Photo Caption: U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, receives a standing ovation upon his arrival at OU’s Baker Center on Monday.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown praised Athens County for being the most progressive county in the state and encouraged Ohio University Democrats to spread their political knowledge far and wide during an appearance at Baker Center Monday afternoon.
Brown is in the midst of a seven-day campaign blitz with a caravan of Jeeps and other cars manufactured in Ohio. He's been travelling around the state to more than 20 different cities as the 2012 campaign season winds down toward Election Day Nov. 6.
The Democratic senator spoke to a large crowd gathered on the first floor of Baker Center that included a cross-section of students, residents and Democratic elected officials from Athens County.
"I know this is Athens, and there is no better progressive community in the state of Ohio. I know that," Brown told a cheering audience before relating a story about the importance of unions.
He said that during a recent speech in Cincinnati the front row was filled with middle-aged women who he was told were custodians at various businesses downtown. And they had just signed their first contract with SEIU.
"I sat down at the table and asked what having this union meant to (them)," Brown said. "One woman said, 'I'm 51 years old and this is the first time in my life I will have a paid vacation.'"
Brown encouraged the audience to remember this story when people talk about collective bargaining, solidarity and progressive politics.
"Think about what it means to those women and think about what it means to our country for everybody to get an opportunity to join the middle class," he said.
He related another story about his lapel pin depicting a canary in a cage. This was given to him at a workers rally and relates to the story of a mine worker who took a canary down into a mine. If the canary died, the worker knew he had to get out of the mines. That was 100 years ago. He said the pin reminds him that today is a better time because of the progressive movement.
"It's Medicare and Social Security. It's minimum wage. It's workers compensation. It's safe drinking water. It's clean air. It's mine safety. It's women's rights. It's civil rights. It's activism for students," he said. "It's people working together to move this country forward."
And the country moves forward, he said, not because government takes it upon itself but because the people come together to push it forward.
"Often it's against great odds, and that's what people in Athens understand: How you organize and the kind of activism that moves this country," he asserted.
Brown turned his focus to the "millennial" generation, saying that demographers and analysts are calling it the most progressive and idealistic since FDR's.
"That's pretty exciting when you think about what that stands for," the senator said. "Sometimes that's political involvement. Sometimes that's women's health. Sometimes it's tutoring, cleaning up a river or a lake, civil rights, gay rights, and all that your generation is doing."
He said that's why he's always happy and proud to come to Athens.
"I know how OU is really the leading edge in all of this, in terms of idealism, in terms of fighting for progressive ideas and progressive politics," he said.
Brown said that after the 2010 elections when Republicans swept elections across the nation, they immediately set in attacking things such as collective bargaining, women's rights and voting rights.
But when those initiatives came before the voters in 2011, that was the first time in the nation's history that collective bargaining was on that ballot as an issue to be voted upon.
"And look what we did," he said. "Athens County has the best vote of any county in the state on fighting back on collective bargaining."
He said this is why this 2012 election matters so much.
"There is a very distinct fork in the road this election," he said. "My opponent (state Treasurer Josh Mandel) and people like him, they want to do more tax cuts for the rich, thinking some of it will trickle down to the middle class."
Brown said that this has been proven false and instead it's time to continue to fight for the middle and working classes.
In his campaign speeches and advertising, Mandel has accused Brown of being a rubber-stamp for the president's failed policies, and has repeatedly accused Brown of lying about this record and the president's record.