Two rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination courted voters at one of the nation’s premier black cultural events, the Essence Music Festival, which has long mixed partying with efforts to effect social change.
Organizers of the festival, in its 13th year, have said participation by prominent politicians can only enhance that.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama hit the Louisiana Superdome’s stage Thursday night amid big name entertainers and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was to deliver her message Friday at one of the festival’s numerous seminars in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Obama was last in the region in May when he spoke at the National Conference of Black Mayors in Baton Rouge. Later, he visited students at Pierre A. Capdau Charter School in New Orleans and called on the federal government to invest $250 million in the city’s struggling schools.
Clinton also addressed the mayors’ group and later that month delivered the keynote address to graduates of Dillard University.
On Thursday, Obama urged spectators to help him change the course of American history by addressing the social ills brought to light during Hurricane Katrina.
He reminded the crowd that New Orleans was plagued by poverty, failing schools and high crime and murder rates for far too long before the catastrophic storm even hit.
“The legacy of race and poverty continues to shape our lives every day and it’s time we did something about it,” Obama said.
If any good news came out of Katrina, Obama said, “It’s that America was ashamed on that day and the days that followed. America was shocked.”
He said money being spent on the war in Iraq about $275 million a day would be put to better use if redirected to address problems within the United States.
“We’ve got needs here. We’ve got wars on the streets of New Orleans that need to be tended to,” Obama said.
Obama said he viewed running for President as his duty to past generations whose activism and sacrifices created better opportunities for minorities today.
He talked about attending a recent anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when blacks embarked on a civil rights protest march out of Selma, Ala., in 1965 and were beaten by authorities.
“They didn’t know it then, but they were marching for me,” Obama said, noting that he was only 4-years-old at the time. “They were willing to risk for me and for you. They were willing to act for me and for you.”
Obama said it was time for his generation to behave with the same courage.
“We are in one of those moments now,” he said.
He spoke for nearly 20 minutes to a receptive crowd that clapped often and was on its feet as he finished.
New Orleans resident Bridget Johnson, 43, said she was grateful that both Obama and Clinton were coming to the festival.
“It tells us that we are not forgotten,” she said.
Not everyone, however, thought the festival was an appropriate venue for political campaigning.
“This event is more for the city. It’s not about politics,” said 33-year-old Robert Brickham, a former New Orleans resident who has lived in Dallas for the past eight years. “It’s out of place.”
But festival organizers said the event has always tackled issues involving culture and community and the senators’ visits further their goal of remaining a “party with a purpose.”
Associated Press Writer Stacey Plaisance contributed to this report.
On the net: http://www.essence.com
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