Nearly 100 people flooded Adams Street Espresso Wednesday afternoon, but the influx of business wasn’t necessarily to due to the need for a warm pick-me-up following a late night of ringing in the New Year. The crowd gathered to meet Democratic presidential hopeful, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.
While Booker fielded the usual questions relating to support needed for veterans services, issues facing the LGBTQ community, the staggering prices of healthcare and prescription drugs and the lack of mental health services in rural communities, he had another purpose – unite the democratic party and the American people.
“How can our country achieve great things if we can’t start restoring a sense of common purpose and common cause?” Booker said.
Booker told the crowd – comprised of mostly democrats – that if they vote based on what they are against instead of what they are for, they will lose. His response to democrats whose No. 1 goal is to beat Donald Trump is, “Dear God, can’t we have bigger aspirations than that?”
“Beating Donald Trump is the floor, not the ceiling. It gets us out of the ditch, but it doesn’t get us to the mountain top,” said Booker.
Americans are hurting, which Booker said he understands.
“… Rural farmers are being driven out of business losing their farms … mental health issues are further isolating Americans … senior citizens do everything right their whole life but their country tells them, ‘Hey, you want to qualify for Medicaid, you’ve got to go in to poverty first before you qualify’ … social security checks have millions of Americans – because they are so small – living below the poverty line … or veterans who say we are ‘Home of the Brave,’ but are disproportionately homeless … a criminal justice system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent ...”
Because of these things, he’s calling this election a “moral call to action.”
Booker’s shared his fondness for Iowa as his grandmother was born and raised in Des Monies.
“My grandmother’s grandma migrated from Alabama – single woman, nine kids – to a town called Buxton, Iowa,” he said.
To him, Buxton, and other towns like it, represent the American Dream civil rights activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for before his death. He told the story of black migrant workers and European immigrants making a new life in the integrated town in the late 1800s/early 1900s and how they learned to work side by side.
“And they understood in a literal way that the lines that divide us are not as strong as the ties that bind us,” said Booker. “Because they would have quilting bees, where an Eastern European person or a Western European person, black, were all coming together, stitching together a quilt that represented that understanding.”
Booker said his grandmother bragged until the day she died about how “we" – the U.S. and its allies – beat the Nazis because she was so proud the country’s citizens unified against their common threat.
“This is who we are. This is our heritage. From towns like Buxton – it’s Americans standing together understanding what patriotism really means,” said Booker. “Patriotism is love of country. You can’t love your country unless you love your fellow country men and women.”
For Booker, the love for America he speaks of is not about sentimentality, but it is a love worth fighting for.
“Love says that … if your kids don’t have access to great public schools, then my kids are lesser off,” said Booker.
Booker said to love America means injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
“Love is when we had people storming the beaches in Normandy, never turning to the other saying, ‘Hey, are you a Republican or Democrat?’ Love is what happened when the civil rights movement, people like (Andrew) Goodman, (James) Chaney and (Michael) Schwerner) who died side by side in Mississippi. They were black and white. They were Christian and Jewish. ... They were American. This is what we need,” he said. “Why am I running for president? I’m running for president because of that heart.”
Booker touted his record in New Jersey, where the former Newark mayor overhauled a city once known for its crime and corruption, 60 decades of a declining population and a school system so broken it was once under state control.
Booker attributed his success as mayor due to his ability to build strong coalitions. He said he didn’t always see eye-to-eye with then governor Chris Christie, but he didn’t spend time trying to condemn of vilify him. Instead, he sought common ground – to find what they agreed upon and build from there.
“Now Newark, New Jersey, is going through its biggest economic boom in nearly 60 years,” Booker said.
Booker said under his leadership, tens of thousands of jobs were created, affordable housing doubled, a hotel was built in the city for the first time in 40 years, and Newark’s school system went from being one of the worst in the state to the No. 1 school system in America for beating the odds on children raised in poverty going on to attend college.
“There’s nothing we can’t do,” he said.
As he spoke about his bipartisan efforts, he joked about having dinner with Ted Cruz, saying, “It wasn’t easy.”
“To find a restaurant,” he continued. “He’s from Texas, I’m a vegan … but we broke bread together.”
To create the greatest change, Booker challenged attendees at Wednesday’s town hall to find common ground with others, and to do the best they can, with what they have, wherever they are.
As a suggestion to restore unity among his party and the American public, Booker shared a quote Brene Brown.
“It’s hard to hate up close, so pull people in.”