During Visit to Dartmouth, Booker Coy About 2020, Urges Students to Vote

  • New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker looks up as he takes a selfie with an attendee after speaking attends at a get out the vote event hosted by the NH Young Democrats at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. (AP Photo/ Cheryl Senter)

  • New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker takes a video selfie with attendees after speaking at a get out the vote event hosted by the NH Young Democrats at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. (AP Photo/ Cheryl Senter) Cheryl Senter

  • New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker exits the stage after speaking at a get out the vote event hosted by the NH Young Democrats at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. (AP Photo/ Cheryl Senter) Cheryl Senter

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/29/2018 12:45:01 AM
Modified: 10/29/2018 9:10:02 AM

Hanover — Commanding the crowd with jokes and stories and projecting a tone of strenuous optimism, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., urged young voters to reject apathy and cynicism and take responsibility for righting the course of the nation, at a get-out-the-vote event at Dartmouth College on Sunday night.

In a wide-ranging speech that began with a story from the Torah and ended with an anecdote about a furtive trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru, Booker — a potential 2020 presidential candidate — emphasized the power of regular people to effect change and carry out justice.

“I look around this room and I get pumped, I really do, because I know the power that’s in this room,” said Booker, who shared the stage with U.S. Rep. Annie McLane Kuster, D-N.H.

A crowd of about 200 were lucky enough to secure seats in the auditorium. At least 100 more people had to be turned away after waiting in line for the event.

“Think about any movement in this nation,” Booker said. “Do you really think that the suffrage movement came from Washington? Like, a bunch of men suddenly woke up and said, ‘Hey, women should have the right to vote?’ No, it was groups of Americans who were determined to change this nation.”

Wearing blue jeans and a white oxford and speaking in a tone at once fast-paced and relaxed, Booker echoed Obama-era messages of hope while decrying both longstanding injustices and recent acts of hatred that have marred the country, including the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh that left 11 people dead on Saturday.

“I get so angry that we seem to be at peace with higher and higher levels of injustice in this country,” said Booker, who earlier in the day had spoken at UNH, alongside Democratic gubernatorial candidate Molly Kelly and Democratic Congressional candidate Chris Pappas. Both Get Out the Youth Vote events were organized by the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

The answer to injustice, however, is not futile finger pointing, Booker said, telling the story of a lawyer who helped his parents and many other African-American families purchase homes in New Jersey during the era of rampant prejudice. Booker went back to find the man decades later for a book he was writing and asked him why he bothered to get involved in such a messy battle for no personal benefit. The man responded that he’d simply been watching TV at home one day when his program was interrupted with a broadcast of black people being beaten by police during the historic Selma-to-Montgomery march.

“Did he allow his inability to do ‘everything’ to undermine his determination to do ‘something’? No. He wasn’t going to end segregation in the South. No. He was one guy. But this one man got up off of that couch and … made phone calls.”

Booker encouraged the crowd to take the same approach, shaking off despair and getting involved. “If America hasn’t broken your heart, you don’t love her enough,” he said. “It’s not time to curse another human being … it’s time to decide that I’m going to be light in the darkness.”

The message wasn’t lost on the young audience, many of whom were affiliated with the campus’ Get Out the Youth Vote movement.

“I was really impressed by Sen. Booker. I feel very empowered,” said Kelly Zeilman, a freshman from Connecticut who has been canvassing ahead of the Nov. 6 midterms. Zeilman said she’s hopeful that young people will turn out in large numbers for the midterms, based on what she’s been hearing from fellow students and others she’s met while volunteering.

Other audience members said they’d come to hear Booker because of the widespread speculation that he’ll run for president in 2020.

“I think it’s a pretty interesting opportunity to talk to someone who’s a potential presidential candidate,” said Coby Gibson, a sophomore from Booker’s home state of New Jersey. “Reading about him is different from seeing him in person.”

At a Q&A session after Booker’s speech, one student directly asked the question that was clearly on a lot of people’s minds: Does Booker plan to run in 2020?

“I’m going to use this opportunity to pivot a little bit. This is not a dodge — well, it is a dodge, but it’s also a pivot,” said Booker, who, with his New Hampshire appearance, has now visited the four early caucus/primary states since August. “Life is about purpose and not position.”

Booker went on to explain that he has a three-fold purpose of addressing the income gap, working on issues of fairness and equality and restoring civility to the national discourse — and that he doesn’t know what shape that purpose will take.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “Whoever runs for president, I want to see them calling for a revival of civic grace.”

Booker connected easily with the college-aged audience, calling one student who asked a pointed question about the #MeToo movement a “pretty woke dude,” and joking with the student who asked him about a presidential run that if he shaves his head, Booker will call him first when he’s made up his mind.

Kuster, a Dartmouth graduate who is running for re-election in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District, also spoke at the event, reminding students that they’re allowed to vote where they currently live and that New Hampshire allows same-day voter registration.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com.

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