On a sunny, spring-like day in February 2011, Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause, led a crowd assembled at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in an energetic chant. “We are,” Edgar preached. “We are,” the crowd responded. “The leaders,” Edgar continued. “The leaders,” the crowd repeated. “We have been waiting for.”
It is a familiar refrain for this former congressman and religious leader. Edgar, an anti-war activist who came of age during the war in Vietnam, originally set out for a life devoted to God and social justice. But his ambitions changed when the Watergate scandal motivated him to seek public office. He was elected to Congress in 1974 as part of a class of representatives known as “the Watergate babies” because they campaigned on and led major ethics reforms in Congress.
In Congress, Edgar helped to lead the effort to end the war in Vietnam and was subsequently placed on the Veterans Affairs Committee. “I quickly learned that you can oppose the war and love the veteran,” Edgar recalls. In subsequent years, Edgar helped investigate the health effects of Agent Orange exposure, a humanitarian concern he continues to work on.
Recently, Edgar has joined with the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group in calling for a substantial and multilateral effort to address the long-term effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam. In addition to speaking at several events across the United States and co-authoring an op-ed article on this subject, Edgar has led two delegations of American leaders to Vietnam to witness the continuing impact of Agent Orange.
“All you have to do is see the children, and the grandchildren, of the Vietnamese who were exposed to the defoliant, to hold them in your arms,” Edgar says, explaining his passion. “We spent the first three or four days just crying.”
Watch Bob Edgar speak about his efforts to help people affected by Agent Orange.