The NEED to Dream and for Open Debate

The Liberty Voice Transcript Service

This is an edited (for readability), transcript of Sean Penn’s speech at the “Open the Debates Super Rally” August 27, which ran parallel the Democratic National Convention. In his opening remarks, Penn referred to the DNC as ‘the Prom.’

My name is Sean Penn. I am an actor and a film-maker and at times, I dabble in a traditional form of journalism. I’ve traveled to regions of conflict, spoken to people on the ground involved in the conflict and those affected by it. I’ve researched the history of the situation and reported my observations in print–and to the best of my ability, I’ve expressed those observations without a political predisposition. I arrived at what I would consider common sense conclusions, and factual presentations. I’ve done this without a network, a magazine or a periodical’s incentive–as those incentives in the mainstream media are trade-offs for today’s postured reporting which is dictated by others, rather than the reporter.


By the way, having reported on a election from Iran, I’ve got to say that the lack of open debate is not the most appealing commonality we have with Iran.

In today’s mainstream media, I would be defined as more dilettante than journalist. It’s true that my face is neither academic enough nor pretty enough to serve the requirements of today’s mainstream journalists–who for the most part, if they travel at all, do so in the beds or as servants of a corporate agenda. They exercise little or no common sense whatsoever.

I stand here today however, in support of no candidate. Neither from the two dominant parties, nor the independents. I stand here today–not as a representative of the Hollywood community, but simply as a citizen. Simply as one of you.

Many of you are aware of the recent small-minded and violent attacks on the home and automobile of two University professors in Santa Cruz. When I read the reports, it got me thinking: as Americans we are constantly reminded of threats against our nation and our republic from fundamentalists abroad. While we reflect on the post-9/11 world, most of us agree that the generic term “no excuse” absolutely applies to the acts that took American lives on that day. We have also begun to acknowledge the creation of hopelessness for many in the world in which we have played and continue to play a significant role.


In simple terms, the Qur’an has been with us for over a thousand years. C-4 explosives have been with us certainly through my lifetime, but if the Qur’an were to be blamed for the current rash of suicide bombings and prevalent acts of terrorism here at home…Why is it that in Iraq for example, suicide bombings are only a five-year-old-phenomenon?


And this brings me back to the recent events in Santa Cruz and how they relate to the election this convention serves. Acts of terror are not the exclusive domain of brown skinned, bearded or shrouded people from 8,000 miles away. They are the acts of hopeless people.

You’ll remember Tim McVey. We need to ask ourselves what has kept such massive acts of domestic terrorism from occurring with regularity in our times? At least that is the perception of those of us who are not Native Americans, poor black or Latino Americans–upon whose doorsteps terrorism has lived through genocide and the starved hope and self-destructive violence of gangs and drugs. Yet, when we consider the oddity that is Tim McVey who was so moved with indignation from the atrocities of Waco and Ruby Ridge to mislead him into this obscenely violent act, we must get our hands just dirty and bloody enough, for those hands to reflect back to us, some clue as to what part we play in those actions as a society.

This should lead us to demand in ourselves, to remember and to honor the wondrous foundation of security and freedom that is born from our United States Constitution. Citizens rights, human rights, rights to a quality of life and the fulfillment of the human need-the NEED not luxury–to dream.

To believe in the possibility of change built on reason, the possibility for peace, and our responsible stewardship of the Constitution. When do such acts as those in Oklahoma City or those in Santa Cruz become pervasive? Again, we are excusing no one their violence, but they become pervasive every time we devolve our Constitution. Each generation’s responsibility is to be more complete than the last in its commitment to Constitutional principals.

The major parties are both running candidates who not only approved the un-Constitutional misuse of FISA warrants, but also supported retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies who violated the public trust, who violated the rule of law, and who violated our Constitution hand-in-hand with the current administration’s unlawful and un-American wiretaps.

We are in fact, their employers. And the Democratic and Republican candidates who seek our employment as our next president, are both on record as participants in devolving our Constitution.

When a member of the United States military takes an oath of service, he takes that oath to serve our Constitution. Not in the service of a four to eight-year employee. When we say we support our troops, we can’t begin to do that until we join in solidarity in pledging that same oath.

Should it concern us when animal rights activists become so hopeless in their efforts to gain consideration for animal rights, that they would attack equally well-intentioned scientists, who because their research involves mice, find their family homes and cars bombed by fellow Americans? Over MICE!

Now this may seem convoluted, but not if one tracks the cultural response of hostility from every passionate point of view that see a leadership which is itself prone toward unjustifiable violence and the un-American diminishment of the Constitution.

What do you think is going to happen? What do you think the American hopeless will do when there are further attacks on our Constitution? When Barack Obama and John McCain neglect enforcing the rule of law–which must NOT stop at the White House; that impeachment for them is off the table; that bombing Iran is on their table; we better ask ourselves what the fundamentalists within would put on our table.

If we leave it to them to be the last line of defense; if we leave it to violence to be the last line of defense against the diminishment of our Constitution and of our voice–then it is we who will have no excuse.

The solution, and our mission is to put all challenges on the table. NOW. And to do that, we must have open debate.

I believe. I deeply believe that it would be pure cynicism to suggest that the hope so many of our fellow Americans attach to Barack Obama’s candidacy can be viewed comparably to dancing about architecture.

He is a great symbol of possibilities. There’s no question that this elegant man has great potential as America’s new ambassador to a fragmented world. But while those are two essential pieces of the puzzle, change will not and cannot come, if our reliance as a people is on the best political team on TV or any candidate whose record is so dominantly status-quo.

It is ‘We the People’ who must make change, and to do that we must grow our democracy through challenge, tolerance, respect and compromise–the achievements of open debate. And it is in that debate that we are not alone. The clear and responsible mind can recognize significant leaders of change and voices of a diverse nation.

They’ve always been with us.

There’s no one in this room who is without a friend or loved one. Or perhaps some of your very lives were preserved by the advocacy for change of Ralph Nader. That’s a claim that neither major candidate and very few other men and women of our century can make. We need that voice. In education. We need it in environment, economy, poverty, health care, nuclear energy, foreign policy, immigration, volunteer-ism ,human rights and a world of veterans issues that are coming our way.


For the moment, judge it as you will, but would say that Ralph Nader is in fact obligated to make a run for the Presidency. It is the American thing to do. If it doesn’t suit your taste, or if it creates an inconvenience for you, there may be a time when other productive options are on the table, but no matter who your presidential pick is–for America, let’s demand to hear the challenge of Ralph Nader.

Let’s demand to hear all the voices for change that represent the needs of all Americans. We must demand it in our media. We must demand it of John McCain. We must demand it from Barack Obama. I’m sick of this High school, with suits on, called the Democratic and Republican parties.


I’m telling you, you go around and you’ve heard it. They brandish their party credentials by snickering away open debate like a clique of wormy snobs. We saw our republican brothers and sisters punked out by spin and marginalization which was brought to them by their pundits and public servants. They even allowed it to co-op their own thought.

But the Republican Americans are anything but our enemy. They are just as important to the fabric of this country as any of us.


But we watched as they were suckered into serving interests which betrayed their own countries and their own people. As they confidently presented the official line, it was really an exploitation of them by their leaders. And we are no better. It can happen to us, and to many it already has.

So, the question is, are we going to fight for the public discourse of facts? Or will we be shamed into hiding? Not only by the O’Reilly’s and the Limbaugh’s and the Hannitys, but also by the confident disparaging of thought handed down by the James Carvilles of the mainstream media.

Hope is never arrived at through staunch pragmatism, and it’s for that reason that I am still considering my own decision as to whom I will vote for. But in fairness to Ralph Nader, the American hero in this building with us tonight; to the Bob Barrs, the Ron Pauls, Cynthia McKinneys and the independent spirit of Dennis Kucinich:


When we are told not to vote for someone because he or she is a spoiler, let’s remember that Barack Obama himself is considered the greatest spoiler of all– by a narcissistic branch of democrats who simply have forgotten their manners, a slip of hubris which most certainly has Dr. King clawing at his casket. In their defiance to the American voter– like little kids loosing a game, they take the ball from the field and switch their allegiance to the man who would be George Bush the Third, John McCain.

In whatever decision we make, it’s imperative that we address the future. That’s what this is all about. Quality of life is the singular global issue, and it’s upon all of us to seek it for all the rest.


Our hopes for our children are the clearest path to that end, and I would like to sum up in this way.

I don’t believe that the habit of impeaching our presidents, as illustrated in the silliness of the Clinton affair, is beneficial for our system. However, I learned a long time ago that the toughest guy on the block is the one with the least to loose. And though most Democrats were initially critical of President Ford’s decision to pardon Richard Nixon, what was most appalling were the revisionist positions expressed upon the death of Gerald Ford. Democrat after Democrat lined up to praise the way he unified our country in a divided time. And yes, in the short term, that was a reasonable success. But as the toughest guy on the block is the one with the least to loose, so is the weakest–the one with the most to loose.

We see it in the statistics of the death penalty states where executions serve as no deterrent because the homicidal mind so often considers that there’s nothing to loose. But if these elitist terrorists, the elitist traitors of the Bush administration,


…had grown their political careers as Richard Nixon ended his–in prison, I think it’s a pretty good bet that their feeding at the trough–devouring our Constitution would have been kept to a minimum. We have to focus on equal justice and accountability if we are to achieve the democracy we dream of.

We all know that another hurricane is threatening the Golf Coast at this very moment. So few have been held accountable to the disastrous and inhumane response to the devastation that was Katrina. We have a long, long way to go and we should all pray that the defining moment will not come in the form of a category five hurricane in the coming days or weeks. But even if that current threat were not present–Katrina still would be.

Not only have we not held those that failed the Golf Coast accountable, we have continued to fail the needs of those in the Golf Coast today.

The defining moment really, is that whoever you vote for, you better hold his ass to the fire. Putting on pressure district by district, media outlet by media outlet–that as it is our job, it is theirs to serve this country’s great Constitution.

The next time somebody says the words, “How dare Ralph Nader run,” you ask them what they did for their country today. We should demand, by any means, that his voice–so truly representative of so many of ours–is heard.

We have got to stop telling people not to think and speak.

And I thank my friends Matt Gonzalez, Ralph Nader, and in particular, all of you for my opportunity to speak today. Thank you very much.

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