By ABIGAIL BUCHHOLZ
On Wednesday morning, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke spoke in front of a crowd of over 250 people from atop the stage of Pimenta in downtown Fredericksburg. O’Rourke is the first 2020 presidential candidate to visit Virginia.
The line awaiting the event stretched three blocks. The event coordinators started ushering people into the room at 9:15. By 10:00, the room was packed.
Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates in the 28th district, Joshua Cole, kicked off the event.
Cole stressed the importance of the election in November, “We have the opportunity to flip the House of Delegates and the Senate because we sit just two seats from both,” said Cole.
After these opening remarks from Cole, O’Rourke greeted the audience.
According to Real Clear Politics, O’Rourke is now polling third in the list of Democratic primary candidates after Biden and Sanders.
O’Rourke spoke for 20 minutes and offered 20 minutes for audience questions. Over the course of the speech, he spoke on a broad range of issues from women’s reproductive rights, to climate change and prison reforms.
Meryl Menezes, junior psychology major, said that as an Indian American and a child of immigrants, O’Rourke’s points on immigration struck closest to home.
“I definitely think candidates should talk more about these topics,” Menezes said. “I think bringing personal stories into politics and events like this is really important because it puts a personal face, a personal touch, to a public issue,” said Menezes.
Sarah Carlton, a junior majoring in communication and digital studies, felt that O’Rourke’s comments on improving the prison system were the most important part of his message.
“I think that not only is [the prison system] just a different form of slavery in modern times, but it’s also tragic that there’s so many mental health issues that aren’t addressed, so people end up in the prison system. O’Rourke mentioned that people put themselves in jail or prison because there’s no other option for them [to receive mental health help],” said Carlton.
O’Rourke cited climate change as being the single greatest challenge the nation faces.
“Changing climate has warmed one degree just since 1980 over pre-industrial revolution levels, one degree owing to our own emissions, our own excesses and our own inaction in the face of science and the facts and the truth,” said O’Rourke.
Senior business administration major Bryant Atkins was supportive of the passion that O’Rourke spoke with because he felt that individuals in the Democratic party, such as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer recognize that climate change is an issue, but haven’t talked enough about policy change.
“All candidates I think need to address [climate change] especially with such a small time limit until we reach really irreparable damage to the world,” said Lengel.
After O’Rourke finished answering questions, a group of UMW students took the stage. Shawnya Peterson, current president of the UMW Young Democrats was joined by Sam Hartz, the incoming president and Bella Aguirre, the publicity chair. Peterson presented O’Rourke with a UMW Young Democrats t-shirt.
In addition to talking about these issues, O’Rourke also made a point to call for unity within the Democratic party during the upcoming election season. He pushed for candidates to support whoever wins the nomination, and promised to campaign in a way that would keep the party unified. Several felt that this message was important, especially because they felt that the last presidential election divided the nation more than it should have.
“I think it is important for everyone to support each other instead of it being one person against everyone like Trump’s campaign was,” said Drake Dragone, senior music major.
Karoline Albert, junior political
science major, felt that the divisiveness of politics stemmed from the
fact that the Democratic party, often called the big tent party, has so
many different identities and ideologies and the tent just keeps getting
“[O’Rourke] hasn’t really spoken about how to galvanize all those different sections of our party, so it would be interesting to see further on in the campaign how he proposes to do that,” said Albert.
Atkins feels this unity is imperative to the future of the nation.
“If we are not bound together we’re going to lose this election, and we’re going to send this country further into turmoil,” Atkins said. ”We don’t know what can happen over the next four years.”
Some students felt that O’Rourke’s platform could be more specific and targeted towards college-aged students.
”You can’t just have a story, you need substance to it,” Albert said. “You need the policy messaging to it. He’s not really leading the headlines around policy,” said Albert.
Atkins said he would have liked to hear O’Rourke speak on free college education and education more broadly.
Students are largely undecided about who they will vote for in the primary. However, some students believe there are other candidates who have a clearer platform.
Atkins, who plants of voting for Buttigieg believes that Buttigieg is a very impressive candidate.
“It seems like Pete Buttigieg has his plan down to a science, whereas O’Rourke is still on the message of hope,” Atkins said. ”While that is our signature thing for the Democratic party, we are in a place where we need more than hope to push us over on that wall to get us to the next step of this great experiment.”
Students spoke of their admiration for O’Rourke’s energy and perseverance on the campaign trail.
“From the get-go he was already losing his voice so it just shows that he just really has been doing this every single day for a while now. I saw on my friends’ stories that he was at UVA yesterday so I know that he’s like not resting right now so yeah it proves to me that he’s worth my vote,” said Carlton