On Friday, February 3, 2017, U.S. Senator Cory Booker joined students at Kean University for pizza and a discussion regarding the issues currently facing America.
Booker requested to visit the university and hosted a student leader town hall open forum meeting in the William F. Loehning Conference Center, on the sixth floor of the Green Lane Academic Building (GLAB), from 5 p.m. to 7:15 p.m.
Students were asked to register online to reserve a spot as space was limited. The event was announced with short notice, yet several student leaders attended the forum. Many students attended and participated in the discussion, and Booker welcomed the diversity of the Kean community.
"I feel that we, as a nation, have to be far more engaged in fighting back a lot of things that are happening," Booker said. "But, I'm here because of the value that I have for our universities in the state of New Jersey."
"I've been hearing from a lot of people from college campuses about a lot of the things that are going on. So, that's why I'm here, to have that kind of conversation," Booker said. "But, I'm also here to be frank with you and I want to have a very honest dialogue because, as much as I hope people here push me on these issues, I'm here to push you as well."
After sharing his motive for coming to Kean University, he opened up the forum to the audience. Booker asked what the students would want him to do as New Jersey state senator.
"When I look at our assessment of history and causes for social justice, whether it's uprising in Soweto, the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square or the democracy in Eastern Europe, young people of your age have been the center of those movements," Booker informed. "And it hasn't been elected leaders--it has been young folks."
A student from the audience asked the first question, leading the forum to a long discussion regarding today's generation.
"I feel that the [Democratic National Committee (DNC)] treated Bernie Sanders pretty unjustly...what is the DNC doing to reconnect with [the] base that they lost...people like Trump are coming in and swooping up and saying, 'I have the answers to your problems, and I can put [blue-collar workers] back to work where the DNC has failed you'?"
Booker answered, "I just want to be blunt with you: I'm not a voter in the DNC. I may be a United States senator and a democrat, but the best thing I can say to you is that there's ways to get into the DNC. There has to be change from the inside, and that's why when I heard of the term 'demexit'...There's no more presidential elections for four more years. What would you like me to do now to help heal the Democratic Party and, maybe, you can tell me also what are you going to do?"
"First, I think to support representative Ellison for the DNC chair. Come and support him like Bernie has. I think that's a good start," the student responded. "I also think that we need to start finding the roots of the Democratic Party and reconnect [with] blue collar workers. I feel a lot of people think that the Democratic Party has only been the party of Silicon Valley, and all of middle America that's been out of work hasn't been able to find good jobs since the eighties and nineties. They're hurting right now, and that's why a man like Trump is coming in and says, 'I can fix these issues,' because they feel that the Democratic Party has abandoned them'."
"Now I want to hear what you're going to do differently," Booker reminded.
"I'm out here trying to get people registered to vote, getting my generation, who are apathetic towards politics, to get involved because it does affect us," the student said. "We have a 20 percent voter turnout rate in my generation, we have an eight percent primary turnout rate. We're the most unrepresented demographic in our government."
"Regarding the DNC chair, I'm not that invested in the person because most of the people that are running it represent change agents, so there's like ten people running," said Booker. "One of my favorite speeches by Obama was spoken at Howard University. What really disturbed him was that plenty of millennials, your generation, maybe get up to 40% on a presidential election vote but, on a mid-term election, get up to maybe nine or 10 percent. In the 2014 election, we lost the senate. The republicans lost nine million votes in the presidential election of 2012 and the midterm election. Democrats lost 40 million votes. People said that 2014 was this 'red wave' that took over the country, but that's just not true. People are just not coming out and voting."
Throughout the open forum discussion, Booker kept reminding the students that it is crucial for them to vote.
"You can keep using the term 'blue collar', but to me it's what people say when they're afraid to say 'poor'...People in New Jersey working full-time jobs, are still living in poverty...I hear you about the blue collared workers in the factories, but what we don't understand, physically, is that we are all in this together," Booker said. "I'm not going to register all of you to vote and get in trouble for it, but I'm saying why can't we raise 20 percent of millennials to vote to 50 percent?...Think about it, what have we done as millennials?"
Booker presented the audience with statistics on New Jersey and how the state can improve with the current generation leading them. Another student from the audience brought up a question about anti-bullying laws and protection, specifically towards minorities, caused from the anxiety following the presidential election.
"Forty percent of our nation is gay and/or lesbian...Most of our states can fire and/or discriminate against those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community...Most of our hate crimes are towards [the] LGBTQ+ community," Booker said. "Not only those from that community are in fear, but even those who are Muslim feel fear. As U.S. Senator, I absolutely do not accept any hate crimes towards any group. There should be protection toward Muslims, and I am ready to fight against those who are against Muslims or are basing off of religion."
After the open-forum, many students felt relieved from both expressing their concerns and being reassured that they are not alone. Before wrapping up the open forum, the audience formed two groups to take photos with Booker. After the pictures were taken, some students went off to the side to form their own social reform group to make a change and grasp their roots.
Before leaving, Booker reminded the audience to "be activists, not re-activists."