NEW ORLEANS —Redirecting federal resources and attention from the war in Iraq to this country's own social issues was the focus of Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech Friday when she addressed attendees at the Essence Music Festival presented by Coca-Cola.
Speaking to a packed room, the New York Senator was the second presidential candidate to take the stage to addressed festivalgoers at the nation's largest gathering of African-Americans celebrating Black music culture. On Thursday, Illinois Senator Barack Obama was the opening speaker at the 13th annual cultural event being held this weekend in New Orleans after it was relocated to Houston last year following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
By midday Friday, seats were filled by several hundred festivalgoers eagerly waiting to hear from Clinton. As she went to the podium, the former First Lady was warmly greeted by countless camera clicks from a swarm of women pressing elbows to record a piece of her-story. Even the small group of hecklers were quickly overshadowed by the crowd's standing ovation and hushes as she addressed the room.
"This [Essence Music Festival] is not just a homecoming, it's a renewal of spirit. It's your presence in this city especially here in this arena; you're turning a place of tragedy and shame into a place of love, hope and empowerment," Clinton said.
She highlighted that the country needs to focus on social issues, such as rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region as a top priority saying, "I believe it is an American responsibility to rebuild New Orleans." She then restated her ten point plan to help with that recovery, which includes: restoring the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cabinet-level status, creating a Katrina Commission to study the response to the devasting Hurricane and creating a "Gulf Coast Corps" to recruit teachers, doctors and nurses to live and work in the area.
"We need a president who will respond to the tragedy of Katrina. It will be two years and look around, we still have not rebuilt schools, fire house and hospitals," Clinton said. "We've got to say enough is enough and make a difference."
In addition, Clinton echoed an idea Obama discussed the previous night to appoint a person who's sole responsibility would be to focus on the rebuilding of New Orleans.
Hitting several other soft spots with festival goers, the New York Senator also said the government must focus on helping single mothers and working families find affordable health and child care, improving the lot of the 55 percent of black men who don't graduate from high school and helping New Orleans residents still exiled by Hurricane Katrina to be able to come home and resume their lives.
Includes additional information from the Associated Press