At a press conference in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, still decimated from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, John Edwards announced today that he is suspending his candidacy for President of the United States.
With his family and Habitat for Humanity volunteers standing behind him, Edwards gave an eloquent speech that should live for all time. Anyone who saw it shall never forget it.
Throughout this campaign, his opponents have drawn numerous comparisons to JFK, RFK, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — but it is John Edwards who rightfully deserved the credit for keeping the populist progressive dream alive. His message echoed President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, FDR’s New Deal, Robert F. Kennedy’s Poverty Tour, and Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign.
While other candidates talked the talk, John Edwards walked the walk.
Sadly, the media has all but ignored Edwards’ campaign in recent weeks, as the pundits focused on the fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Even more distressing is the fact that the only way to get John Edwards back on the front page was for him to quit the race.
Edwards may have abandoned his campaign, but not the struggle for economic and social equality in America. No sooner had he delivered his announcement today, he picked up a hammer and got to work building a new home in Musician’s Village for those displaced by Katrina. This in itself was a powerful statement – and he wanted all the world to hear.
As a journalist, I’ve covered every presidential race since 1988, and have seen a lot of candidates come and go. But never have I seen a candidate drop out of the running with as much eloquence and grace as John Edwards did today. His words of farewell moved me deeply, and I sincerely hope they are not forgotten.
The following is a transcript of this moving and memorable speech by John Edwards. Please share it with your friends and family, and ask them to put pressure on whichever candidate they support to incorporate Edwards’ anti-poverty mission into their platform:
Thank you all very much. We’re very proud to be back here.
During the spring of 2006, I had the extraordinary experience of bringing 700 college kids here to New Orleans to work. These are kids who gave up their spring break to come to New Orleans to work, to rehabilitate houses, because of their commitment as Americans, because they believed in what was possible, and because they cared about their country.
I began my presidential campaign here to remind the country that we, as citizens and as a government, have a moral responsibility to each other, and what we do together matters. We must do better, if we want to live up to the great promise of this country that we all love so much.
It is appropriate that I come here today. It’s time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path. We do not know who will take the final steps to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but what we do know is that our Democratic Party will make history. We will be strong, we will be unified, and with our convictions and a little backbone we will take back the White House in November and we’ll create hope and opportunity for this country.
This journey of ours began right here in New Orleans. It was a December morning in the Lower Ninth Ward when people went to work, not just me, but lots of others went to work with shovels and hammers to help restore a house that had been destroyed by the storm.
We joined together in a city that had been abandoned by our government and had been forgotten, but not by us. We knew that they still mourned the dead, that they were still stunned by the destruction, and that they wondered when all those cement steps in all those vacant lots would once again lead to a door, to a home, and to a dream.
We came here to the Lower Ninth Ward to rebuild. And we’re going to rebuild today and work today, and we will continue to come back. We will never forget the heartache and we’ll always be here to bring them hope, so that someday, one day, the trumpets will sound in Musicians’ Village, where we are today, play loud across Lake Ponchartrain, so that working people can come marching in and those steps once again can lead to a family living out the dream in America.
We sat with poultry workers in Mississippi, janitors in Florida, nurses in California.
We listened as child after child told us about their worry about whether we would preserve the planet.
We listened to worker after worker say “the economy is tearing my family apart.”
We walked the streets of Cleveland, where house after house was in foreclosure.
And we said, “We’re better than this. And economic justice in America is our cause.”
And we spent a day, a summer day, in Wise, Virginia, with a man named James Lowe, who told us the story of having been born with a cleft palate. He had no health care coverage. His family couldn’t afford to fix it. And finally some good Samaritan came along and paid for his cleft palate to be fixed, which allowed him to speak for the first time. But they did it when he was 50 years old. His amazing story, though, gave this campaign voice: universal health care for every man, woman and child in America. That is our cause.
And we do this — we do this for each other in America. We don’t turn away from a neighbor in their time of need. Because every one of us knows that what — but for the grace of God, there goes us. The American people have never stopped doing this, even when their government walked away, and walked away it has from hardworking people, and, yes, from the poor, those who live in poverty in this country.
For decades, we stopped focusing on those struggles. They didn’t register in political polls, they didn’t get us votes and so we stopped talking about it. I don’t know how it started. I don’t know when our party began to turn away from the cause of working people, from the fathers who were working three jobs literally just to pay the rent, mothers sending their kids to bed wrapped up in their clothes and in coats because they couldn’t afford to pay for heat.
We know that our brothers and sisters have been bullied into believing that they can’t organize and can’t put a union in the workplace. Well, in this campaign, we didn’t turn our heads. We looked them square in the eye and we said, “We see you, we hear you, and we are with you. And we will never forget you.” And I have a feeling that if the leaders of our great Democratic Party continue to hear the voices of working people, a proud progressive will occupy the White House.
Now, I’ve spoken to both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. They have both pledged to me and more importantly through me to America, that they will make ending poverty central to their campaign for the presidency.
And more importantly, they have pledged to me that as President of the United States they will make ending poverty and economic inequality central to their Presidency. This is the cause of my life and I now have their commitment to engage in this cause.
And I want to say to everyone here, on the way here today, we passed under a bridge that carried the interstate where 100 to 200 homeless Americans sleep every night. And we stopped, we got out, we went in and spoke to them.
There was a minister there who comes every morning and feeds the homeless out of her own pocket. She said she has no money left in her bank account, she struggles to be able to do it, but she knows it’s the moral, just and right thing to do. And I spoke to some of the people who were there and as I was leaving, one woman said to me, “You won’t forget us, will you? Promise me you won’t forget us.” Well, I say to her and I say to all of those who are struggling in this country, we will never forget you. We will fight for you. We will stand up for you.
But I want to say this — I want to say this because it’s important. With all of the injustice that we’ve seen, I can say this, America’s hour of transformation is upon us. It may be hard to believe when we have bullets flying in Baghdad and it may be hard to believe when it costs $58 to fill your car up with gas. It may be hard to believe when your school doesn’t have the right books for your kids. It’s hard to speak out for change when you feel like your voice is not being heard.
But I do hear it. We hear it. This Democratic Party hears you. We hear you, once again. And we will lift you up with our dream of what’s possible.
One America, one America that works for everybody.
One America where struggling towns and factories come back to life because we finally transformed our economy by ending our dependence on oil.
One America where the men who work the late shift and the women who get up at dawn to drive a two-hour commute and the young person who closes the store to save for college. They will be honored for that work.
One America where no child will go to bed hungry because we will finally end the moral shame of 37 million people living in poverty.
One America where every single man, woman and child in this country has health care.
One America with one public school system that works for all of our children.
One America that finally brings this war in Iraq to an end. And brings our service members home with the hero’s welcome that they have earned and that they deserve.
Today, I am suspending my campaign for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency.
But I want to say this to everyone: with Elizabeth, with my family, with my friends, with all of you and all of your support, this son of a millworker’s gonna be just fine. Our job now is to make certain that America will be fine.
And I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard — all those who have volunteered, my dedicated campaign staff who have worked absolutely tirelessly in this campaign.
And I want to say a personal word to those I’ve seen literally in the last few days — those I saw in Oklahoma yesterday, in Missouri, last night in Minnesota — who came to me and said don’t forget us. Speak for us. We need your voice. I want you to know that you almost changed my mind, because I hear your voice, I feel you, and your cause it our cause. Your country needs you — every single one of you.
All of you who have been involved in this campaign and this movement for change and this cause, we need you. It is in our hour of need that your country needs you. Don’t turn away, because we have not just a city of New Orleans to rebuild. We have an American house to rebuild.
This work goes on. It goes on right here in Musicians’ Village. There are homes to build here, and in neighborhoods all along the Gulf. The work goes on for the students in crumbling schools just yearning for a chance to get ahead. It goes on for day care workers, for steel workers risking their lives in cities all across this country. And the work goes on for two hundred thousand men and women who wore the uniform of the United States of America, proud veterans, who go to sleep every night under bridges, or in shelters, or on grates, just as the people we saw on the way here today. Their cause is our cause.
Their struggle is our struggle. Their dreams are our dreams.
Do not turn away from these great struggles before us. Do not give up on the causes that we have fought for. Do not walk away from what’s possible, because it’s time for all of us, all of us together, to make the two Americas one.
Thank you. God bless you, and let’s go to work. Thank you all very much.