Senate Hopeful Kennedy Stumps For Social Justice

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Politics

Joseph P. Kennedy, III, answers reporters’ questions before Monday’s brunch at the 400 East.  ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

EAST HARWICH — Saying it’s time to redouble the fight on behalf of the poor, sick and disenfranchised, U.S. Senate hopeful Joseph P. Kennedy, III, D– campaigned before Harwich Democrats at Monday’s Presidents’ Day brunch.

Kennedy spoke a day before his first televised debate with incumbent U.S. Senator Ed Markey, part of a rapid-fire series of campaign events around the state. The 39-year-old grandson of Robert Kennedy has been a U.S. Congressman for the last seven years, representing a swath of Massachusetts that stretches from the affluent suburbs west of Boston, south to Taunton and Fall River.

“I think our country, our party, our communities, are at a critical moment,” Kennedy said prior to his speech before Harwich Democrats. It is time to stand up for the sick, the suffering, “or anybody that is different, who ends up in the crosshairs of the Trump administration.”

Asked why he is seeking to unseat Markey, a Democratic fixture in Congress for decades who is now 73 years old, Kennedy said it’s not about age.

“I don’t know that this is about generational change, per se,” he said. He is focused on bringing voices together “to take on the challenge it’s going to be to beat Donald Trump.” In that effort, “I think I have something to offer,” he said.

Working with the Peace Corps in the Caribbean and as a legal aid worker in Boston deepened his belief in social justice. “It was a front row seat to see that sometimes the consequences in our society can come down the hardest on the shoulders for those that didn’t do anything to deserve it and can least afford it,” he said. As an assistant Cape and Islands District Attorney for more than two years, Kennedy witnessed the social costs of opioid addiction, and saw the prevalence of domestic violence “and the awful disparity of power that comes forward with those that need protection, in, sometimes, a society that fails them.”

Those experiences drove him to first seek public office, Kennedy said. He has served the state’s Fourth Congressional District for more than seven years now, and has worked to ensure that families in Newton and Wellesley have the same opportunities as those in Fall River and Taunton.

“It’s the basic responsibility of government that those most in need of protection – the poor, the sick, the suffering, the starving, the marginal – get access to the help they need when they need it,” he said.

Outrage over Trump administration policies inspired Kennedy to seek higher office. The current president identifies the most at-risk citizens “and seeks to exploit them, to degrade them and vilify them for his own cheap political gain, every single day,” he said. But an unavoidable truth is that many of these people had challenges long before Donald Trump entered the White House, Kennedy said.

Visiting one hospital in his district, Kennedy said “they couldn’t get the gurneys down the hallways to the emergency room because they were overflowing with patients suffering from mental health problems.” An 83-year-old man spent five days in the emergency room waiting for an available inpatient bed, and an eight-year-old boy waited more than 150 hours to be admitted.

“I think we can do better,” Kennedy said. “I think the richest, most powerful nation in the world is capable of caring for that little boy.”

While the nation has always favored the rights of the wealthy, white, Protestant men embodied in the phrase “We the people,” Kennedy said, “our country’s story has always been about expanding that definition of ‘we.’” Now, for the first time in history, the president is openly challenging that idea, he argued. “Because of who you are, you are literally worth less,” he said. As a U.S. Senator, Kennedy pledged to fight against that mindset.

“And I’m all in,” he said.

A capacity crowd of Harwich Democrats applauded enthusiastically for Kennedy before he departed for his next campaign appearance. The Democratic Town Committee also presented its Mabel Canto Democrat of the Year award to Judith Underwood, a Harwich Water Commissioner and member of the housing authority and Affordable Housing Trust. The James Noonan Community Service Award was granted to the Harwich Conservation Trust.