Clad in blue jeans, an open-necked shirt and with his sleeves rolled up, Edwards chose the backyard of a victim of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans' devastated 9th Ward for his unorthodox announcement.
"We want people in this campaign to actually take action now, not later, not after the next election," the former North Carolina senator said, sounding as much like a recruiter as a presidential campaigner.
"Instead of staying home and complaining, we're asking Americans to help," Edwards said. "Most of the good that has been done in New Orleans has been done by faith-based groups, charitable groups and volunteers."
Edwards — who is calling for cuts in poverty, global warming and troops in Iraq — chose the site to highlight his signature concern of the economic disparity that divides America.
"This is the best way to serve my country," Edwards said on CBS' The Early Show.
Edwards, 53, said the difference between his message to voters in 2004 and his 2008 presidential bid is that, "I've learned since the last campaign that it's great to identify a problem ... but the way you change things is by taking action."
And Iraq is one of the biggest issues facing the country.
"It would be a huge mistake to put a surge of troops into Iraq," Edwards said on ABC's "Good Morning America. "It sends exactly the wrong signal. We can maximize our chances for success by making clear we are going to leave Iraq and not stay there forever."
And the next president must restore America's leadership in the world, he said.
"It's absolutely crucial that America re-establish its moral authority and leadership role in the world," Edward said on The Early Show.
Edwards' campaignand announced his intentions online a day early. His Web site briefly featured the logo "John Edwards '08" and its slogan, "Tomorrow begins today" — literally, in this case — before aides quickly removed them.
In his message to supporters, Edwards listed five priorities to change America. Among them: "Guaranteeing health care for every single American," "Strengthening our middle class and ending the shame of poverty," "Leading the fight against global warming," and "Getting America and the world to break our addiction to oil."
Edwards has been working to build his campaign ever since he and John Kerry lost a close race to the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2004.
The campaign could pit Edwards against his former partner on the Democratic ticket. Kerry has not said yet whether he will run, nor have other big names like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but Edwards did not wait to find out who will be his competition.
Despite the big names likely to compete for the Democratic nomination, Edwards said he was not scared. "I have been through it before and I know what's involved," Edwards said on The Early Show.
He added, "This is going to be, for me, a grass roots campaign. We will be reaching out to people, asking people to take action, to bring the changes that America needs."