The Rev. Al Sharpton, a 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, criticized the war in Iraq and underscored the importance of promoting civil liberties to a packed Funger Hall Thursday.
Sharpton promised he would not impose his religious beliefs on others and scolded the Bush administration and religious conservatives for blurring the line between church and state in education and school prayer.
“Next year’s election is not a partisan battle seeking a winner,” Sharpton said. “Next year’s election will determine the direction (in which) the country’s going and how we relate to people around the world.”
Sharpton was the first speaker in the College Democrats’ 2004 Challenger speaker series. Ryan Hutcherson, president of the CDs, said he hopes to have all the Democratic candidates speak on campus.
“He seemed to really energize the audience,” Hutcherson said. “He’s definitely on the more outspoken side of the Democratic field, and I think that resonates with lots of young people.”
Sharpton said he would use his presidency to encourage Congress to strengthen civil rights legislation. He said constitutional protections for voting, education and equality would be priorities in his administration.
Sharpton frequently used the war to highlight civil liberties issues.
Sharpton said one of his main goals would be to constitutionally guarantee citizens a uniform voting system, which he said would have averted the Florida voting scandal in the 2000 election.
To ensure success in the primaries, Sharpton said he plans to bring back “disillusioned and disenfranchised” voters to the Democratic Party by raising issues that concern the average citizen.
Sharpton also reiterated his opposition to the war and said its potential to cause budget deficits is not worth the costs. Sharpton said the money would be better spent domestically.
“We already occupy fifty states, and we don’t have enough money for them,” he said.
Sharpton has been a staunch opponent of the war and maintained that position in his speech Thursday. He said President George W. Bush has not provided a convincing case to defend his policy of preemptive strikes.
“We still haven’t seen weapons of mass destruction or a ‘great imminent’ danger,” said Sharpton.
To overcome the current national budget deficit, Sharpton wants to institute a five-year, $250 billion plan to strengthen the country’s infrastructure. He said he would invest in highways, homeland security and the creation of jobs.
Sharpton says his campaign is still in the “exploratory” stage, and therefore he has not yet filed a quarterly financial report with the Federal Elections Committee. He said he will report his campaign finances, as required by the FEC, when his candidacy becomes official this spring.
“Some candidates try to collect money and donations first, but I’m not poll driven. I’m policy driven,” Sharpton said. “Before building the train, I wanted to be sure where it was going. I wanted to find out what the people want to see.”
Sharpton told The Hatchet he was impressed by the large turnout he received, despite the weekend’s holidays. As part of his campaigning strategy, he intends to appear at several campuses around the country, targeting students.
Students seemed receptive to his speech.
“He’s a lot more stable than I thought he was,” junior Graham Murphy said. “I didn’t know what his views were, so I came for that. But I’m still going to support Howard Dean.”
“He’s going to make other Democrats answer the important questions … That’s what we did wrong in 2000, and that’s what we will do right in 2004,” sophomore Scott Rapkin said.
Howard Dean will be the next candidate to speak in the Challenger series this fall.