Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Edwards to Launch Road to One America Tour in New Orleans

The Edwards campaign announced today that it will launch a three day tour of poverty-stricken areas in the United States that it is calling the Road to One America tour, on July 16.

“Everyday, one in eight Americans wakes up in poverty,” said Senator Edwards. “That’s not okay. Today, we have Two Americas in our country – one America that has everything it needs and another that is struggling to get by. Our next president needs not only to understand the struggles facing the 37 million Americans living in poverty, but also have a plan to lift them up out of poverty. That is what this tour and my campaign are about – giving them a voice so that we can build One America, where every person has the opportunity to work hard and get ahead.”

In a conference call with Edwards campaign manager David Bonior today, Bonior talked to reporters about the tour.

The Road to One America tour is designed to highlight Edwards's goals of raising 12 million Americans out of poverty in 10 years, and eradicating poverty in the United States in 30 years.

It will be a three day tour starting on Monday, and hitting eight states.

The tour will highlight the face of poverty by showing the human face of the poor, because as John Edwards says in his book, statistics do not struggle.

It starts on Sunday night with a walking tour of the ninth Ward of New Orleans. This is a pre-tour event. The real tour starts on Monday in New Orleans. The first day will also include visits to Canton, Mississippi, Marks, Mississippi, where MLK started his Poor People’s March to Washington, D.C. in 1968, then Marianna, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee. At the end of the first day, they will fly to Cleveland, Ohio.

On the second day they will visit Cleveland, Ohio, Youngstown, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This leg of the tour highlights urban areas that are trying to rejuvenate.

On the third day they will start in Wise, Virginia (having flown there the night before), then on to Norton, Virginia, Whitesburg, Kentucky, and Prestonberg, Kentucky, where RFK ended his tour of impoverished parts of Kentucky in 1968.

From the press release:

Along the way, Edwards will meet with residents devastated and displaced by Hurricane Katrina and with people who have experienced persistent poverty in the Deep South, the Mississippi Delta and rural Appalachia. Edwards will also visit communities in the Rust Belt region that have suffered from the loss of American manufacturing jobs and cities that are struggling to cope with both urban poverty and the rising problem of poverty.

With this tour, Edwards hopes to focus attention not just on problems, but also on solutions and all of the good work that is being done across the nation to help lift people out of poverty. By meeting with these Americans and telling their stories to the rest of the nation, the campaign intends to show the diversity of the problem of poverty in America. The new faces of poverty in America come from a wide variety of racial, ethnic and regional backgrounds – from urban, suburban and rural areas. They range in age from the very young to the very old. Some are suffering from disabilities, which prevent them from finding work, and many are hardworking men and women with full-time jobs who are still struggling to make ends meet. All too often they don’t have access to the affordable health care, housing and education they need. And their numbers are growing. Edwards believes we all have a stake in doing something about our fellow Americans living in poverty and believes that working together we can help end poverty.

Edwards has made ending poverty in America a pillar of his campaign and laid out a plan to do so within 30 years. He has also outlined detailed plans to lift up working families by guaranteeing quality, affordable health care for every person in America, rewarding work by raising the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2012, protecting workers’ right to organize and making college more affordable. Born to working-class parents, Edwards understands the struggles facing working families and has dedicated his life to fighting for them. For the past two years, Edwards served as the Director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He joined with grassroots coalitions to help raise the minimum wage in six states in 2006 and has helped more than 20 national unions organize thousands of workers into unions.

Bonior mentioned a list of the kind of people they are trying to help, all kinds of people in poverty, but my ears perked up when I heard him talk about helping people with disabilities, because I have wanted Edwards to talk about that a bit more, now that I have a partial disability, and some of my friends have disabilities as well.

There will be no fundraising during this tour and none of the states they're visiting are early states, so this is purely to highlight the issue of poverty.

One of the questions was from Ann Kornblutt at the Washington Post, who asked if there was a political strategy as well as the substantive strategy.

David Bonior responded that you can't separate the issue of substance here, because this is what John Edwards is all about.

Bonior then went through an impressive list of John's antipoverty credentials, only a few of which I had time to write down. He has been involved in 180 separate union organizing events, including a hunger strike with Cuban immigrants. His college for everyone program has raised college participation in the county where it operates.

She asked a follow-up question about who they are trying to reach with this tour, and Bonior said something like "it's aimed at you and the others on this call." He said they want to force the issue into the debate. He said they want to challenge the other campaigns, the press, and the public to come to grips with this issue.

Someone asked about the references he had made to 1968, and this was one of the most intelligent questions I've ever heard from a press person on one of these calls. He asked why is it more difficult to raise the issue of poverty today?

David Bonior said that 1968 was one of the most significant years in the last 100 years in this country. He said the difference now is that many in the press are not focused in on this issue as much as they should be. He then added that also political leaders aren't focused on it.

I did my part today to try to focus the press on this issue. I e-mailed Chuck Todd, the political director at NBC news, and challenged him to report on the Road to One America tour fairly. Earlier, I had written to Todd, because he wrote a piece I saw on the MSNBC website that I thought was unfair to Edwards. I won't report the content of the earlier correspondence, because he didn't know I was a blogger when it started, and that wouldn't be quite fair, but he had been very responsive to my complaint, so I issued him the following challenge:

Mr. Todd:

Thank you for responding to my previous e-mails about Edwards. I have a challenge for you. I'd like to see either you or someone on your staff go on the Road to One America tour that Edwards will launch in New Orleans on Monday the 16th, and see if you can report about the substance of what he talks about. Don't talk about his hair, don't talk about how rich he is and call him a hypocrite, talk about the issue that he is making the focus of his campaign: poverty. For extra credit, you can even talk about his wealthy predecessors who have also cared about the poor, such as FDR and RFK. One more part to this challenge: if you decide to interview a bunch of Republicans or conservative pundits who say his proposals won't work, also speak to some people who have worked with him on poverty and who say that they will, such as ACORN members or union leaders, and give them equal time.

Let's see if your organization rises to this challenge. All I am asking for is equal time for him and his proposals, and fair coverage of them.

I have since heard from Mr. Todd that he was in the midst of making a pitch to his producers about sending a crew and correspondent on this trip. I will be interested in their coverage.

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