On April 13, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sat in a Birmingham, Alabama jail after being arrested for protesting racism and segregation. There, he wrote “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” which emphasized that the word “Wait” has “almost always meant ‘Never.’” In his letter, Dr. King observed that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
Decades later, under the most dangerously undemocratic and racist administration in this country’s modern history, King’s words, and his concept of justice, formed the basis of Sen. Cory Booker’s presidential campaign tour kickoff rally on a warm Saturday afternoon in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey. Booker, who served as a progressive mayor of Newark after working as a tenant rights lawyer, is calling his campaign tour “Justice for All.”
The language in Booker’s speech at Military Park was aimed at those who seek to reverse the almost incomprehensible damage Trump and his cronies have caused in just over two years in the White House. Booker preached unity, love, optimism, and justice for those who are least protected in today’s United States of Donald Trump.
“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,” Booker said. “The kind of love that serves, the kind of love that sacrifices. The kind of love that is essential to achieving justice.”
He noted that many Americans are “understandably angry and afraid.”
More importantly, Booker, who is the first African American U.S. senator from New Jersey, outlined several progressive policies his administration would pursue if elected in 2020. They include reversing the Trump administration’s racist policies of throwing immigrant children into cages, banning Muslims from entering the country, and prohibiting transgender Americans from serving in the military.
“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,” Booker said.
He repeated a campaign promise to end mass incarceration in the U.S., and vowed instead to invest in education, mental health, addiction treatment, and legalizing marijuana at the federal level. “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,” he said.
Booker also promised to pass gun reform legislation, including universal background checks and an assault weapons ban, address climate change, and fight institutionalized white supremacy and racism.
On healthcare, a key issue for voters across the political spectrum, he reaffirmed his commitment to passing Medicare for All and lowering the age of Medicare eligibility.
On immigration, which Trump has used as a battering ram against opponents, to rally his racist and xenophobic base of supporters, and to distract from his own mounting scandals, Booker said:
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.
He promised to end “the dangerous assault on women’s rights” and to ensure that women have “reproductive justice.” “[A]s President, I will appoint Supreme Court justices who will defend Roe,” he said.
He also addressed the country’s failing under Trump to serve as a global leader on democracy and human rights. “We will strengthen our alliances and defend human rights, not coddle dictators or squander America’s moral authority,” Booker said.
The senator mentioned both the White House and the Kremlin, noting that the goal of Trump, who is supported—and many suspect controlled—by Russian President Vladimir Putin, is 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.”
Like the other Democratic presidential candidates—and there are many in the race—Booker spoke about his upbringing, including the racist discrimination his family faced when trying to move to a neighborhood with better public schools. Real estate agents refused to sell to his family, he said.
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.
That story brought Booker’s narrative back to Dr. King: “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,” he said.
It’s way too early to know if Booker has a shot of winning the Democratic nomination, or if he’s able to enact half of what he’s promising if elected president. But at the least, just past the halfway mark of Trump’s administration, it’s refreshing to hear constructive, positive, even normal words that remind us that not all of us are insane, even if our current leaders and their right-wing nutjob enablers are.