Governor Dean spoke to the National Baptist Convention of America in Miami on Wednesday, September 7th. The following are excerpts from the speech:
This is a critical moment in our nation's history and we have a shared responsibility to move our country forward and learn from the mistakes made and be truthful with ourselves about how and why this happened and what we must do going forward to rebuild America.
Because we will ultimately be judged by how we react in times of trouble and how we care for the least among us.
I want to talk to you not as the Chairman of the Democratic Party, but as an American. Last week, we witnessed tremendous acts of courage and heroism, of people coming together, opening their hearts to one another trying to reach out and help one another. That was America at its best.
But that's not all we saw. We saw people desperately trying to survive in conditions we could not imagine in an American city.
As survivors are evacuated, order is restored, the water slowly begins to recede, and we sort through the rubble, we must also begin to come to terms with the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not.
And the question that emerged: how can this happen in America?
The truth is, what we saw on the television in New Orleans exists here in Miami, and in every part of our country, every day. Because people are poor throughout our country. They are old. They are young. They are black, white, and brown. They are not refugees. They are our fellow Americans.
The truth is that we have ignored the poor for far too long. And until it washed right up on our front doorsteps, we might have continued to ignore the reality that poverty has too many of our fellow Americans in its grip, and we have a shared moral responsibility not to ignore it anymore.
According to the census numbers that were released just last week, there were 37 million people living in poverty in 2004, about 3.5 million of these were over the age of 65 and nearly 1 in 5 American Children Lived in Poverty During 2004. And nearly 25 percent of all African Americans lived in poverty in 2004.
We need to open our eyes in our own communities. We need a plan to rebuild America.
Because it is not enough for one of us to do well, because our fundamental value of community means that we owe something to one another, every day of every year -- and that unless we all have the opportunity to succeed none of us succeeds.
Together we will rebuild America.
Because it is not enough for just me and my family to do well. It is not enough if some of our children are loved and well-fed. It is not enough if some of our communities are vibrant, safe and clean. It is not good enough if aspiration is the province only of the wealthy.
The greatest test we now face as a nation moving forward is not to forget what we saw last week on television, and to act.
We need a plan to rebuild America. We need to restore accountability. We need to make moral choices. How could Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist even think of extending the estate tax? If there's $750 billion available, we should use that to rebuild America.
This is a time for leadership not partisanship, and there are numerous questions regarding the failures that we will need to be answered in the coming days and weeks, but the one I want to talk about now is where do we go from here? How do we rebuild America?
We will continue to press for answers to what failed and why, to help the survivors heal, to rebuild, to heed the lessons of the past week and take the steps to keep our citizens safe.
And we will continue to fight for our shared values, taking care of the weak and the poor, helping people succeed, making sure every American has health care, an economic policy that creates jobs, making it easier for people to take care of their families, a strong national defense, protecting our most basic rights, ensuring that every eligible American has the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.
We still have a great deal of work to do in this country to ensure social and economic justice for every American, particularly those who struggle in the shadows of poverty. We cannot afford to move backward.
We need to be a community again.
There are real differences between the direction our country has been going in over the past five years, and the direction we ought to be headed. That is what we are fighting for.
Because we believe America can do better and Americans deserve better from their leaders. We deserve leaders who get up every day and fight for each one of us, who see us and understand our struggles but who also work to make each one of us stronger thereby making all of us stronger.
Not because we are wealthy or important or because we gave a contribution to a campaign; because we are hard-working Americans who need our President to be on our side."