In Rock Hill, SC again: Presidential hopeful Booker continues to deliver message
Herald (Rock Hill, SC)
Jan. 4--ROCK HILL, S.C. -- Minister Shawn Elliott Richardson, of Charlotte, stood up from his chair and cleared his throat. He wore a black leather jacket. He stared at Democratic presidential hopeful Cory Booker who was speaking Friday at the Rock Mount A.M.E Zion Church in Rock Hill.
But before Richardson could finish this first sentence, Booker started.
"Is that a Fred Hampton shirt you've got on?" Booker asked.
"Yes, it is," Richardson said. On his shirt, the words "Fred Hampton died for me" were written in red and white letters.
"Can you tell people who Fred Hampton is, and somebody should get him a microphone because this is a name that more people should know," Booker said.
"He was a Black Panther leader from Chicago," Richardson said. "He was killed by the Chicago Police Department."
Booker, who wore jeans, sat on a wobbly white stool at the front of the room. "So, let's be more clear about how he was killed," Booker said.
"The Chicago Police Department went to his home...and they assassinated him," Richardson said.
"That's right," Booker said. "People call it an assassination."
Richardson went on to tell Booker about his activism in Charlotte and asked Booker how he would help people who are often disenfranchised and looked over in politics.
And the New Jersey senator said he's been doing it his whole career.
"There are more African Americans now under criminal supervision -- jail, prison, probation, parole -- more black folks under criminal supervision today than all the slaves in the 1850s," Booker said.
He paced around the crowd of about 300 people.
"Now, I love every other candidate," he continued. "But you're looking at who has been spending their life fighting on these issues."
Booker let voters know during his second trip to Rock Hill that he's not like the other candidates running for president. His campaign is focused on bringing the country together.
Booker said the election should not be focused on beating President Donald Trump.
"I think it's a referendum on who we are and who we've got to be to each other because this is a moral moment in America." he said. "It's not right, left. It is right or wrong."
He said Americans are pitted against each other because of politics. He said the country used to unite in times of tragedy.
"But now, where are we in America?" he said. "They slaughter Americans at a concert in Las Vegas or at a nightclub in Orlando. And nothing changes."
He said Americans need to come together around a common purpose to fight gun violence.
"We decided to send our children to school with the implicit message that we can't protect you," he said. "So, we're going to teach you how to hide."
He said 90 percent of Americans agree on common sense gun safety.
"There are now more shelter-in-place drills done in American public schools than fire drills, and ask yourself what this election is about," he said. "Is it about which one of us has a better 15-point policy plan on reducing gun violence? Come on."
Booker shared a story of a man he met in an Iowa nursing home.
"He says to me, 'Hey, I'm supposed to take my insulin three times a day. I don't. I ration and I take it two times a day because I can't afford it,'" Booker said.
Quiet gasps come from the crowd.
"So, with this insurance-not-insurance, let's just be real." Booker said. "We have a healthcare system that is the most expensive on the planet Earth and we get the worst outcomes for developed nations."
Booker said he supports Medicare for All. But he wants to move toward making sure Americans have the best healthcare system.
"I think we should live in a nation where everybody has as matter-of-right healthcare," he said. "There was a great President Barack Obama who picked it up on the one-yard line and got us 10, 20 yards down the field. But we have a long way to go, and if I'm your president, I know what my end zone is. But I can do things in my first Congress to get us another 10, 20, 30, 40 years down the field."
He said he has experience fighting high prescription drug prices.
"There's a guy we exposed to New Jersey, who was running for Senate, and we exposed him for running a pharmaceutical company that charged in our country twice as much as he charged with the same cancer drug in Russia," Booker said. "Putin could buy it at half the price of what American citizens can do."
A woman from the crowd interrupted Booker. "Putin's got cancer?" she said. The crowd erupted with laughs.
"No, Putin doesn't have cancer," Booker said.
The crowd didn't stop for a couple minutes.
"So, I'm going to take patents away... companies that do that," Booker continued. "You're going to lose your patent. You cannot charge different prices. I'm going to use Medicare to negotiate down drugs."
Booker said competitor nations are lowering the cost of college education to grow the economy.
"We are going in the dramatically opposite direction," he said. "We used to be the number one country on the planet Earth with a percentage of our population as college graduates. We're not there anymore."
He said he supports debt-free college.
He said people going into public service, such as teachers, speech pathologists, public defenders, should have their loans forgiven. And he will lower the student loan interest rate.
"If we are going to have diversity in America, diversity is strength," Booker, who went to Yale Law School, said. "I can show you. Where's that person with the Harvard hat?"
A woman in a dark red Harvard hat raised her hand.
"Why you doing that to me?" Booker smiled. "Harvard. It's the Stanford of the East." The crowd laughed.
"Harvard Business School studies will show you that diversity make better teams," he said. "When I got to the United States Senate, it was the least diverse place I've ever been."
He went on to say that a majority of black educators, doctors, scientists are taught at historically black colleges and universities, and in order to continue growing the nation's diversity, HBCUs need better support.
"I came out with one of these things to say we are not going to be able to deal with the diversity issues if we are short changing HBCUs," Booker said. "And so, I have the boldest plan to making sure these schools that are struggling to make ends meet actually have the resources to continue to have the great pipelines that are going to have to help to diversify the ranks."
'US IS HOW WE MADE CHANGE'
At the end of his event, Booker again sat on the edge of the wobbly white stool.
"You're never going to hear this from a presidential candidate," he said. "But I'm putting a warning label on my presidency already. If you make me your president, I'm going to ask more from you than any president has ever asked from you in your lifetime."
The crowd of quiet.
"Why?" he said. "Because that's how things get done in America. Change doesn't come from Washington."
He said change comes to Washington. People in the crowd stood and clapped.
"In 1920, it wasn't a bunch of men on the Senate floor that said, 'Hey, fellas let's get together. You know what? It's time to give those women the right to vote. Let's do it. Ready? Break.'"
The crowd laughed.
"This isn't about who has a better 15-point policy plan," Booker continued. "This is about who can excite and ignite folks to go out and vote. And that's why this story is important because it's going to be us that does it. Because us is how we made change in the past."
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