Cory Booker Convention Speech and Transcript
Senator from New Jersey
Monday, July 25th, 2016
2016 Democratic National Convention
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Two hundred forty years ago, our forefathers gathered in this city and declared before the world that we would be a free and independent nation. Today, we gather here again, in challenging times, in this City of Brotherly Love, to reaffirm our values, before our nation and the world.
Our purpose is not to start a great nation, but to ensure that we continue in the best of our traditions, and with humble homage to generations of patriots before, we put forth two great Americans – our nominees for President and Vice President: Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine!
Our founding documents were genius. But not because they were perfect. They were saddled with the imperfections and even the bigotry of the past. Native Americans were referred to as savages, black Americans were referred to as fractions of human beings, and women were not mentioned at all.
But those facts and other ugly parts of our history don’t detract from our nation’s greatness. In fact, I believe we are an even greater nation, not because we started perfect, but because every generation has successfully labored to make us a more perfect union. Generations of heroic Americans have made America more inclusive, more expansive, and more just.
Our nation was not founded because we all looked alike, or prayed alike, or descended from the same family tree. But our founders, in their genius, in this, the oldest constitutional democracy, put forth on this earth the idea that all are created equal; that we all have inalienable rights. And upon this faithful foundation we built a great nation, and today, no matter who you are – rich or poor, Asian or white, man or woman, gay or straight, any religion or none at all – you are entitled to the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
In this city, our founders put forth a Declaration of Independence, but also made a historic declaration of interdependence. They knew that if this country was to survive, we had to make an unusual and extraordinary commitment to one another.
I respect and value the ideals of rugged individualism and self-reliance. But rugged individualism didn’t defeat the British, it didn’t get us to the moon, build our nation’s highways, or map the human genome. We did that together.
This is the high call of patriotism. Patriotism is love of country. But you can’t love your country without loving your countrymen and countrywomen. We don’t always have to agree, but we must empower each other, we must find the common ground, we must build bridges across our differences to pursue the common good.
We can’t devolve into a nation where our highest aspiration is that we just tolerate each other. We are not called to be a nation of tolerance. We are called to be a nation of love. Tolerance says I am just going to stomach your right to be different. That if you disappear from the face of the earth, I am no better or worse off.
But love – love knows that every American has worth and value, no matter what their background, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Love recognizes that we need each other, that we as a nation are better together, that when we are divided we are weak, we decline, yet when we are united we are strong – invincible!
This understanding of love is embodied in the African saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.” This is one reason I’m so motivated in this election. I believe it’s a referendum on who best embodies the leadership we need to go far, together.
Donald Trump isn’t that leader.
We’ve watched him try to get laughs at others’ expense; try to incite fear at a time when we need to inspire courage; try to rise in the polls by dragging our national conversation into the gutter. We’ve watched him cruelly mock a journalist’s disability. We’ve watched him demean the service of my Senate colleague. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
We’ve watched him, with a broad and divisive brush, say that Mexican immigrants who came to America to build a better life are “bringing crime, they’re bringing drugs.” He says many of them are “rapists.” He said that an Indiana-born federal judge can’t be trusted to do his job because of his Mexican ancestry – a statement that even fellow Republicans have described as racist.
We’ve watched and heard him call women demeaning and degrading names. “Dog.” “Fat pig.” “Disgusting.” “Animal.” It’s a twisted hypocrisy when he treats other women in a manner he would never, ever accept from another man speaking about his wife or daughters. In a nation founded on religious freedom, he says ban all Muslims, don’t let certain people in because of how they pray.
Trump says he would run our country like he has run his businesses. Well, I’m from Jersey, and we have seen the way he leads. In Atlantic City, he got rich while his companies declared multiple bankruptcies. Yet without remorse, even as people got hurt by his failures, he bragged, “The money I took out of there was incredible.” Yes, he took out lots of cash but he stiffed contractors – many of them small businesses, refusing to pay them for the work they’d done. America has seen enough of a handful of people growing rich at the cost of our nation descending into economic crisis.
Americans, at our best, stand up to bullies and fight those who seek to demean and degrade others. In times of crisis we don’t abandon our values – we double down on them. Even in the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln called to the best of the country by saying, “With malice toward none and charity toward all.” This is the history I was taught.
My parents never wanted me to get too heady. Gratitude was to be my gravity, so they never stopped reminding me that my blessings sprang from countless ordinary Americans who had shown extraordinary acts of kindness and decency; people who struggled, sweat and bled for our rights, people who fought and paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy. I was told that we can’t pay those Americans back for their colossal acts of service, but we have an obligation to pay it forward to others through our service and sacrifice.
I support Hillary Clinton because these are her values, and she has been paying it forward her entire life. Long before she ever ran for office, in Massachusetts, she went door-to-door collecting stories of children with disabilities. In South Carolina, she fought to reform juvenile justice so children wouldn’t be thrown into adult prisons. In Alabama, she helped expose remnants of segregation in schools. In Arkansas, she started a legal aid clinic to make sure poor folks could get their day in court. She’s always fought for people, and she’s always delivered. That’s why we trust her to fight, and deliver, for us as President.
We have a Presidential nominee in Hillary Clinton who knows that, in a time of stunningly wide disparities of wealth in our nation, America’s greatness must not be measured by how many millionaires and billionaires we have, but by how few people we have living in poverty.
Hillary knows when workers make a fair wage, it doesn’t just help their families, it builds a stronger, more durable economy that expands opportunity and makes all Americans wealthier.
She knows that in a global knowledge-based economy, the country that out-educates the world will out-earn the world, out-innovate the world, and lead the world.
She knows that debt-free college is not a gift, it’s not charity, it’s an investment. It represents the best of our values, the best of our history, the best of our party: Bernie’s ideas, Hillary’s ideas, our shared ideas. Our shared values.
She knows that we need paid family leave, because when a parent doesn’t have to choose between being there for a sick kid and paying rent, or when a single mom earns an equal wage for equal work, it empowers the most important building block this nation has for our success – the family.
She knows that true security doesn’t come from scapegoating people because of their religion, alienating our allies, stoking fear and pointing fingers. It comes when we band together to face down and defeat our common enemy.
She knows that our criminal justice system desperately needs reform, that we need to bring back fairness to a system that still, as Professor Bryan Stevenson says, treats you better if you are rich and guilty than poor and innocent.
She knows that we can be a nation that both believes that our police officers deserve more respect, support, cooperation, and love – and believes that a young twenty-something black protestor deserves to be valued, that they should be listened to with a more courageous empathy, and that change is needed in our system.
Hillary Clinton knows what Donald Trump betrays time and again in this campaign: that we are not a zero-sum nation, it is not you or me, it is not one American against another. It is you and I, together, interdependent, interconnected with one single interwoven American destiny.
When we respect each other, when we stand up for each other, when we work together against the challenges our neighbors face – be it a neighbor with a beautiful special needs child or one struggling with the ugly disease of addiction – when we help them, when we show compassion and grace, when we evidence our truth, that we are the UNITED States of America, indivisible, that is when we are stronger. That is when we go from an already great America to an even greater America.
When Trump spews insults and demeaning words about our fellow Americans, I think of the poem by Maya Angelou. You know how it begins: “You may write me down in history / With your bitter, twisted lies, / You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
This too captures our history: 240 years ago, an English King said he would crush our rebellion, but Americans from around our nation joined the fight. From Bunker Hill to the Battle of Trenton, they stood, and so many fell giving their lives in support of our daring declaration that: America, we will rise.
This is our history: escaped slaves, knowing that liberty is not secure for some until it’s secure for all, sometimes hungry, often hunted, in dark woods and deep swamps, they looked up to the North Star and said with a determined whisper, America, we will rise.
Immigrants, risking their lives in a time of sweatshops and child labor, organized labor unions devoted to lifting the tired, and poor and huddled masses – with the fiercest grit, they shouted so all could hear: America, we will rise.
King pointed to a mountain top, Kennedy pointed to the moon – from Seneca Falls to the Stonewall Inn, giants stood and said in a chorus of conviction that America, we will rise.
My fellow Americans, we cannot fall into complacency or indifference about this election, because still the only thing necessary for evil to be triumphant is for good people to do nothing. My fellow Americans, we cannot be seduced into cynicism about our politics, because cynicism is a refuge for cowards and this nation is and must always be the home of the brave. We are the United States of America. We will not falter or fail. We will not retreat or surrender – we will not surrender our values, we will not surrender our ideals, we will not surrender the moral high ground.
Here in Philadelphia, let us declare again that we will be a free people. Free from fear and intimidation. Let us declare that we are a nation of interdependence, and that in America love always trumps hate. Let us declare, so that generations yet unborn can hear us. We are the United States of America; our best days are ahead of us.
And together, with Hillary Clinton as our President, America, we will rise.
Leaders of Major Labor Groups, Lee Saunders (AFSCME President), Lily Eskelsen Garcia (National Education Association President), Mary Kay Henry (SEIU President), Richard Trumka (AFL-CIO President), Sean McGarvey (Building Trades President) and Randi Weingarten (American