(Pictured L-R: Brandon Counts – Vice Chair of the Young Democrats of Horry County, presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, and Stacie Pearman – Chair of the Young Democrats of Horry County)
By Stacie Pearman
Democratic Presidential candidate, Beto O’Rourke held a town hall rally at Seminar Brewing in Florence, SC Tuesday, August 27, drawing a large and diverse crowd – diverse not only in age and race, but in political affiliation and supporters of other Democratic candidates.
As the crowd awaited O’Rourke, there was plenty of chatter among excited attendees.
One of those attendees, a college student, whose parents immigrated to The United States 23 years ago, said that Mayor Pete Buttigieg is his favorite candidate… for now.
“I’m a lifelong Republican, I guess just growing up in the South that’s what I was, but the Republicans have let me down. Trump… none of it aligns with my values and morals anymore,” he said.
The young man identified immigration and the economy as the issues that currently mean the most to him. At the end of the event, he said he’s still with Mayor Pete, but liked Beto, and no matter what, would be voting for the Democratic nominee in 2020.
Two, middle aged White women, identified as Bernie Sanders supporters, said they are still with Sanders, but are open to O’Rourke, too.
“I’ll vote for whoever the Democrat nominee is. I’m scared that other Bernie supporters don’t agree; I think they are ‘Bernie or Bust’ and if that happens, we’re giving the election to Trump,” she declared.
One woman indicated she’s yearning for the stability of Biden but has some concerns.
“He’s just tripping over his words too much. I’m concerned that he’s not up to the task,” she said.
When O’Rourke arrived, he was introduced by Florence City Councilwoman Teresa Ervin, who stressed the need for young people to get involved, stay involved and vote.
On the Issues
Standing in the midst of the crowd, O’Rourke sipped on a brew. Animated, it was clear he was determined to spread his message and absorb input from those in attendance, even allowing a young Trump supporter to ask for proof that Trump is a racist.
The mic was given to a man urging O’Rourke to bring back prayer in schools, and the candidate urged attendees to allow the man to speak. It was tense at times, but O’Rourke handled the semi-hostile interactions with a confident and genuine interest in hearing about all angles of the issues, much in the same way he ran his grassroots Senate campaign.
O’Rourke’s message began with the need to create successful communities, so people can stay in their communities to live and work and attract people to return to those communities that they left due to lack of economic opportunity. This vision, he stated, was particularly important to rural communities that were losing citizens – and in turn, tax revenue, as people left to seek opportunities not available to them at home.
He said he supports a $15.00 minimum wage to help support families and local economies and vowed to use climate change projects to help bring back jobs to rural communities.
As O’Rourke moved on to the topic of gun violence, he was interrupted by chants of “Do Something!”. Clearly, gun violence and gun reform are a key part of his campaign. O’Rourke drew from his recent experience in his hometown of El Paso, TX, where a man, fueled by Trump’s divisive and racist rhetoric, massacred shoppers at a Walmart.
O’Rourke was firm in his belief that red flag laws and background checks for all gun sales, combined with a ban on assault weapons are the right – and long overdue- next steps for America. He applauded U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn’s efforts to close the Charleston gun show loophole.
The candidate drew applause from the crowd when he declared that America must confront the ugly truth of racism, slavery and economic disparity for African Americans before we can move forward and grow together. He condemned President Trump’s use of words like “infestation” when talking about immigrants, calling Trump’s position “un-American”.
“We can’t just be not racist, we must be anti-racist,” he stressed.
When asked about his position on reparations and the wage gap between African American’s and White Americans, O’Rourke was thoughtful.
“We need some form of reparations,” he said.
O’Rourke suggested that the best path forward would be to have a commission to determine the best way to make it right, which could include reparations. He admitted that without having discussions with more people and hearing more stories, he could not say, for sure, what the best path forward would be.
O’Rourke took questions from the audience on transgender rights and likened Trump’s cruel military transgender ban to his approach to immigration.
“It’s all tied in together,” he said.
O’Rourke vowed to roll back the military transgender ban and to sign an Equality Act to protect transgender people.
“Our differences are not dangerous or disqualifying,” he said.
An attendee expressed concern that in hurricane affected areas, not all communities recover at the same rate. O’Rourke was quick to acknowledge that this is no coincidence, that African American and impoverished communities do not receive the attention and resources they need and deserve after a devastating weather event. He vowed that, if elected, his administration would secure $5 trillion for resiliency projects for these communities.
Climate change, he declared, is a part of attacking this issue.
“This is the defining moment for the planet”
Finally, O’Rourke confirmed that while he is aspiring to be the Democratic Presidential nominee, he will fully support the Democratic nominee because, after all, we must defeat Trump.