Over a thousand people showed up to Beto O’Rourke’s town hall in Cedar Park, Texas this morning.
In a room and patio that was supposed to hold 400, several hundred others poured out onto a nearby lawn to hear O’Rourke speak.
After thanking everyone for joining him this morning, Beto began with speaking about coming together for the country, “So many people right now at events like these say that they feel hopeful and they feel encouraged and feel that maybe things will be O.K. in this country, I got to tell you that I feel the exact same way when we all come together in this way; not against anyone - not against any thing - not against another political party but for one another and for this country — This feels really good.”
After a brief pause, Beto continued, “At this moment that this entire concept - or experiment - that we decided we were going to start 242 years ago on the basic premise that we’re all created equal. That each one of us that has inherent, inalienable - meaning that we cannot take it away - this right to be able to live and to have our liberty and be able to pursue our happiness. For some, and I’ll admit for the O’Rourke family, almost two years ago, this became not a certainty but an open question. Unclear whether we were going to be here for a 243rd or 244th year - Unclear whether this would continue to be the indispensable nation. Unclear whether we were going to live up to our highest values and ideals or whether we were going to succumb to the paranoia, the smallness, the hatred, the vilification of one another based on our differences; whether we were going to literally going to physically be definite by a 2,000 mile wall, 30 feet high at a cost of 30 billion dollars built not on the international boundary between the United States and Mexico… but miles into the interior of the United States, literally taking our fellow Texans farms, ranches, homes and properties to build something that we don’t need at a time of record safety along the U.S./Mexico border. The lowest levels of northbound apprehension since 1971 - the year before I was born - and though we do have threats at the U.S./Mexico border, which we must be vigilant; illegal drug trafficking, human trafficking that’s going on right now and our gratitude to the more than 20,000 border patrol agents who seek to guard that border,” Beto continued, then mentioning asylum seekers; comparing them to other people who would do the exact same thing to protect themselves or their children.
“To arrive at our front door, at the U.S./Mexico border, where Texas meets the rest of the world, and to have that child, for whom you’ve risked everything - including your life - literally have that child taken from you, by force, if necessary… For you, that parent, who’s make this Godawful decision and has survived the journey in every manor of deprivation and every kind of person who would pray on your misery and the misery of your child and you made it here alive… to have that girl taken from you - To be turned over to the department of Justice of the United States of America - Prosecuted like a common criminal. That little girl sent to a foster care home in Michigan, sent to a tent city in dessert in Tornillo, Texas - sent somewhere that you cannot follow - knowing not when or if you will see her again - that is happening in our country right now and it is up to us whether or not that will define us for the generations to come.”
“The rhetoric that describes Mexicans immigrants as rapists and criminals; that describes asylum seekers as animals or an infestation - those words that have had a profound effect on how we treat and see and view one another - whether those words will mark this time and the people of 2018 whether we decide we will ban all people of one religion - from these shores - these borders - from this country from this place whose very genius is that we are a people from everywhere from all walks of life all traditions of faith including those who are here with us right now - whether the press which, I was always taught to believe are the best defense against tyranny, who hold those in positions of power and public trust accountable for their actions. The actions that they take on your behalf, the tax dollars that they spend on your behalf, the wars that they wage on your behalf, the lives that are taken on your behalf, the lives that are sacrificed and lost… on your behalf. Without the press, who would we be? To have somebody in the highest office in the land describe them as the enemy of the people… this basic foundation of our democracy and who we are, and again our genius, the envy of the world, imperfect though we may be, still the best thing going. Amy and I, more than a year and a half ago, made a decision — That this cannot be us. These things cannot define who we are and we also not just be against those things - not just against stopping the bad stuff that’s going on - we have to be for the great things we want to achieve."
Beto also spoke passionately about the late Senator John McCain, bringing up the fact that McCain admitted to past mistakes and, during his presidential campaign, made it known that he felt Barack Obama was a good man who should be respected and not feared.
Other subjects discussed by O’Rourke were health care, women’s rights, civil rights, foster care and climate change.
He ended his speech with the topic of the 'war on drugs' targeting people of color, “We are in a country that today boasts the largest prison population on the face of the planet. We know that one third doing time right now are there for non violent drug offenses. Many for simple possession of Marijuana — a substance that’s legal in 29 states in this country — there are people getting rich lawfully selling Marijuana right now all over this country and there are low-level dealers being locked up - people locked up for the crime of possessions - and let’s be honest, because we know that all people of all races and ethnicities use illegal drugs at the same rate but that only some will be arrested and only some will do time for the crime of being a black man in this country too often. Who are stopped, who are searched, who are put behind bars - the prison population, largest on the planet, is disproportionately comprised of people of color,” Beto said, scanning the audience, “It’s a journey that begins as early as kindergarten where five year old children, depending on their race, are five time as likely to be disciplined or suspended or expelled in the exact same classroom with the same teacher than another child of a different race… Twenty-five percent of African-American children in this country have had a parent in the criminal justice system in this country. Four percent of white children have had a parent in the criminal justice system in this country. That twenty-five percent rate is four times as high as what is was in 1980. This war on drugs has become a war on people - a war on some people over other people - it has, in effect, some people have called in the new Jim Crow… What if we decided, as a state, we were going to lead the way in ending the war on drugs, ending the prohibition on Marijuana, expunging the arrest records of those arrested simply for the crime of possession so that they too can get on with their lives and be able to apply to jobs without checking a box.. to be able to better themselves. It’s not too much to ask. It’s not a crazy idea. It’s not a democratic talking point. This is something that we as the people of Texas can work on together.”
O’Rourke ended with thanking the crowd for bringing him within one point of Ted Cruz, receiving a thunderous applause before taking questions from the crowd.
See more photos of the overflow crowd below: