New Jersey senator and October/November 2018 EBONY cover star Cory Booker wants to see a change in the country, and he knows the best way for that change to come is if citizens exercise their right to vote on Nov. 6. Booker recently spoke to EBONY about why the midterm elections are not something to sit out and if he believes the Democrats can take not only the House of Representative but also the Senate.
EBONY: The midterm elections are a day away. What is at risk in this election cycle?
Booker: This is a critical election. We have a president who has no checks and balances whatsoever on his power. He controls the House, the Senate, the White House and now he’s tipped the balance of the Supreme Court. If we take the House of Representatives, we can hold the president to a higher level of accountability. We can investigate, we can subpoena, we can ensure we can restrain the worst of his impulses; we can [address] the most challenging of issues facing communities, we can protect them in a much better way.
In addition to that, there are things that [Republicans] overtly said they want to do. They said they want to go after the Affordable Care Act. Remember, we were one vote away from losing [it] and the protections of things such as people with pre-existing conditions. All that is at stake now, and we can be in a situation where if we don’t vote, we can lose. That means people with diabetes, hypertension or any [other] pre-existing condition can find themselves unable to get insurance. There are so many issues that are life and death for many people that are on this ballot. This is, unequivocally, the most important midterm election of my lifetime. People have to know there’s an urgency here that we have to get out and vote.
Do you think it’s possible that Democrats can not only take the House but the Senate as well?
I think it’s possible. It may not be likely, but it’s possible. We saw a situation where people didn’t think Donald Trump could win, but it ended up being something that happened. We can definitely do this, but it’s going to depend upon voter turnout. If people vote in levels we’ve never seen before, we can not only take the House back but we can also take the Senate back. Remember, the Senate has different responsibilities. For example, they deal with judges; that’s really critical right now as we just saw in the Supreme Court, not to mention district courts and appellate courts. We have to act as if everything is in our hands. Everything is, indeed, possible. Folks in this country, especially within the Black community, know that human history and American history, in particular, are a perpetual testimony to the achievement of the impossible.
Which races are you closely watching?
There are literally dozens. From governors’ races, such as Andrew Gillum [in Florida] and Stacey Abrams [in Georgia], to House races all over the country . . . to the races in New Jersey that are for critical offices, from local grassroots elections from council people to mayor all the way up to Bob Menendez’s race. I’m crisscrossing the country [and] been to probably half the states in our nation. I’ve campaigned with everybody from Beto O’Rourke [in Texas] to Kristen Sinema in Arizona. I am hoping to see big waves.
How can people push back against racist rhetoric that some feel are coming from Trump and the Republican party?
Our outrage has got to get us out working, our anger has to make us into activists. The painfulness of this has to push us to be more persevering…pressing forward and fighting to make a change. You’re not defined by what happened, you’re defined by how you respond; I think we have to always choose to respond. We have to match their abilities to speak darkness with our ability to bring the light. Their ability to talk in terms of hate with our ability to act with all of our love. That’s the power that we have.
The thing that works the most is not what they do, but what we do. I think the opposite of justice isn’t injustice, it’s apathy. We have to make sure that we have the last word at the ballot box and respond to some of the things that disturb us deeply.
We have seen a surge in voting this midterm election, but there are still people who feel their votes don’t matter. Why is it important to vote?
I have seen what happens when you don’t vote. I still remember in New Jersey when Barack Obama was in the ballot in 2008 and we had lines around the polling place. But when there was a governor’s election in 2009, nobody showed up and we narrowly lost that election. We had a Republican governor who had different priorities, and elections have consequences. Funding was cut to cities, to Planned Parenthood, [there were] so many issues. Everyone wanted to complain after the election and say, “Look at the Republicans; look what they’re doing to us.” Really, it wasn’t what they were doing to us, it was what we did to ourselves by not showing up.
This nation has seen hundreds of elections that have been decided by dozens if not hundreds of votes, and you can make a difference. But by not showing up, you are surrendering your power. You’re doing exactly what they’re spending so much money trying to do, which is to disenfranchise. There’s so much effort going on in suppressing the vote, so many laws being passed to make it harder to vote and you’re going to make it easy on them by doing exactly what they want, which is you not voting? They wouldn’t be working this hard to suppress the vote if they didn’t think your vote mattered. You have got to get out there, you have to use your power, you have to resist those people trying to take your power away from you and you got to make that change; there’s no other way to do it but voting.
Why do you think voting has become such a partisan issue?
I think there’s a group of people out there—it’s not all Republicans but some folks in power— who don’t believe they can win fairly. So they resort to tactics that are so contrary to the ideals of this country, such an affront to our common principles. The only way to fight back against that is by voting. When we get in power, we can stop them from passing these laws that suppress the turnout.
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