A year ago, former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) had his sights on becoming the vice president of the United States. Yet the Kerry-Edwards ticket lost and Edwards was out of a job.

Jess Cox
Former Sen. John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate, shakes hands with students on the Diag on Friday.

But a year later, Edwards continues to champion the same issues raised in his vice presidential bid.

Friday he spoke to a crowd of about 2,000 people on the Diag as an anti-poverty advocate encouraging students to start a new grassroots movement.

Edwards’s speech was the final stop on a two-week tour of college campuses sponsored by the Center for Promise and Opportunity, a group that works to pass anti-poverty legislation, for which Edwards serves as honorary chair.

In his speech, Edwards encouraged students to think on a more national level. He said that after seeing the abject poverty in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the country is uniquely receptive to the issue of alleviating poverty, but that students’ voices are needed to keep it in focus.

“You need to speak out loud – and in big numbers, so that those people in Washington who can do something about 37 million people who live in poverty will actually take action,” Edwards said.

To engage students’ emotions and sense of compassion, most of Edwards’ remarks revolved around anecdotes involving the poor, especially the poor of New Orleans, many of whom were trapped in the city after Hurricane Katrina.

“People have this idea that folks who live in poverty are just lazy, of no account, irresponsible. It’s a lie,” Edwards said.

Edwards spoke briefly about specific proposed programs. He conceded that some liberal policies had “created a cycle of dependency” in the past.

To veer away from the same cycle, he proposed policies geared toward helping the poor make it on their own. When Edwards said that the national minimum wage should be raised to at least $7.50 an hour, cheers and loud applause from the crowd ensued.

Edwards suggested a program of work bonds, to encourage poor families to save money. The program would operate by having the government match the amount of money poor families put into savings.

The crowd, mostly students but including a fair number of others, expressed enthusiasm about Edwards’s message. He had to stop many times during his remarks because of applause and cheers from the crowd.

Jeff Hicks, an LSA junior, commended Edwards for his bravery in subject matter. “You don’t (normally) talk to white America about poverty,” Hicks said.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Edwards said students should stand up for themselves in Ann Arbor politics.

“I think any time students join together in numbers and speak out loudly and ferociously, they can have a huge impact,” Edwards said.

“And having students’ votes count and make a real difference in the community that they live in would seem to me to be very important to the students,” he added.

When asked about the fact that Ann Arbor’s ward system, among other factors, keeps students from having representation in the city’s politics or governance, Edwards said, “They clearly should have a say. But in order for that to happen, they’re going to have to get organized and speak up.”

University students make up about a third of the city’s population.



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