Kerry Stumps in my Hometown

The day after his televised speech to the nation at the DNC, Sen. John Kerry made a stop in my small, blue-collar hometown of Scranton, PA. He was there to reach out to voters and discuss the issues surrounding the impending election. The rally included supporters of both Kerry and George Bush, anti-war activists, pro-life activists, and some who are still undecided about the fall election. There were also a large number of young people there, hoping to hear from the presidential hopeful in person.

During the mining days, a time when many found work in Northeast Pennsylvania, Scranton was a boomtown. Now it’s a small town filled with leftover factories, railroads, and underground mines. Despite city plans to reinvigorate downtown Scranton, many young people flee this “boring” city to attend college or finding work elsewhere. Still, Scranton matters to Kerry because Pennsylvania is a swing state, meaning that it could go red or blue this election year.

To begin the day, an estimated 17,000 people stood in line under a blistering, late July sun in the soaring humidity. Senators Edwards, and Kerry were traveling with their families and with actor, Ben Affleck, whose presence added to the excitement. Those who had various color-coded tickets for the event were slowly ushered through the lines. Security was tight, with the area surrounding the public courthouse of Scranton was blocked off and barricaded. Even those who were lucky enough to have colored tickets couldn’t enter the area in front of the stage until frisked by cops. Like most people, I had a white ticket, which only allowed me to stand behind a metal barricade, packed against thousands of others, far from the stage.

“They make us feel like cattle,” one middle-aged woman behind me said, referring to the security. Meanwhile, the blazing temperature caused some in the crowd to faint, and medics were busy hauling people away in ambulances. Of course, volunteers from the Scranton Democrats chapter tried to get cold water to those in the crowd, but the audience seemed larger than any organizer could have predicted.

The presidential hopeful was late arriving from Boston, but there was no shortage of local politicians to compete for attention and energize the crowd.

“If I had to get into a fox hole, it’s John Kerry I’d want to be in that fox hole with,” claimed Pennsylvania Rep. Paul Kanjorski, bringing light to Kerry’s war record as many others have been done this election season. The mayor of Scranton, also a Democrat, rallied the crowd. “We’re going to be loud and proud!” Mayor Doherty demanded. “We’re John Kerry territory from now on,” he continued, as the crowd roared. Joe Hoefell, who is hoping to defeat current Pennsynvalia senator Arlen Specter in November, also spoke to the crowd, hoping to rally new voters. “Arlen Specter is voting with Bush and Cheney, and I don’t think that’s in the best interests of Northeast Pennsylvania,” he said, launching his attack.

gatheredAlong with politicians, the anxious crowd members also reminded of the views of a number of different protestors. A group of anti-war protestors lined up on the street to greet Kerry’s bus. One of their signs read, “End the occupation. War is terror.” Another read, “Real pro-life people are anti-war.” Of course, Christians and pro-lifers opposed to Kerry’s pro-choice stance also stormed the crowd. One person sweltered inside a bear suit with a sign that read, “43 million babies will never hug a teddy bear.” An elderly man in the crowd, Charles Densevich, had a red sign that read, in white letters, “Kerry is 100% pro-abortion.” “Abortion is killing. I think it’s murder,” he explained later. Elizabeth Collins, a long-time activist and nurse, debated with Charles. “If a woman becomes pregnant against her will, I want her to have a choice,” she said. The protestors represented the deep polarization in this country, with each side making their presence clear and known.

When Kerry’s campaign bus finally pulled up, all eyes turned to see the senator leaning out the window with a huge smile and a thumbs up for the crowd. He was late but crowd didn’t seem to mind, as they roared and waved blue and red signs.

After brief introductions by Mrs. Edwards, Ben Affleck, and Teresa Heinz Kerry, Sen. Edwards took the stage. Most of his speech praised Kerry’s leadership and military service. “Strong, decisive leadership, is that not what we need in a commander-in-chief?” he asked the enormous crowd. “Don’t we need a commander-in-chief who will lead the world, not bully it?” the senator continued. Before Edwards left the stage, the crowd chanted, “Hope is on the way,” the phrase that has become Edwards’ tagline of since the convention. Finally, the man of the afternoon took the stage. Once the crowd quieted, Sen. Kerry spoke. “No wonder they call this the Electric City,” he began, looking out over a sea of faces.

Kerry then went on to compliment his running mate. “He knows the struggle of people in our country,” the Massachusetts senator said of Edwards. “He’s been fighting for the middle class all his life, and he is ready to lead, and I think it will be wonderful,” he continued. Of course, much of the speech focused on the middle class, jobs, and healthcare. Kerry talked about ways that he and John Edwards will “champion for the working class” and vowed to roll back tax cuts for the elite, while keeping them for working-class families. He also said wants to ensure that all Americans receive healthcare, promising that the first piece of legislation he sends to Congress will be a bill to lower the cost of healthcare by the thousands. “It is a right for all Americans, and we’re going to make it available for all Americans,” said Kerry. He also spoke of the tumultuous situation in Iraq, addressing for the first time an issue pertaining to my peers. But unfortunately, his statement left a lot to be desired. Kerry promised that if the administration takes the White House, the senator wants to protect young people from unnecessary wars. “We’re going to do what we need to do to make sure that no young American in uniform is ever held hostage to America’s dependence on oil from the Middle East,” he told us.

He also said he believes that America “never goes to war because we want to,” only “because we have to.” To close his speech, Kerry encouraged all of the crowd to vote. “My friends in Scranton,” he said, “this is the most important election of a lifetime. Everything is on the line – our jobs, our healthcare, our schools, our role in the world, our character as a country. John and I ask you to join us. Enlist in this cause!” As he walked off the stage, the crowd lit up with hope.

From the moment his bus pulled onto Washington Avenue to the instant he left the stage, Sen. Kerry’s visit filled my hometown with excitement. Despite the fact that there were thousands of young voters at the rally, however, Kerry did little to address potential young voters. In fact, I was left wondering: What do they plan to do about the soaring costs of college tuition? If we “had to continue this war,” how does Kerry feel about the draft? Only a third or eligible young people voted in the 2000 election. Why, then, doesn’t Kerry do more to address the issues that affect our generation on the campaign trail? Maybe he thinks that having Ben Affleck along for the ride is enough. I don’t. Now that the bus has pulled away and the team of celebrity-politicians has moved on to the next state, the youth of Scranton – if they’re anything like me – don’t feel like they have any real place in the Democrat's platform this fall.

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