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Citizens, First

America looks to her government and sees not themselves reflected in what Congress does, but someone else. They see not a Congress bending over backwards to answer the calls of average voters. They see a Congress bending over backwards to make calls to their funders. And who could really blame them?
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Democrat election on textured American flag
Democrat election on textured American flag

(Speech at NH Democratic Party Convention, September 19, 2015)

We should be proud of the choice we offer America, we Democrats. Our ideals are right, they push in the direction of justice, and they will rally millions.

But we must speak openly and honestly about how incomplete we are. There are millions like us, who celebrate our party. There are millions on the other side, celebrating their party too. But these millions added together are still but a fraction of America. The biggest political party in America is "none of the above." Most of America has turned away from politics. Most have given up on democracy.

And who could really blame them?

America looks to her government and sees not themselves reflected in what Congress does, but someone else. They see not a Congress bending over backwards to answer the calls of average voters. They see a Congress bending over backwards to make calls to their funders. Indeed we know, the political scientists have shown us, that what our Congress does has no relation to the views of the average voter. Our Congress, our democracy, is responsive to the few, not the many. How could it be otherwise, when 400 families have given 1/2 the money in this election so far.

We cannot ignore this truth. We cannot pretend it's ok just to rally us. We must think bigger than that. We must aspire to more than just winning an election. We must win but in a way that gives America a reason to believe that they could get a democracy back. We must win with a commitment that would make the promises of these campaigns -- the promise to address income inequality, to take on Wall Street, to pass climate change legislation, finally, the promise to honor the children murdered at Sandy Hook by passing even the most modest background checks legislation -- credible.

Because those promises are not credible now. They inspire, they give hope, but until we fix this democracy, they are just dreams. And I fear that we will lose a whole generation from this democracy if once again we promise the moon, but deliver just partisan stalemate.

Almost 8 years ago, Barack Obama said this in Philadelphia:

"If we're not willing to take up that fight, then real change -- change that will make a lasting difference in the lives of ordinary Americans -- will keep getting blocked by the defenders of the status quo."

His words were true then. His words are true now.

We must take up this fight to get a democracy back. To reclaim its fundamental principle -- equality, the equality of citizens. Because if we could achieve that equality, we would crack the corruption that holds Washington hostage. We would make it possible to solve the problems must address. And we could then say, with integrity and truth, that black lives matter because all citizens are equal.

That fight is not partisan. As I walked the length of this state in the footsteps of Granny D, in January, twice, I didn't meet Republicans. I didn't meet Democrats. I met citizens. The people who raced out of their house in zero degree weather to greet us didn't offer us a secret party handshake. They offered us thanks. Because all of them, conservatives and liberals alike, desperately wanted a democracy that they felt represented them.

We must speak to them -- those citizens -- first. We must make restoring their democracy our first task. Not some day, but on day one. Not just one promise among many, but the one that everyone knows will be achieved.

Because as much as we like our party, as much as we might like a candidate, as much as like the idea of winning an election, we must love our country first. And if we let ourselves get trapped on this partisan field, we will have failed that first love.

America's enemy is not a political party. America's enemy is not the terrorists living in caves. America's enemy is the apathy and hopelessness and frustrated anger that has grown within the American people -- about the one institution we were once so proud of, our democracy.

We, Democrats, have an extraordinary opportunity. It is we who could rally America -- all of America -- to fixing this democracy, by establishing this equality, first. So that the citizens of America, from Ferguson to Philadelphia, and the Americans who should be citizens, from the Central Valley of California to the streets of Miami, have a reason to believe in all the hope that the extraordinary candidates in this primary promise.

That opportunity is our responsibility. Our party was not born the party of equality. We can make it so, now. We did not fight for an equal democracy a century ago. We can fight for it now. We made this our cause 50 years ago; we must do so again. We must elevate this debate to that great and moral ideal, because only then could we inspire enough of America to look up from their machines, to listen, and to respond. And we need America to respond if we're to do any of the great and hard things that we know we must still do.

Let us be the party that Martin Luther King taught Bobby Kennedy to dream of. Because what will be left of this democracy if we're not?

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