Cory Booker talks gun violence, criminal justice in campaign event
Booker spoke to a crowd of nearly 500 students and community members at the Top of the Hop.
Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker spoke on Sunday night to a standing room-only audience of nearly 500 Dartmouth students and Upper Valley residents who crowded into the Top of the Hop and overflow space in the lobby below.
Booker, a U.S. senator from New Jersey, was introduced by Quentin Law, the Upper Valley student organizer for the Booker campaign, and New Hampshire state senator Martha Hennessey (D-Hanover), who recently endorsed Booker for president. Although at first she was determined to support a female candidate and met with all of the women running for the Democratic nomination, Hennessey said that she decided to back Booker because she believes he can bring Americans together.
“I decided we needed somebody who would heal our nation,” Hennessey said. “Everybody who gets up there [on the debate stage] has plans, has ideas, but who can heal our nation? Who can bring us together and make us whole again? I personally believe that person is Cory.”
Walking on stage to a playlist that included Lizzo’s “Good as Hell” and Florence + the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over,” Booker was greeted with cheers from the audience.
“Let’s just jump in!” Booker began, pausing to acknowledge his endorsers in the room and audience members downstairs. He quipped that 2020 is not the election year, but rather the number of Democrats running for president, then quickly progressed to more serious issues, discussing the work he did while serving as mayor to reform the public school system in his hometown of Newark, NJ and the importance of American unity.
“The highest calling of a Democrat right now in this moral moment is to unite Americans,” Booker said. “When this country needs to do big things, we unify, we pull together. Well, we’ve got some big challenges now … This is a moral moment, and this election is not about one person in one office, it is about us.”
Booker also touched on the importance of maintaining the ideals of the Democratic Party in the election, noting his belief that it is important for voters not to see leaders moving away from something bad, but instead see them moving toward something better. He criticized pundits for prioritizing a candidate who can beat President Donald Trump in 2020, calling for a reexamination of Democratic values and asking, “Dear God, can’t we have bigger aspirations than that?”
Booker also dived into policy issues such as the criminal justice system and gun violence. He said that American schools now have more active shooter drills and shelter in place drills than fire drills, and that drug-related incarcerations are still on the rise even though drug treatment programs are cheaper and more effective than prison sentences.
“I will defend my ideas on debate stage after debate stage, but that’s not what’s getting me up every day and running,” he said. “Right now I am fired up and angry, and anger is a productive emotion. I’m channeling that anger every day, that heartbreak. If America hasn’t broken your heart, you don’t love her enough.”
Toward the end of the event, Booker took questions from attendees. When asked by an audience member about the lack of diversity in government inspiring a lack of trust in the democratic system, Booker admitted that he had never considered that possibility, but said that lack of diversity could also be linked to the current mechanism for campaign finance.
“Diverse teams are better teams,” he said. “I want all money out of politics, and publicly financed elections … [and] I would like to end gerrymandering in this country.”
The event comes as Booker has struggled to gain traction in the historically large field of Democratic contenders. In recent national polls, he has generally earned two to three percent support among Democratic primary voters, and in New Hampshire, he polls between one and two percent. Higher-profile candidates, such as former vice president Joe Biden, U.S. senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and South Bend, IN mayor Pete Buttigieg have also visited Dartmouth in recent months. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is scheduled to make her second visit to campus this Thursday.
Reactions to Booker’s speech were largely positive, with attendees praising his focus on unity and improvement and generally agreeing that Booker is a solid candidate in their minds.
“I found Cory Booker inspiring,” said Sarah Berger of Fairlee, VT. “I like that he talks about moving towards something and not just away from things that are not going [well] … it definitely confirms that he’s strong on my list.”
However, not all attendees were convinced that Booker is right for the presidency. According to Newark native Gabriel Margaca ’23, while Booker will probably go far in the race for the nomination, the city of Newark faced extreme gentrification while Booker was mayor — so extreme that Margaca’s family lost their home — and then felt largely abandoned after he became a senator.
“[Booker] tried to do a lot of things that didn’t necessarily help all of us,” he said. “I don’t think that he has any bad intentions, but I just hope that he doesn’t forget about the American people the way that a lot of Newarkers felt that he forgot about us … I just hope things are going to change for him and I hope the best for him, honestly.”
Booker wrapped up the event with a final call for unity, ending with the continuing importance of the American Dream.
“This is not what this is all about: not one candidate, one election, one office, but it’s about re-igniting the dream of America,” Booker said. “If we live like that in this moral moment and get up off the couch, and get into the game, and get into the fight, if we do that, this nation’s dream will not perish in the pit.”
After concluding his speech, Booker stayed to take selfies with attendees before finally walking offstage to Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher.”