HARRY BELAFONTE: In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of this memorial and declared that this nation should come together and embrace its greater ideals. He said that we should rally together and overcome injustice and racism, and that all citizens should not only have the right to vote, but that we should exercise that right and make America whole.
That is part of why we are today. But we’re also here to tend other grievances. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “I Have a Dream” speech forty-seven years ago, said that America would soon come to realize that the war that we were in at that time that this nation waged in Vietnam was not only unconscionable, but unwinnable. Fifty-eight thousand Americans died in that cruel adventure, and over two million Vietnamese and Cambodians perished. Now today, almost a half-a-century later, as we gather at this place where Dr. King prayed for the soul of this great nation, tens of thousands of citizens from all walks of life have come here today to rekindle his dream and once again hope that all America will soon come to the realization that the wars that we wage today in far away lands are immoral, unconscionable and unwinnable.
The Central Intelligence Agency, in its official report, tells us that the enemy we pursue in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, the al-Qaeda, they number less than fifty—I say fifty—people. Do we really think that sending 100,000 young American men and women to kill innocent civilians, woman and children, and antagonizing the tens of millions of people in the whole region somehow makes us secure? Does this make any sense?
The President’s decision to escalate the war in that region alone costs the nation $33 billion. That sum of money could not only create 600,000 jobs here in America, but would even leave us a few billion to start rebuilding our schools, our roads, our hospitals and affordable housing. It could also help to rebuild the lives of the thousands of our returning wounded veterans.
Dr. King loved this nation. He saw, as all of us here today see, that this great nation should not be allowed to perish. Martin’s vision was also the vision of Abraham Lincoln, who understood the evil of slavery and, in abolishing that evil, saved America. Although slavery may have be have been abolished, the crippling poison of racism still persists, and the struggle still continues. We have the largest prison population in the world. And as we industrialize these prison systems, we rob hundreds of thousands of workers of the jobs that they need and the wages that are rightfully theirs.
The plight of women bear no better. Their oppression refuses to yield, as rape and domestic violence and sex slaves and teenage pregnancy abounds.
But perhaps the greatest threat of all is the undermining of our Constitution and the systematic attack against the inalienable rights of the citizens of this nation, rights that are guaranteed by our Constitution. At the vanguard of this insidious attack is the tea party. This band of misguided citizens is moving perilously close to achieving villainous ends.
This gathering here today is America’s wake-up call. The giant called democracy is at last stirring again. Citizens are coming together to say freedom does not sleep. It may have been fueled and lulled for the moment into a lethargy, but it’s fully awake now. And we the people are its engine. We must awaken the apathetic, the cynical, the many angry doubters, who see their future as the perpetual hopelessness, and show them that our greatest weapon is the vote. And it is the answer to much that nags in us.
On November 2nd, in the millions, we must overburden our voting booths by voting against those who would see the nation become a totalitarian state. Americans know that Dr. King’s dream is not dead. Let us vote on November 2nd for jobs, for jobs, for jobs, for peace, for justice, for human rights, for our children and the future of America. And let us put an end to war. Peace is necessary. For justice, it is necessary. For hope, it is necessary, for our future.
I love you all, and God bless America.