Senator Cory Booker says love, faith can end political cynicism, division


Nora Shelly/The Daily Northwestern

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) greets attendees at his speech at Evanston Township High School on Friday evening. Booker spoke to a packed auditorium as part of an event that also featured speeches from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

Nora Shelly, Reporter

Political divisions born from nationwide cynicism should be approached with renewed hope and love, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) told a crowd at Evanston Township High School on Friday night.

Booker, who was at ETHS promoting his new book, “United,” told the auditorium that his unlikely rise from mayor of Newark, New Jersey to the Senate, was an example of the “conspiracy of love,” the idea that many people acting compassionately had come together and fostered his success. Booker said it was this same love that must be called on today to unite the nation.

“We can’t give into cynicism,” Booker said. “I love the ideals of self-reliance … but rugged individualism didn’t get us to the moon.”

Booker said most nations were founded out of commonalities among its people, such as language or ethnicity, but America was founded out of differences, and that original idea of coming together to solve problems was at the core of our democracy.

Although he said he understood that the Constitution had some flaws, namely its role in the preservation of slavery and the exclusion of women from voting, Booker said the “beauty of the American spirit” is that our political system is constantly evolving to update the founding document.

During his time as a politician, Booker said he constantly heard from his constituents who said they were tired of the divisive nature of today’s politics.

“They wonder what has happened to a country where there is such commonalities but yet we don’t manifest them in our world,” he said. “I’m not one of these people who wants homogenize or whitewash and make pretty our history, I’m one of these guys who wants to talk about the wretchedness and imperfections of our history.”

The senator shared his backstory with the audience of hundreds, starting with the story of his father, who was born to a single mother in rural North Carolina and became a first-generation college graduate. His father eventually became one of the first black executives at the technology and consulting company IBM, a success story Booker said was only possible because of progress made during the Civil Rights era.

Booker’s parents then moved to New Jersey, where they were among the first black people to move into their town with the help of a volunteer lawyer and the area’s fair housing commission. Booker says it was his parents’ story that allowed him to have such success, but his father kept him humble by saying, “Boy, don’t walk around this house like you hit a triple. You were born on third base.”

Booker eventually became mayor of Newark, where he chose to live in some of the city’s most crime-ridden public housing. It was in Newark where Booker said he learned today’s criminal justice system functioned as a “war on poor people,” as he said he observed that poor people and minorities were disproportionately imprisoned. Booker is currently working on a criminal justice reform bill with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

“When Cory Booker arrived, the whole scene changed,” Durbin, who introduced Booker, said. “I want to thank you for making criminal justice reform a top priority.”

Durbin praised Booker in his introduction, saying that some of the only common ground senators from both parties shared is their affection for Booker.

Also in attendance was Rep. Jan Schakowsky, (D-Ill.), who introduced Durbin.

“To get the affirmation of Dick Durbin and Congresswoman Schakowsky, that’s a big deal for us,” ETHS principal Marcus Campbell told The Daily. “It was such a privilege and a treat to have Cory Booker here.”

Booker spoke at ETHS as part of the nonprofit Family Action Network speaker series. FAN hosts several speakers a year throughout the North Shore.

Saul Lieberman, the chair of FAN’s Evanston branch, told The Daily they were excited to bring Booker to ETHS, and his message of unity was perfect for the Evanston community. He added that Booker’s prominence in the national political scene and the current election cycle made him an especially interesting speaker.

Evanston resident Dawn Borchardt, told The Daily she had seen Booker on television and was inspired by his talk.

“His main thing really is that you get out of life what you put into it,” she said.

In a Q&A session at the end of the event, Booker offered advice to a high school student who asked about getting into politics.

“Life is brilliantly designed to distract you from what your calling is ,” he said. “Life is about purpose and not position.”

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