When I arrived a little after 5, there were a few people there, more than a smattering but less than a crowd. By the time Edwards began to speak about an hour later, the place was sweaty full. The early reporting from the AP says 250 people were there.
Initially they shuttled us "press" people ("Are you with the press?" they asked. "Yes, I'm a blogger." I answered.) to a room in the next building over. On the way I saw the politically ever-present Jon Delano. I guess he was there to cover the evenings event's too.
We were moved en masse into the next building, to a daycare room. The tables unbelievably tiny and the bathroom had instructions posted on the wall (One said "Remove Pants" - remember, we're talking real little kids here). Fuzzy children's art was hung from the ceiling and the alphabet was on full display on the far wall. The press area was roped off.
Then the kids arrived. At least two dozen and none could've been more than 4 or 5 years old. The room filled quickly - filled with the bustle of children and the rustle of the quickly sweating camera crews. Fox News was there, as was Reuters. The locals (TAE, KQV, P-G and so on) were all represented. C-Span was even there. We heard the Senator was finishing an interview for Hardball in the next room.
In short order, the kids were read a story ("If You Give a Pig a Pancake") and then another ("Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs"). Songs about little teapots short and stout were sung. Songs about little stars twinkling above in the sky so high and the itsy-bitsy spider crawling up the water spout. Cute doesn't begin to describe it all.
O'Toole of the P-G asked about the room. He was told that the room was for the 2 yr olds. But the kids in the room at that point were any where between toddlers and 5 yrs old. On a regular day, most of the kids would've been home by that time of day.
Then The Senator arrived. He was greeted by the children singing a rousing rendition of "You're a Grand Old Flag" (please no Ann Coulter jokes - there's little kids in the room.).
There were handshakes all around, he spoke to some of the mothers present and got a "Get Well" card for his wife, Elizabeth. Cameras whirring incessantly, capturing every nanosecond.
And then the photo op was over.
The Main Event
As quickly as everything was set up, it was broken down and we were on our way to the main hall at Hill House. For the press, it was up in the balcony. Bram was there, as was Mark Rauterkus. After some introductory speeches by three people enormously helped by the programs at The Hill House, Edwards came to the podium. He began by saying he'd been on that stage before, at this Wake-up Walmart tour. The OPJ blogged on that evening, here.
Senator Edwards spoke very eloquently about poverty, the damage that it does and some steps to eradicate it. Such an important issue facing society, he called it the "great moral cause of our time."
He began by mentioning the other cities he's visited on the tour, beginning with New Orleans. In one of the few times the speech got obviously political, he called the national response to what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina a "national disgrace" and a "complete failure of presidential leadership."
He mentioned this speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King, where the Rev, though speaking about the war in Vietnam said:
A time comes when silence is betrayal.For Edwards, the idea applies just as well to povery. It's wrong, he said, in a nation as wealthy as ours to have 15 million people living in deep intractable poverty. Where people can be working full time and still live in poverty.
In Cleveland, he said, he came across a middle class neighborhood being sucked dry by predatory lenders. In a one block radius, there were 38 homes in foreclosure. Lost to predatory lending practices.
The racial and economic segregation in the society are not good for our democracy, he said. In the nation's schools, there are two systems; one for the wealthy and the other for everyone else. As a solution, he's proposing a few ideas; bonuses to wealthier schools who take in poorer students, the establishment of magnet schools in the inner cities, "2nd chance High Schools for people who dropped out of High School, raising teacher salary and bonuses for teachers who opt to work in poorer neighborhoods.
He began to wrap things up with a few tough rhetorical questions about what we really believe as a society. Do we really believe in equality? In opportunity? That all children deserve the same chance? The answers should all be yes. Then he turned to the crowd:
The power is with you.The Civil Rights Movement didn't start in the Oval Office, he said. It started in places like The Hill House. Same thing with the protests against the war in Vietnam. It was a movement.
And now we need, he said, a movement to end poverty.
The After Speech Press
After the speech, Senator Edwards took a few questions from some local reporters (Delano went first - OF COURSE). He answered questions that fleshed out some of the details of his speech (refunding the currently defunded programs for mental health care and so on).
There was a mini-interview with C-Span, ranging from Edwards third place in the current polls to Ann Coulter. Of Coulter, Edwards said, there's nothing wrong with disagreement, but hate mongering should not be included in the national discussion. It's demeaning to the process.
I gotta admit, I was impressed. The cynic in me, however, pointed out to the rest of me that although very little of the evening's words were political in nature (there was no "Edwards for President" material to be found anywhere, for instance. No banners, no buttons, nothing.), it still felt like a political speech, but with all the obvious political stuff carefully and surgically removed - a parallel speech of sorts with all the rhetorical arrows that would have pointed to "Vote for Me" remaining in the quiver.
Not that it wasn't important for The Senator to say what he said, but he is running for President. And perhaps this was a smart way to do it in the short run, campaigning without any messy polticial cliches attached.