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Friday, March 28, 2008

Cory Booker - Watch This Space

Tired of watching the punditocracy rail back and forth from the extremes over the inspirational or hollow symbolism (depending on your view) of the Obama speech or (worse) the meaning of the meaning of someone's interpretation of the speech? Do yourself a favor. Watch the appearance of Newark, New Jersey Major Cory Booker on the March 28 edition of Bill Moyers' Journal:


Actually, watch the entire show. It includes an interview with Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris, who helped draft the Kerner Commission Report, issued in March 1968, which reviewed the specific events around the inner city riots of the mid-1960s and the larger economic and racial factors of the times. Harris recounts how surprised many were at the time that the commission found no evidence of any organized, pre-planned conspiracy to initiate the looting, arson and destruction that took place. It wasn't due to large numbers of individual whites having the thought in their head that "I do not like that one black person or all black people."

Instead, it reflected a society that failed to address inequalities in education, which produced growing inequality in income. These factors were exacerbated by sudden fluctuations in manufacturing jobs that suddenly abandoned many American core cities which resulted in a common blueprint of problems: highly concentrated poverty, poor urban schools, high unemployment, stark racial segregation and police forces which lived elsewhere and patrolled inner cities as a day job rather than as a core community function.

The show fast-forwards to today for an extensive interview with Cory Booker and his take on the challenges he faces in Newark where some of the effects of its riots are still apparent 40+ years later. Booker talks about how even now, seemingly subtle differences in the resources available to the average inner city child versus the average suburbanite child get magnified for the worse by the broken processes of our public systems. He compares the likely result of a arrest for marijuana possession on a typical suburban teenager (parent brings a lawyer, sentence suspended in lieu of an early drug intervention program, three weeks of missed school...) versus an inner city teen (single parent, likely no money for lawyer, kid might actually go to juvenile court or jail, no money for health insurance so no coverage for drug rehab, might spent a year in prison, miss LOTS of school...) and you can see how a "minor difference" quickly produces a vast difference in outcome. It's the same original offense yet the outcome for one is not only vastly worse for that teen in particular but all of us. None of us "want" that or actively work to structure the system that produces the broken result, but by not taking the time to understand that it happens and understand how the system can be changed to stop it, it continues to happen to our collective detriment.

The interview with Booker is worth it for this comment alone:

That's the final question people should ask. What am I doing to deserve this country? I'm an American. That comes with obligations. We have the Statue of Liberty on one side. I think we should build another statue in this country called the Statue of Obligation, the Statue of Responsibility. And people should understand that by the very nature people are fighting to become citizens of the United States of America, willing to do whatever it takes, but, we're taking for granted what that legacy means.

How impressive is this interview? It's a more entertaining, engaging, positive, and CONCRETE discussion of problems and problem-solving than I've heard from ANY politician. PERIOD.

America -- THIS is the kind of problem solving and communication we need. In EVERY aspect of our government and society. Watch this space. We'll be hearing a lot more from Cory Booker. Hopefully...

If you'd rather read the transcript than watch it, the transcript is also available here: