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Senator Cory Booker

United States Senator, New Jersey

I hold a distinction that is, at once, humbling and disturbing: I’m the fourth popularly elected Black senator in U.S. history and one of just 12 African Americans to have served in the Senate.

 Many others have been worthy of joining this body over its 235 years of existence, but the doors of opportunity remained closed to generations of Black Americans. The same has been true across American life, from education and employment to housing and healthcare.

 Each generation has had to work to make America more equal and just—to bring us closer to realizing our founding ideals. This year, as we mark 60 years since the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, that is the work we must recommit ourselves to. 

 The Civil Rights Act wasn’t inevitable. Neither was the Voting Rights Act, which passed the following year and marked the first time, as the author Isabel Wilkerson says, that the United States lived up to being a democracy. Like all progress, these laws came only after great struggle, courageous activism, and calls to the conscience of our nation. “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” Frederick Douglass said. “It never did, and it never will.”

 The quest for liberty and justice for all is far from over, and we have to start by confronting our nation’s wretched history. The injustices of the past and present cannot become the injustices of the future. I have introduced legislation in the Senate, S.40, to create a commission that would consider proposals for reparations for African American descendants of slavery. I have also introduced bipartisan legislation to designate the site of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre as a national monument because even the darkest chapters of American history deserve to be told so we can sow seeds of resilience and hope even in fields of pain and injustice. 

 Our generation must summon the echoes of our ancestors as we build on their fight and progress. We continue to fight for a criminal justice system that treats everyone equally regardless of the color of their skin. We fight for equal access to the polls for every American. We fight for higher wages, quality public schools, affordable healthcare and housing, and safer communities. As artificial intelligence increasingly becomes a part of our everyday lives, we fight for technological progress that does not deny Black people or anyone else equal access to housing, credit, education, and healthcare. 

Finally, we have to fight for our Democracy. Our constitutional system, a daring experiment created by imperfect geniuses, is under assault by the forces that violently stormed our Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. These are the same forces of demagoguery, white nationalism, and domestic extremism that have existed from our republic’s founding and threaten to take us back to the past.

 When future generations look back on our time, just as we look back on the Civil Rights era 60 years ago, what will they say? Will they say we went back on civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights? Or will they say we made our Democracy stronger and truer, and we let justice flow down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream?

We are more powerful than we often realize. Each of us is an agent of hope—as long as we remember that progress only happens when we fight for it, struggle for it, and work for it time and again. We are a country whose power lies with the people. Real power in this country doesn’t have a title or an office. It doesn’t reside in Washington, D.C. In our Democracy, the power of the people is always greater than the people in power, and we, the people, get to write our next chapter.

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