Edwards has embarked on a countrywide, two-week, 10-college tour making speeches to students as part of his “Opportunity Rocks” project, which aims to raise awareness about poverty and spark a student movement to help put an end to it.
“It’s time for us, all of us together, to rise up and have our voices heard,” Edwards said. “It’s absolutely critical that we have your involvement.”
At Harvard, the event was organized by the student group Students Taking On Poverty (STOP).
Edwards said he hopes that Harvard students will join in his nation-wide effort against poverty.
“We want to connect [Harvard students] with students across America who want to engage in the same cause,” Edwards said in an interview with The Crimson.
In his speech, Edwards referred to historical examples of the important role college students can play to instill change independent from governmental efforts.
“When I was a teenager, I saw young people lead the fight for civil rights,” Edwards said.
He said the recent destruction after Hurricane Katrina served as an eye-opener for Americans.
“While the government was slow in response, the American people were not,” Edwards said.
He also drew anecdotes from his own past in describing poverty in America.
In addition to mentioning the problems of poverty, Edwards proposed possible solutions, including a higher minimum wage, housing vouchers, and what he called “work bonds,” which would allow low-income families to have their savings matched by the government.
“We need real cultural, racial, and economic integration in our communities,” he said.
Edwards said America must set an example for the world. He lamented what he said was the government’s failure to respond to the situation in Sudan—even after it promised never to disregard genocide again following the conflict in Rwanda.
“‘Never again’ means nothing unless America has the guts and backbone to lead on an issue that really matters,” he said. “The world is waiting for us.”
The audience answered his remarks with applause throughout the speech.
“He is an unbelievably charismatic and motivational speaker who really knows how to capture an issue,” Amy R. Schoenfeld ’07 said.
Other students voiced similar enthusiasm about his speech.
“I think he made it both a powerful, emotional speech and he also gave real solutions,” S. Travis May ’09 said.
STOP co-chair Amara A. Omeokwe ’08 said Edwards’ speech hit on many of the issues the group has been considering this year.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me and say that they want to get involved with the STOP campaign,” said the group’s co-director, Chaz M. Beasley ’08.
After his speech, Edwards remained outside for almost an hour to speak to a crowd of students waiting for the chance to ask him questions or take pictures.
When asked about his plans to run in 2008, Edwards answered, “This is not about politics.”