Tonight, millions of Americans will watch President Obama address the nation at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
While you’re waiting, here’s a few other speeches from Democratic conventions in the past that are worth watching (listing is chronological order):
- Hubert Humphrey, 1954: In this speech, Humphrey implored the Democratic Party to finally support civil rights, causing 35 delegates from Alabama and Mississippi to walk out. “My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late. To those who say that this civil-rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights!” he thundered. Listen to it:
- Bobby Kennedy, 1964: “If we do our duty, if we meet our responsibilities and our obligations, not just as Democrats, but as American citizens in our local cities and towns and farms and our states and in the country as a whole, then this country is going to be the best generation in the history of mankind,” Kennedy told delegates. Watch it:
- Fannie Lou Hamer, 1964: In Mississippi in the 1960’s, a group of civil rights activists formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to challenge the state’s Democratic Party, which was dominated at that time by anti-civil rights lawmakers. She gave the following speech to the Credentials Committee of the DNC in a bid to unseat the Mississippi delegation or to be seated alongside them. She told of her struggle to register to vote. “Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?” she asked. President Lyndon Johnson actually called a press conference to try to stop her speech from being broadcast over the airwaves, but it was aired later that night. Although she was not seated as a delegate in 1964, she was eventually seated in 1968, becoming the first African American delegate to be seated since Reconstruction. Listen to her speech:
- Barbara Jordan’s 1976 : Jordan was the first black woman to be elected to Congress from a southern state. “First, we believe in equality for all and privileges for none. This is a belief — This is a belief that each American, regardless of background, has equal standing in the public forum — all of us. Because — Because we believe this idea so firmly, we are an inclusive rather than an exclusive party. Let everybody come,” she thundered at the convention. Watch it:
- Ted Kennedy, 1980: In 1980, Kennedy challenged incumbent Democratic president Jimmy Carter for the nomination of his party. Although Kennedy failed in his quest to unseat Carter, his campaign is remembered fondly by progressive activists. In his speech, Kennedy defended the heritage of dissent and debate in the Democratic Party: There were some — There were some who said we should be silent about our differences on issues during this convention, but the heritage of the Democratic Party has been a history of democracy. We fight hard because we care deeply about our principles and purposes. We did not flee this struggle. We welcome the contrast with the empty and expedient spectacle last month in Detroit where no nomination was contested, no question was debated, and no one dared to raise any doubt or dissent.” Watch the conclusion of Kennedy’s speech:
- Jesse Jackson, 1984: Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson received more votes than any other African American ever to run for president before him during his 1984 and 1988 races for the Democratic nomination. He implored Americans to “choose the human race, not the nuclear race” during his speech. “We must leave racial battle ground and come to economic common ground and moral higher ground. America, our time has come.” Watch an excerpt from his speech:
- Then-Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo, 1984: Cuomo’s speech at the 1984 convention is considered to be one of the best in defining what modern American progressive ideals are about: “We believe we must be the family of America, recognizing that at the heart of the matter we are bound one to another, that the problems of a retired school teacher in Duluth are our problems; that the future of the child — that the future of the child in Buffalo is our future; that the struggle of a disabled man in Boston to survive and live decently is our struggle; that the hunger of a woman in Little Rock is our hunger; that the failure anywhere to provide what reasonably we might, to avoid pain, is our failure.” Watch its concluding moments:
- Then-Senator Obama, 2004: To many political observers, this speechis considered to be the one that launched Obama’s path to the presidency. “For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga, a belief that we are all connected as one people,” intoned the senator. “If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child….If there’s an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It is that fundamental belief — it is that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper — that makes this country work.” Watch it:
As an honorable mention, you might want to take a look at Matt Santos’ DNC address. Yes, it’s fictional — it’s from The West Wing — but it’s still well worth watching!