By Professor Damon L. Fordham, MA
New Jersey Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Cory Booker made a campaign stop in Charleston on March 2, 2019. He visited Mother Emanuel AME, Burke High School, and later attended an oyster roast in Summerville.
Sen. Booker held a brief private meeting in Burke High’s Media Center prior to his speech with local leaders and dignitaries that included Rep. J.A Moore, former Sen. McKinley Washington, Judge Arthur McFarland, Pastor Thomas Dixon, Rev. William Swinton, Rev. Joseph Darby, school board member Regina Duggins, and Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III among others. The leaders expressed their concerns to Sen. Booker about matters such as gentrification, the prison pipeline, sentencing discrepancies, clean water, and other issues concerning black communities. Sen. Booker responded with solutions that worked in his native New Jersey and distinguished those from what was best solved by local elected representatives.
After the meeting, Sen Booker was led by his state campaign manager, Burke and Citadel alumni Clay Middleton, in the school’s auditorium, where he spoke to a large cross section of ages and races. The overall theme of his message was healing the division in America to accomplish more constructive results. Regarding religious strife in the nation, Sen. Booker explained, “Before you talk to me about religion, show it to me in how you treat other people.”
He went on to explain that he would not expect to win the election by focusing solely on what was wrong with President Trump and the Republican Party. “You cannot love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women. Just because someone is of a different party than you does not make them bad or evil. My people did not elect me just to yell at other people. They elected me to find common ground to solve problems. Leaders do not follow consensus, they mold consensus. My campaign is about uniting people in the pursuit of justice. You cannot campaign wrong and govern right.” As for a winning strategy while refusing to engage in unprincipled campaigning, He explained, “It’s not our job to knock those who disagree with us, but win over those who sit on the sidelines. We should be motivated not by what we are against, but what we are for.”
He concluded by challenging the audience, “If you elect me, I am not solving all the problems. I’m going to ask more from you; to do more, to help more, and to save more. You have a choice, either accept things as they are, or accept the responsibility to change them.” The crowd responded with a standing ovation and eagerly greeted the candidate afterward.
It appears that whatever the outcome of the 2020 election, the enthusiastic response to this message indicates that Sen. Booker has emerged as a major voice for many Americans who are weary of the negative tone of modern politics.