Brown addresses NAACP convention

Abbey Stirgwolt

Senate candidate Sherrod Brown speaks at the NAACP conference on Saturday at the Marriott in Canton. Brown spoke primarily about labor, education and the bill on minimum wage increase.

Credit: Jason Hall

In the main hall of the Canton Marriott McKinley Grand Hotel, a few women browsed a selection of tables displaying colorful hats and jewelry. Several suit-clad men milled around a wooden door that had been marked by a letter-size piece of paper bearing the scrawled letters “NAACP.”

A moment later, all eyes turned toward the hotel’s main door as Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) made a hurried entrance.

Several members of his campaign committee completed the entourage.

Brown, Ohio’s Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, Ted Strickland, Ohio’s democratic candidate for governor and several other local contenders in the upcoming Nov. 7 elections were keynote speakers at a statewide NAACP convention held in Canton this weekend.

“I’ve had an ‘A’ on my NAACP report card ever since I’ve been in Congress,” Brown said in his opening address.

A fundamental problem to be dealt with, and the focus of the convention, was raising voter awareness and decreasing political apathy, said Tom West, a candidate in Ohio’s 29th Senate district.

As he introduced Brown, West addressed the lack of voter participation using the image of a coffin, emphasizing that voter apathy needs to be “buried.” West said Brown was able to effectively encourage voter participation by making himself accessible to local voters.

“It’s time for us to get Sherrod Brown in our town,” West said.

Representatives from the Republican Kenneth Blackwell’s gubernatorial campaign, as well as other candidates, were also present at the convention, which began Thursday and lasted through the weekend.

Brown’s message focused on employment for Ohio laborers.

“Our government has simply turned its back on manufacturing,” he said.

Brown said the number of jobs available to “young working people” was decreasing due to a growing quantity of work that is being sent overseas. He said he plans to bring jobs back into the U.S.

He also expressed his opposition, “from day one,” to the war in Iraq.

“We spend $2 million a week for a war we shouldn’t even be at,” he said. The statement was warmly welcomed by audience members.

In an audience question session, Brown’s addressed listeners’ concerns about education, voicing his intention to fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act. The act, signed into law by President Bush in 2001, calls for improvement in school systems across the nation. If elected, Brown intends to completely fund the act, which is currently underfunded by more than $40 billion, he said.

Strickland began his speech by addressing affirmative action.

“I believe discrimination continues to exist in our country, and affirmative action is still needed,” he said. “I believe in (affirmative action); I believe Mr. Blackwell does not.”

The statement drew a chorus of laughter from the listeners.

Strickland took a personal approach to his speech by drawing connections between himself and his audience. Raised near a prison in Lucasville, Ohio, Strickland said he would be committed to improving “re-entry” programs for freed inmates, who often struggle in the process of returning to society.

He voiced his disapproval of the death penalty, stating that, if elected, he would “make sure no one is subjected to the death penalty because of the color of their skin.”

Minimum wage was a hot topic with Strickland’s audience, the majority of which expressed approval of his plan to raise minimum wage.

Drawing again from his past experiences as a home-grown Ohioan, one of nine children and son of a steel worker, Strickland said he knew what it was like to see the harsh effects of a low minimum wage. His sister worked the closing shift in a dollar store well into her 70s in order to afford living expenses, he said.

“I feel strongly about (minimum wage) because of my sister Helen,” he said. “And you know, there are a lot of Helens in the state of Ohio.”

Like Brown, Strickland’s final message pertained to employment.

“We’ve gotta start building jobs for the people who really need them,” he said. “I know what it’s like to struggle … I wanna tell you there are a lot of struggling people in Ohio, and it’s about time those struggling people get a break.”

Contact public affairs reporter Abbey Stirgwolt at [email protected].