A crowd was waiting when Beto O’Rourke kicked off his South Carolina campaign in Rock Hill.
More than 100 of them had been waiting more than an hour — some fighting for space inside the full-to-bursting Amelie’s cafe, some waiting outside in the cold to get the first glimpse, or the first photo.
But before he met them, O’Rourke met someone else.
O’Rourke walked through the now-closed Five and Dine restaurant site — where 10 black men were arrested in 1961 for sitting at the then-segregated McCrory’s lunch counter — with Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys and original Friendship Nine member Willie McCleod.
“I’m beginning to learn your story, but there’s so much more I want to understand,” O’Rourke told McCleod.
O’Rourke said it’s important to him to kick off his campaign in South Carolina with a visit to Rock Hill, after learning about the deep history of the civil rights movement in Rock Hill.
Gettys said the visit wasn’t about anything O’Rourke wanted to say to McCleod. O’Rourke listened.
And the crowd was happy to wait.
O’Rourke walked into the crowded cafe to cheers and high fives. He climbed onto a chair and, voice already hoarse from eight days of campaigning, got straight to the point.
“I’m getting to meet the very people that I want to serve by first listening to them, learning from them, understanding the challenges and opportunities that we face as a country, from the perspective of those who are living them, who understand them, and who want to share them with me, regardless of party affiliation, regardless of geography, regardless of race, or faith, or gender, or sexual orientation,” O’Rourke said.
So what did O’Rourke talk about?
Drug law reform
O’Rourke said he would end the war on drugs, which he said unfairly targets people of color.
“Not only is this grossly unfair and hugely expensive, but we are losing out on the potential of everything that every incarcerated man or woman, more likely than not, of color is supposed to do in their time on this planet,” he said. “The jobs they can do; the families they can raise; the poetry that they are going to compose; the great things they are going to do in positions of elected leadership and trust. We would be the beneficiaries, if we could get this right.”
O’Rourke said he would work to end the prohibition of marijuana, and would expunge the arrest records of everyone arrested for possession of marijuana.
O’Rourke said climate change presents a threat to the entire nation — and every nation.
“We have a challenge for the entire human race, and for every country on this planet,” O’Rourke said. “The scientists, beyond a shadow of a doubt, tell us that thanks to our own excesses, our own emissions, our own inaction, this planet has warmed 1 degree Celsius over preindustrial revolution levels just since 1980.”
O’Rourke has been criticized for speaking in broad ideas rather than outlining specific policies, and he didn’t outline any plan on environmental policy at his Rock Hill stop.
But he said climate change shouldn’t be a Democratic or Republican issue.
“Scientists also tell us we have 12 years, within which to act — and given the gravity of the consequences — this kind of devastation, and natural disasters, and death and suffering that we endure right now, will only become worse, and it will become much worse if we don’t take action,” he said.
O’Rourke said he’s spoken with representatives from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to talk about gun violence and that he supports universal background checks and stronger gun control.
“We wanted to make sure that from our proud gun-owning state (Texas), where we see it as a responsibility for which we are accountable, to use that firearm for hunting, for self-defense, for sport, for whatever it is , for collection, whatever it is, that you use it responsibly,” O’Rourke said. “But we also agree, we campaigned on this, that weapons, designed, engineered and sold to the United States military for the express purpose of killing people as effectively, as efficiently, and in as great a number as possible, should not be sold any longer.”
O’Rourke, from El Paso, Tex., a city on the U.S.-Mexico border, said his background has informed his immigration beliefs — that immigrants are a vital and important part of the U.S.
When asked how he would help DREAMers, undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children and granted temporary protection under DACA, Beto said he would push to make every DREAMer a U.S. citizen.
“DREAMers, our fellow Americans in any way that matters,” O’Rourke said. “More than 1 million, who came to this country at a very young age and now face the prospect, and live under the fear, of deportation back to a country they do not know, whose language more likely than not, they do not speak.”
He said he would not support a border wall, which he said was too expensive, unnecessary, and would require taking land from U.S. landowners.
O’Rourke said immigrants make America better and safer, launching into a sentence in Spanish. He later said his ability to speak and listen to people in both English and Spanish is an asset to his campaign.
“Not only are those DREAMers in our classrooms, those DREAMers are teaching in our classrooms,” O’Rourke said. “Not only are those DREAMers defended by the brave women and men serving all over the world in our armed forces, those DREAMers are serving all over the world in our armed forces.”