It began as a girlhood crush. Fall quarter of my freshman year, my Urban Politics class watched Street Fight, which documented the 2002 Newark, N.J. mayoral race between incumbent Sharpe James and a young, hopeful politician named Cory Booker. Although Booker lost, his passion stole my heart. The obvious next step in our one-sided relationship was to obsessively follow his Twitter, which he operates himself. This was a defining moment. It was the moment I first began to see the actively working, human side of a politician.
When I heard last spring that Booker was coming to campus in an event presented by College Democrats, I freaked out. Not because of any party affiliation, but because my love for politics stems from my love of people working hard for other people, and I see that in Cory Booker. I see it in his Twitter, where he devoutly responds to complaints his constituents tweet at him.
Tuesday night came, and I sat in Cahn Auditorium, anxious to hear the mayor who had saved a woman from a burning building, shoveled his citizens out of their snowed-in homes and lowered Newark's murder rate by 36 percent. Booker came out earlier than expected and surprised the audience, jumping from the stage to the main floor and asking, "Who tweeted at me tonight?" With that, I knew that the man I was about to hear speak was the same man whose online charisma had won me over. (For the record, I totally tweeted at him before the event and he totally followed me! I hyperventilated.)
Booker told stories throughout the night like you imagine a politician would – stories about his mother, his father and his life growing up. But they weren't the kind of heartwarming stories you are used to hearing, the kind that melt your heart like a hug between Barack and Michelle. They were raw stories. He recounted witnessing a shooting in Newark with his father, holding the victim as he died. He told the tale of "irrational people who showed irrational kindness" to his parents during trying times of racial injustice. He continually returned to the lesson he'd learned from his parents: "The biggest thing you can do any day is a small act of kindness."
Booker spoke to students on committing those small acts of kindness, taking personal responsibility, manifesting personal power and changing the world. While I certainly was inspired to accept his challenge of rising above "sedentary agitation," I was particularly tuned into his remarks about his Twitter. This was, after all, the sphere where he had first caught my eye. Cities had been abused with mainly negative press by an oligarchic media, Booker said, and he found a way to address that issue through Twitter.
"I flipped the way that mayors control the media for the cities," Booker said. With this statement, Booker exemplified everything I love about the power of individual politicians who refuse to accept the status quo. Booker takes on challenges as he sees them. He favors idealism over sanity. He works online and on foot to get the job done.
This is what I have come to admire about Cory Booker – he is the same no matter what medium he comes in.