Web teaser: Barack Obama: "Yes We Can!"
In groups, share what you already know about American politics in general and Barack Obama in particular.
While reading the text below, stop to consider the questions on the way. Make notes of your answers.
Read the introduction on page 52 before working with the text and tasks below.
Speech made by Barack Obama on November 4, 2008:
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.
It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference.
It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.
We are, and always will be, the United States of America. [ ]
a) Does Obama think America is the place where everything is possible? Explain.
b) What is the message American voters have sent to the world?
This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight's about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.
She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.
And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America -- the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.
At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.
When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.
When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.
She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that We Shall Overcome. Yes we can.
A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.
And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.
Yes we can.
a) Who is Ann Nixon Cooper?
b) Why couldnt someone like her vote 100 years ago?
c) Give some examples of things Ann Nixon Cooper has seen in her life.
America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves -- if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?
This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment.
This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.
Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.
a) What are the dreams Obama has for America?
b) What is the spirit of the American people, according to Obama?
Timeline of events in Obamas speech
- 1776: The Declaration of Independence (from Britain) by the founders of the United States of America. The declaration states that all men are created equal.
- 1807: The slave trade is abolished. (However, existing slaves are not freed.)
- 1865: After the American Civil War, slavery is abolished.
- 1919: Women are given the vote.
- 1929: The Great Depression starts after Americas stock market collapses. Nearly 3 million workers are without work.
- 1930s: Farm land is destroyed by dust storms as a result of ecological damage to the soil. Thousands living in the Dust Bowl are forced to leave their homes.
- 1933: The first of President Roosevelts New Deal programs, giving relief (money, jobs etc.) to those affected by the Depression.
- 1941: The US navy is attacked by Japanese planes at its base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As a result, America joins the war against Japan and Nazi Germany.
- 1955: On a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white passenger. She is arrested and put in prison. This leads to demonstrations and bus boycotts.
- 1963: Black students and schoolchildren protesting against segregation are attacked by police with dogs and water hoses.
- 1965: A peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights is brutally broken up by police. A Voting Rights Act is passed giving many African Americans the vote for the first time.
- 1968: Civil Rights leader and preacher Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated. The day before he makes a speech promising We Shall Overcome.
- 1989: The fall of the Berlin Wall signals the end of the Cold War.
Understanding the speech
Where in the speech does Obama say the following, and how does he say it?
- Some people have voted for the first time.
- Americans are a people, not just a lot of individuals.
- Ann Nixon Coopers parents were born during the time of slavery.
- When Ann Nixon Cooper was young, women did not have the vote.
- Ann Nixon Cooper voted electronically.
- We must work against unemployment, hopelessness, poverty and war.
Looking more closely at the speech
- Look at the timeline of events above and match them to references in Obamas speech.
- Why does Obama mention Ann Nixon Cooper?
- What is typical of the American spirit, according to Obama?
Sit in groups of three and discuss the following questions. Be prepared to report back to class on what your views were.
- Obama says America is a place where all things are possible. What do you think he means by this – and do you agree?
- When you are 18 (you may be already!), you will have the right to vote. Will you use your right? Why/why not?
- What is your opinion of Barack Obama? Was his election victory in 2008 as historic as it was made out to be? Why was he re-elected in 2012, do you think? How has he fared as President?