Full Disclosure: Polkinghorn gained access to this event through a family donation. This article does not endorse any particular candidate.
On Saturday, September 7, United States senator from New Jersey and presidential candidate Cory Booker departed from the usual New Hampshire and Iowa circuits to pay a visit to Portland, Maine for a speaking engagement at Thompson’s Point. As a “host” for Booker’s event, I was able to speak briefly with the Senator as well as hear his general ideas to the audience about his visions for the presidency, the moral urgency of our current political climate, and how the Democratic imagination ought to stretch beyond beating Donald Trump.
In his address to the audience, Booker stressed the vital importance of political participation, enthusiasm, and willingness to cooperate as a means of restoring social and political unity to the American people. “I’m learning from other candidates in this race. Heck, Yang is teaching me about math. I’m learning from my fellow candidates. But what is going to be on the ballot is not individual candidates, it’s going to be the spirit and the energy that we need in this country to heal, to bring this nation together, to have a revival of civic grace.”
This spirit of cooperation and embracing of difference, Booker argued, was reflected in the ideals of the Founding Fathers. “We’re the oldest constitutional democracy. [The Founding Fathers] knew we were founding the first nation that was founded in virtue, not because we all pray alike or look alike or descend from the same family tree.
We’re not a theocracy, or a monarchy. We founded this nation based on virtues: freedom, equality, with inclusive ideas.” These virtues, Booker added, would not be lived out by individual politicians or entities, but through mutual collaboration between Americans. “…The Declaration of Independence,” Booker remarked, ended with a declaration of interdependence. The only way this nation is going to work is if we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred bond.”
The history of such a declaration, Booker addended, still found its roots in systemic injustice. The same men who proclaimed that all men were created equal, Booker noted, “called Native Americans savages. Women were second-class citizens. Blacks were fractions of human beings, and we enshrined slavery into our constitution.” Still, in contextualizing the painful history of these documents, Booker extracted from them a promise of hope. “But what has made us this incredible nation is that every generation of Americans… fought to make [those values] real.
“All of us are here not because of rugged individualism and self-reliance¬–those things are really important, but rugged individualism didn’t get us to the moon. Rugged individualism didn’t beat the Nazis. Rugged individualism didn’t overcome Jim Crowe. We did those things together.”
Privately, I was able to speak with Booker, and asked if he had a message to relay to our own student publication, The Bates Student. “To The Bates Student…,” the Senator answered, “Listen, we’ve got more candidates in this campaign, that’s why it’s called the 2020 race – not the year, the number of us running. But this is what you should know: you will determine what happens in our nation. So please, get involved, get engaged, get excited, and let’s make sure that we win this election coming ahead for the people.”