My fellow citizens, today we celebrate the experiment and the journey that is The United States of America. I am honored and humbled to stand before you to add a line in that story, to begin, with you, the work of writing the next chapter. Let us start this chapter talking about success.
American individualism will tell you that my success has been born of my upbringing in a small town, with a father who worked in a used book store and a mother who drove a school bus. Both my campaign and the American narrative would lead you to believe that my success in being on this dais today came from my ability to overcome obstacles, learn lessons, and with a uniquely American spirit, carry myself across this land to meet and inspire a generation of citizens to new levels of participation and support. But, this is an incomplete myth.
What has also led to my success was my safety. Success was born from playing in a front yard with no fence and no fear of being run over, gunned down, mistreated or murdered. Success came from a warm meal in the evening after being allowed to wander all day. Success came from having big, incomplete, childish dreams, and being told to keep imagining and refining them. Success came from making friends and choosing family and never once wondering if they did or didn’t love me. Success came from being able to marry and divorce and remarry whomever I chose, never once being told my choices were unacceptable. Success came from trying and failing and being taught to fail better. Success came from getting sick and breaking bones, but never having to worry for my very existence. Success came from the community and state and country in which I was protected and raised.
I didn’t see, I don’t think any of us see, the womb of protection that surrounds us. The parents, the officers, the firefighters, the military, the regulations, the environment, the atmosphere, the magnetic fields of the earth. None of us notice these immunities until they are gone, or until they turn on us. Too many children find out early that their parents are not protectors. Too many teens discover that the police do not always defend and serve. Too many in other countries bear the wrath of militaries. Too many are stripped of their environment. Too many don’t have clean water or nutritious food. Too many have been told to walk, talk, look and act a certain way, that if they wander outside some narrowly acceptable line they will die. We all live beneath a thinning atmosphere of our own making.
The greatest gift this country has been blessed with is two large oceans protecting our coasts, and companion nations to the north and south. We have been allowed, like I was allowed, to experiment and discover and play. This has led us to be leaders in the world, to think bigger thoughts, to imagine and implement fantastic ideas. For, those whom we insure their safety become our leaders, our thinkers, our inventors, our artists, our entrepreneurs. This is why the great majority of those who make up our government have degrees from prestigious universities. Because these institutions ensure, for a time, the space and safety to incubate new ideas.
All of us elected last November were rewarded for our ability to raise funds and supporters, to build a coalition of people willing to not only vote for us, but to campaign for us. It will be our inclination to answer that support with a willing ear, with our precious time, and with concern for the issues of those who sent us. But I ask you today to also look forward, to decide where the next generation of world-changing Americans will come from, to spend some of your political capital and intellectual prowess on figuring out how to provide safety for our people.
Every time a woman walks down the street unsure of where the next attack or catcall will come from, she is not thinking about how to lift up a nation. Every time a person of color is followed in a store, they are wondering what they have done wrong, rather than wondering how to invent better products. Every time a child imagines what awful thing might happen when they head home from school, they are not thinking about how to ace their homework.
There is a reason that very few people, nearly none, who stand at this podium have grown up in the cities, the population centers, of our democracy. It is because living in a city means constantly looking over your shoulder, watching your back, worrying about where the next danger might come from. All of those mental resources that could have been used to lift us up as a species, spent, instead, just to keep themselves alive.
We have built into our democracy safeguards to keep people protected. It is a central tenet of our beliefs, that the individual left to explore and learn and grow without needing to fight everyday for survival, can uplift their family, their community, this nation, this world. I look forward to our debates and legislation and compromise and solutions that further protect the American people. I will sign into law any bill that I believe will keep people alive, and safe, and free.
If we can think not just about those who brought us here, but also about those who are worried today for their life and their livelihood, if we can lift that burden off their shoulders, just a bit, than we have ensured our next great generation. If we can keep our people safe, give them space, allow them to experiment and explore, they will honor us with their support.
God bless us and protect us. And God bless the United States of America.