Des Moines, IA | December 27, 2007
Ten months ago, I stood on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, and began an unlikely journey to change America.
I did not run for the presidency to fulfill some long-held ambition or because I believed it was somehow owed to me. I chose to run in this election - at this moment - because of what Dr. King called "the fierce urgency of now." Because we are at a defining moment in our history. Our nation is at war. Our planet is in peril. Our health care system is broken, our economy is out of balance, our education system fails too many of our children, and our retirement system is in tatters.
At this defining moment, we cannot wait any longer for universal health care. We cannot wait to fix our schools. We cannot wait for good jobs, and living wages, and pensions we can count on. We cannot wait to halt global warming, and we cannot wait to end this war in Iraq.
I chose to run because I believed that the size of these challenges had outgrown the capacity of our broken and divided politics to solve them; because I believed that Americans of every political stripe were hungry for a new kind of politics, a politics that focused not just on how to win but why we should, a politics that focused on those values and ideals that we held in common as Americans; a politics that favored common sense over ideology, straight talk over spin.
Most of all, I believed in the power of the American people to be the real agents of change in this country - because we are not as divided as our politics suggests; because we are a decent, generous people willing to work hard and sacrifice for future generations; and I was certain that if we could just mobilize our voices to challenge the special interests that dominate Washington and challenge ourselves to reach for something better, there was no problem we couldn't solve - no destiny we couldn't fulfill.
Ten months later, Iowa, you have vindicated that faith. You've come out in the blistering heat and the bitter cold not just to cheer, but to challenge - to ask the tough questions; to lift the hood and kick the tires; to serve as one place in America where someone who hasn't spent their life in the Washington spotlight can get a fair hearing.
You've earned the role you play in our democracy because no one takes it more seriously. And I believe that's true this year more than ever because, like me, you feel that same sense of urgency.
All across this state, you've shared with me your stories. And all too often they've been stories of struggle and hardship.
I've heard from seniors who were betrayed by CEOs who dumped their pensions while pocketing bonuses, and from those who still can't afford their prescriptions because Congress refused to negotiate with the drug companies for the cheapest available price.
I've met Maytag workers who labored all their lives only to see their jobs shipped overseas; who now compete with their teenagers for $7-an-hour jobs at Wal-Mart.
I've spoken with teachers who are working at donut shops after school just to make ends meet; who are still digging into their own pockets to pay for school supplies.
Just two weeks ago, I heard a young woman in Cedar Rapids who told me she only gets three hours of sleep because she works the night shift after a full day of college and still can't afford health care for a sister with cerebral palsy. She spoke not with self-pity but with determination, and wonders why the government isn't doing more to help her afford the education that will allow her to live out her dreams.
I've spoken to veterans who talk with pride about what they've accomplished in Afghanistan and Iraq, but who nevertheless think of those they've left behind and question the wisdom of our mission in Iraq; the mothers weeping in my arms over the memories of their sons; the disabled or homeless vets who wonder why their service has been forgotten.
And I've spoken to Americans in every corner of the state, patriots all, who wonder why we have allowed our standing in the world to decline so badly, so quickly. They know this has not made us safer. They know that we must never negotiate out of fear, but that we must never fear to negotiate with our enemies as well as our friends. They are ashamed of Abu Graib and Guantanamo and warrantless wiretaps and ambiguity on torture. They love their country and want its cherished values and ideals restored.
It is precisely because you've experience these frustrations, and seen the cost of inaction in your own lives, that you understand why we can't afford to settle for the same old politics. You know that we can't afford to allow the insurance lobbyists to kill health care reform one more time, and the oil lobbyists to keep us addicted to fossil fuels because no one stood up and took their power away when they had the chance.
You know that we can't afford four more years of the same divisive food fight in Washington that's about scoring political points instead of solving problems; that's about tearing your opponents down instead of lifting this country up.
We can't afford the same politics of fear that tells Democrats that the only way to look tough on national security is to talk, act, and vote like George Bush Republicans; that invokes 9/11 as a way to scare up votes instead of a challenge that should unite all Americans to defeat our real enemies.
We can't afford to be so worried about losing the next election that we lose the battles we owe to the next generation.
The real gamble in this election is playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expecting a different result. And that's a risk we can't take. Not this year. Not when the stakes are this high.
In this election, it is time to turn the page. In seven days, it is time to stand for change.
This has been our message since the beginning of this campaign. It was our message when we were down, and our message when we were up. And it must be catching on, because in these last few weeks, everyone is talking about change.
But you can't at once argue that you're the master of a broken system in Washington and offer yourself as the person to change it. You can't fall in line behind the conventional thinking on issues as profound as war and offer yourself as the leader who is best prepared to chart a new and better course for America.
The truth is, you can have the right kind of experience and the wrong kind of experience. Mine is rooted in the real lives of real people and it will bring real results if we have the courage to change. I believe deeply in those words. But they are not mine. They were Bill Clinton's in 1992, when Washington insiders questioned his readiness to lead.
My experience is rooted in the lives of the men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I fought for as an organizer when the local steel plant closed. It's rooted in the lives of the people I stood up for as a civil rights lawyer when they were denied opportunity on the job or justice at the voting booth because of what they looked like or where they came from. It's rooted in an understanding of how the world sees America that I gained from living, traveling, and having family beyond our shores - an understanding that led me to oppose this war in Iraq from the start. It's experience rooted in the real lives of real people, and it's the kind of experience Washington needs right now.
There are others in this race who say that this kind of change sounds good, but that I'm not angry or confrontational enough to get it done.
Well, let me tell you something, Iowa. I don't need any lectures on how to bring about change, because I haven't just talked about it on the campaign trail. I've fought for change all my life.
I walked away from a job on Wall Street to bring job training to the jobless and after school programs to kids on the streets of Chicago.
I turned down the big money law firms to win justice for the powerless as a civil rights lawyer.
I took on the lobbyists in Illinois and brought Democrats and Republicans together to expand health care to 150,000 people and pass the first major campaign finance reform in twenty-five years; and I did the same thing in Washington when we passed the toughest lobbying reform since Watergate. I'm the only candidate in this race who hasn't just talked about taking power away from lobbyists, I've actually done it. So if you want to know what kind of choices we'll make as President, you should take a look at the choices we made when we had the chance to bring about change that wasn't easy or convenient.
That's the kind of change that's more than just rhetoric - that's change you can believe in.
It's change that won't just come from more anger at Washington or turning up the heat on Republicans. There's no shortage of anger and bluster and bitter partisanship out there. We don't need more heat. We need more light. I've learned in my life that you can stand firm in your principles while still reaching out to those who might not always agree with you. And although the Republican operatives in Washington might not be interested in hearing what we have to say, I think Republican and independent voters outside of Washington are. That's the once-in-a-generation opportunity we have in this election.
For the first time in a long time, we have the chance to build a new majority of not just Democrats, but Independents and Republicans who've lost faith in their Washington leaders but want to believe again - who desperately want something new.
We can change the electoral math that's been all about division and make it about addition - about building a coalition for change and progress that stretches through Blue States and Red States. That's how I won some of the reddest, most Republican counties in Illinois. That's why the polls show that I do best against the Republicans running for President - because we're attracting more support from Independents and Republicans than any other candidate. That's how we'll win in November and that's how we'll change this country over the next four years.
In the end, the argument we are having between the candidates in the last seven days is not just about the meaning of change. It's about the meaning of hope. Some of my opponents appear scornful of the word; they think it speaks of naivete, passivity, and wishful thinking.
But that's not what hope is. Hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the task before us or the roadblocks that stand in our path. Yes, the lobbyists will fight us. Yes, the Republican attack dogs will go after us in the general election. Yes, the problems of poverty and climate change and failing schools will resist easy repair. I know - I've been on the streets, I've been in the courts. I've watched legislation die because the powerful held sway and good intentions weren't fortified by political will, and I've watched a nation get mislead into war because no one had the judgment or the courage to ask the hard questions before we sent our troops to fight.
But I also know this. I know that hope has been the guiding force behind the most improbable changes this country has ever made. In the face of tyranny, it's what led a band of colonists to rise up against an Empire. In the face of slavery, it's what fueled the resistance of the slave and the abolitionist, and what allowed a President to chart a treacherous course to ensure that the nation would not continue half slave and half free. In the face of war and Depression, it's what led the greatest of generations to free a continent and heal a nation. In the face of oppression, it's what led young men and women to sit at lunch counters and brave fire hoses and march through the streets of Selma and Montgomery for freedom's cause. That's the power of hope - to imagine, and then work for, what had seemed impossible before.
That's the change we seek. And that's the change you can stand for in seven days.
We've already beaten odds that the cynics said couldn't be beaten. When we started ten months ago, they said we couldn't run a different kind of campaign.
They said we couldn't compete without taking money from Washington lobbyists. But you proved them wrong when we raised more small donations from more Americans than any other campaign in history.
They said we couldn't be successful if we didn't have the full support of the establishment in Washington. But you proved them wrong when we built a grassroots movement that could forever change the face of American politics.
They said we wouldn't have a chance in this campaign unless we resorted to the same old negative attacks. But we resisted, even when we were written off, and ran a positive campaign that pointed out real differences and rejected the politics of slash and burn.
And now, in seven days, you have a chance once again to prove the cynics wrong. In seven days, what was improbable has the chance to beat what Washington said was inevitable. And that's why in these last weeks, Washington is fighting back with everything it has -- with attack ads and insults; with distractions and dishonesty; with millions of dollars from outside groups and undisclosed donors to try and block our path.
We've seen this script many times before. But I know that this time can be different.
Because I know that when the American people believe in something, it happens.
If you believe, then we can tell the lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over.
If you believe, then we can stop making promises to America's workers and start delivering - jobs that pay, health care that's affordable, pensions you can count on, and a tax cut for working Americans instead of the companies who send their jobs overseas .
If you believe, we can offer a world-class education to every child, and pay our teachers more, and make college dreams a reality for every American.
If you believe, we can save this planet and end our dependence on foreign oil.
If you believe, we can end this war, close Guantanamo, restore our standing, renew our diplomacy, and once again respect the Constitution of the United States of America .
That's the future within our reach. That's what hope is - that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better is waiting for us around the corner. But only if we're willing to work for it and fight for it. To shed our fears and our doubts and our cynicism. To glory in the task before us of remaking this country block by block, precinct by precinct, county by county, state by state.
There is a moment in the life of every generation when, if we are to make our mark on history, this spirit must break through
This is the moment.
This is our time.
And if you will stand with me in seven days - if you will stand for change so that our children have the same chance that somebody gave us; if you'll stand to keep the American dream alive for those who still hunger for opportunity and thirst for justice; if you're ready to stop settling for what the cynics tell you you must accept, and finally reach for what you know is possible, then we will win this caucus, we will win this election, we will change the course of history, and the real journey - to heal a nation and repair the world - will have truly begun.
Des Moines, IA | December 18, 2007
This is a pivotal moment in our history. Our security is threatened. Our nation is at war. Our planet is in peril. The strength, standing and leadership in the world that so many generations of Americans have fought and worked for is at stake.
Iowans understand this. Everywhere I go – from Sioux City to Des Moines to Davenport – I'm asked about the changes we need to make in our foreign policy. You understand that in a world of stateless terrorists and spreading technology, our own security and prosperity is tied to what happens around the world. You want to be proud of what America stands for, and you know that America is stronger - and safer - when our policies reflect our core values.
This came up in our recent debate here in Des Moines. I was asked how I plan to change our foreign policy, even as I'm advised by members of previous Administrations. I'm thankful to be joined on this stage today by two of those advisors - Tony Lake and Susan Rice, as well as General Scott Gration and Senator Steve Warnstadt. And I look forward to drawing on all of the talent that I can get when I am President of the United States - because unlike George Bush, I'm not going to demand an ideological or loyalty test for my advisors.
But the answer to the question is simple. There are moments in history when it is not enough to fall back on conventional ways of doing things, because the threats we face are unconventional. There are moments when we're called to stand up for what is right even if it's not popular, because that's what makes us stronger and safer. There are moments when new challenges demand new American leadership.
This is one of those moments; I am running for President to offer that leadership; and I welcome the support of all who will help me chart this course.
I am running to do more than end a war in Iraq - I am running to change the mindset that got us into war. It's easy for us to lay all of the problems of the world at George Bush's doorstep. His judgments will be subject to the harsh light of history, and the verdict will not be kind. But the question is what comes next. Because we also have to change a conventional way of thinking about foreign policy that values time spent in Washington over timely judgments; posturing over pragmatism; and fear of looking weak over the conviction to get things right. Here, I ask you to look no further than my record.
George Bush did not take us to war alone. Congress gave him that authority when it voted for a Resolution with the simple title: "A Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq." I opposed the war, and spoke out against it in 2002 when it was not politically popular. I said we needed to finish the job in Afghanistan, and that invading and occupying a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 was the wrong way to respond to the unconventional challenge posed by al Qaeda and Islamic extremism.
Today, we see the disastrous results of the decision to go to war. Still, we have not shown that we are learning the right lessons.
On Iraq, we hear that the surge is succeeding. Let me be clear: the surge is not the solution to Iraq's problems because it is not achieving the political benchmarks that were the stated purpose of our troop increase. You cannot end a civil war unless the warring parties resolve their differences, and only a removal of our combat brigades will put meaningful pressure on the Iraqis to do so.
And the surge continues to focus our resources on the wrong war. Just yesterday, we learned on the front page of the Washington Post that the U.S. military is pressing for a quicker drawdown from Iraq so we can salvage stability in Afghanistan. Six years after we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan - the origin of the 9/11 attacks - we still don't have our priorities straight. That's why it's time to stop funding a failed policy, to remove our combat brigades from Iraq, and to increase our military, political, and economic commitment to Afghanistan. That's what I spoke out for in 2002, that's what I've called for in this campaign, and that's what I'll do as President.
In Iran, there is a conventional thinking that has prized bluster over common sense. Earlier this year, while I was getting attacked for calling for direct diplomacy with Iran's leaders, others were talking tough and voting for an amendment that calls for George Bush to use our troops in Iraq to counter Iran. Then we learned in a National Intelligence Estimate that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 in response to international pressure.
Now make no mistake - Iran continues to pose a threat through its support for terrorism, nuclear know-how, and threats toward Israel. But the answer is not George Bush's saber-rattling - it's the diplomatic approach that I put forward when it was politically risky. As President, I will personally present Iran with a choice - stop your dangerous behavior and there will be political and economic incentives; continue doing what you're doing and you will face further isolation.
We need a President who is willing to talk to all nations - friend and foe. Not talking doesn't make us look tough, it makes us look arrogant. It also makes it harder to get international support when we do need to pressure countries like Iran, and opens the door to China and Russia to fill the vacuum left by the absence of American leadership. We have to stop giving countries the excuse that America will not come to the table. We have to lead, and that's what I intend to do.
When you elect our next President, you will choose someone to make those tough judgments on Iraq, on Iran, on how to restore America's standing. We know what we're going to get from the Republican nominee. More Bush-Cheney foreign policy. More support for open-ended war in Iraq. More saber-rattling toward Iran. More refusing to talk to countries we don't like. More exceptions and excuses made for torture. They even had a debate earlier this year where they argued about how much to expand Guantanamo.
When I'm the Democratic nominee, I will offer a clear choice. My opponent won't be able to say that I ever supported the war in Iraq, or that I don't support a clear timetable to bring our troops home. He won't be able to say that I voted to use our troops in Iraq to counter Iran, or that I support the Bush-Cheney diplomacy of not talking to leaders we don't like. And he won't be able to say that I wavered on something as fundamental as whether or not it is ok for America to torture -because it is never ok.
This isn't about drawing contrasts - it's about a change in our foreign policy that you can believe in. So when you consider who to caucus for, I ask you to consider my judgment and vision for new American leadership. Leadership that brings our combat brigades out of Iraq in 16 months, renews American diplomacy, finishes the fight in Afghanistan, closes Guantanamo, and leads the world against the common threats of the 21st century - nuclear weapons and terrorism; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease. Leadership that sends a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, "You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now."
It's a vision informed by three years serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where I have worked across the aisle with Dick Lugar to keep the world's most dangerous weapons away from terrorists; and introduced legislation to stop the war in Iraq and the genocide in Darfur.
It's a vision informed by three years serving on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, where I have seen firsthand the sacrifices of those who bear the burden of war, and fought to give them the care, benefits, and respect that they have earned.
It's a vision informed by official travel overseas to Africa; throughout the Middle East; and across the former Soviet Union - where I have seen firsthand the unconventional threats of a terrorized city and the terrible danger of a loose anthrax vial; but where I also saw the yearning in the eyes of those faces who need an America that speaks to their hopes, not just their fears.
It's a vision informed by my opposition to this war in Iraq, and by the counsel I have received from leading experts like the people on this stage today.
And it's a vision informed by knowing what it's like to live in the wider world, beyond the halls of power; of playing barefoot with children in Indonesia who couldn't dream the same dreams that I could because they weren't American; of having a grandmother living in Kenya without electricity or plumbing; of being born to a father who set out from a distant land in search of the light of hope offered by a dream called America.
That is the experience that I will bring to the office. Not the mindset of fear that we have been fed since 9/11 - fear of looking weak; fear of new challenges; fear of the unknown. But rather hope that this moment of challenge can become a dawn of new opportunity, and the conviction to seize this opportunity - to recapture our strength; to overcome new threats; to reach for what's possible.
To do this, we have to invite the American people into the discussion, and once more make our foreign policy a cause to unite us - not a wedge issue to divide us. That's why I have been clear and detailed in my proposals during this campaign. And that's why I'm pleased to join some of my advisors in an open discussion with Iowans today.
Mt. Vernon, IA | December 05, 2007
It is an honor to be introduced by Harris Wofford - one of America's greatest advocates for public service. Starting with the civil rights movement and the Peace Corps, Harris and a generation of Americans answered a call to service. At a pivotal moment in our history, they stood up; they changed America; and they changed the world.
Today, it's easy for us to get caught thinking that there are two different stories at work in our lives. There is the story of our day to day cares and responsibilities. And there is the story of what's happening in the wider world - a story viewed through headlines and websites, a destiny to be shaped by forces beyond our control.
I am here today to ask you to reject this notion, and to invite you to take hold of the future of your country. Because your own story and the American story are not separate - they are shared. And they will both be enriched if we stand up together, and answer a new call to service to meet the challenges of our new century.
I say this to you as someone whose presence on this stage is unlikely. My father came from thousands of miles away, in Kenya, and went back there soon after I was born. I spent a childhood adrift. I was raised in Hawaii and Indonesia. I lived with my single mom and with my grandparents from Kansas. Growing up, I wasn't always sure who I was, or where I was going.
Then, when I was about your age, I decided to become a community organizer. I wrote letters to every organization in the country that I could think of. And for a while, I got no response. Finally, this small group of churches on the south side of Chicago wrote back and offered me a job to come help neighborhoods devastated by steel-plant closings. My mother and grandparents wanted me to go to law school. My friends were applying to jobs on Wall Street. I didn't know a soul in Chicago, and the salary was about $12,000 a year, plus $2,000 to buy an old, beat-up car.
I still remember a conversation I had with an older man before I left. He looked and said, "Barack, I'll give you a bit of advice. Forget this community organizing business and do something that's gonna make you some money. You can't change the world, and people won't appreciate you trying. You've got a nice voice. What you should do is go into television broadcasting. I'm telling you, you've got a future."
Now, he may have had a point about the TV thing. And to tell you the truth, I didn't have a clear answer about what I was doing. I wanted to step into the currents of history and help people fight for their dreams, but didn't know what my role would be. I was inspired by what people like Harris did in the civil rights movement, but when I got to Chicago, there were no marches, no soaring speeches. In the shadow of an empty steel plant, there were just a lot of folks struggling. Day after day, I heard ‘no' a lot more than I heard ‘yes.' I saw plenty of empty chairs in those meetings we put together.
But even as I discovered that you can't bend history to your will, I found that you could do your part to see that - in the words of Dr. King - it "bends toward justice." In church basements and around kitchen tables, block by block, we brought the community together, registered new voters, fought for new jobs, and helped people live lives with some measure of dignity.
Eventually, I realized I wasn't just helping other people. Through service, I found a community that embraced me; a church to belong to; citizenship that was meaningful; the direction I'd been seeking. Through service, I found that my own improbable story fit into a larger American story.
In America, each of us seeks our own dreams, but the sum of those dreams must be greater than ourselves. Because the America we inherited is the legacy of those who struggled, and those who served in so many ways, before us.
It's the legacy of a band of unlikely patriots who overthrew the tyranny of a King.
It's the legacy of abolitionists who stood up, and soldiers who fought for a more perfect union.
It's the legacy of those who started to teach in our schools and tend to the sick in our cities; who laid the rails and volunteered to uphold the law as America moved west.
It's the legacy of men who faced the Depression by putting on the uniform of the Civilian Conservation Corps; of women who worked on that Arsenal of Democracy and built the tanks and ships and bomber aircraft to fight fascism.
It's the legacy of those women's suffragists and freedom riders who stood up for justice; and young people who answered President Kennedy's call to go forth in a Peace Corps.
The sacrifices made by previous generations have never been easy. But America is a great nation precisely because Americans have been willing to stand up when it was hard; to serve on stages both great and small; to rise above moments of great challenge and terrible trial.
One of those moments took place on September 11, 2001. Whether you lived in Manhattan or here in Mount Vernon, you felt the pain and loss of that day not just as an individual, but as an American. That's why we lined up to give blood. That's why we held vigils and flew flags. That's why we rallied behind our President. We had a chance to step into the currents of history. We were ready to answer a new call for our country. But the call never came. Instead, we were asked to go shopping, and to prove our patriotism by supporting a war in Iraq that should never have been authorized, and never been waged.
We have lost precious time. Our nation is less secure and less respected in the world. Our energy dependence has risen, and so has the specter of climate change. More of our children have been left behind. Instead of a call to unity, we got a political strategy of division. The burden of service has fallen, more and more, on the brave men and women of our military who heroically serve tour after tour of duty in a war without end.
When I was thinking about whether or not to seek the presidency, there were some voices who counseled me to wait. You seem like a gifted young man, they said - why not wait around Washington a few more years? Or when I started talking about a politics of hope, some just rolled their eyes and echoed the words of that man from my younger days: you can't change the world, and people won't appreciate you trying.
Well I am running for President - right now - because I refuse to let this moment pass. The decisions we make today will shape the century that my daughters - and your children - grow up in. I have not served the cause of America for over two decades to stay on the sidelines at a time when that cause is being challenged at home and abroad. If we don't rise up to seize this moment, then we may not get another.
I have no doubt that in the face of impossible odds people who love their country can change it. But I hold no illusions that one man or woman can do this alone. That's why my campaign has called nearly 400,000 Americans to a common purpose. That's why I'm reaching out to Democrats, and also to Independents and Republicans. And that is why I won't just ask for your vote as a candidate; I will ask for your service and your active citizenship when I am President of the United States. This will not be a call issued in one speech or program; this will be a cause of my presidency.
First, we will create new opportunities for all Americans to serve, and to direct that service to our most pressing national challenges.
Americans have shown they want to step up. I see it everywhere I go: the brave young men and women who have signed up to defend our country; the volunteers fighting poverty in rural America and to rebuild New Orleans; students getting their colleges to divest to stop the genocide in Darfur; the thousands of young Americans who have flooded the applicant pool for Teach for America; retirees who are devoting their time to serve.
But we're not keeping pace with the demand of those who want to serve, and we're not leveraging that commitment to meet national challenges. FDR not only enlisted Americans to create employment, he targeted that service to build our infrastructure and conserve our environment. JFK not only called on a new generation, he made their service a bridge to the developing world, and a bright light of American values in the darkest days of the Cold War.
Today, AmeriCorps - our nation's network of local, state and national service programs - has 75,000 slots. As President, I will increase that to 250,000, and make that increased service a vehicle to meet national goals like providing health care and education, saving our planet and restoring our standing in the world, so that citizens see their efforts connected to a common purpose. People of all ages, stations, and skills will be asked to serve. Because when it comes to the challenges we face, the American people are not the problem - they are the answer.
To help every American receive a world-class education, we will create a new Classroom Corps. We'll have college students, recent graduates and retirees mentor young people; engineers and scientists will help make sure the next generation of innovators is educated here in America; civic, business and faith leaders will develop new after school programs for our kids.
To free ourselves from energy dependence and to confront climate change, we will create a new Energy Corps. We'll ask you to work on renewable energy projects, to teach folks about conservation, and to help clean up polluted areas. And we'll send talented American engineers and scientists abroad to help developing countries promote low-carbon energy development.
To restore America's standing, I will call on our greatest resource - not our bombs, guns, or dollars - I will call upon our people. We will grow the Foreign Service to renew our commitment to diplomacy. We will double the size of the Peace Corps by its 50th anniversary in 2011. And we'll reach out to other nations to engage their young people in similar programs, so that we work side by side to take on the common challenges that confront all humanity.
I will expand our military, while offering those who serve the promise that they will get the training, equipment, and care they deserve - and that they can trust we will never, ever, send them to fight in a misguided war. And we'll enlist veterans to help other veterans find jobs; to counsel vets who are confronting homelessness, mental health and substance abuse problems; and to pitch in at VA hospitals and nursing homes.
Some of these programs will be full-time; some will be part time opportunities for those who are working. And we'll expand and improve Senior Corps programs to attract new retirees with substantive service opportunities, so that service becomes a core part of active retirement
And we'll use technology to connect people to service more extensively and effectively. We turn to websites like craigslist to find apartments and jobs. So we'll expand USA Freedom Corps to create an online network where Americans can browse opportunities to volunteer. You'll be able to search by category, time commitment, and skill sets; you'll be able to rate service opportunities, build service networks, and create your own service pages to track your hours and activities. This will empower more Americans to craft their own service agenda, and make their own change from the bottom up.
The second thing I'll do is invest in ideas that can help us meet our common challenges, because more often than not the next great social innovation won't be generated by the government.
The non-profit sector employs 1 in 12 Americans and 115 nonprofits are launched every day. Yet while the federal government invests $7 billion in research and development for the private sector, there is no similar effort to support non-profit innovation. Meanwhile, there are ideas across America - in our inner cities and small towns; from college graduates to folks making a career change - that could benefit millions of Americans if they're given the chance to grow.
As President, I will launch a new Social Investment Fund Network. It's time to get the grass roots, the foundations, the private sector and the government at the table. We'll invest in ideas that work; leverage private sector dollars to encourage innovation; and expand successful programs to scale. Take a program like the Harlem Children's Zone, which helps thousands of kids in New York through after-school activities, mentoring, and family support. We need to make that model work in different cities around the country. And I'll start a new Social Entrepreneur Agency to make sure that small non-profits have the same kind of support that we give small businesses.
The third part of my plan will be integrating service into education, so that young Americans are called upon and prepared to be active citizens.
Just as we teach math and writing, arts and athletics, we need to teach young Americans to take citizenship seriously. Study after study shows that students who serve do better in school, are more likely to go to college, and more likely to maintain that service as adults. So when I'm President, I will set a goal for all American middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service a year, and for all college students to perform 100 hours of service a year. This means that by the time you graduate college, you'll have done 17 weeks of service.
We'll reach this goal in several ways. At the middle and high school level, we'll make federal assistance conditional on school districts developing service programs, and give schools resources to offer new service opportunities. At the community level, we'll develop public-private partnerships so students can serve more outside the classroom.
For college students, I have proposed an annual American Opportunity Tax Credit of $4,000 to make tuition affordable. To receive this credit, we'll require 100 hours of public service. And we'll amend the Federal Work-Study program, so that nearly $250 million will help more than 200,000 college students work in part-time public service jobs each year.
And we will not leave out the nearly 2 million young Americans who are out of school and out of work. Instead, we'll use service to tighten their bond to the American family, and to put them on a pathway to success. We'll enlist them in a Green Job Corps, so that disadvantaged young people can find useful work and gain skills in a growing industry. And we'll expand the YouthBuild Program, which puts young Americans to work building affordable housing in America's poorest communities, giving them valuable skills and a chance to complete a high school education. Today, there are 8,000 YouthBuild slots - we'll expand that to 50,000.
Now I know what the cynics will say. I've heard from them all my life.
These are the voices that will tell you - not just what you can't do - but what you won't do. Americans won't come together - our allegiance doesn't go beyond our political party, region, or congregation. Young Americans won't serve their country - they're too selfish, or too lazy. This is the soft sell of the status quo, the voice that tells you to settle because settling isn't that bad.
Let me ask you to stop and consider this meeting that we're having. You go to the first school in the United States west of the Mississippi to grant women the same rights and privileges as men. You go to a school that resolved in 1870 that race would not be a factor in admission. These may be small changes on the vast canvas of history, but the America we live in is the sum total of that kind of courage, that spirit of progress. If it weren't for that kind of change, it wouldn't be possible for someone like me to stand here today to talk to you about the future of this country. You and I are at a place where somebody, at some point, decided that loving their community and their country meant doing something to change it.
Renewing that spirit starts with service. Make no mistake: our destiny as Americans is tied up with one another. If we are less respected in the world, then you will be less safe. If we keep paying dictators to fill up our gas tanks, then those oceans are going to rise. If we can't give our kids a world-class education, then our economy is going to fall behind.
And that's how it should be. It is time to recapture that sense of a common purpose: I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper. I'm tired of hearing about how America is on the wrong track - I want us to come together to put it on the right track. I'm tired of hearing about red America and blue America - I want to lead a United States of America. I'm tired of talking about what we can't do, or won't do, or won't even try - I want all of us to stand up and to start reaching for what is possible.
That's what history calls us to do. Because loving your country shouldn't just mean watching fireworks on the 4th of July; loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part to change it. And if you do stand up, I promise you that your life will be richer, and our country will be stronger.
We need your service, right now, in this moment - our moment - in history. I'm not going to tell you what your role should be; that's for you to discover. But I am going to ask you to play your part; ask you to stand up; ask you to put your foot firmly into the current of history. I am asking you to change history's course. And if I have the fortune to be your President, decades from now - when the memory of this or that policy has faded, and when the words that we will speak in the next few years are long forgotten - I hope you remember this as a moment when your own story and the American story came together, and history bent once more in the direction of justice.