Photo of Cory Booker

Remarks at a Campaign Kickoff Rally in Newark, New Jersey

April 13, 2019

[As prepared for delivery.]

Thank you Mom --

I am here today because of your example of grace, courage and service. I wish Dad could be here.

We're here today to seek justice. We're here today because we are impatient for that justice.

And our sense of urgency, our impatience, comes from the most demanding of values,

it comes from love. Love of our families. Love of our communities. Love of country. Love for each other.

Newark, Brick City, taught me about that love. It's not feel-good, easy-going love. It's a strong, courageous love. A defiant love. The kind of love that serves, the kind of love that sacrifices. The kind of love that is essential to achieving justice.

I learned here that you can't make progress dividing people, stoking fear, or setting us one against another. I learned that the only way to overcome the tough challenges is by extending grace, finding common ground, and working together.

And today, so many of us are hurting, so many of us are understandably angry and afraid.

Too many people believe the forces that are tearing us apart are stronger than the bonds that hold us together.

I don't believe that.

I believe we will bring our country together. I believe we will achieve things that other people say are impossible. I believe we will make justice real for all.

And that is why I am running for President of the United States of America.

And to many people across the country who don't speak English, I want to say: Yo voy a ser un presidente para toda nuestra gente. I will be a president for all people.

When I arrived here in Newark over twenty years ago to work as a tenant rights lawyer, I found a city with challenges that some said were intractable, but we refused to believe that any problem is too hard to solve if we tackle it together.

We were a community impatient for justice. Newark has always been a community impatient for justice.

A community that knew that, in the words of Dr. King, "'Wait' has almost always meant 'never.'" And in communities like ours -- and across this country -- "wait" still too frequently means "never."

Wait for clean water. Wait for decent-paying jobs. Wait for better schools. Wait your turn. Wait.

Well here in Newark, we refused to wait. When this city took a chance on me as their mayor, the Chief Executive of this city, I didn't wait to bring people together.

We didn't just talk about the injustice of families not having heat in the coldest months of the year – we took on the slumlords and doubled the rate of affordable housing production.

We didn't just talk about the injustice of people not being able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables – we opened grocery stores in food deserts.

We got people to invest here. We opened new businesses, created thousands of new jobs and after 60 years of decline, Newark is growing again.

And New Jersey, when you sent me to Washington as your senator, I brought those lessons with me. Politics in DC are broken, but we still found ways to bring people together to get things done.

After decades of our criminal justice system moving in the wrong direction, I led a bipartisan effort to write and pass the first meaningful reform in a generation. And I worked with Republicans and Democrats to write and then pass a law that is bringing billions of dollars in investment to low-income urban and rural communities that have for too long been left out and left behind.

There are so many places like that across America. Not just cities like this one – farm communities and factory towns that, like us here in Newark, have been given up on and talked down to… counted out and underestimated.

And they can't wait for change. None of us can.

We are here today to say we can't wait.

We can't wait when powerful forces are turning their prejudice into policy and rolling back the rights that generations of Americans fought for and heroes died for.

We can't wait when this Administration is throwing children fleeing violence into cages, banning Muslims from entering the nation founded on religious liberty, and preventing brave transgender Americans from serving the country they love.

And we can't wait because many of our most serious challenges as a nation were with us long before Donald Trump entered the White House.

We can't wait, because we have a criminal justice system, that in the words of my friend Bryan Stevenson, treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. A system so deeply baked with bias that it ruthlessly discriminates against Black people, Brown people, low-income people, and people with mental illness and addiction.

We can't wait when we have an economy where people who work two or three jobs, pick up extra shifts, and still can't pay their bills.

Profits are soaring, while wages for most have barely budged. Massive corporations have taken over entire industries -- killing off competition, driving out innovation, squeezing out small businesses. And American family farms are disappearing at a disturbing rate. Decades of unjust policies have destroyed our economy, extracted money from our common wealth and plowed it into tax cuts for the wealthy and wars overseas we didn't have to fight; instead of investing in the things we all know grow our economy and create more opportunity for all.

And that's why, when I am President of the United States, we won't wait.

We won't wait for criminal justice. We will end the system of mass incarceration in America. We will invest in people -- their education, their mental health, and treating addiction. We will end the school to prison pipeline. And we will empower the formerly incarcerated with jobs and opportunity, not a slippery slope back to jail and prison.

We won't wait to legalize marijuana at the federal level -- but that is not enough. We will push states to do the same, invest in the communities that have been devastated by the decades-long failed war on drugs, and expunge the records of those who have already been convicted.

We won't wait for more thoughts and prayers for the communities that have been shattered by gun violence-- from Pittsburgh to Parkland to Charleston to communities where kids fear fireworks on the Fourth of July because they sound like gunshots.

We will pass universal background checks, ban assault weapons, and close the loopholes that allow people who should never have a gun to get one. We will bring a fight to the NRA like they've never seen before. And we will win.

We won't wait to meet the crisis of climate change -- because we have no other choice. We will build a clean energy economy. We will hold polluters accountable and ensure that every child can drink the water from their sink and breathe the air in their neighborhood without getting sick.

We won't wait for real, inclusive economic justice. We will fight against the onslaught of attacks on workers' rights. It was my grandfather's union job that helped move my family from poverty into the middle class, and we will protect that pathway for workers who are now seeing their rights eroded.

We will build an opportunity economy where there are good-paying jobs and fair wages in every neighborhood and where the dignity of work is respected. Where benefits are secure and portable, so you can change jobs or start a new business with confidence. And where small businesses can be, as they always have been, the main engines of growth in America.

And we will close the racial wealth gap, because we can't be blind to the impact of generations of racism and white supremacy that were written into our laws over centuries. That's why we will create a federally funded savings account for every child that starts at birth and grows as they grow up -- up to almost $50,000 to pay for college, put a down payment on a home, or jump-start a small business.

We won't wait to deliver a great education to every child. We will fully fund public schools, including special needs education. And we will ensure that our public school teachers get the pay increases they deserve, the resources they need, and that their student loan debt is forgiven.

We won't wait to expand pathways to opportunity for all young people. We will make college more affordable, we will invest in and strengthen our HBCU's, and we will create the world's greatest system of apprenticeships and training programs here in America.

We won't wait to fix our broken healthcare system. Because in America, healthcare is a right. I will fight for Medicare for All and I will start with lowering the age of Medicare eligibility and giving Americans a real public option. I will use the government's bargaining power to bring down the cost of drugs. And I will once and for all end the sabotage of the Affordable Care Act.

We won't wait to fix our broken immigration system, because immigration is a source of strength. We will pass comprehensive immigration reform. We will create a pathway to citizenship for those already living in the United States. We will protect our DREAMERs. And we will end the moral vandalism of family separation.

We won't wait to stop the dangerous assault on women's rights. Women will have reproductive justice, because women must have the freedom to make decisions about their own bodies and economic futures. And as President, I will appoint Supreme Court justices who will defend Roe.

And we will take on the systemic challenges that disproportionately affect women and hold our entire country back. We will fight for equal pay, affordable child care, and establish national paid family and medical leave.

We will build a culture where men respect women, sexual assault and harassment are no longer swept under the rug, and future generations don't have to raise their hands to say "me too."

We won't wait any longer for equal justice under the law. We will pass the Equality Act and ensure that LGBTQ Americans are protected under federal civil rights law.

We will pursue a new Voting Rights Act, end gerrymandering, and get dark money out of politics once and for all.

And unlike this President, I won't ignore or give license to white supremacy, I will put more resources towards protecting our country from it.

And we will no longer wait for America to stand up for justice around the world. We will strengthen our alliances and defend human rights, not coddle dictators or squander America's moral authority. As commander-in-chief, there's nothing I will take more seriously than the responsibility to protect our nation and keep faith with the people who wear our uniform.

We call ourselves the home of the brave, but when our brave veterans come home, we need to make sure they have a home. We will end veteran homelessness. Veterans deserve everything they have fought so bravely for -- health care, education and good-paying jobs.

The only way we build a nation of liberty and justice for all is by doing it together.

We have to decide whether we will choose division and blame -- or if we will do the hard work of conquering fear with faith, apathy with action, and hatred with love.

We know there are forces at work at home and abroad trying to get us to fight the wrong way and on their terms. From 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to the Kremlin -- we know what their strategy is.

It's to pit us against each other for their own gain; to make us suspicious of one another. To make us fear each other, dislike each other, and hate each other. That's how they win.

Critics will tell us that a campaign powered by grace and love and a deep faith in each other can't beat that. But I say it's the only way we win. The President wants a race to the gutter and to fight us in the gutter. To win, we have to fight from higher ground in order to bring this country to higher ground.

So we cannot allow them to divide us, and we also must resist the urge to divide ourselves. Because the people on my block, the people gathered here, people across this country can't wait.

They cannot afford a politics of division that sacrifices progress for purity.

They can't afford to allow this election to become an exercise in political posturing or a box-checking competition that is completely divorced from the realities of so many people who are struggling and hurting.

As the only senator who comes home to a low-income, inner-city community, I know -- and you know -- that we don't have the privilege to wait for what fits into someone else's narrow view of what it means to be a progressive.

Our first priority must be to make people's lives better. Now. To move the ball forward, how best we can, as fast as we can. And to ensure that those closest to the pain and closest to the struggle have an active hand in defining how we confront it.

A real progressive movement refuses to stall out in righteous indignation. It channels that indignation into the work that actually improves people's lives.

A real progressive movement does not hold progress for communities like mine hostage today for promises that perfection will come tomorrow.

We are the inheritors of those kinds of movements-- movements of committed Americans who came together, gathering just like we are now.

This has been the truth of generations of people in our country, who in moments of great moral crisis and great moral challenge summoned great moral imagination. They did not surrender to the seduction of hatred -- they fought with a defiant love, and when they rose, our nation rose.

I am here today because of those kinds of movements.

As many of you know, I wasn't born here in Newark.When I was a baby, my parents tried to move into a neighborhood in Harrington Park -- about 20 miles from here -- because it had great public schools. But real estate agents refused to sell us a home because of the color of our skin.

And that would have been that -- except a group of activists came together to help my family. A young Black activist who was the head of the Fair Housing Council and a group of white volunteers and lawyers who had watched the courage of Civil Rights marchers and were inspired to help Black families in their own community came together. They stood up against the illegal housing discrimination that my parents faced -- and they won.

And they changed the course of my entire life.

My parents never wanted my brother and me to forget what it took to get us to where we are. They said that we could never pay back what had been done for us. But we could -- and we had to -- pay it forward.

They wanted us to understand the urgency of the work left to do in America. They wanted us to understand that in the face of injustice-- there is no "wait,"-- there must be work. There is no wait, there must be struggle. There is no wait because we stand on the shoulders of giants -- generations before us who did not wait.

56 years ago this very morning, a young preacher woke up in a jail cell in Alabama because he and so many other young people had joined together to take on the toughest challenge of their day, a fight others called impossible to win.

They joined with local activists to confront a city where injustice and division were literally written into the law. He was arrested on Good Friday while demonstrating against segregation, and on this very date, Saturday, April 13th in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. woke up in that jail cell in Birmingham.

The same jail cell where he wrote on the margins of a newspaper that had been smuggled in to him, this letter, these words:

"For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.' We must come to see...that 'justice too long delayed is justice denied.'"

He spoke to the possibility of what we can achieve when we realize our own power and refuse to wait. The children of Birmingham and a man named King showed what was possible when they refused to wait for justice and confronted dogs and fire hoses -- when they defeated Bull Connor and brought down segregation in the city.

America we know our history-- it is perpetual testimony to impatient, demanding, unrelenting people who in every generation stand up for justice.

Generations of Americans have shown us what was possible when they refused to wait. Now it's our turn. And we have work to do.

America-- we can't wait.

America-- we will not wait.

Together, we will run at the tough challenges.

Together, we will do the things that other people tell us are impossible.

Together, we will fulfill our pledge to be a nation of liberty and justice for all.

Together, we will win.

And together, America, we will rise.

Cory Booker, Remarks at a Campaign Kickoff Rally in Newark, New Jersey Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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