ABOVE PHOTO: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker talks with gathered voters at the South Restaurant in North Philadelphia. Booker was in town on Sunday as part of a get out the vote effort for former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. (Photo/Denise Clay)
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker joined a group of Pennsylvania politicos in Philadelphia on Sunday to talk with voters and to show why taking the high road could be former Vice President Joe Biden’s path to the White House.
By Denise Clay
It’s probably not every day that the baristas at the Monkey and Elephant Coffee Shop on West Girard Avenue get a visit from a person who was once a presidential candidate.
But on Sunday, the coffee shop that helps children who have aged out of the foster care system get the skills they need to transition into the world of work, played host to New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, one of the 27 people who had thrown their hat into the ring for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination.
The Monkey and the Elephant was among the stops that Booker made when he came to Philadelphia Sunday to campaign for former Vice President Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris. He was in town to try and connect with voters prior to Monday’s voter registration deadline. He also met with voters at the South restaurant on North Broad Street.
The SUN sat down with Booker during the visit and spoke with him about keeping your eye on the electoral ball as Election Day approaches, the importance of the Black community to this election, and how nice guys —like he and Biden — can finish first and help the country finish first in the process.
SUN: First of all, thank you for your time, Senator. Right now, you turn on the television and you see the polls that say that Biden is way ahead in states like Pennsylvania. But it was kind of the same thing in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was way ahead, and we see how that turned out. Is there anything that concerns you? Do you think that people are taking their foot off the gas and how does your coming here help with that?
CB: I think we all learned a lesson in 2016. Don’t pay attention to the polls, pay attention to the voting. And so, the most important thing all of us have to do is not leave it up [to] what the pundits are saying, but leave it up to what the people are saying and be a part of that push to mobilize and organize people to go to the polls because every vote counts, and we just need folks to understand that.
I think that my coming here..,first of all, I come to Pennsylvania all the time anyway. As a senator from New Jersey, I find myself in Philly quite a bit. And I feel connected to the community here. We share a TV market. And I just feel like I have an obligation to do everything I can for this election, So, whatever small bit of help I give by showing up, I’m all in on that, and will do what I can for the next 16 days to help.
SUN: Now, one of the things that stood out to me during your Presidential campaign was your emphasis on civility; on people being more respectful and more kind to each other and having that be a part of our government. But when you talk to a lot of Democrats, particularly a lot of grassroots activists, they’re like “Why are we being nice to people who aren’t necessarily nice to us? Why don’t we fight fire with fire?” And your approach seems to be closer to what Vice President Biden is doing. Why is that approach the best approach not only for the campaign, but also for our country?
CB: First of all, when you fight fire with fire, you create more fire, and that’s not good. [The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther] King said it so eloquently — “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate can’t drive out hate, only love can do that.” So, the question is, what kind of country do we want? One where we’re doubling down further and further in meanness and nastiness or one where we are able to change the environment?
But that said, I understand people who are injured by the things that Donald Trump is doing. He is injurious. But the question is, what is the best strategy to beat him? And when I look at the heroes of our history, we didn’t beat Bull Connor in Alabama in Birmingham by bringing bigger dogs and bigger fire hoses. We beat him by calling to the moral imagination of America. Because what ultimately threatens us as a country right now, I think, is not the people who are standing against you and what you want to accomplish. It’s the people that are standing on the sidelines. Why waste your energy in being mean back to people who are mean to you? What we should be putting our energy in is to getting those people who have given in to cynicism, or apathy and don’t participate. Because we know this, and in a state like Pennsylvania it’s obvious. When there is big voter turnout in Pennsylvania, we see Democratic candidates winning handily.
So, who should you be mad at? The people who are going to vote against you no matter what, or the people for who what you say and what you do could get them to participate or not?
SUN: But, it’s kind of hard to do that when you see stuff like the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and how blatantly hypocritical that appears on its face, and every time the president calls for her to be locked up, the threat matrix for [Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer] goes up.
CB: Yes — oh, it’s awful. I mean, look, it is real what’s out there right now. We have a President that’s whipping up White supremacy, trying to take away health care from Americans who are struggling. We have a president who is harming our environment and careening us quicker toward massive climate change. All these things are really awful. But the question always is, what defines you is not the bad things you encounter, but how you choose to respond to them. And so, what is the most constructive? Anger is a positive emotion. I’m not telling people not to get angry. I get angry — recently, daily I get angry. But it’s how we channel that energy. So, one of the best things I know to do as someone who has won many tight elections, is to focus on inspiring people to act, not simply cursing the darkness but igniting other people to be light workers.
I’m telling you, the biggest challenge we saw in the 2016 race wasn’t Donald Trump’s supporters. In some states, he got less votes than Mitt Romney and still won. The challenge was that we had such low voter turnout. So, to overcome all of this negativity that Donald Trump is building, we have to get people to the polls.
SUN: One group of people that’s been talked about among our readers is Black men. There have been people like Roland Martin who have come out and said that we need to pay more attention to Black men in this election. And that is part of what brought you here. How do you get that group of people to come out, especially when you take into consideration that Black women come out and vote?
CB: One thing that I want to say is, I know we want to target and focus on Black men, but African American men are still one of the most loyal voting bases of the Democratic Party. And we may say they’re only voting at 89% as opposed to 95%, as problematic, but I just want to give a lot of props to the African American community as a whole for understanding what’s at line for the Black community in the country as a whole.
Secondly, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be doing what we can to activate and empower Black voters, and to do it in a way that literally is about talking to them and to the needs and the voices of Black men and explaining to them why their vote matters, because I understand. I can’t agree with it, I don’t feel it, but I understand why some Black men wonder what their vote does. When we see the conditions often of our communities. When we see the prevalence of bigotry still in our country. When we see entire systems, like the criminal justice system, which has disproportionately come down against Black men.
And so, I understand all of that, people feeling the call to despair and to just be cynical about voting. But, as one of the few Black men ever to serve in the United States Senate, I can tell you that to vote matters. Because if you saw a 5% increase or 10% increase in Black men voting, Donald Trump would have never won. So, you do have the power. In fact, they are trying to make you believe that you don’t have the power and it doesn’t matter. They’re arrayed in putting miliions of dollars into targeting Black men to tell you your vote doesn’t matter. And pushing laws to suppress African Americans’ ability to vote. So, your vote matters. If it didn’t matter, why would they spend so much time stopping you from voting? So, I just think that this is a time where we have to take back our power as Black men and manifest that power through our activism and our votes.
SUN: You’re out here on the campaign trail, but there’s still this Senate confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court. There’s probably not a whole lot that Democrats can do to stop this train, but what are you learning from these hearings that you’re hoping can be applied should the Senate flip and both houses be under control by Democrats?
CB: I sit in these hearings, and often in the back of my mind or in the front of my mind is a lot about how the elections — where we don’t think much is going on — they matter. And I know this presidential…and God willing, we will see the biggest turnout in recent American history…but two years from now, here in Pennsylvania, y’all have a Senate seat up. And if that voter turnout goes down, you’re missing the message. Because Senate seats matter.
If we had two Senate seats that were Democrat and not Republican, this confirmation wouldn’t be going through. And Pennsylvania has one of those Senate seats right in the palm of their hand. And so, the biggest thing I’m learning is that voting is not a sometimes thing, it’s an all the time thing. Organizing for elections should never stop. Focusing on what’s at stake on a ballot should be on the front of the minds of every American, because the Republicans have been playing the long game. In just about every midterm election — 2010, 2014, 2016, every year but 2018 — they’ve been gaining seats in the Senate, and that’s something that’s unfortunate. Because that’s one of the predicates for Donald Trump having put three right wing justices on the Supreme Court.
So, we have got to understand that this is a long game. We don’t just win one election, flip a switch and everything gets better. We have to win election, after election, after election and create the environment where we won’t just have Black Lives Matter as a call to the consciousness of this country. Black Lives Matter will be reflected in our laws.
SUN: Well, again, thank you so much for your time, Senator.
CB: Thank you.