John Edwards photo

Remarks to the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project Annual Dinner

July 16, 2004

Thank you for that warm introduction. Thank you Antonio Gonzalez for your leadership here at Southwest Voter. And I want to thank Antonio Villaraigosa, who is here with me today and has been a long time friend of this effort.

I also want to start by thanking all of you for the work you're doing every day to build a stronger America. We're counting on you to get out the vote so that when the count the votes this November—there will be no doubt who's over the top.

Congratulations on your 30th anniversary. You've registered more than 2 million Latinos; trained 100,000 men and women for Get Out The Vote efforts, and you have organized more then 1,100 leaders at Latino Academies. Now that's a record to be proud of—and that's a record I know you'll build on this year. It would make your founder Willie Velasquez very proud.

Hispanics are the fastest growing group in our country, and you're values are the values that built America: strong families, deep faith, and closely-knit communities. And as you have shown us, now, more than ever, we must stand as one America.

And I want to say a few words about the man who will build one America for us—John Kerry, our next president. For those who want to know what kind of leader he'll be, I want to take you back about thirty years. When John Kerry finished college, he volunteered for military service. He volunteered to go to Vietnam and he volunteered to captain a swift boat, one of the most dangerous duties you can have in Vietnam.

He was wounded. He was decorated for his valor. And there is no one better prepared to keep the American people safe than John Kerry. And if you have any question about what John Kerry's made of, just spend three minutes with the men who served with him thirty years ago.

They saw up close, when their lives were at risk, that John Kerry is a leader that he has courage, determination, and he would never leave any American behind. They trust him. They believe in him. They stand by him today. And they knew that he would always put their lives ahead of his.

And I'll tell you one thing you can take to the bank. When John Kerry is president, every day that he is in the White House, he will tell the American people the truth!

I hear a lot of talk from others about values. Where I come from we don't believe values are words on a piece of paper or the things you use in a political ad or give a political speech about. We believe values are what you show with your entire life's experience.

And I don't know about you, but where I come from, when a man volunteers to stand up and serve his country, when a man puts his life on the line to stand up for the men who served with him, when a man shows that he would never, ever, leave one of his men behind, who would never leave any American behind, that's a man who represents real American values. That's John Kerry and those are real American values.

I am here for one simple reason; I love my country. I have lived in the bright light of America. I have had such an incredible set of opportunities in my life. I am the proud product of public schools. And I was the first member of my family to go on to college.

My story shouldn't be an exception; it should happen every day in America. With John Kerry as our president, he will make sure that every American has that same chance.

So many of the values I believe in I learned in the town I grew up in—Robbins, North Carolina. My father worked in the mill and my mother had a number of jobs: she worked at the post office so they could have health care, and she had her own small business.

In Robbins, I learned about hard work, responsibility, faith and family. It's where I lived the American Dream because I had the opportunity to do my best. That's why my family lived in Robbins.

And today those values are what still bring families to Robbins—the only thing that's changed is the town's 50 percent Latino. You can get an enchilada at the Quick-Check. But those families came to Robbins for the same reason my family lived there. To try to build and better life for their kids, for their grandkids—to give their kids a chance to have the kind of life they deserve. That's what America's about. It's what the American dream is about.

I have lived the American dream, and when John Kerry is our president more people will too. That's why together, we have to build an America that's stronger at home and respected in the world.

And we know that building a stronger America means having a strong middle class.

In the last three years, Hispanic American unemployment has soared more than 30 percent. 1.3 million Hispanic Americans are out of work. Those finally getting jobs are being paid an average of $9000 less a year. And millions and millions of hard working Hispanics who have jobs aren't getting paid enough to pay the bills.

Well I believe in building up our great middle class – especially the millions of Hispanic Americans who are working hard and still struggling to get ahead.

Being strong at home also means extending educational opportunity to every child in America. We need to make sure there is a good teacher in every classroom. That means getting good teachers to the areas where we need them the most—in our rural and small towns and in our cities—especially for kids who are learning English in our schools. Teachers can't do it alone. Kids in trouble need mentors. They need parents who are involved in our schools. And then we need to send every child a clear message: if you work hard, if you stick with it, not only will you finish high school, but we will make sure you can afford college, graduate, and live the American Dream. Young people who came to this country and worked hard deserve the chance to go to college— and that's why John Kerry and I support the DREAM Act.

Being strong at home means health care that is affordable and accessible to all Americans. Right now, there are millions of Americans who go to bed every night without basic health care. Nearly one out of every four Latino children is without health insurance and one out of every three Hispanic Americans is uninsured today. That is wrong.

John Kerry has a plan that will get rid of the greed and the waste in our health care system. He will cover our most vulnerable and he will lower costs. He will lower premiums for families by as much $1,000.

And being strong at home means always remembering that we are a nation of immigrants. But today, our immigration system isn't working. It's not working for millions of immigrants who come here seeking a better life, and it's not working for our country's security either.

It is time to fulfill the promise of America, so that those who work hard and take responsibility can build a better life for themselves and their families.

Let's start by passing the bipartisan AgJobs bill in the Senate. It will offer a piece of the American Dream to the good people who work on our farms each day. We just need a president in Washington who will sign this bill. John Kerry will.

But we need to do more. In his first hundred days, John Kerry will send an immigration reform bill to Congress. It will ensure that good people who are undocumented but are living here, working hard, and paying taxes have a path to equal citizenship.

It will extend English and civics classes so men and women can assume the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. It will make sure families are reunited more quickly. And it will improve our border security, fix our watch lists, and make Mexico a real partner, so that our country is safe.

We have to do everything we can in this country to give everyone an equal chance.

This election is the most important election of our lifetime. We have to register as many voters as we can and we have to get as many people to the voting booth on Election Day. It's inside there that we are all equal—casting our vote, making our choice. And that is why this November, unlike four Novembers ago, we need to make sure every vote counts!

We have to get out the vote. We have to meet the challenges in front of us: winning the war on terror, rebuilding our economy, and closing our great divides. We must embrace these challenges with hope and optimism and with a simple reminder—there is no challenge too big or too difficult for us because this is America where everything is possible.

We have to work hard because somewhere in America, a mother goes to work. She's working two jobs to pay the rent and feed and cloth her kids. She takes the late bus to work and gets home in time to hug her kids as they climb on to the school bus. She's tired. She wishes she could spend more time with them: help them with their homework, cook them breakfast, go to the park and watch their games. But she's using all the time she has just to keep the roof over their heads and food on the table.

It didn't use to be this way in their house. Her husband and their father was called up in the Guard and he's been serving in Iraq for more than a year. She thought he'd come back home last month, but he's got to stay longer—how much longer she doesn't know.

She thinks she's alone with this struggle. But tonight in this room, she's got a lot of friends and we want her and her kids and her husband to know that hope is one the way.

We are here to give them a better chance. We're here to make America stronger at home so she can get ahead. And we're here to make America respected in the world so that we can get him home.

Between now and November, the American people are going to reject the tired, old, negative, hateful politics of the past. Instead they're going to embrace the politics of hope, the politics of what's possible because this is America, where everything is possible.

I, like many of you have learned a lot of lessons in my life. Two of the most important are that first, there will always be heartache and struggle—you can't make it go away. But the second is that people of good and strong will can make a difference and inspire us. We choose to be inspired. And together, we can make a difference.

So when you return home, some night you might pass a mother taking the late bus to work—you tell her hope is on the way.

When a friend calls you and tells you her husband's jobs was just outsourced, you tell her with John Kerry as president, hope is on the way.

When you talk to your son or daughter who's standing in harm's way in Iraq, you tell them hope is on the way.

And when you wake up in the morning and spend time with your children, you tell them hope is on the way.

And when you go door-to-door and register more Latinos, you tell them hope is on the way.

That's what John Kerry is—he's hope. Hope for you. Hope for me. Hope for my children. Hope for your children. Hope for the future of America. Let's make America stronger at home and respected in the world. Let's elect John Kerry to be our next president. Let's ensure that once again, in America tomorrow will be better than today.

Thank you and God bless you.

John Edwards, Remarks to the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project Annual Dinner Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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