Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) christened SXSW Interactive on Friday with an optimistic, professorial speech on the state of the American dream. Whereas Obama used this occasion last year to call for more collaboration between Silicon Valley and the government, Booker was here to talk Trump.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard, we have a new president,” Booker told the techie audience gathered in Austin, Texas. The popular Democrat many have touted as a future presidential contender focused his hourlong address on social injustices, drilling down on items like civic participation, police brutality, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“I am hurting. I feel a sense of pain about my country,” Booker said, before arguing that Sessions was “speaking against us” with respect to the attorney general’s stances on mandatory minimum sentences, private prisons, and police accountability. Booker also critiqued Trump for “demeaning and degrading” Americans: “I was shaken that someone like that could continue to be elevated,” Booker said.
Pivoting to tech, Booker unpacked social media and fake news. “I am not a lover of the separations that are becoming easier and more convenient where we can create our own virtual bubble… It’s becoming even easier for us to have confirmation bias,” Booker said. “Not seeing each other creates a very dangerous reality.” He called social media a “neutral platform,” and urged “activists and artists” to use it as a “tool for re-stitching our society.” He added that a recent video he posted to Facebook enjoyed more than a million views, and that social media is key “for African-Americans not to feel alone in this society.”
And yet, the whole bubble thing. “I’m happy that folk are getting woke,” Booker said playfully, but implored young people to actively volunteer locally, and then post about their trip to the soup kitchen. Making his second appearance at SXSW since 2013, Booker also fielded questions about a possible White House run in 2020.
“I’m running from the president, I’m not running for president,” he said, before criticizing fellow senators who put future government promotions over service. “I don’t know what the future holds, but at this time in American history, I want to be a fearsome truth teller.”