ST. LOUIS — As the race to be the next president of the United States heats up, four Democratic candidates spoke here Friday about issues concerning the black community.
In a presidential forum at the 2007 National Urban League Conference, Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, outlined plans encouraging change in American policy.
Obama took the stage to a thunderous roar of applause from the audience, the warmest reception any candidate received.
After thanking the Urban League and some of its members in his opening remarks, Obama told the crowd he stood before them with a great deal of humility “because I know my story would not be possible without all these things the Urban League has done to open up the doors of opportunity to all Americans.”
Candidates addressed a number of issues, including:
“You know, my view is that Washington is broken, and it’s not working the way it needs to work,” Edwards said. “Some of you have heard me in the past talking about the two Americas. Well, we still have two Americas.”
Edwards said he believes Americans have important work to do to create one America.
“But we will never create one America unless, and until, we change this system that’s broken. Until we take on the issues that have raised the system. Because I am here to tell you the system is rigged. And it is rigged, and it is broken, and it is not working for most people in this country.
“We have big drug companies and insurance companies, oil companies, big banks that control what happens in Washington, D.C., every single day. The interests of regular people are not heard. They are not looked out after.
“We have many lobbyists for every single member of Congress. And there is a basic question we have to ask. Do we believe these people who have the power today, that they are going to give away that power voluntarily? I am here to tell you that they will never give it away voluntarily. The only way you are going to take the power away from them is to actually take them on. Take them all head on, fight, and beat them. And then you can talk to them.”
A New Conversation
Clinton spoke about “the crisis of 1.4 million young men of color between the ages of 16 and 24.”
“They are out of school and they are out of work,” she said. “That affects nearly one in three of every young African-American man. Young men who are not earning legal wages or learning marketable skills.
“Over half growing up without fathers; a third ending up in the criminal justice system; nearly 5,000 each year claimed by guns or violence before their 25th birthday. And I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve been listening to this conversation all my life,” Clinton said to chuckles from the crowd. “I firmly believe it is the wrong conversation. I reject it. I reject a conversation about 1.4 million young men as a threat, as a headache, or as a lost cause. I reject the conversation about 1.4 million disappointments, failures and casualties of a broken system. That is not who these young men are.”
Clinton said she believes a new conversation is long overdue.
“It is time for America to begin a conversation about 1.4 million future workers, entrepreneurs, taxpayers, community leaders and community activists. A conversation about 1.4 million husbands and fathers and role models. A conversation about 1.4 million boys who have the God-given potential to grow into strong, proud, loving, decent, productive, accomplished men with our help and support.”
Block by Block
“When I was just two years out of college, I went to work as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago,” Obama said. “That helped me build a neighborhood that was devastated by the closure of the steel plants. There was joblessness and hopelessness on every street corner. But we went around building a coalition to bring about real change.”
After implementing programs such as after-school programs and job transfer programs, Obama said, “Block by block we turned those neighborhoods around.”
“After several years I went to law school, then I went to work as a civil rights attorney and as a constitutional law professor and as a state senator and as a U.S. senator. And after that time I continue to fight to make sure those neighborhoods are paid attention to. That we are still building coalitions to bring about change.”
Obama talked about why he believed he stands out from all the other candidates.
“So I want to you to remember one thing, because you’ve heard from a lot of candidates today, and they’ve all done fine work. But when I talk about hope, when I talk about change, when I talk about holding America up to its ideals of opportunity and equality, this is not just the rhetoric of a campaign for me; it’s been the cause of my life.”
Peace Through Strength
Kucinich stressed that under the Bush administration, America has implemented a policy of “peace through strength,” and that policy has resulted in the war in Iraq.
“It begins with a national security doctrine of strength through peace,” he said. “The old neocon doctrine of peace through strength represents Iraq. Over a million innocent civilians perished in this war on a doctrine of peace through strength. I’m talking about inverting it.”
Republican candidates, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., were invited to speak at the forum but declined the invitation because of scheduling conflicts.