Meet the Press   |  August 25, 2013

Booker: 'The power of the people is greater than the people in power'

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who's in the race to become the first African-American senator from New Jersey, examines the evolution of the civil rights movement in America.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> the truth of the matter is that the dream still demands that the moral conscience of our country still calls us, that hope still needs heroes. we need to understand that there is still work to do.

>> that was newark mayor and u.s. senate candidate cory booker speaking yesterday in front of the lincoln memorial . he joins me now. mr. mayor, welcome.

>> thank you very much. good to be back.

>> good to have you back. we're talking about the legacy of the i have a dream speech and dr. king's dream. here you are, trying to become the first african-american senator from new jersey. there's one other african-american senator in the united states senate , one african-american governor, deval patrick in massachusetts, african- american president , and attorney general. so much progress but still uneven when it comes to elected office. do you think that's how dr. king saw the dream playing out 50 years later?

>> well, i think these positions are important, but what drove the march, my mom was involved, what drove the march was not simply propelling people to elected office. it was dealing with the larger issues of inequality, not only racial inequality but frankly the challenge we faced in our nation then and now on the dramatic differences between rich and poor and the challenges we had then in america and still have now with poverty.

>> you know, it's interesting, john lewis just said it, al sharpton has said it, they always make a distinction when they say, look, the president's the president. what dr. king harnessed was the power of the grassroots, the power of people coming together saying this is worth fighting for, this is worth being an activist for. as a newer generation of leader, you have despaired a bit about the younger generation. you told this to "the huffington post " a couple of years ago. "i'm still frustrated when i see how difficult it is to get people to take relatively simple steps prove on the make a difference, not to take a freedom ride or march against club and gas wielding and state troupers but to take small increased steps of service that, along with others doing the same, could make a significant difference." a lack of activism and polarized politics. a wicked combination.

>> it is. something clearly i learned from a generation that came before me in the civil rights movement that the power of the people is greater than the people in power. the challenge i often see in america now is we get caught in these -- this idea that democracy is a spectator sport , that you can sit on your couch, root for your team red or blue, but not realize politics is a full contact, participatory endeavor, and that we as a people can never allow our inability to do everything, solving poverty, to undermine our determinations to do something. i'm a child of a generation that said i'm going to do something to make this world a better place.

>> it is interesting. you talk about the income inequality as the lasting legacy of a dream unfulfilled. you're the mayor of newark . unemployment there is over 13%. it's endemic in a lot of our cities we have that kind of failure. and a lot of critics will say a lot of democratic leadership there. these are really hard things. why have you not been able to make more progress in this particular area?

>> this goes back to your point about partson politics. politics is a zero-sum game. love multiples and hate divides. we have too much division in our politics. when people come together, you make remarkable results. chris christie and i disagree on most things but if we sat back in a relative partisan position we wouldn't have gotten together. the fact we have come together has created the largest economic development period in newark in over generation. we are 3% of the state's population but a third of economic development in new jersey is going on. another great point about this is the manhattan institute , a think tank , i have lots of disdegree. s with their leadership but we said one of the biggest problems in america is mass incarceration, one of the most expensive governments, has gone out of control and it fails. it releases people and the matt majority come back. we've found ways to reduce recidivism. that's the challenge we have.

>> take it to washington. if you're a senator, how would you forge compromise in modern-day washington over this tension of spending restraint and necessary improvements to lessen inequality?

>> this is the challenge we have to get back to in america . we want to forget the partisanship and go to a balance sheet of analysis in our country. social mobility , the ability for people to leave their social station in life, is actually getting worse in this country. we're falling behind our peer nations, and we're paying the price of it. you want to stop government costs. ear paying for failure. you think education is expensive. the costs of ignorance is unbelievable, prison costs, health care costs. we need to see more people understanding strategic investments in our country's greatest natural resource , which is the genius of our children, produces incredible productivity.

>> but it's still not working.

>> because we're stuck in that anti -- king stance where, again, hate divides. i think we're in a zero-sum game, if your side wins, my side ludeses. when we saw a spirit in this country that needs to be rekindled, forget about right/left. we need to figure out ways to go forward. i believe that american people need to start demanding in this from their politicians again, not people who can stake out their partisan differences but people who can stake out points that can unite people and move us