My evening with Elizabeth Edwards

Sarah_lane_and_elizabeth_edwardsBy Sarah Lane of Portland, Oregon. Sarah describes herself as "just your average Portland twenty-something who has become disenchanted with today's politics and wants change!" [Editor's note: Photo by Andie Petkus. Many more event photos available at]

Tuesday night, my mother and I volunteered at a fund raiser for the Edwards Campaign. BTW, volunteering is a great way to be able to attend events for whatever candidate you support and also lend a hand of support. Plus, if you live in states that aren't holding early caucuses or primaries, fund raisers are sometimes the only way to see a candidate. And, for many Americans like myself who live paycheck to paycheck, volunteering is the only way to be able to see the candidates and hear their platforms in person.

The event was held at a hotel in downtown Portland OR, and there were nearly 300 people at the event. Discounts were given to union members and students, and the crowd had quite a union feel to it but I did see quite a few youngsters too. My mother drove down from Seattle to join me at the event, we both support Edwards, and I always get a kick out of attending political events with her. We helped check people into the event, and I was not only glad to do it, it was fun talking to other Edwards supporters who were volunteering for the same reasons. Elizabeth arrived, and the first thing she did was come up to all of us volunteers and thank us for being there. After thanking all the volunteers she headed into the ballroom and mingled with the crowd for over an hour before she took the stage.

She started out talking about how the campaign was not about John, it was about us, it was about the American people. Since the crowd had such a union presence, it was endearing when she brought up what her late son's last paper was about. It was about the decline of the unions in America. She also talked about John's brother's wife who has battled cancer and would not have had health care if it weren't for the unions. She said that the unions were the best anti-poverty program the country has ever seen. She noted that John often says that if you can sign your name on a card to be a member of the Republican party, you should be able to sign your name on a card and join a union. Can you imagine the applause? Let's just say the crowd loved that line!

One thing that stuck out to me (I'm paraphrasing here), is when Elizabeth said that he's the right person for the country right now. She believes in his honesty, his vision and his committment. She said the issues he fights for are at his core. She said she wouldn't waste her days if she didn't believe he's going to fight for all the things he's proposing and fulfill his promises. It seems like something a candidate's wife should say, but for me she was being totally honest. She made me feel even more secure that John Edwards will fight hard as hell to get his UHC program passed. I want a fighter for progressive causes in 2008, I really want UHC! It's personal for me, but I also realize how much UHC could improve the qualities of life for so many Americans.

Moving on to the question portion of evening.....

A woman asked Elizabeth if she believed that we would make the necessary voter reforms needed by 2008. Elizabeth regretfully said she didn't think that we would, and that it doesn't seem to be a high priority for Congress. But, she did say that there were positive things happening in states like Florida where the machines have been taken out by the Republican Governor. BTW, in case you didn't know Edwards has come out for a nationwide ban on e-voting machines. Elizabeth has also said it would be a top priority of hers to eliminate blackbox voting. Since it's in the same vein, a woman in the audience said that Gore won in 2000, Kerry won in 2004, and voiced her concerns about this election. Elizabeth responded, "It won't be close enough this time for them to skew it". The crowd loved that line, it got the cheers. Moving on....

A lady in the audience also stressed concerns about the money that's being raised this cycle, and asked if by the next election will cost 300 million? Elizabeth responded that John will press for publicly financed camapigns, and that John has no obligations to lobbyists or PAC's, he will not do the bundling like other candidates have done in the past. Elizabeth also heard from a concerned member of the audience about the perception that a wealthy person can't care about the poor. Elizabeth responded, "Have you been to Hickory Hill? I have, it's really nice". She went on to talk about RFK and FDR and how they were our best advocates for the poor and how their wealth didn't have change what they believed in.

Next, Elizabeth started to get the audience laughing. A woman in the audience stressed her concerns about the office of the Vice President and how important a veep choice has become. Elizabeth said, "I promise John will not choose Dick Cheney for his running mate". She expanded on the issue and said that if John is the nominee he will choose a veep who shares his vision. It won't be about politics and it won't be a demographic choice. I liked to hear that, that means Edwards is serious about keeping the progressive populist movement going after he's out of office.

Sock City
Elizabeth was asked about about how important the issue of climate change was to the campaign. She said that we are in an emergency situation. The climate is at a tipping point and once it's gone too far we can't change the course. The Edwards plan will reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. They'll auction of the right to emit carbon and use the money to develop alternatives. They'll invest right here at home to get help build a green job market. She said back in North Carolina they used to make socks. Everyone would buy the socks made in North Carolina and that's all changed now. Sock City is now in China, and they make all the socks over there, put them on a boat and ship them over here, then they get on a truck and get delievered to your Big Lots. She asked, "What's the carbon footprint of those socks?

Honestly, there were many more questions, on education where Elizabeth pushed Value Added Assessment Testing over the standardizing testing we do now. She nearly brought a man to tears, who was so moved by her and John's fight for labor. He told her he hoped she would live another 100 years. To say Elizabeth was received well is an understatement. It doesn't surprise me she's such a force in the campaign. As my mother and I were driving home from the event, we pulled up behind a car that had a fresh Edwards 08 bumper sticker. I recognized the woman from the event, she obviously got out of the event sticker in hand and slapped in right on her car. I just love it!

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    Did anyone even mention Coulter? That'd be great if they didn't.

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    Briefly. Very briefly. Nonetheless, Mrs. Edwards got a big ovation for calling for civility.

  • 17yearoldwithanopinion (unverified)

    I got to go to the event under a free high school student ticket I got. I was fairly impressed with elizabeth edwards I didnt get to talk to her in person but I did ask her a question to which she didnt know the answer and liked her candor in admitting that she didnt know the answer. I like unions and support them but was really turned of by the presidend of the union who introduced her. I just finished taking AP US History and an economics class and I can say that his view of unions influence on history was distorted. He gave unions credit for things that they didnt do. Unions deserve credit for a lot of things better wages, workplace safety and many others but unions didnt create the middle class and the loss of the middle class is not the result of declining union jobs. The decline of the middle class can be traced to a recceson we had and the loss of jobs many of which are blue collar jobs. The reason for these job losses are lower labor costs in China and India and the rest of Asia as well as asian automakers who put american cars to shame. But Elizabeth Edwards was impressive but while I thought about supporting John Edwards a few months ago my support is with Bill Richardson.

    Rafael Baptista

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    Thanks Blue Oregon for posting my guest column on the event! It was wonderful meeting Elizabeth and hearing her speak. If you haven't had a chance to see Elizabeth or John, you should! IMO, they are even better in person.

    Rafael: I'm going to disagree with you a little, the unions did play a large role in creating the middle class. In creating labor laws, workers' protections, fair wages and paying overtime were reasons why people were lifted out of the lower classes and into the middle class. I wouldn't go as far as saying that the unions singlehandedly created the middle class, but IMO, they did their fair share and should receive credit. We also didn't start outsourcing lots of our labor force until the 70's & 80's, so during the "Golden Years" we had a large portion of the American population making goods right here in America. Nowadays things are very different. We do not have many American companies making goods by American workers on American soil.

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    I didnt get to talk to her in person but I did ask her a question to which she didnt know the answer and liked her candor in admitting that she didnt know the answer.

    Ha... yeah, she didn't have a detailed thought about the internal politics of Brazil. That was one of the weirder questions I've ever heard at a campaign event.

    In any case, you're flat wrong about unions and the middle class. Maybe you should do a little more reading. Try this Berkeley econ prof, or maybe this U of Minnesota econ prof, or maybe just googling will help.

    One more thing: The middle class has been declining for 30 years in this country. It ain't about some recent recession or something. As for trade, yeah you're right -- but those trade deals are going that way because unions have declined in power.

    I know that my high school teachers (AP history, etc.) gave us a distorted view of the labor movement.... so do some more reading.

    Oh yeah, here's your summer reading assignment: A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

    For anyone who sat in a high school history class feeling like there was something more going on than you were being told, this book is a revelation. As engaging as a white-knuckled novel, Zinn's astonishing record of U.S. history from the perspective of the "lower classes" (i.e. those who were not part of the cultural and economic elite) ought to be required reading for every American. Rage against ignorance, fight the lies we've been spoon-fed for too long, and make time to read this book!
  • 17yearoldwithanopinion (unverified)

    Once I finish the four novels I have to read this summer for AP Lit I will to read that Zinn book.

  • David Wright (unverified)

    17yearold, I read Zinn's book not too long ago myself, and I agree it's worth reading.

    However, please be aware that his book is not without distortions of its own. He brings a pervasive and pronounced slant to everything he writes -- and I'm not saying that's a bad thing. As an author, he has a point of view. I think it's worth listening to.

    I just don't want you to get the impression that his book is the revealed gospel truth that's been suppressed by "the man". Consider it along with sources from other points of view as well.

    Twenty years ago, I was a 17 year old in AP History class with quite a few opinions, and a very different view of the world than I have today. That view hasn't changed because the world is so much different today than it was back then; it's changed because I know more today than I did back then.

    If I had read Zinn's book 20 years ago, I wouldn't have had the life experience to be able to sort out the good points (and there are many) from the questionable bits (there are several of those as well). So I'd encourage you to use it as a springboard for further investigation of the topics he raises.

  • Garlynn -- (unverified)

    Great book recommendation, Kari. When I was in high school at MLC in NW Portland, we actually read excerpts from the Zinn book -- as a part of our class reading assignment! (I later purchased a copy of the book and read it cover-to-cover for my own edification.)

    So yes, 17yearold: Check out that book, maybe even push aside some of the rest of your summer reading list to get a start on it. If you're like me, sometimes you can read two books at a time... sometimes you're in the mood for a "fun" book like a novel, and sometimes you're in the mood for a "serious" book like A People's History. Though, it generally has such good flow that it almost counts as a "fun" book anyways.

    And as for raising serious questions about the version of history that we're generally taught... it's very effective at accomplishing this goal. My Dad now says "Happy Native American Genocide Day" instead of "Happy Thanksgiving," ever since he read the book...

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