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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Sharpton: 'Our vote is sacred.'

The Rev. Al Sharpton let it rip when he departed from his script eleven minutes into his prepared speech:

Mr President, as I close, Mr President, I heard you say Friday that you had questions for voters, particularly African-American voters. And you asked the question: Did the Democratic Party take us for granted? Well, I have raised questions. But let me answer your question.

You said the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is true that Mr Lincoln signed [the] Emancipation Proclamation, after which there was a commitment to give forty acres and a mule. That's where the argument, to this day, of reparations starts. We never got the forty acres. We went all the way to Herbert Hoover, and we never got the forty acres.

We didn't get the mule. So we decided we'd ride this donkey as far as it would take us. [Extended applause]

Mr President, you said would we have more leverage if both parties got our votes, but we didn't come this far playing political games. It was those that earned our vote that got our vote. We got the Civil Rights Act under a Democrat. We got the Voting Rights Act under a Democrat. [Applause] We got the right to organize under Democrats. [Extended applause]

Mr President, the reason we are fighting so hard, the reason we took Florida so seriously, is our right to vote wasn't gained because of our age. Our vote was soaked in the blood of martyrs, soaked in the blood of good men like Chaney and Schwerner, soaked in the blood of four little girls in Birmingham. This vote is sacred to us. This vote can't be bargained away. This vote can't be given away. [Applause]

Mr President, in all due respect, Mr President, read my lips: Our vote is not for sale. [Applause]

Quite apart from anything else one might think about Sharpton's politics, he vividly conveys here one of the reasons that the Republicans' loud religiosity hasn't pried black voters away from the Democrats. When pundits talk about religion-and-politics, one of the things they sometimes overlook is how passionately — how religiously — many Americans take their civil rights.

There is still a very deep connection between most Americans' commitment to their civil religion and their commitment to their church, synagogue, or mosque — so deep that I think the right to vote is for millions of Americans a religious value that trumps even such hot-button "religious issues" like gay marriage and abortion. The language of martyrdom, the language of loyalty, the language of sacrifice: These aspects of the civil rights movement have biblical roots, but the epochal shift Lyndon Johnson brought about in the Democratic Party has made this language integral to how Democrats talk about their vision of America. It is a religious commitment. It was refreshing to hear Sharpton put it so bluntly.

(The full transcript of Sharpton's spoken remarks can't be found at most Convention sites; the version here is adapted from the Associated Press transcript compared to the audio recording [RealAudio, courtesy WBUR].)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 29 July 2004 at 4:59 PM

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