it. And that starts with electing people who know you and see you and care about you. People who will struggle alongside you. People who will fight for you. And that’s what you did two years ago when you sent Joe Biden to the White House.
Joe is fighting for you every day. He’s got your back. He’s doing everything he can to put more money in your pockets, to make your streets safer and bring more good paying jobs here to Georgia.
You did it twice when you voted twice to send Reverend Warnock to the U.S. Senate, along with Jon Ossoff. And so now you need to do it again, because there may be a lot of issues at stake in this election, but the basic question, the fundamental question that you should be asking yourself right now is, who will fight for you? Who cares about you? Who sees you? Who believes in you?
That’s the choice in this election. Who will fight? Who will fight for working people who are struggling to pay their bills? Listen, listen, Inflation is a real problem right now. And by the way, it’s not just here in America, it’s worldwide. It’s one of the legacies of the pandemic, where the laws of supply and demand got messed up and wreaked havoc on supply chains. And then you have a war in Ukraine that is not only engaging in incredible cruelty towards the people of Ukraine, but it also sent energy prices through the roof.
So we’re seeing gas prices go up, grocery prices, and that takes a real bite out of paychecks. It hurts. But the question you should be asking is, who is actually going to do something about it? The Republicans talk a lot about it, but what is their answer? What is their economic policy?
I will tell you what it is, because it’s the same answer they’ve got for everything. They want to gut social programs. They want to cut Social Security and Medicare, and then they want to give their rich friends a tax cut.
Don’t boo … vote!
And the reason I can say with confidence that they want to cut taxes for the wealthy and for corporations is because that’s their answer to everything. When inflation is low, let’s just cut taxes. When unemployment’s high, got to cut taxes. If there was an asteroid heading towards Earth, they would all get in the room and they’d say, “You know what we need? We need tax cuts for the wealthy! That’s going to solve it.” How’s that going to help you?
And on the other side, you have Democrats like Reverend Warnock who have shown that they will take on the drug companies to lower prices and get the oil industry to clean up its act and pass laws to make housing more affordable and make sure big corporations create jobs here in Georgia instead of overseas. Serious answers to serious problems. That’s the choice in this election. That’s what it’s about.
If you’re watching TV, you’ve heard a lot about crime. Violent crime has gone up over the last seven years, not just the last two. Not just in liberal states, but in conservative rural states, too. That’s a serious problem. Who will fight to keep you and your family safe? The Republican politicians who want to flood our streets with more guns? Who actually voted against more resources for our police departments? Is it somebody who carries around a phony badge and says he’s in law enforcement? Like he’s a kid playing cops and robbers? Or is it leaders like Reverend Warnock, Jon Ossoff and Sanford Bishop who worked with President Biden to pass the first major gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years? That’s the choice in this election. That’s what’s at stake right now.
Who will fight for your freedoms? Is it some of these folks in the GOP, politicians, judges who think they should get to decide when you start a family or how many children you have? Who you marry, who you love?
Do not boo! Vote.
Or is it Democratic leaders who believe that the freedom to make these personal, intimate decisions belongs to every American, not politicians in Washington? That’s the choice in this election. That’s what you have to decide.
And who’s going to fight to actually make our democracy work for you? Is it some of these folks in the other party that have promised, if they get control of Congress, they’ll spend the next two years investigating their political opponents?
Now, how is that going to help you pay the bills? Or do you stand a better chance with President Biden and Democratic leaders who work together, sometimes with Republicans, to pass an infrastructure bill that will create new jobs? Who’s made health care and prescription drugs more affordable? Who’ve made the single largest investment ever in the fight against a warming planet? That’s the choice in this election. Between politicians who seem willing to do anything to get power and leaders who share our values, who see you and care about. Leaders who want to help make your lives better, not theirs, who want to move this country forward, not backwards.
And let me be clear about this, Georgia. This hasn’t always been a partisan thing. My favorite president was a guy named Abe Lincoln. He helped found the Republican Party. It used to be that there were GOP members who championed progress and civil rights and rule of law, even when some Democrats, especially down in the South, did not. That’s part of our history.
So it has not always been one party or another. But these days, right now, just about every Republican politician seems obsessed with two things: owning the Libs and getting Donald Trump’s approval.
What did I say about booing?
But that’s their agenda. It’s not long, it’s not complicated, and at least to me, it’s not very inspiring. They’re not interested in actually solving problems. They’re interested in making you angry and finding somebody to blame. Because that way you may not notice that they’ve got no answers of their own.
I mean, I can tell you what Stacey Abrams is obsessed with. As a small business owner and the daughter of two ministers, she’s focused on making sure every Georgian has an opportunity to get ahead. That’s why she wants to invest Georgia’s surplus in the fundamentals: good schools, a higher standard of living, more affordable health care and housing. That’s her agenda.
I can tell you what Raphael Warnock cares about. As your senator, he hasn’t been off chasing wacky conspiracy theories. He hasn’t been drumming up fear and division. He’s been working to lower prescription drug costs and boost manufacturing jobs and expand health care for veterans who got sick fighting for the United States of America. That’s who Reverend Warnock is. That’s his agenda.
That’s who Stacey Abrams is. That’s her agenda. They are both hardworking, God-fearing, community-serving people who tell the truth, stick to their word, treat everybody with decency and respect. Those are the values they bring to bear, which brings me to Reverend Warnock’s opponent. It’s a study in contrasts.
Now, there are a lot of young people here. Hello, yes, and that makes me excited. Some of you may not remember, but Herschel Walker was a heck of a football player. I mean, some of you are too young to remember, but in college he was amazing, one of the best running backs of all time. But here’s the question. Does that make him the best person to represent you in the US Senate? Does that make him equipped to weigh in on the critical decisions about our economy and our foreign policy and our future?
Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s say you’re at the airport, and you see, Mr. Walker. And you say, hey, there’s Herschel Walker, Heisman winner. Let’s have him fly the plane. (Laughter.) You probably wouldn’t say that. You’d want to know; does he know how to fly an airplane?
Or let’s say you go to the hospital, and you say, that Walker guy, he sure could turn up at Sanford Stadium. Give him a scalpel. (Laughter.) No, you wouldn’t say that. You’d ask – at least, I would – has he done surgery before? (Laughter.)
And by the way, the opposite is true, too. Like, you may have liked me as president, but you would not want me starting a tailback for the Dawgs. (Laughter.) I mean, can you imagine my slow, old skinny behind getting hit by some 300lb defensive tackle who runs a 4-6-40? You’d have to scrape me off the field. No, I can’t. (Laughter.) No, I can’t. I’m good at a lot of things, but that would not be one of those things that I’m good at. (Laughter.) I mean, I can still hit a jumper now, but you wouldn’t want me on the football field running between the tackle and the guard.
My point is not that being a football player disqualifies you from being a senator, if you had put in the work. But in the case of Reverend Warnock’s opponent, there is very little evidence that he has taken any interest, bothered to learn anything about or displayed any kind of inclination towards public service or volunteer work or helping people in any way. At least, we don’t really know about it, and that does make you suspect. Seems to me, he’s a celebrity who wants to be a politician. And we’ve seen how that goes. We’ve seen that before.
And I’ll make one more point. As a general rule, I am not big on poking into people’s private lives. I’ve always felt that that stuff is between a candidate and their family. But you know what’s not between them and their family are issues of character, being in the habit of not telling the truth, being in the habit of saying one thing and doing another, being in the habit of having certain rules for you and your important friends, and other rules for everybody else. That says something about the kind of leader you are going to be.
And if a candidate’s main qualification is that he’s going to be loyal to Donald Trump, it means that he’s not really going to be thinking about you and your needs. And you deserve better. Georgia deserves better. You deserve somebody who’s independent, and who’s going to go work every day and fight for you, somebody like Reverend Raphael Warnock, who’s been doing it all his life responsibly, conscientiously, effectively, not just in the Senate, but throughout his entire career.
You deserve somebody who’s also going to stand up for a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions. Abortion is controversial in this country, and I genuinely believe there are people of good conscience who may differ from me on this issue. But we should all agree that women everywhere should be able to control, have a say in what happens with their own bodies. It shouldn’t be controversial to say that the most personal of healthcare choices should be made by a woman and her doctor, not by a bunch of mostly male politicians.
And that’s why when the Supreme Court struck down Roe versus Wade, it was a wakeup call for a lot of people, especially young women who may have taken Roe for granted. It was a reminder that a politicized court can reinterpret what we thought were well-settled constitutional rights. It’s a reminder that history doesn’t just move forward. It can go backward, too.
If Republicans take back the House and the Senate, we could be one presidential election away from a nationwide ban on access to abortion. And that might just be the beginning. I taught constitutional law for over a decade, and I can tell you this: if a court does not believe in a zone of privacy that allows us to make certain decisions without government interference, then other freedoms we take for granted are also at risk.
And I’m not just making this up. I’m not trying to get everybody anxious. Justice Thomas wrote as much in the Dobbs opinion. He said as much. If there is no right to privacy, then same sex marriage could be at risk. Almost every Republican in the House of Representatives has already voted against guaranteeing a right to use contraception. The basis for that original decision saying we had a right to contraception was a right to privacy, a zone in which the government can’t interfere. If they take power back, there’s no guarantee that that won’t be next.
All of these issues are at stake in this election. And if that’s not worth 15 minutes of your time, I don’t know what is. I don’t know what it is. But just in case you need another reason to vote, consider the fact that democracy itself is also on the ballot.
I have to admit, sometimes going out on the campaign trail feels a little harder than it used to, and not just because I’m older and grayer, a little stiffer. Michelle says I’m still cute, though.
But back when I was first running for office, people didn’t agree with me on everything, but we could at least talk to each other. Maybe once in a while, we could persuade each other. We could be civil towards each other, and that’s why I ended up getting a whole bunch of Republican votes. And after I won, John McCain, my opponent graciously conceded, gave me a call, publicly wished me luck for the sake of the country. And there was a peaceful transfer of power.
That basic foundation of our democracy is being called into question right now. Democrats aren’t perfect. I’m the first one to admit it. Politicians, just like all of us, can make mistakes. But right now, with a few notable exceptions, most of the GOP and a whole bunch of these candidates are not even pretending that the rules apply to them anymore. They are just making stuff up.
Like last year, Stacey’s opponent signed one of the most aggressive voter suppression laws in the country. And later on, he admitted he was, quote – I’m quoting here – frustrated with the results of the 2020 election. So he, quote, did something about it, unquote.
Now, let me tell you something, the first time I ran for Congress – I was already in the state legislature, I ran for Congress – I lost the primary by 30 points. Got whopped. (Laughter.) It was embarrassing. Had to go out the next day. Had a big L on my forehead.
And let me tell you, I was frustrated, too. You know what I didn’t do, though? I didn’t claim that the election was rigged. I didn’t try to stop votes from being counted. I didn’t inside a mob to storm the Capitol. I took my lumps. I figured out why my campaign hadn’t connected to voters. I tried to run a better race the next time.
And by the way, I won the next time, because that’s how our system works.
Look, I get that democracy might not seem like a top priority right now. One of the more depressing headlines I saw was in a newspaper. They had done a survey that showed 75% of Americans think that democracy is seriously at risk, but it’s not their top priority.
But I get that. Folks got bills to pay. They’re worried about just keeping on, getting by. And it doesn’t always feel like the political process is working for you, when you don’t see enough progress on the issues that matter to you and your family. I understand this.
But we have seen throughout history, we see now around the world what happens if we give up on democracy. We can see it in other countries where the government tells you what books you can read and cannot read, countries that put dissidents and reporters in prison, countries where it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the people in power will do whatever they want, where corruption is rampant because there’s no accountability.
When true democracy goes away, people get hurt. It has real consequences, and that’s why generations of Americans have fought, and some have died for the idea of self-government, and set up rules to make it work. That’s why folks right here in Georgia and all across this country fought, and some died to make sure that everybody had the right to participate in this government.
That’s why we teach our kids, even when they’re little, certain rules about what’s fair and what’s honest, rules about how we should make decisions together as a group. Everybody gets a say. Everybody gets a turn. If you don’t get your way, don’t throw a tantrum about it. Don’t take your ball and go home. Get over it. Try to do better the next time.
And that’s what I mean when I say democracy is at stake in this election. That’s why it’s not enough to elect Democrats at the top of the ticket. We need to elect good people up and down the ballot.
Across the country, some of the folks who tried to undermine our democracy are running for office that will oversee the next election. And if they win, there’s no telling what might happen. And that’s why we need to work just as hard to elect secretaries of state, like Bee Nguyen. We’ve got to fight for them, just like we fight to elect governors and senators who care about you, because if things get close, they can make all the difference.
And guess what? Now you get to make a difference, too.
We joke in my house, Michelle – she’ll admit this – she can be a little glass half empty sometimes. I am the hope and change guy, so I’m usually a little more optimistic. But sometimes, Michelle gets down about the state of the country and the state of the world. And I’ll tell her, “Everything will be okay.” And I believe it will.
But I also know that things will not be okay on their own. We have to fight for this. Democracy is not self-executing. It depends on us working, nurturing, caring for it. Not just on Election Day, but everyday in between. It depends on us as citizens saying, this matters. This election matters, Georgia. These are tough times.
The good news, though, is we’ve been through tough times before. The important thing is to resist the temptation to give up, to turn inward, to see politics as a mean zero-sum game where anything goes, and rules are made to be broken. And the only way for people like us to win is if people like them lose.
I don’t believe in those politics because even in our darkest moments, and there have been darker moments in this country before, we have always had more in common than our politics suggest. Even when times are tough, what unites us has always been stronger than what divides us.
There have always been certain values that bind us together as citizens, no matter who we are, where we come from, what we look like, or who we love. That’s the promise of America. That’s who we are. And in this election, you have a chance to vote for leaders like Bee Nguyen, and Stacey Abrams, and Sanford Bishop and Raphael Warnock – (applause) – who will fight for that big, inclusive, hopeful, forward-looking America that we believe in, an America that doesn’t fear the future, that meets its challenges honestly and boldly, an America where we may not fix all our problems overnight, but where we can make things better. And Atlanta, better is worth fighting for.
If you’re scared, don’t put your head under the covers. If you’re anxious, don’t put your head in the sand. If you’re frustrated right now, don’t complain. Don’t tune out, don’t get bamboozled and fall for the okey-doke, and nothing that you say matters.
I need you to get off your couch and vote! Put down your phone and give TikTok a rest, and vote! Vote for this whole incredible Georgia Democratic ticket. Then help your friends and family members, your neighbors and your coworkers do the same, because if enough of us make our voices heard, I promise you, things will get better. We will heal what ails us. We will restore our democracy. We will build a country that is more fair, and more just, and more equal and more free.
That’s our task. That’s our responsibility. Let’s go do it!
Thank you, Atlanta! Thank you, Georgia! I love you!
Sarah has been credentialed to cover President Barack Obama, then VP Joe Biden, 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and exclusively interviewed Speaker Nancy Pelosi multiple times and exclusively covered her first home appearance after the first impeachment of then President Donald Trump.
Sarah is two-time Telly award winning video producer and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.