On a recent visit to Yale’s campus, The Politic spoke to Cory Booker LAW ’97.
The Politic: What is it that keeps you going? What are the main sources of inspiration for you in your work?
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ): I think this has been one of the most inspirational periods for me, as an adult. I’ve seen horrible, horrible policies like the Muslim ban, but then I go out to the Dulles Airport, and I see hundreds and hundreds of people protesting and literally people of all different backgrounds cheering Muslim families who are coming off of planes and just celebrating the truth of we are and show them what America really is, and what America really looks like. I saw guys with kipas and tzitzit hanging out cheering Muslim families who were coming in. So whether it’s having the low day of listening to a very mean-spirited inauguration speech about carnage in America, but, in the next day, seeing the beauty in America where hundreds of thousands of people are marching all over the country in the Women’s March. Often it’s the darkest times that become the most inspiring times because you see the goodness of people really coming out. You see people not allowing darkness or despair to have the last word, and let the last word be hope, and let the last word be activism, and let the last word be love.
The Politic: For those of us who aren’t in Washington and aren’t as tuned in to the Senate proceedings, is there something particularly important coming up that we should be attuned to?
Booker: There’s a lot of big issues that are on the Senate dockets that you should be concerned with. The constant attempts to roll back health care, to attack Medicaid and Medicare, all of these things are really things we should stay focused on. But I’m also a person who believes that we should stay focused on issues of justice wherever we are. Whether it’s local issues about how the local jails are treating people who are there or how issues of sexual harassment are now being addressed in our country, wherever you are, there are things that need attention, need activism. The road to progress is always under construction, and we have to say that we’re going to be construction workers.
The Politic: Besides the work we can do now in our local communities, what would your advice be for the politically-inclined student who is considering options, who is thinking about how best to contribute and where to contribute?
Booker: I was a city councilperson–it was a local election. The guy who’s holding this phone here, Matt Klapper [Booker’s Chief of Staff], was just a high-school student and got involved with my efforts as a city councilperson. Getting involved. Rolling up your sleeves. You’re going to learn so much by doing, more than by observing. So get involved in politics, whether it’s at the local level or the state level or the national level. I just think that there’s so much to learn from taking some time to volunteer for a candidate. Or, frankly, when I was in school, Stefan Pryor ran for alder.
The Politic: There are various ways to serve in public service, not all that require running for office. What was it that convinced you initially, in that local race, to decide on running?
Booker: A lot of the community leaders really pushed me to consider running for city council. It was a big struggle, a very difficult decision in my life, but I decided ultimately to run.
The Politic Rapid Fire Round
The Politic: Where do you get your news?
Booker: I subscribe online to The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. I get a lot of news pushed at me on my social media feed, so I read articles that people tweet at me sometimes. I listen to a whole host of podcasts, from foreign policy podcasts to domestic policy podcasts to “On Being,” Tim Ferriss, so I get a lot of news through podcasts. I watch cable news and CBS.
Chief of Staff Matt Klapper: And your staff briefs you sometimes.
Booker: *laughter* That actually is huge–I get a lot of news from my staff. Actually, let’s put it this way:
the plurality of the information I take is from what my staff tells me to read.
The Politic: Are you reading anything good right now?
Booker: I just finished Evicted for my book club, which is Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer-prize winning book, which I would recommend. Podcasts have really become so much a part of my life. I love DeRay Mckesson’s “Pod Save the People.” I love that one, and “On Being,” it’s really good spiritual podcast.
The Politic: If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what would you be doing?
Booker: I’d still be living where I’m living now. If I didn’t have the job I have now, I’d still be doing what I’m doing now, which is trying to advocate for this country to live up to its promise to all Americans. So I would be doing what I’m doing now: living in the inner city, struggling to fight for issues that make a difference to people who are often marginalized in our country.