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Edwards Campaign Press Release - African-American Leaders Discuss Edwards' "Plan For Opportunity For All Americans"

December 07, 2007

To build One America, Edwards will create good jobs, guarantee universal health care and reform the criminal justice system

Columbia, South Carolina – Key African-American supporters held a conference call today to discuss Senator Edwards' "Plan for Opportunity for All Americans," which includes proposals for creating good jobs, guaranteeing universal health care and reforming the criminal justice system. As someone who grew up in the segregated South, Senator Edwards feels a special responsibility on the issue of race in America and has made equality of opportunity the central tenet of his campaign.

"Too many Americans are separated from the opportunities of our country," said Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman. "Senator Edwards has dedicated his life to building One America, where every person has the same opportunities to work hard and get ahead."

"Senator Edwards has laid out detailed plans to strengthen African-American communities and all communities by expanding the middle class and ending poverty in America," said Tyrone Freeman, president of SEIU United Long Term Care Workers West. "If we work together, I have faith we'll be able to lift up families and make a real difference in people's lives."

The African-American leaders who participated in the call included: Texas State Representative Garnet F. Coleman, member of Texas House of Representatives Democratic Leadership, chair of the Legislative Study Group, immediate past chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus; Missouri State Representative Connie Johnson, Minority Whip; SEIU United Long Term Care Workers West president Tyrone Freeman; John Edwards for President campaign advisor and South Carolina State Representative Leon Howard, chair of the black caucus; South Carolina State Representative Bill Clyburn; City Council Member Beverly Clyburn, Aiken, South Carolina; City Council Member Linda Dogan, Spartanburg, South Carolina; and Dr. James Blassingame, Vice President, National Baptist Convention.

To build One America and make sure everyone has the same chances that America has given to him, Senator Edwards has called a "Plan for Opportunity for All Americans." This plan includes proposals for guaranteeing universal health care, ending the disgrace of two criminal justice systems, ending poverty in America, strengthening schools so every child can succeed, creating safe and affordable housing, protecting the right to vote, and enforcing civil rights laws.

For more information on Edwards' plan, please see the policy paper included below.

Building One America: A Plan for Opportunity for All Americans

"I believe that everyone in America – regardless of the family you were born into, the color of your skin or the country your family came from – should have an equal chance to build a better life." – John Edwards

There are still Two Americas—one favored and the other forgotten. While they are not defined by race, the Two Americas have a disproportionate impact on people of color and in many ways reflect the tragic history of race in this country. The hateful legacy of racism – slavery, segregation, and then discrimination – continues to be felt in every single part of American life. For example, the economic impact is apparent in the racial wealth gap: African Americans have less than a dime in assets for every dollar that white families have. Current economic policies have Americans growing apart: between 2001 and 2005, the top 1 percent of households gained $268 billion of total income and the bottom 90 percent lost $272 billion ($2,071 per household). [Demos, 2006; EPI, 2007]

As someone who grew up in the segregated South, John Edwards feels a special responsibility on the issue of race in America and has made equality of opportunity the central tenet of his campaign. To build One America and make sure everyone has the same chances that America has given to him, he supports:

Guaranteeing Health Care for Every American: Forty-seven million Americans – including one out of five African Americans – don't have health insurance. Families with insurance struggle to pay skyrocketing premiums and co-payments. Edwards is the only major candidate with a specific plan for truly universal health care that takes on the insurance and drug companies and provides better care at a lower cost. He will address shameful racial and ethnic health disparities with new research, preventive care without co-payments, pro-active treatment for chronic diseases and increased diversity among health care professionals. [Census Bureau, 2007]

Strengthening Schools So Every Child Can Succeed: More than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, our education system remains shockingly unequal. In some areas, African-American students have only about a 50 percent chance of graduating from high school. States spend $900 less per student in their most diverse school districts. Edwards will invest in teacher pay and training to attract teachers where we need them most; reduce class sizes; create second-chance schools and take other steps to help dropouts get back on track; expand preschool; and strengthen high school curriculum. Edwards has also proposed providing new federal resources to promote economic diversity in schools, while supporting additional steps to promote racial integration as well. He will also make college more affordable through his College for Everyone program that will pay the first year of public-college tuition, books and fees for students willing to work part-time and stay out of trouble. [Urban Institute, 2004; Weiner & Pristoop, 2006]

Ending the Disgrace of Two Criminal Justice Systems: Our prison population has increased more than tenfold in the course of a single generation, with a disproportionate impact on African-American communities. Edwards will reform sentencing rules to address the disparity in punishments for crimes involving crack and powder cocaine and limit mandatory minimum sentences for first-time, non-violent offenses. Edwards supports alternatives to incarceration – such as drug courts – for first-time, non-violent offenders as well as re-entry programs that include drug treatment, literacy education and training to help ex-offenders get back on their feet.

Creating Safe and Affordable Housing: More new jobs have been created in the suburbs, outside the inner cities where many African-Americans live and beyond the reach of mass transit. African-Americans have the lowest homeownership rate in the country. Predatory lenders have targeted African-American homeowners. Edwards will promote economically integrated neighborhoods, enforce fair housing laws, encourage more affordable housing, create more than 1 million new housing vouchers and crack down on the scourge of predatory mortgage lending.

Protecting the Right to Vote: Forty years after the Voting Rights Act, we still have more work to do to ensure a meaningful right to vote for every American regardless of their skin color. Edwards will restore the right to vote in all federal elections to ex-offenders who have served their sentences. Edwards supports secure and accessible voting ballots for all voting machines. Edwards believes we should allow voters to register on Election Day, ending the fiasco of purge lists, provisional ballots and voter registration intimidation, and he opposes voter photo identification legislation, which disproportionately disenfranchises racial and ethnic minorities.

Ending Poverty in America: Every day, 37 million Americans wake up in poverty, including one out of every four African Americans. Edwards has set a goal of eliminating poverty within a generation by strengthening families, helping workers save and get ahead, reaching overlooked rural areas, and expecting people to help themselves by working whenever they are able. To reward work, he will create 1 million stepping stone jobs, raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2012, expand the earned income tax credit and strengthen labor laws to make it easier for workers to join a union. He will also help working families build wealth by matching their savings through Work Bonds and Get Ahead tax credits and taking on abusive lenders. [Census Bureau, 2006]

Helping Small Businesses: Entrepreneurship has always given minority communities a toehold in the American economy. Edwards will increase federal contracting opportunities for minority-owned small business and use the power of the federal government to help small business. To help businesses offering health care, the Edwards health care plan will eliminate at least $130 billion a year in wasteful health care spending and reduce the cost of a typical family policy by $2000 to $2500 a year. And new Health Care Markets will bring down costs for small businesses through negotiating power and administrative efficiencies, making it easier for them to care for their employees.

Environmental Justice: The devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita – and their disparate impact on African-American communities living in the low-lying neighborhoods of the Gulf – is perhaps the most vivid example of why environmental justice is a matter of life and death. Proximity to toxic wastes is correlated more closely with race than with any other factor. Pollution and brownfields are concentrated in low-income neighborhoods where big corporations think that the people will not fight back. To give communities the tools to defend their rights, we must maintain access to the courts and disclose the risks of plants. African-Americans have high rates of environmental-related illnesses, like asthma and lung cancer, because nearly three-quarters live in areas in violation of Clean Air Act standards. We must enforce the Clean Air Act strongly across the country. John Edwards is committed to equal justice for all Americans, and that includes environmental justice. [Mohai, 2007; Lowery et al., 2002 ]

Enforcing Civil Rights Laws: Our laws are only as good as the men and women who enforce and interpret them. In many cases, President Bush's key agency appointees and judicial nominees have had questionable commitments to equality under law. Edwards is committed to strengthening the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, choosing judges who are committed to protecting civil rights, not undermining them, and appointing officials who vigorously enforce our civil rights laws.

Closing the Digital Divide: Forty percent of African Americans don't have access to the Internet. African-American children are about 35 percent less likely to have a computer and Internet at home than white children. As president, Edwards will establish a national broadband policy with a goal of giving all U.S. homes and businesses affordable access to real high-speed internet by 2010 and prohibit telephone and cable companies from discriminating against rural or low-income communities in building their networks.

John Edwards, Edwards Campaign Press Release - African-American Leaders Discuss Edwards' "Plan For Opportunity For All Americans" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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