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U.S. Senator Cory Booker. Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Cory Booker’s National Urban League speech

By David Wildstein, July 25 2019 11:44 am

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Thank you. Thank you. Good morning everybody. So I want to thank Mark for his leadership. We are fellow mayors and have been working together for a long time. My parents were at his wedding and are wondering what’s taken me so long to get married.

You know, this is a homecoming for me. I’ve been coming to Urban League conventions since I was a little kid. You know, throughout my life and throughout my parents’ and grandparents’ life the Urban League has been a powerful driving force in shaping the destiny of my family. In fact, my grandma Adeline Jordan was the national president of the Urban League Guild, and at the and at the age of 90, she actually helped to found the Urban League chapter in Las Vegas. My mom actually, when she was working for the DC public schools, worked for our summer with for the Urban League and planning

And helping to plan the March on Washington in 1963. And it was the Urban League of DC that changed the destiny of a young man from North Carolina, who was born poor and would tell me all the time, son, I couldn’t afford to be poor. I was just po, I couldn’t afford the other two letters.

It was the Urban League that took this boy, a graduate of North Carolina Central University, my father, and at the time that folks were not hiring — corporations not hiring blacks — it was the Urban League that fought to get my dad his first job with IBM, becoming one of their first black salesmen. So I am telling you right now, I in many ways am a product of the Urban League and I am grateful for this organization and its continued leadership on driving issues that matter. I also know because of all the impact that the Urban League has had on my life, that is one of the reasons why I stand here before you right now as the fourth ever popularly-elected African American in the history of the United States Senate.

I know that every day I walk on to that floor of the United States Senate that I did not get there on my own. I got there because of the sacrifice and struggle and commitment of historical organizations like this. And I don’t need to tell anybody in this room that every single successful struggle for justice in America, not to mention every winning democratic coalition in modern times, has included the active participation and leadership of African American communities and organizations like this. This is how we took on and beat the Bull Connors and the George Wallaces. That’s how we brought down segregation throughout Birmingham and marched on Selma to Montgomery to get voting rights. It’s how we tore down Jim Crow. That’s how we won, also, the elections of 2008 and 2012. And if you look at the data from 2018, it is because of that coalition. That’s that’s how we won that election as well. And that’s how we are going to beat Donald Trump next year.

But we will not beat Donald Trump. We will not be Donald Trump unless we engage, energize, and excite a massive voter turnout in the African American community. And that’s why I want to address something in the few moments I have. The way we talk about electability. I want to talk about what people often mean when they say or ask, Is someone electable? And they ask that question, they often have in their mind is who is doing the electing? Because most of the time when somebody is asking about electability, they’re not asking about the African American voters who make up the most reliable constituency of the Democratic Party.

And that’s a problem. Because the truth is we need to understand that we cannot beat Donald Trump unless we have a large, vibrant turnout in the black community. The next nominee for the Democratic Party will not win if they cannot inspire, connect with, and earn the trust of our community. Now there are 24 democrats running for president right now. I often joke that the 2020 elections don’t stand for the year, it stands for the number of people run in 2020.

And it’s a fair question to ask each of us how we plan on winning over every kind of voter that we didn’t win last time. Yes, that includes those who voted for Donald Trump, but it must also include people we represent who weren’t motivated to vote at all. And people whose votes many from the Republican Party to the Russians are working so hard to repress.

We know that the question is going to be asked in communities like ours, what did you do when you were not running for president to fight for the communities that you now want to represent? It is not enough to show up in our communities today, with a promise of a better tomorrow. What were you doing 5, 10, 15 or 20 years ago to fight for racial justice to combat racial inequality and structural inequality. Now, I as a guy who lives in a majority black and brown community, let me tell you right now, it is easy to call Donald Trump a racist now, you get no badge of courage for that. The question is, what were you doing to address structural inequality and institutional racism throughout your life? Don’t just tell us what you’re gonna do. Tell us what you’ve already done. Don’t just tell us you’re gonna you’re gonna be a champion for our communities when you become president, if you haven’t been a champion already, because in Newark, New Jersey, and Indianapolis and Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, we are dealing with serious issues that have been going on for decades before Donald Trump was elected.

I know folk want to say that the most important thing for a Democratic nominee is to beat Donald Trump. But let me tell you right now, that is a floor, it is not the ceiling. That will get us out of the valley, it does not get us to the mountaintop. Because we are still dealing with serious issues in our community, trends that have been going on for decades. So yes, we’re going to beat Donald Trump. I’m going to beat Donald Trump. And then I’m going to stay focused on the work we have to do to address the structural problems in our society that mandate a leader who can build coalitions necessary to drive change.

The work in communities like mine, the hard work, we have to make sure that we can make a change because we have work to do in communities across this country where people work a full time job but still need food stamps to feed their family. We have work to do when we have a criminal justice system that has more black men under criminal and correctional control than all the slaves in 1850. We have work to do when every single day over 100 people are killed on average by gun violence in America, disproportionately African American men. And that’s why I’m here today. That’s why this organization is still vital. That’s why this organization is still critical. Because when I moved 20 years ago into the inner city of Newark, New Jersey to take on slumlords, when I was a councilman, a mayor, a senator, the Urban League was a key ally of mine in serving our communities. This didn’t just start yesterday when I was talking about running for president.

This has been a life-long alliance that is critical for our success. And so if you want to know what kind of President that I will be, don’t just listen to what I say, look at what I’ve done and where I’ve been in the past. When I tell you that as President of the United States, I will dismantle a system of mass incarceration, you can believe me, because it’s the work that I’ve been doing for the past two decades of my life, most recently in the Senate by championing and passing a criminal justice reform bill that has already liberated thousands of people. When I say as president that I will increase access to capital in the communities that need it the most, believe me, because that’s the work I was doing as a mayor to increase entrepreneurial opportunities for African Americans and as a Senator to expand access to capital. When I talk about as President of the United States that we are going to massively increase affordable housing, deal with the challenges of gentrification, you can be sure that I will do that because actually, that was the partnership I had with the Essex County Urban League when I was a mayor, and we doubled the production of affordable housing and increase salaries.

This is a moral moment in America. It is about much more than just one person in one office. This is a time in our country where we have to understand that we are not going to beat Donald Trump by fighting him on his turf, on his terms, using his tactics. It is not enough to say what we are against. It is time to talk about what we are for. And what we’ve got to be for is being about the people, all of the people, not just the folks that we are trying to triangulate to get to one office, but the larger movement in America that has to create the new majorities that we need to achieve the American dream.

Look, I still remember when my brother was working in college and he brought me to the site where Martin Luther King was killed. And if you look down right where King was killed at the Lorraine Motel, they put some words on a stone right there. And that stone is not an a specific tribute to King it is a challenge to all of us. To those of my generation who stand on the shoulders of giants who tore down Jim Crow, expanded expanded opportunity, helped people who are qualified get jobs and economic opportunities and start businesses.

The challenge really was what will you do about the dream? It says there where King was assassinated. It says, words from Scripture. They’re Joseph’s brothers’ words that they uttered before they grabbed Joseph with his coat of many colors and threw him into a pit to die. What did his brothers utter when they thought they killed him but he didn’t die in that pit. He rose on up to lead a nation through crisis in Egypt. What they chose to write right there were King was slain. The words of Joseph’s brothers are simply this. It says, “Behold, here cometh the dreamer. Let us slay him and see what becomes of the dream.”

Our generation has to answer that question now — what will become of the dream, the dream that our ancestors struggle for and fought for and bled for and died for? What will become of the dream? Will become diminished or diluted, will become divided against itself? Or will leaders rise in our country Believers in the dream and believers in all of us, understanding that the people united can’t be defeated, understanding that we need healing and a revival of civic grace? If we focus on that dream, and understanding that this is a moral moment where we need to inspire all voters to participate in a new coalition that doesn’t just get one person elected to one office, but ensures that we can be a nation that does not perish in the pit, but that we as a nation rise on up and that we can see that in the United States of America, that we can be a land with liberty and justice for all that, we can be, as our ancestors foretold, a nation that makes it to the promised land. Thank you.

 

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