Photo of Cory Booker

Remarks at the Iowa Democratic Party's Liberty and Justice Celebration in Des Moines, Iowa

November 01, 2019

Hello, Iowa. Hello, Iowa. Hello, Iowa. Hello, Iowa. Hello, Iowa.

It was 10 years ago, 10 years ago, this very month that I was having a conversation in a hospital room with my hero, and someone who was like a father to me. It was the last conversation I would ever have with him because 10 years ago this month he died. He was my hero -- a man named Frank Hutchins. Frank Hutchins was a legend in Newark, New Jersey. He was one of the greatest tenant leaders that has ever lived. He led Newark's longest tenant rent strike and he won. 10 years ago, when he was dying in the hospital room, I was the mayor of the city of Newark and that conversation has shaped me.

You see, in the 1990s I met Frank Hutchins as a recent Yale Law grad, and I was helping him to take on slumlords. I'll never forget one meeting in a basement of the projects where people were together. In that meeting, we were fighting against a slumlord with no heat and hot water and other conditions that were unacceptable and the meeting went on and on and on. And I'll never forget that after it I was walking out with him and I made a snarky comment. Back then in the 90s, I just talked about how long the meeting was. He stopped and looked at me with his kind and gentle eyes and said, you know, Cory, this is not just about repairing the buildings, it's about repairing unity. It's about understanding that our power and our strength in tearing down that slumlord comes from the strength we have together.

Well, Frank got me into politics, helped push me to run for city council. I became mayor, he got older, sicker. His eyesight, when he became blind -- and I'll never forget every time I would go out to see him to take him out grocery shopping or whatever I would say, "Hey Frank it's Cory." And he would speak, [and] say simply, "I see you." That became our greeting. And so when I walked into that hospital room in his last hours when they told me it wouldn't be long, and I walked over to his bedside, I said, "Frank, I see you," they told me he couldn't speak. But he forced out those words: "I see you."

I sat by his bedside and held him and kissed his forehead and told him how much he'd meant to me. It wasn't a crowded hospital room, but, you see, Frank didn't care about those things because for him, life was not about celebrity, it was about significance. It wasn't about popularity, it was about purpose. If he was here today he would tell you that life isn't about how many people show up for you when you're dead, but how many people you show up for when you are alive.

And let me tell you Iowa, I was a mayor of a city in a recession, which meant the city had depression-like circumstances. I had to leave his bedside, and the last thing I said to him was, "Frank, I love you," and the last thing he said to me was forcing out those words, "I love you."

Tonight, I want you to think about his last words to me. "I see you, I love you." I see you, I love you. Frank knew that the power in this country comes from those are often overlooked, often ignored. With the power of people in a project's basement, "I see you, I love you" is powerful enough to tear down a rich and powerful slumlord. "I see you, I love you" -- he talked about the power in this country against hate is love. Against indifference is empathy.

It's understanding that we together, that is what has overcome. "I see you, I love you" -- and I'll tell you right now in this election, there are those people who think it's naive to think that this election is most importantly about our values, about our ideals -- but I tell you, that is where our strength will come from, that is where our power is. And it's our connections to each other, or ability to pull together coalitions and unify around our highest ideals, this is how we have always accomplished things in this nation. And I'll tell you, I hear the pundits say this is about who's polling the best or who has the most money or who can best deliver a shot against another Democrat on a stage.

Well we know, Iowa, that the polls of our party -- who's leading in the polls this far out has never gone on from our party to be President of the United States. It's not how much money a person has or how much you tear down another Democrat. This, this is going to be decided by who can best call us to our common aspirations, who can best inspire us to be the truth of who we are. We don't abandon our values during trials, we double down on them.

This election for us Democrats, everyone that's come out here has told you how much they don't like Donald Trump. But Democrats, this election will not be defined by what we're against, but by what we're for.

This election, as much as the differences in policy are between fellow Democrats, they're small compared to what is between us and what's between this person in office. And this is a moral moment in America. We as Democrats have to call this whole country to higher aspirations, with a president that tries to divide us, the end for Democrats shouldn't be to beat Republicans. The calling of this party must be to unite Americans again in common cause and common purpose.

Because that's how we do big things in America. That's how we have always done them, by creating bigger and larger movements. Look, I come from an Iowa-born grandmother who worships right here in Des Moines at Corinthian Baptist, born before women had the right to vote, and what she taught me from the women's rights movement is that we created broader coalitions to secure suffrage, to gain ground.

Well now in America, we need a movement again because women's rights are under assault. They're attacking Planned Parenthood. They're attacking Roe v Wade. I'm running for president because we need a larger American movement for women's rights again, equal pay for equal work. It took a movement in America, as my grandfather, a UAW worker, would tell me, it took a larger movement to secure workers' rights, to expand union rights. Well you know what, workers' rights are under assault again in America, and we need a broader coalition, a new American movement to ensure that people can retire with dignity, that we have a living wage.

My father and mother told me it was a civil rights movement that ensured that I would one day have the chance to be the first descendant of a slave to be in the White House, which was built by slaves. That this is a movement that we need again at a time in America where they're assaulting civil rights and voting rights, with gerrymandering and money in politics, we need a new American movement to make sure we end the new Jim Crow of mass incarceration, secure voting rights, and extend civil rights to LGBTQ Americans.

This is what we want. The pundits will tell us Democrats, they'll say things like, well, you know, Democrats, according to our fancy polls, the number one thing Democrats want is just someone who can beat Donald Trump.

Well, they don't know us. Democrats, beating Donald Trump is the floor, it is not the ceiling.

Beating Donald Trump gets us out of the valley, it does not get us to the mountain top. We are a nation that has always aspired to turn our common pain into common purpose. We are a nation that understands, from the founding of our nation, the world's oldest constitution starts with that word "we."

"We the people." My parents' generation, they marched together and joined together and understood that their slogans, that their songs, began with "we shall overcome." And now, as a nation, how we ensure that we unite our country, that every day, a president who engages in moral vandalism is trying to tear apart, the way we aspire not just to beat him but to go to a mountain top, is the way our ancestors did.

Whether it was Kennedy that pointed to the moon or King that pointed to the mountaintop, we joined together and said, "We will rise."

We have seen hate before. We have seen bigotry before, but when others have tried to beat us down, at Stonewall or beat us back on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, we didn't turn against each other, we unified together and said, "We will rise."

I'm running for president to unify our whole party -- from those who call us progressives and divide us into camps as moderates -- we need all Democrats, together, to call to this country, to stand together, to work together, to rise together.

It is time now that we call for those broader coalitions, that we call to the heart and the aspirations of this country. Because if I am your nominee, I will inspire, engage, and ignite this nation like no other nominee can.

If you believe like I do, if you want to join a movement, then go to I need your help, Iowa, because it's time that we all stay together. As a chorus of conviction, we will rise for workers' rights, union rights. We will rise for public education and schools for all kids. We will rise to deal with the challenge of climate change.

We will rise to make sure that we in America are truly a nation of liberty and justice for all.

We're not defined by Donald Trump, we're defined by the love between us. And when they try to demean and degrade with darkness, we bring light. When they try to divide with hate, we bring love. Remember the words of that great American poet, Maya Angelou. To use her phrase that we all know, he may try to write us down in history with his bitter, twisted lies. He may try to trod our nation in the dirt, but still, like dust, we will rise. Iowa, I see you, I love you.

Let us join together. Join with me, we will rise together. Our best days are ahead, we will rise together. Iowa, I see you, I love you. I see you, I love you.

Together, we will rise.

Cory Booker, Remarks at the Iowa Democratic Party's Liberty and Justice Celebration in Des Moines, Iowa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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