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Obama calls on Americans to restore American dream for all

President Barack Obama speaks at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.
Chelsea Embree | Beacon intern | 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 24, 2013: In his second speech at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., President Barack Obama told an enthusiastic audience that Congress must work together to help grow the economy from the middle out, not the top down, and that he would make economic policy the focusing for his remaining time in office.

“I will not allow gridlock or inaction or willful indifference to get in our way," Obama said, adding that he would use executive actions if need be to help implement his economic policy.

Although America has made economic strides, Obama said, "I'm here to tell you today that we're not there yet. We all know that. We're not there yet. We've got more work to do."

Obama said that the average American makes less today than in 1999. Growing income inequality threatens the security of the middle class and economic opportunity.

"When the rungs on the ladder of opportunity grow farther apart, it undermines the very essence of this country," said Obama.

“Reversing these trends has to be Washington’s highest priority," he said. “They’re certainly my highest priority.”

These responses received a huge applause from the audience.

Obama detailed his goals for building the middle class. He listed five cornerstones for a strong middle class:

  1. Good jobs: Obama said that he hoped to generate jobs in growing industries and raise minimum wage. He said that everyone should have the opportunity to work their way into the middle class, regardless of how much money they start out with.
  2. Good education: The president hopes to make college affordable for everyone who wants to pursue it. As for America's children, Obama said, "As we speak, federal agencies are moving on my plan to connect 99 percent of American students to high speed internet over next five years."
  3. Home ownership: To help people keep and maintain their homes, he hopes to "give every homeowner the chance to refinance mortgage when rates are lower so they can save thousands of dollars each year."
  4. Retirement security, marked by adequate retirement plans.
  5. Health-care security so that an illness or accident doesn't bankrupt a family or crush their aspirations.

Obama called on Americans' better nature. "We are not a people who allow chance of birth to decide life’s big winners and losers," he said. "After years in which we’ve seen how easy it can be for any of us to fall on hard times, we cannot turn our backs when bad breaks hit any of our fellow citizens."
If America decided to pursue his goals, the president said the economy would be stronger one, five and even 10 years from now.

He closed his speech on a fitting note by saying, "We will find an ocean of tomorrows,"a reference to Galesburg-born Carl Sandburg.

Six hundred people received tickets to attend the president's speech. Among those attending were the former mayor of Galesburg, Sal Garza, and a former president of Knox College, Roger Taylor.

Teresa Amott, the current college president, said, "It's a wonderful thing for Knox to have a visit from a standing president."

She noted that it was especially exciting to have Obama visit again. He visited the college in 2005 to deliver a commencement speech as a new Illinois senator.

"He gave a speech at that time that I think was very much focused on the future of young people, and now, to come back and echo those themes ... it is a speech about the future. It's a perfect speech to give in a college setting," Amott said. "How ... we all come together to make the economy grow is a huge theme for any young person at any level."

A number of students on campus this summer got the opportunity to see the president's speech.

Emily Cooney, who will be a senior at Knox in the fall, said that it was "really cool" to witness his speech, and that it was "kind of a shock to see him in person."

Cooney "liked how he was trying to bring people together instead of it just being Democrat versus Republican."

Other faculty and staff from Knox College also reacted to the president's remarks about working with both parties in congress to achieve a better economy.

"He’s the president, so he’s the person that everybody can focus on and be mad at. But really, if you’re frustrated with what’s going on, you need to be looking at what your local state and what your federal representatives are doing. Are they part of the solution or are they being part of the problem?" said Tianna Cervantez, the director of multicultural student advisement. "So he can put those ideas out there, but if [Congress is] not willing to work together, then we’re going to be stuck."

Anne Giffey, the assistant librarian for public services, shared similar thoughts.

"I don’t think he laid out anything specific as far as policy, and he said that right upfront. But it was a good rallying cry."

Chelsea Embree, an intern at the Beacon, is a student at Knox College and the managing editor of the school paper.

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