In a time he describes as doom and gloom, anger and hate, what makes us different and what we do not agree on rules headlines and online comment threads, the son of a poor Hendersonville, North Carolina, father wants to change the narrative.
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U.S. Sen. Cory Booker traveled to Sumter on Monday morning for a student forum at Morris College after visiting two other rural cities in Winnsboro and Denmark during his first trip as a 2020 presidential candidate. He formally added his name to the growing list of Democratic primary hopefuls on Feb. 1 and brought his anthem of empathy and unity to the party's first open primary voters.
"My whole career has been going to places that other people ignore," Booker said to a full auditorium at the college.
Booker is known for his decision after graduating from Yale Law School to live in a low-income neighborhood in Newark to represent tenants against slumlords. He is known for continuing to live there now, even after serving as mayor and as U.S. senator.
"The people in my community don't care about political posturing. They don't care about what I'm against. They want to know what I am for," he said. "Who I'm fighting for. We cannot win elections if it's just beating people. We need to get back to the business of uniting people."
The 49-year-old Stanford alumnus talked about a range of his steadfast Democratic ideals, from health care being a "human right" to criminal justice reform to erasing "persistent racism" and recognizing and increasing the value of education.
He answered questions that dealt with prescription drug costs and access to mental health treatment and resources, especially in schools - decrease the former and increase the latter.
In a crowded and growing field of Democrats who are vying for the chance to lead the party to regain the White House in 2020, Booker was asked Monday what makes him unique.
His answer remains in Newark's Central Ward, where he said he will keep a promise to never forget "where he came from." He came from those neighborhoods where he helped fight slumlords and went door to door to get votes. Booker also used his campaign trip to talk to the crowd about who came before them.
"We all are our ancestors' wildest dreams," he said. Today's African-Americans' ancestors had to "put roots into soil, seed into soil, and it was frozen with bigotry and hate with pain and poverty and hardship."
He said he wants children to be able to find unleaded water easier than unleaded gasoline, likely referring to the ongoing clean water shortage in Flint, Michigan. He said he wants Americans to be able to afford life-saving medications without having to live in poverty or choose between them and a meal.
He, like many other Democratic lawmakers, supports the Green New Deal and other environmental protections. He seems to not enjoy being told no. He said he "ran a city in a crisis through a storm and has people telling me what we could not do."
"It wasn't a bunch of men who got around together in the early 1900s and said, 'Hey, fellas, you know what? It's about time women get the right to vote. Let's go do that.' No. It was marching and fighting not just for women, but women and men and minorities coming together," he said.
He talked about, maybe above all, unity.
"Love is patriotism. How can you love your country if you don't love your fellow countrymen and women?" he said. "The most common way people give up their power is not realizing they have it in the first place. This is not just about an election for president. This is a campaign for our country."
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