Speaking to a jubilant crowd of hundreds at the Depot in Greensboro on Wednesday afternoon, Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine addressed pressing economic issues that affect North Carolina voters.
From higher taxation to increased support for small businesses, Secretary Clinton’s running mate presented the Clinton-Kaine campaign’s plan for economic growth and how it would impact the Triad.
“We will make sure that [economic] growth is for everybody, not just for those at the top,” Kaine said.
Kaine emphasized that he was “here in Greensboro to tell you that North Carolina really, really matters” as a swing state in the 2016 presidential election.
Speaking about his and Clinton’s candidacy, Kaine also took the opportunity to criticize Republican opponent Donald Trump.
Beneath the Depot’s high vaulted ceiling, supporters booed at each mention of Trump, and cheered as Kaine outlined points from the Clinton campaign’s plan for economic security.
“In North Carolina,” Kaine said, “there’s been some pain over this issue of HB 2.” Citing North Carolina’s small businesses as the backbone of the state’s economy, Kaine decried the legislation. As soon as the bill began “discriminating against LGBT folks,” he said, “immediately companies began to pull out” their business from North Carolina cities.”
Recalling his 17-year record as a civil rights lawyer, Kaine also praised the recent Fourth Circuit ruling against North Carolina’s “foolish” voter ID law. The law was struck down as unconstitutional “because the court found there was an intent of discrimination,” Kaine said.
In his brief speech, Kaine touched on Clinton’s intention to implement a comprehensive job creation plan within her first 100 days in office — the most sweeping, he said, since World War II. He also described Clinton’s plan to provide debt-free college and more small business benefits through increasing taxes on the wealthiest of the wealthy.
As a Virginian, Kaine also appealed to North Carolina voters by saying, “I’m your neighbor. We’re neighbors and we have quite a lot in common.”
In response to Kaine, local voters made their presence clear and voiced that Kaine’s emphasis on “neighbors” hits close to home in Greensboro and the Triad. Several local voters spoke on behalf of people experiencing inequality who, due to social and economic challenges, often fail to benefit from the political process Kaine represents.
Michelle Kennedy, executive director at the Interactive Resource Center, tried unsuccessfully to arrange for the vice presidential candidate to stop at her agency — less than two blocks away.
Kennedy, who did not attend the campaign event, said she found a deep irony in the fact that Kaine’s campaign stop would be “literally breathing on a building that sees people among the most marginalized in Greensboro” within its walls daily, considering the idea promoted by the Clinton campaign that the economy should work for every American.
“The depot is a de facto day center” for many members of Greensboro’s homeless population, Kennedy said in an interview before the campaign stop. “If they’re not here at the Interactive Resource Center, they’re hanging out at the depot.”
Kennedy related a comment from one of her clients, who asked, “How long is it going to be before we can go to the depot?”
Kennedy said that “people I see every day may never get an opportunity to talk with a politician.” She said that “some can’t vote due to incarceration records or immigration status, and would give anything” to have the ability to vote.
Kennedy emphasized that her organization is “built on the idea that lived experience should help us frame our work” towards an equitable and participatory political process. She also said the Interactive Resource Center’s doors are always open for any political candidate to make a visit.
Rabbi Fred Guttman of Temple Emanuel said he hoped to arrange a visit by the Clinton campaign to the Interactive Resource Center. Guttman lobbied three local Democratic officials to encourage the campaign stop while Kaine was in Greensboro, and noted that all of the officials supported his idea. While Kaine did not stop at the Interactive Resource Center on Wednesday, Guttman said he and each of the officials he spoke with remains hopeful that one of the candidates will make the visit in the future.
While Kaine and local Democratic party leaders addressed mostly middle-class concerns, Kennedy — and some audience members at the Kaine event — emphasized that many right here in the Triad are unable to participate in the political process altogether.
Priscila Garcia Aguirre, formerly an undocumented immigrant who has now obtained US citizenship, waited resolutely at the edge of a metal barrier for Sen. Kaine to make his handshaking rounds. With her daughter at her side, Garcia Aguirre personally delivered a letter into Kaine’s hands on behalf of nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
“I gave him the letter to let him know the frustration we have to go through,” she said. “As Dreamers, we wait so many years to even go to college. It’s painful to see our families and communities suffer with no access to work permits and education.
“Now that I’m a citizen, I have a little power, and that means I have a responsibility to speak for others,” Garcia Aguirre continued. Speaking of her young daughter, she added, “It is important for me to deliver this letter, because she’s watching me.”
Even native North Carolinian voters present at the event concurred with Garcia Aguirre’s desire to advocate for those left out of the political process.
The Rev. Gray Clark, pastor at Greensboro’s Presbyterian Church of the Cross, said that “it’s great that [Kaine] came to North Carolina, because we need progressive leadership here that’s open to diversity and is not trying to close people out.” Referring to HB 2, Clark said that his “heart breaks when he sees North Carolina leadership trying to shut people out and hurting the poor.”
Kaine sounded themes of inclusion and progress that seemed geared towards voters like Garcia Aguirre and Clark.
“We don’t want people around to think we’re fighting to go back,” he said. “We have to go forward.” Kaine added the equivalent phrase in fluent Spanish — adelante y no atras, forwards, and not back.