In a speech that touched on topics both local and global during his campaign stop at the Berkeley YWCA Sunday, Democratic presidential contender John Edwards sent a message to UC Berkeley.
“The greatness of a university is not only measured by its great men and women or by its great resources. But greatness is also recognized in how you treat those who work hard every day to make this university what it is,” said Edwards, referring to the UC custodians who are locked in a labor dispute with university authorities.
“We stand in solidarity with the men and women of this university who deserve the dignity of earning a livable wage,” he said to a cheering crowd of more than a thousand people who had crammed alleyways and parking lots to listen to him speak at his “Tomorrow Begins Today” rally.
Edwards said he was at the YWCA instead of the campus to show his support for campus janitors who are part of the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees.
“How about if we actually have a living wage in the U.S.?” he asked. “How about if we make it easier, not harder for workers to join unions?”
Edwards said that unions were the future of America.
Michelle Wasserman, president of the Cal Berkeley Democrats, said that she endorsed John Edwards because she believed he would bring about specific change.
“I am tired of the increasing tuition and the cuts in university grants,” she said. “Edwards cares about the people. He cares about the lives of women—as a lawyer, a senator, a husband and a father of two daughters.”
When asked if he approved the public-private partnership between UC Berkeley and BP (formerly British Petroleum) for academic research during a press meet at a back room of the YWCA, Edwards admitted that he did not have enough details about the deal to make a decision.
“I don’t have the facts but any kind of public-private partnership between a public and a private institution is a terrific idea,” he said.
Reminiscing on the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery that led to black voting-rights marchers being brutally abused and beaten up by state troopers, Edwards said the march for equality was still continuing.
“I was 11 years old at that time and living in the south which was filled with discrimination,” he said. “Segregation still exists today. I remember the ‘whites only’ signs in the diners. The white kids sitting downstairs at the movie theaters and the black kids upstairs.”
He added, “The march for equality at UC Berkeley is part of the greater march for fairness.”
When reporters asked Edwards if he was seeking an apology from author Ann Coulter—who had called him a “faggot” at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington last week, Edwards said he wasn’t.
“I think it’s important we don’t reward selfish, hateful, childish, racist behavior,” he said, adding that the slur was no more tolerable than the language he had heard being directed at African Americans while growing up.
Edwards also spoke strongly on the genocide in Darfur, global warming, HIV Aids in Africa, and the war in Iraq.
“I voted for the war and I was wrong to vote for it. No excuses,” he said. “Congress should use constitutional power to stop George W. Bush from accelerating troops in Iraq. They should force him to bring back troops by next year. The president has already exceeded his authority by monitoring civil war in Iraq.”
Calling the current healthcare system dysfunctional, Edwards said that he was the only presidential candidate who had plans for a universal detailed health care system that involved $90 to $120 billion in funds.