U.S Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) provided an inspiring address to the Forum attendees about following the example of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things” to achieve social justice. Mr. Booker spoke movingly of his experiences with strong community leaders like Virginia Jones and Frank Hutchins from the Brick Towers community in Newark, NJ, and the lessons they taught him about resilience, hope, leadership, and action. “I’m standing here,” he said, “only because of community activists” like Ms. Jones and Mr. Hutchins. They taught Mr. Booker, he said, the importance of two powerful phrases: “I see you. I love you.”
Mr. Booker spoke passionately of the “urgency of this moment” when so many people struggle to afford a place to call home. “Hope,” he said, “is the active conviction that despair will never have the last word.” He said history has shown us that every right and privilege we have in this country came from activists demanding them, fighting for them, not from political leaders. “We’ve got to force this country to look in the mirror,” he continued. “It falls on us to wake this country up!”
The senator said that people with means do not understand “how expensive it is to be poor” in America, the cost of an eviction, of healthcare for the uninsured, of losing a job when one cannot get to work when the car breaks down. And an affordable home is essential. We can and must provide affordable homes for those “who have done nothing wrong but are homeless,” he said. And he emphatically argued that our country has the resources to address the affordable housing challenge. He reflected on what America spends on “one bomb, one [military] jet” and the recent “tax breaks [given] to the wealthiest among us.” What we have is “a poverty of compassion, of empathy.” But beyond compassion and empathy, he said, “it is not economically sensible” to disinvest in our lowest income people and communities because such investments benefit everyone and make America and our communities stronger. He cited as an example Matthew Desmond’s research showing that investments in eviction services save money, and he noted that our prisons are a grossly inefficient and “a most expensive housing program.”
Mr. Booker urged the crowd to speak out, take action, and demand change. “The power of the people is always greater than the people in power,” he exhorted.