Barack Obama: 'They're Hoping to Make It As Hard As Possible for You to Vote'

By Susan Jones | August 20, 2020 | 6:31am EDT
Former President Barack Obama addresses the Democrats from Philadelphia, "where our Constitution was drafted and signed. " (Photo: Screen capture)
Former President Barack Obama addresses the Democrats from Philadelphia, "where our Constitution was drafted and signed. " (Photo: Screen capture)

( - "Our democracy is at stake right now," former President Barack Obama warned in his speech to the Democrat National Convention, as he excoriated President Donald Trump as someone who "hasn't grown into the job" and urged Americans to "believe in Joe and Kamala’s ability to lead this country out of these dark times and build it back better."

Obama said Trump and his allies can't win Americans with their policies, so they're trying to make it difficult for Americans to vote: "That's how they win," he warned.

"Look, I understand why a lot of Americans are down on government," Obama said: "The way the rules have been set up and abused in Congress make it easy for special interests to stop progress. Believe me, I know."

I understand why a white factory worker who’s seen his wages cut or his job shipped overseas might feel like the government no longer looks out for him, and why a Black mom might feel like it never looked out for her at all. I understand why a new immigrant might look around this country and wonder whether there’s still a place for him here; why a young person might look at politics right now, the circus of it all, the meanness and the lies and conspiracy theories and think, what is the point?

Well, here’s the point: this president and those in power – those who benefit from keeping things the way they are – they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote does not matter.

That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.

And we cannot let that happen. Do not let them take away your power. Do not let them take away your democracy. Make a plan right now for how you are going to get involved and vote. Do it as early as you can, and tell your family and friends how they can vote, too. Do what Americans have done for over two centuries when faced with even tougher times than this – all those quiet heroes who found the courage to keep marching, keep pushing in the face of hardship and injustice.

Obama was speaking at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, with a giant replica of the Constitution's Article 1 visible behind him.

He began his speech by noting that the Constitution was not a "perfect document":

"It allowed for the inhumanity of slavery and failed to guarantee women –- and even men who didn’t own property -- the right to participate in the political process."

Obama said it took a civil war and "bitter struggles" to make the Constitution include "the voices of those who'd once been left out."

Obama returned to marginalized, left-out people at the end of his speech, making the point that they did not give up on our democracy, and neither should today's protesters:

Whatever our backgrounds, we’re all the children of Americans who fought the good fight. Great grandparents working in firetraps and sweatshops without rights or representation. Farmers losing their dreams to dust. Irish and Italians and Asians and Latinos told to go back where they came from. Jews and Catholics, Muslims and Sikhs, made to feel suspect for the way they worshipped. Black Americans chained and whipped and hanged. Spit on for trying to sit at lunch counters. Beaten for trying to vote.

If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work, and could not work, it was those Americans. Our ancestors. They were on the receiving end of a democracy that had fallen short all their lives. They knew how far the daily reality of America strayed from the myth. And yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work. We are going to bring those words, in our founding documents, to life.

I’ve seen that same spirit rising these past few years. Folks of every age and background who packed city centers and airports and rural roads so that families wouldn’t be separated. So that another classroom wouldn’t get shot up. So that our kids won’t grow up on an uninhabitable planet. Americans of all races joining together to declare, in the face of injustice and brutality at the hands of the state, that Black Lives Matter, no more, but no less, so that no child in this country feels the continuing sting of racism.

Obama, addressing "the young people who led us this summer," described them as "this country's dreams fulfilled," because they don't have to be persuaded that everyone has equal worth.

"You can give our democracy new meaning. You can take it to a better place. You’re the missing ingredient -- the ones who will decide whether or not America becomes the country that fully lives up to its creed."

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