Kentucky State Rep. Charles Booker talks life experience, progressive campaign


Graphic by Jacob Fulton

Kentucky State Rep. Charles Booker. He spoke Wednesday in a virtual talk hosted by Northwestern University College Democrats.

Vivian Xia, Assistant Campus Editor

State Rep. Charles Booker (D-Ky.) spoke Wednesday about his campaign championing progressive policies in a virtual talk hosted by Northwestern University College Democrats.

Booker ran for the U.S. Senate on a progressive platform with the goal of unseating Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). While he lost his primary campaign, he has continued to use grassroots momentum to fight for progressivism in national politics.

During his talk, Booker spoke about his background and struggles growing up. He was born and raised in one of the poorest ZIP codes in Kentucky, his parents both dropped out of high school to help take care of their siblings, and he was on food stamps and free lunch.

Even then, Booker would sometimes go hungry. He recounted a time when he was young and his mother sacrificed her dinner for him because there was only enough food for one.

“That broke me down,” Booker said. “And it hurts even now to think about the fact that someone I love so much had to go without just for me, but it gave me a sense of what compassion and love looks like. It allowed me to see humanity outside of myself that she cared enough for someone else that she would sacrifice.”

Booker added that this country needs better leaders who will try to uplift other people, show love for each other and break down barriers so that nobody will have to go hungry or homeless.

He then spoke about how he found out he was a Type 1 diabetic, which added to his struggles. Since his family never had much money, he would sometimes ration insulin.

On one occasion, Booker said he had to choose between making sure his daughters had food for a week or spending the money on an insulin refill. He ultimately chose to feed his daughters, fell into diabetic ketoacidosis as a result and nearly died from it in 2018.

“I share that because it helped me see how powerful it is to have healthcare and to not have it,” Booker said. “And that is not defined by your value as a human being, and it certainly shouldn’t be defined by your ZIP code.”

What ultimately led him to run for office, Booker said, was his cousin, who was murdered in 2016, and his daughters. He said they made him take a stand for those who cannot speak for themselves and bring people together.

The talk was followed by a Q&A moderated by history Prof. Daniel Immerwahr. Immerwahr said one thing that struck him about Booker was how Booker is a politician who “comes out of protest politics.”

“I was struck by how little interest he seems to have in the sort of strategic questions of politics versus the importance of delivering a kind of authentic message and speaking truth, both of his and those of his state to a larger audience,” Immerwahr said. “And that’s not usually what you see in a politician.”

Weinberg junior and College Democrats’ director of events Jerry Zhang said Booker was near the top of the list of speakers the group wanted to bring in. Over the past couple of years, the country has seen many progressive challengers unseat more established incumbents, which Zhang said speaks to the power of progressive politics.

“Sharing his own story was really touching and really moving and sharing sort of his approach to organizing electoral politics was very compelling as well,” Zhang said.

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Twitter: @vivianxia7

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