Assembly 2014

Wake Up The World!

Transcript of Hillary Rodham Clinton's Address to Assembly 2014

Wake Up The World!

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed Assembly 2014 in Louisville, Ky., on April 26, 2014.  Video of her remarks is on YouTube at

A transcript of her speech follows:


I am so honored to be here! Good Morning! Oh my goodness. What an honor to be here! What a great joy to hear the Assembly band, weren’t they amazing! I want to thank Yvette (Richardson) for that rousing introduction and I also want to thank Harriett Jane Olson and everyone at United Methodist Women, for giving me the opportunity to be part of this joyous Assembly.

I am delighted to be here among my fellow Methodists and to find that sense of connection and caring and communication and commitment that has been the hallmark of United Methodist Women; certainly for as long as I can remember.

Just before I came out I had a chance to visit with some of the young women, Girls of the Westside Community House Summer of Sisterhood, who will be performing tonight. I know that will be yet another treat that will bring everyone to their feet and looking at them, looking at their faces, I couldn’t help but remember how I felt myself so many years ago, as a young girl at the United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Illinois. I couldn’t sing and still can’t. I could sort of dance, not like these young people, but I loved that church. I loved how it made me feel about myself, I loved the doors that it opened in my understanding of the world; and I loved the way it helped to deepen my faith and ground it; and when I think back on my “growing up” time, many of my memories are routed in that church and the experiences that I had there.

Somebody just posted a picture of my confirmation class. It was huge. And we all had to write an essay about: What Jesus meant to me. As part of the maturing experiences that were so prevalent at the church, we had to read it to the congregation. So, it was a scary experience, but it was a witness as well.

I well remember my father, praying by his bed every night. That made a very big impression on me because my father had been a football player, he’d been a chief petty officer during WWII in the Navy, he was a rough, gruff, kind of man, self-made independent small businessman and there he was, humble on his knees before God every single night. My mother taught Sunday school at our church, mostly, I think, because she wanted to make sure my brothers actually showed up for Sunday school, but she was really the rock for our family. We went to summer bible school, we went to church activities on Wednesday nights, and we went to youth fellowship on Sunday nights.  I was even on the alter guild, cleaning and preparing the Alter before services. I loved doing that. It made me as a very young girl feel like I was really part of the “big” church service.

So my parents were both people of faith, but they expressed it in very different ways, and growing up I sometimes struggled to reconcile my father’s insistence on self-reliance and independence and my mother’s concerns about social justice and compassion.

When I was thirteen going on fourteen, we got a new youth minister at our church. His name was Don Jones. He had just gotten out of Seminary which he attended after just being the Navy and this was his first church. He went full speed ahead to help us understand questions and search for the role we wanted faith to play in our lives. He was the first person that I had ever met, who taught me and my other young compatriots to embrace the idea of faith in action that is so central to our United Methodist creed and to the work of United Methodist Women.  He also went out of his way to open our eyes to injustice in the wider world beyond what was a sheltered, middle-class, all white community. He gave me lots of books to read and then he would ask me about them. Some of them were, frankly, over my head, but I appreciated the chance to think about new ideas and to have a back and forth discussion with him.  He expanded what we did in our youth group. He took us to visit inter-city churches in Chicago, primarily Black and Hispanic churches, and he would create these relationships between our church youth group and the youth groups of these inter-city, downtown churches. We would go and we would sing, we would discuss and read the bible and it became very clear—of course this was his mission all along—that these young people were very much the same as we were, very much concerned about a lot of the same issues, although often without the resources and opportunities that we had taken for granted.

He also pushed hard on what the origin and meaning of the Methodist church was. He was a big fan of the Wesley’s and he was the first person to expose me those famous words: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can and all the places you can and all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Just saying it is exhausting, isn’t it?

But I’ll always cherish the Methodist church because it gave us the great gift of personal salvation, but the great obligation of social gospel, and for me, having faith, hope, and love in action was exactly what we were called to do. I took that very seriously and have tried - tried to be guided in my own life ever since as an advocate for children and families, for women and men around the world who are oppressed and persecuted, denied their human rights and human dignity. So it’s really like a home coming to be here with all of you from across our country and around the world, to celebrate the great web of compassion and connection that ties all Methodists together, to honor the good you are doing in your communities and that is being done through you around the world, to recommit ourselves to living the Gospel and putting our faith into action.

I think this is more important than ever. We are living in a time when too many people feel disconnected, when too many of our neighbors are struggling to find their footing and follow their own dreams. As United Methodists we have a discipline and a moored faith and we also have an understanding of how to get things done, how to “make it happen.” That is such a fitting theme for this year’s Assembly, because it is, after all, what women do every day and I was impressed because you’ve chosen an apt biblical text as well — the feeding of the multitude, Now there’s a lot of wisdom to be found there ― Wisdom about compassion and about connection, about the power of faith and service to overcome obstacles.

Certainly, when I learned about that in Sunday school, most of our attention was focused on the miracle of the loaves and fishes – that first great potluck supper, but I’ve always been taken by what happened before that. In the story when the hour grows late and the crowd grows hungry, the disciples come to Jesus and suggest that he send away the people, to find food and to fend for themselves, but Jesus said no, you feed them. He was teaching about the responsibility we all share, to step up and serve the community, especially to help those with the greatest need and the fewest resources. It is a lesson that has motivated the social justice mission of our church from the very beginning, and it has inspired the historic commitment to service of Methodist women in particular. Think of that handful of determined and faithful women in Boston who came together in 1869 to form United Methodist Women. They were concerned about the lives of women in India, whom they would never meet, but with whom they never-the-less thought they shared a common humanity. They could have sat back and said, let them fend for themselves, but not these Methodists. They fundraised and then sent over a doctor and a teacher, both of whom were women and that was just the beginning.

In those days Methodist women could not be ordained or preach in the church, so their faith found expression in service beyond the pews, which in a way, when you think about it, brought them closer to the Wesleyan vision. They rolled up their sleeves and they went to work, in hospitals, schools and slums in America and around the world. They embodied that old saying, often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel always and if necessary, use words.”

My grandmother on my father’s side, Hanna Jones Rodham — by the way, insisted on using all 3 names despite what people in Scranton, Penn. might have thought at the time ― was one of those tough Methodist women who was never afraid to get her hands dirty. She traced her Methodism back to the Wesley brothers themselves, who converted her great grandparents in the small coalmining villages of Southern Wales. She immigrated with her family as a young girl to Scranton and went to work — very young―in a silk mill, and then she met and married my grandfather, who had also come to this country as a young man from the coalmining area in Newcastle, in England. He’d been laboring in the nearby lace factory since he was 13. They worked hard, they kept the faith, they lifted themselves up into the middle class, they brought property; and my grandmother Hanna managed the tenants and collected the rent. I have vivid memories of her final years when she was going blind, still braiding my hair in the morning, still reciting old hymns and giving me the direction for what I was to do that day. The world had changed so much during her lifetime, but it’s also changed during ours.

From the industrial age hardship to post-war affluence, where women won the right to vote, eventually to be ordained in our church, there was progress on so many fronts, but one thing hasn’t changed. United Methodist Women, like Hanna Jones Rodham still like to get their hands dirty and for me, that’s a great tribute to our church, because even in this crowd today, there are women thinking about how to find ways to feed the multitude. Look at the amazing work that nearly 800,000 women are doing, at home and around the world, from fighting to end the scourges of human trafficking and domestic violence, to advocating for social, economic and environmental justice. Every year you raise more than $16 million dollars, for projects, scholarships and programs on behalf of women, children and youth.

When I was in church on Sunday, a woman who knew I was coming here gave me one of the buttons. Hers said, “Daring.” I was delighted to hear about the new initiative you’re launching at this Assembly to focus on maternal health around the world. I thank you for that. It builds on the Methodist churches focus on global health and the impressive work of the “imagine no malaria,” effort. Maternal health was a priority of mine at the state department. Do you know that an estimated 800 women die each day during pregnancy or childbirth, almost all in developing countries, from preventable causes mostly? That’s nearly 300,000 women every year and it is largely preventable, so we got together to form a new public/private partnership called saving mothers, giving life. It’s focused on the 24 hour period of labor and delivery, to make sure that women get the care they need in a timely manner. We started pilot programs at a local level, in Zambia and Uganda, we’ve held higher skilled birth attendance to expand access to emergency care and we’ve worked to improve delivery of life-saving medicines and transportation options for women needing care. Already in Uganda the women delivering in health care facilities has increased by more than 60%. The maternal mortality rate has fallen by 30% and in Zambia it’s down by 35%.

So I thank you for making this a priority and look forward to working with you on that, and to helping to connect other resources and groups that want to end preventable deaths for women. I know what a difference you’ll make.

You know, I’ve been privileged to travel as First Lady, as a senator, as secretary of state and I have seen firsthand how much faith communities can do. Take the fight against human trafficking. That’s been a personal commitment of mine since the late 1990s. Like they did in earlier eras to abolish slavery and end segregation, United Methodist Women have formed grassroots networks across our country to rescue survivors, to help them rebuild their lives, to raise awareness among public officials and citizens alike; and I think a lot has been accomplished, not just here at home but everywhere. There’s been a great coordinated effort across our own government to try bringing together faith communities in this important work.

I instructed the state department in 2010 to report on trafficking in America, the same way we report on trafficking in other countries. I did it because I wanted to be sure people knew - yes, we do have that problem, and we need to be honest about it, but I also did it because if we’re going to be grading and judging other countries, we need to hold ourselves to very high standards as well. I’m delighted that there’s a trend now in states to develop safe harbors and safe harbor laws that would treat children found in prostitution as victims in need of social services, instead of delinquents in need of punishment. Today 18 states have some form of those laws on the books and a growing number also have survivors who petition to wipe their records clean of prostitution convictions that were imposed under the old system, so the word is getting out and change is happening.

In 2011 at the Clinton Global Initiative that we hold every year in New York, we announced a new state department supported project to help consumers across America understand how human trafficking, forced labor and modern slavery touches us all. It is called: site. It’s modeled on tools that calculate your carbon footprint. You answer some basic questions about your lifestyle and possessions and it tells you how much forced labor likely went into the supply chains that you rely on. To date, more than 10 million people from all over the world have visited that site, and they have come away with a lesson in what Dr. King called, “our inescapable network of mutuality.”

I have met girls who’ve been trafficked to sexual slavery; I have met children who have been forced to labor in sweatshops and other deplorable working conditions, men who have been imprisoned on fishing boats. I’ve looked into their eyes. I’ve held the hand of a 12 year old girl who was trafficked by her family in Thailand, into prostitution and ending up in a brothel in Bangkok, where she contracted HIV that developed into AIDS, and of course the brothel kicked her out. Nobody wanted her. Her family wouldn’t take her back. They’d gotten the money and brought a satellite TV set. So, a Christian organization took her in. By the time I met her she was very close to death, this little girl who had suffered the worst of possible mistreatment, first by her family and then as, basically a slave.

I’ve also met through the great work that is done in Cambodia and elsewhere, the girls who’d been rescued. I met the extraordinary Somalima, who herself had been sold into prostitution by her family and finally escaped, and when she did was determined to give more girls the same chance she had, so I visited one of her homes in Siem Reap in Cambodia, a place of love and caring and education. The first time you see these girls, some of them are so little, they’re so young. There was one little girl with a big smile on her face, she had on glasses, and having worn glasses as a girl, I always say to little girls, “those are cute glasses.” Then I looked more closely, and where one of her eyes should have been, there was no eye. She threw her arms around me and hung onto me, and she dragged me around and showed me everything there was to see in this home of refuge and peace. I asked one of the older girls there, late teenager who is now one of the supervisors, I said, “What’s her story?” She was sold, she resisted, she fought, she was so young and the man to whom she was sold took a nail and drove it into her eye. I said, “Look at that face, look at that smile,” and the woman telling me the story said, “She’s a girl filled with hope and love, and when she grows up she wants to help others like herself.”

So like the disciples of Jesus, we cannot look away. We cannot let those in need fend for themselves and live with ourselves. “You feed them,” He said. “Feed them, rescue them, heal them, and love them.”

When I left the state department I went to work at the Clinton Foundation alongside my husband and our daughter and the motto of the foundation is: We’re all in this together. We’re driven by the same call to service and shared responsibility that I first learned from my family and my church. We’re trying to bring people together to solve problems, to seize opportunities faster, better and at lower cost. So we’re helping women farmers in Malawi receive lower cost/ higher quality seeds and fertilizer, we’re helping American school children quit drinking sugary drinks and eating bad foods and lowering the calories and potential health problems from their vending machines and their other experiences.

We’ve helped millions of people around the world to get access to cheaper HIV aids medicine, because like you we want to “make it happen.”

So I started a project called No Ceilings, the full participation project and it’s about the unfinished business of the 21st century advancing the rights and opportunities for women and girls, so they can participate fully in their communities and societies. As I’ve had the honor of representing our country, I’ve learned that women everywhere share the same aspirations, for good jobs, healthy families, and strong communities. They share the drive to be entrepreneurs and builders, to be agents of change and drivers of progress, makers of peace. All they need is a fair shot, but too many women in too many places still face ceilings that hold back their ambitions and aspirations, that make it harder to pursue their dreams and potential; and that’s not only somewhere far away, it’s here at home.

Twenty years ago American women made 72 cents on the dollar. Today it’s still not equal. Women hold the majority of lower wage jobs in our country and nearly 3 quarters of all jobs rely on tips, like waiters and bartenders and hairstylists, which pay even less than the average hourly work wage. Now, holding back women is not right, but it’s also not smart. No country can truly thrive by denying the contributions of any of its people, let alone half of its people. When I used to make this argument, going back to my speech in Beijing about human rights being women’s rights, and women’s rights being human rights, it was a moral call to action, it was based on my very strong sense of what was right and what was wrong and what justice demanded and I’ve made that case over and over again, but I have to confess, what I found was that I needed other arguments to convince other people – mostly men. So when I would go in to meet with a president or a prime minister, or a foreign minister or another official, I had to make a case that they would respond to, and I found it was quite easy to make that case, because when women are denied full participation, they’re denied the opportunity to contribute fully to the economies of their country. Instead of being encouraged to do more for themselves, their families, communities and countries, they’re held back, but if we took a different approach, women can drive economic recovery and growth. They can lift up themselves, their families and countries if we ensure equal pay for equal work, if we raise the minimum wage, if we give parents flexibility on the job and paid family leave, if we invest in early childhood development, quality affordable childcare and stem education and mentoring for young women who have the talent to be scientists and technologists and engineers and mathematicians. We can empower women and girls and unleash creative talents. There are no limits on how far we can go. I have had the great pleasure of working with some of the big organizations, like the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund and others to put together all this data, and then to go and present it to other countries.

So I’ve been thrilled that the new prime minister of Japan was convinced that if more women in Japan participated in the economy, they could raise their gross domestic product by 9%, and so now he talks about it. He wrote me a letter saying, “You know this was very interesting, very important,” and that’s just one example, because if we want to get serious about the inequality in our society, this is a good place to start.  Think about this: Only about one in 10 workers earning the lowest wages— most of them women― have access to unpaid or paid family leave.

I’m often asked at college campuses and elsewhere, “What would I tell young women about balancing family and work, and how do you go about doing that?” I say, well, the answer is quite different if you’re well educated and you have a stable pay check, and you have a two-parent family and you’re supporting each other. It’s very different than if you’re a single mom trying to hold down a job and giving her kids the quality and the quantity time they need. It makes it very hard and it deprives so many of our children of the chance to get the start in life that they deserve. The truth is there are too many women in our country today, trying to build a life and a family, that don’t just face ceilings on their aspirations and opportunities, it’s as if the floor is collapsing beneath them. These are our sisters, our daughters, and granddaughters. Some are hungry, not just for nutritious food, but for opportunity, for a chance to thrive, for their own piece of the American dream. So I don’t think we can sit back and wait for someone else to step forward and solve these problems. I think every one of us in those places near and close to home, in our own churches, our own work environments; we can roll up our sleeves and like those indomitable United Methodist Women before us, keep taking the social Gospel out into the world, even when our resources are meager— just 5 loaves and 2 fish ― even when the odds are long, a multitude to feed, even when we are tired and all we want to do is go away by ourselves to a secluded place and rest a while; even then, especially then. Let’s make it happen.

So I end with this:  I end with gratitude for the United Methodist Women that I’ve had in my life, I end with great admiration for the work that you and 800,000 strong are doing, I end with a challenge, that we need to wake up our country and wake up our world about the work that can and should be done; and we each are called in our own ways to lead. That’s the great tradition I was raised in, that I cherish and it’s what you represent. So please, as you go out to make it happen, remember there are lots and lots of people willing to fall faithfully behind you, as you lead the way.

Thank you all, God bless you!

Posted or updated: 5/11/2014 11:00:00 PM