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Vol. LXII, No. 41
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
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Mayor Booker Urges a Move “Beyond Tolerance to Love”

Dilshanie Perera

Weaving together history, memory, and biography, Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker spoke about “The Future: Humble Hopes and Insane Idealism” to a packed house at McCosh 50 last Friday evening. The address was the conclusion of Mr. Booker’s three-day Toni Morrison lecture series sponsored by the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University.

A sense of urgency and deep conviction pervaded Mr. Booker’s lecture, as he exhorted those present to replace tired political refrains and realities with real imagination and vision. But even beyond that, his is a profoundly idealistic politics and world view, based on empathy, love, and an unshakable belief in people.

It is this kind of unswerving idealism that brought Mr. Booker, the son of two civil rights activists (who were in the audience that evening) to Newark while he was in law school at Yale, to experience a different kind of intellectual and political coming of age. He later became involved in the City Council, and was elected to be mayor in 2006 at age 37.

As for “humble hopes,” they include things like “turning schools into cathedrals of learning that can open doorways into imagination and dreams,” “having jobs that are dignified, and have meaning, and make a contribution,” “housing that is good,” and “a safety net if we get sick.”

Mr. Booker described working at a crisis hotline while attending Stanford University as a formative experience. Being able to “see people in their darkest moments,” and to “see the strength of the human spirit,” he was able to understand “how we as people have the same worries and fears, hopes and dreams.”

“People who have the ability to see small things, and the power in momentary exchanges” are “changing the world in the most humble of ways,” said Mr. Booker, adding, “this is the spirit of our country.”

What is crucial for realizing such humble hopes is to “see the world unapologetically as it is, but still imagine what it could be.”

Mayor Booker spoke about opening up spaces for dialogue in Newark in ways that ranged from getting kids’ input about gun control legislation, to partnering with various organizations and donors to transform a number of parks from the potentially dangerous areas they were into safe community meeting spaces. “I have a lot of confidence in cities,” he said.

Mr. Booker envisioned a move toward a green economy, a drastic improvement in education (from discrete “islands of excellence to hemispheres of hope for global greatness”), prevailing wage laws, and more.

As he described his last exchange with his grandfather, who harbored a powerful love that spanned generations, Mr. Booker’s voice cracked with emotion. He said that it is a kind of transcendent love we need to utilize to conduct a better politics, but also to make the world into a place in which we would want to live.

“Don’t ignore or obscure the suffering of others, but see their worth and their value,” Mr. Booker urged, saying that to do so we need to “move beyond tolerance to love,” both psychologically and discursively.

“The problem is, so many people have stopped dreaming,” said Mr. Booker, quoting Emerson: “If we see no angels, it is because we harbor none.”

As the cessation of dreaming breeds cynicism and tired policies and practice, Mr. Booker advocates an “insane idealism.” “Don Quixote is the best example of management in our country,” he said, because “he saw things that weren’t there, and he made others see them too; he was a profound idealist.”

In an impassioned closing, Mr. Booker dared the audience to bring a transformative and powerful love, a courageous love, to their interactions, because it is in this way that change may occur.

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