Posted by R. Neal

Former North Carolina Senator and Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards has a message for students:

Former Sen. John Edwards began a national anti-poverty campaign Monday by exhorting students at the University of North Carolina to launch a grass-roots effort similar to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

This time, he told them, the divide isn't black and white but rich and poor.

The recent devastation of Hurricane Katrina exposed that rift clearly, Edwards told the roughly 700 people who attended the inaugural event of a planned 10-campus "Opportunity Rocks" tour.

Edwards, a graduate of UNC's law school, told students that an estimated 37 million Americans, including 13 million children, live at or near poverty.

"They have always lived on a razor blade," Edwards said of the poor who were devastated by the Gulf Coast hurricane. "The problem is it doesn't take much to knock them off."

He asked the students to spend 20 hours a semester doing volunteer advocacy for issues such as raising the minimum wage.

College students have led reform efforts in the past, Edwards said, pointing to civil rights, the anti-war movement of the Vietnam era and anti-apartheid demonstrations in the 1980s.

"It is time to rise up again," Edwards said. "It is your time to make change.

Edwards is the Honorary Chairman of the Center for Progress and Opportunity, sponsor of the Opportunity Rocks campaign. Here's an excerpt from his welcome message:

We have all seen the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina - people packed into the Superdome and convention center with only the clothes on their backs. We've all asked what brought them there. Many things did, but one of them was poverty.

Widespread poverty existed before Katrina and it will persist after the Gulf region is rebuilt, if we let the images that we've watched on the news fade from our memories as they fade from our television screens.

But today we have a historic opportunity. We do not have to live in an America that accepts poverty as a fact of life or chooses to ignore it. There is a powerful hunger for community in our country. People understand they have to work hard and take responsibility for themselves. But they also know there's more to America than that.
You, America's young people, understand this more than most. You understand the importance of community and you're passionate about making this country live up to its ideals. Throughout our nation's history, you have taken the lead in movements that have made us better, as people and as a nation.

Today, I am asking you to join with me and with your peers to make eradicating poverty the cause of your generation.

If this sounds familiar, it's because Chris Kromm said the same thing right here at Facing South last week. Here's the Opportunity Rocks college tour schedule. Consider going out to support this movement if they're coming to your town.

OK, then.