In the summer of 2003, I was still trying to recover from the 2000 election, still trying to courageously soldier on as the reality sunk in that Al Gore, my Alternate Universe Boyfriend, had decided to step out of politics, still trying to recover from the loss of another Possible-Alternate Universe Boyfriend, Paul Wellstone. I was finally going out again, accepting invitations from John Kerry and politely rejecting Dick Gephardt's advances and sometimes flirting with that charming tease, Wes Clark. By the end of the summer, I'd begun a rebound relationship with Howard Dean but we weren't serious and I was free to see other people. Howard's real understanding like that.
In August 2003, I happened to catch John Edwards giving his "Two Americas" speech TV -- CSPAN, I think, or maybe on public access at a local event -- and my populist-loving heart went pitter patter. I was still being courted by Dean at that point, and indeed, we were getting pretty serious by October of that year, but I just couldn't commit myself to a monogamous relationship -- that John Edwards fellow, there was just something about him. And then I saw an interview with John and his delightful wife Elizabeth and they had me at "this country rewards wealth, not work". I've been an Edwards girl ever since.
Since the 2004 election, he's chosen to focus his attention, his hard work, and his considerable talents on one of the knottiest, least popular topics in American politics today: poverty. There's no special interest money to made in advocating for the poor. The poor don't have PACs that can raise millions of dollars for your Presidential campaign and the solutions to their problems require more than just throwing lots of money at them. Worse, the poor have some of the lowest voting percentages of any voter demographic.
But there are 16 million Americans living in severe poverty. Sixteen. Million. That's not a crisis, people, that's a fucking travesty. And that's not poverty, that's "severe" poverty -- less than $5,080/year for an individual, less than $9,903/year for a family of four with two children. Think about those numbers. Think about what it means that this, the richest country in the world, with wealth that surpasses our ability to imagine it, has over 13% of its total population living in poverty and 5.69% of its total population isn't just living in poverty, but is living at half the federally-defined poverty level, on an income $423 per month. Although we can hardly call that living, can we? It's barely surviving and some days, it's not even doing that much.
In an age when corporate profits and CEO pay is skyrocketing and the nation's fraction of a fraction of the wealthiest are getting obscene tax cuts, the fact that the number of people falling into severe poverty increased 26% from 2000 to 2005 is buried somewhere on page 17 of the paper, if it gets mentioned at all. This is not the kind of headline-grabbing issue that's sure to make you a darling of the punditry and beltway media in the race for the presidency.
And yet, John Edwards has made this his signature issue. Not only that, he's embraced a related issue that doesn't make you popular with those big companies signing checks: labor. Since my own strong feelings about labor go without saying, I'll instead quote Edwards' campaign manager, David Bonior:
"I haven't seen someone as a national figure do as much on workers' rights and poverty in my lifetime. That includes Bobby Kennedy and people in politics in the ‘60s. He helped organize people in probably 85 different actions, from hotel workers to university janitors to people who work in buildings and factories. He was out there demonstrating, marching, picketing, writing letters to CEOs, demanding that [workers] have the right to organize and represent themselves. He started a center on poverty and became the director at the University of North Carolina. He traveled the country and was a leader in getting a minimum-wage bill passed in eight states."His championing of the unionizing efforts of hotel workers' in Nevada and tireless work on their behalf has practically guaranteed that state's electoral votes are his, and he's the front runner in the crucial state of Iowa, where working class families have been particularly hard hit. And lest we forget, he made his announcement that he was running in 2008 during a week of working in the Ninth Ward.
Elizabeth has been right there with him every step of the way. She's brilliant, incisive, quick, funny, and one hell of a campaigner. In fact, it's an open secret that people would be as thrilled if she were running instead of her husband. And how can you not completely fall in love with her for this:
Do you find it hard to play the role of the submissive wife?
I didn't know I was.
What do you think of the title Second Lady of the United States, which sounds so matronly?
It's better than the acronym, which is SLOTUS. That sounds like something that lives under a rock.
So you know where this is leading. Today's news...I cried all the way to work this morning, wondering what they were going to announce at the press conference. It seemed pretty certain that her cancer was back, and the rumors were flying fast and furious that they were going to announce the campaign was over. I don't know which upset me more: that John Edwards might be stepping out of the race or that Elizabeth Edwards' cancer had come back.
Well, the miracle I was hoping for -- that her cancer hadn't returned -- didn't come. But the John and Elizabeth I know and love made an appearance and they're going to fight this thing even as they continue their fight for this country, for you and me. I suspect, as Jane does, that the decision to continue was entirely Elizabeth's. Or as Ezra said:
"There's a sort of subtle insinuation that sick people should crawl back into their caves and stay there till they either die or get better. But when you hear the Edwards's discuss the idea that her cancer is now incurable, that it's not something she will get better from and so not something where they can hit pause, wait for it to pass, and then resume their lives, you have to think that the question they're asking themselves is not how can Elizabeth best get well, but how would they like to spend the rest of their years. And knowing her even casually, I'm not surprised to learn the answer is 'fighting'."In light of that, how can we not do the same?
So in that spirit, I'm redoubling my own efforts, beginning with two donations: one to the campaign, one to the search for a cure. Because 16 million people in this country are barely surviving. Because more than twice that number are barely getting by. Because Elizabeth Edwards isn't going to let a piddly thing like chemotherapy stop her from campaigning. Because she's talking about living many years. Because she and her husband have committed this precious time, whether they're her last or only a few of many to come, to fighting for you and for me.