|The gathering at the small town of Columbus, Ky. Thursday had nothing to do with being a Republican or a Democrat, according to the community native responsible for garnering national attention to the Civil War battlefield site.
“It’s about people coming together with rural ideas, cultures and traditions and taking back our country,” Shawn Dixon, 24-year-old Columbus native who now attends the New York University School of Law, said to the crowd of more than 1,500 people from West Kentucky and Northwest Tennessee that turned out to hear 2008 Democratic-presidential hopeful John Edwards.
The efforts of Dixon, along with 1,800 voices, proved to be heard loud and clear for Edwards and his campaign team. A contest hosted by the social networking platform called Eventful, put out a call from Edwards’ camp that promised to make a tour stop in the community that logged the most votes on the Internet site. While the small town in Hickman County, Kentucky had a census reading of 229 residents, Columbus logged more votes than metropolitan cities such as Los Angeles, Calif., Denver, Col. And San Francisco, Calif. Dixon told “Wired” magazine, the event is not about party politics, but about starting new dialogue about problems plaguing rural America and for candidates to discuss the issue of rural Americans who earn $8 an hour and live paycheck to paycheck.
“You are pioneers in grassroots. This is an effort to take back our country, which is rich in culture and tradition. Rural Americans have a shared sense of value… You are sending a strong message to the people of this country — you have a right to be heard by someone who understands our needs and our values; someone who is just like us and knows our problems,” Dixon said to the crowd of senior citizens, small children, veterans and Union workers.
Stepping out to greet the gathering at Columbus-Belmont State Park with “This Is Our Country” by John Cougar-Mellancamp blaring over the speakers, Edwards was all smiles before getting serious to address political issues.
“We don’t need a surge in Baghdad. We need a surge in New Orleans. We need to help our people that are struggling right here in this country,” Edwards stated. “I want to say something about what’s happening in the world. I don’t think George Bush has damaged our reputation in the world, I think he’s destroyed it. I think America has so much work to do to reestablish ourselves as the leader we should be. And that starting place is ending this mess of a war in Iraq.”
Edwards explained how he thinks Congress should send a bill to Bush that gives a timetable for the withdrawal of troops in Iraq, and keep sending a bill with a timetable until it forces the President’s hand to make a decision.
“You are going to have to be heard. You must stand up and speak out. People of good will and conscious, I cannot do this without you. Be the change you believe in. The America that I can remember is not a place where your destiny is controlled by the family you were born in,” Edwards emphasized.
“We must be willing to sacrifice, it’s time for us to be patriotic about something other than war.”
“I will go everywhere in this country and campaign, because when I’m elected president, I won’t be the president of the blue states or president of the red states, I’ll be president of the United States of America and that includes every single person in this country.”
Known as a product of humble origins, Edwards came from a “poor family in a mill town in North Carolina.”
Edwards on the issues
By John Brannon
Messenger Staff Reporter
• Universal health care.
Edwards said America doesn’t have universal health care because of drug companies, insurance companies and their lobbyists in Washington. “And we will never have it until we have a president who will take these entrenched interests on, a president who doesn’t take their money,” he said.
“The same thing is true when you’re trying to do something about energy and global warming. Oil companies, power companies, gas companies. Their lobbyists in Washington …
“The first thing I intend to say to the Congress and to every member of my cabinet when I’m sworn into office in January 2009 is, ‘Come July of this year, if you have not passed universal health care for America, you lose your health care.”
He said he has a health care plan and it includes mental health needs, physical needs and provisions for chronic care, long term care, dental care and vision care, “all covered.”
“And you get to take your health care with you wherever you go,” he said. “If you get laid off or change jobs, or move, your health care goes with you. My plan costs $90 to $120 billion a year and I pay for it by getting rid of Bush’s tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 a year.”
• Minimum wage.
Congress finally passed a new minimum wage act, making it $7.25 an hour. “That’s great, but it’s not enough,” he said. “Minimum wage ought to be at least $9.50 an hour.”
“We ought to strengthen the right of unions to organize in the work place, so they can be stronger and collectively bargain,” he said.
• Payday loans.
“We ought to crack down with a national law to regulate predatory payday lenders who are preying on our most vulnerable families,” he said.
“We ought to make it easier for kids to go to college. Last year Bush took $7 billion out of the federal budget for kids to go to college,” he said. “This is insanity. We ought to make it easier for kids to go to college. Here’s my idea: We say to every young person in America, ‘You graduate from high school, qualify to be in college, and commit to work when you’re there.’ We don’t give it to them. They’ve got to work at least 10 hours a week. (And we tell them) ‘But you work 10 hours a week, America pays for your tuition and books.’
“Very simple. And we’ve actually done this in a low-income area of eastern North Carolina. It’s been hugely successful so far.”
• Federal judges.
“We have got to have a president who appoints judges and Supreme Court justices who actually believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, who believe that our individual liberties are the heart and soul of what makes America what it is. It’s what protects us against abuses, and it protects us in some cases against the power of the government.”
• The cabinet.
“I get asked a lot who I’ve considered for the cabinet. I’ve already made a list of the people I’ll consider for each major cabinet position. But I want people who are strong and smart and independent, and who will challenge me. I’m not interested in having a bunch of ‘yes’ people sitting around telling me how great I am. I want people who will challenge whatever it is I have to say. … Every person on this list is not a Democrat. I think we ought to consider the best, most qualified people that exist in America for those jobs, and I will do that.”
Change the “No Child Left Behind” law, Edwards said. It’s causing all kinds of trouble.
“What I would do, I’d give bonus pay up to $15,000 a year to teachers who are willing to locate in rural towns, rural communities, places where we need them most,” he said. “I’d create a National Teaching University, similar to West Point, where they could study the art of education. It’d be for young people who would commit to going back to small towns and places where it’s harder to get them to go when they graduate.”