I have a dream . . .

Sharing visions

When Martin Luther King stood at the podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, he did not inspire a generation by declaring ‘I have a great strategic plan.’ He said, quite simply, ‘I have a dream.’ And like many of the great speeches, he was sharing a vision. He was seeking to attract his listeners to a dream of a united America, where all men and women were regarded equal, regardless of colour.

Great orators seek to draw the listener towards their way of thinking. They emphasise common ground by constant use of the words ‘us’ and ‘we’ – ‘we all believe’, ‘together we can’.

But it’s not all sharing visions. This selection of speeches and writings shows a complex weave – speakers attract, propose, reason and persuade, offer incentives and pressures, disclose and assert.

John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address from January 1961, for example, climaxes with the direct request that Americans . . .

‘Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.’

It includes calls for common ground . . .

‘Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belabouring those problems which divide us.’

There are disclosures . . .

‘I cannot see how the future will pan out . . .’

But the overriding purpose is to attract, through words, rhetorical devices, tone of voice and body language.

We are not saying you have to be like Martin Luther King or John F Kennedy to be good at sharing visions. These are simply some inspiring examples of people who were seeking to attract others towards their vision.


Martin Luther King

I have a dream, 1963

This masterpiece of rhetoric was delivered by King on 28 August 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial, to a crowd of more than 250,000 civil rights supporters.

“But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.”


Emmeline Pankhurst

‘Freedom or death’ speech, 1913

Emmeline Pankhurst was an activist and leader of the British suffragette movement. These come from a speech she delivered in Hartford, Connecticut, in November 1913.

“If you are dealing with an industrial revolution, if you get the men and women of one class rising up against the men and women of another class, you can locate the difficulty; if there is a great industrial strike, you know exactly where the violence is and how the warfare is going to be waged; but in our war against the government you can’t locate it. We wear no mark; we belong to every class; we permeate every class of the community from the highest to the lowest; and so you see in the woman’s civil war the dear men of my country are discovering it is absolutely impossible to deal with it: you cannot locate it, and you cannot stop it.”

“‘Put them in prison,’ they said, ‘that will stop it.’ But it didn’t stop it at all: instead of the women giving it up, more women did it, and more and more and more women did it until there were 300 women at a time…”


Severn Cullis-Suzuki

Girl who silenced the world, 1992

In 1992, Canadian environmental activist Severn Cullis-Suzuki, aged just 12, raised money with members of the Environmental Children’s Organization (which she founded, aged 9), to attend the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Together the group presented environmental issues from a youth perspective. The video later become the viral hit known as ‘The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes’.

“At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us to behave in the world. You teach us: not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures to share – not be greedy. Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do? Do not forget why you’re attending these conferences, who you’re doing this for – we are your own children. You are deciding what kind of world we will grow up in.”


Steve Jobs

Stanford Commencement Speech, 2005

Apple CEO Steve Jobs made the commencement speech to graduating students at Stanford University in 2005, a year after he was first diagnosed with cancer.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”


Greta Thunberg

How dare you!, 2019

Climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed assembled world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City.

“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! You are failing us… But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.”


Charlie Chaplin

The Great Dictator, 1940

In The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin plays Dictator Adenoid Hynkel, whose doppelganger, a poor Jewish barber living in the slums, is mistaken for Hynkel, and in this climactic moment, shares his vision of a world without masters.

“You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power. Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfil that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfil that promise. Let us fight to free the world!”


Winston Churchill

This was their finest hour, 1940

The ‘finest hour’ speech, of which this is a later recording, was delivered by Winston Churchill to the House of Commons in June 1940. In May he had delivered the ‘Blood, toil, tears and sweat’ speech, his first to Parliament as Prime Minister. In early June he made the ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech, after reporting the evacuation from Dunkirk. Now he spoke to Parliament as France sought an armistice with Germany, and Britain faced the prospect of continuing alone.

“The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.”


Mahatma Ghandi

Quit India, 1942

In August 1942 Gandhi called for determined but passive resistance against British rule. Speaking at a park in central Mumbai, his ‘Quit India’ speech mobilised mass civil disobedience across the country.

“In the democracy which I have envisaged, a democracy established by non-violence, there will be equal freedom for all. Everybody will be his own master. It is to join a struggle for such democracy that I invite you today. Once you realize this you will forget the differences between the Hindus and Muslims, and think of yourselves as Indians only, engaged in the common struggle for independence.”


President Kennedy

Inaugural Address, 1961

The election of 1960 was close. And so, when the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts had taken the presidential oath of office, he addressed the crowd, eager to gather universal support for his agenda.

“Now the trumpet summons us again – not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are – but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’ – a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself. Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?”


Barack Obama

Iowa Caucus, 2008

Barack Obama made this victory speech at a packed rally in downtown Des Moines, January 3, 2008.

“You’ll be able to look back in pride and say, this was the moment when it all began . . . This was the moment when we tore down barriers that had divided us for too long. When we rallied people of all parties and ages to a common cause. When we finally gave Americans who had never participated in politics a reason to stand up and to do so. This was the moment when we finally beat back the politics of fear, and doubt, and cynicism, the politics where we tear each other down, instead of lifting this country up. This was the moment. Years from now, you’ll look back, and you’ll say that this was the moment, this was the place where America remembered what it means to hope.”


Christabel Pankhurst

For forty years..., 1908

This comes from a rare recorded speech, showing a rhetorical style that is measured, reasonable and deliberate.

“For forty years, this reasonable claim has been laid before Parliament in a quiet and patient manner. Meetings have been held and petitions signed in favour of votes for women but failure has been the result. The reason of this failure is that women have not been able to bring pressure to bear upon the government and government moves only in response to pressure. Men got the vote, not by persuading but by alarming the legislators. Similar vigorous measures must be adopted by women. The militant methods of the women today are clearly thought out and vigorously pursued…

“They must be compelled by a united and determined women’s movement to do justice in this measure . . . we have waited too long for political justice; we refuse to wait any longer. The present government is approaching the end of its career. Therefore, time presses if women are to vote before the next general election. We are resolved that 1909 must and shall be the political enfranchisement of British women.”