The Island welcomed former Kentucky representative and first-time Vineyard visitor Charles Booker during his visit with Democratic supporters on Friday. The visit follows his recent primary election win — the first step in his hopes to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, in November’s U.S. Senate race.
Island author Tom Dresser held the small gathering at his Oak Bluffs residence — part fundraiser, part meet and greet — in order for Vineyard Democrats to familiarize themselves with Booker, and lend political support.
Booker, who has been traveling the country with his campaign manager Bianca Keaton, made Martha’s Vineyard a stop on his campaign trail in hopes of building alliances and securing partnerships with nationwide Democratic supporters. Already with 20,000 volunteers, Booker is strategically enacting a “relational organizing” model of campaigning — highlighting the importance of listening to constituents and finding commonalities among people from both ends of the political spectrum.
Born and raised in Louisville, Ky., Booker served in the Kentucky House of Representatives until 2021, and has seen much success in his efforts to mobilize Kentuckians and supporters from other states in order to secure the U.S. Senate seat.
The father of three is a fiercely loyal Kentuckian who also knows that many of the issues seen in his state are systemic, national issues. “This is about our country and the idea that justice and democracy can mean something to my girls,” he said, and “that I’m leaving something behind for them, where they can dream big, [and even] surpass their dreams.”
Demographically, Kentucky is a predominantly white state, in addition to being one of the most impoverished states in the country, explained Booker. With “pockets” of urban areas — home to minority communities who have experienced multigenerational disenfranchisement at the hands of a historically white, conservative leadership — Booker described his hometown as “a bubble within a bubble” of Kentucky. “I just feel a personal conviction to shine a light on what’s really possible,” he said of his Senate campaign.
On issues that can be seen throughout the country, such as the current attack on reproductive rights, access to affordable healthcare, job security, and sustainable infrastructure, Booker said he works to “leverage people power” — engaging those who may have lost hope in the political system. “Democracy is supposed to account for all of us,” he said.
“I’m running against hate in a very clear way,” he said. As a person of color with a community-oriented political platform, Booker described himself as being a “powerful contrast from Senator Rand Paul.” Understanding the gravity of his position in the current sociopolitical climate, he said, “This race, to me, will decide the fate of democracy.”
In a door-to-door, boots-on-the-ground campaign, Booker made house calls. He described a visit to a woman living in a rural community in his home state, and the unease of walking up to a Confederate flag waving outside her front door. Undeterred by what could be considered a dangerous interaction, Booker managed to find commonalities with the woman, eventually realizing that with just a little empathy and active listening, the issues raised by the rural woman were not at all dissimilar to those he’s heard from people of color in the metropolitan area.
Booker noted that in the short duration of his Island visit, he’s become aware of some of the issues plaguing the Vineyard community, acknowledging the housing crisis, and other issues that “fly under the radar.” It’s not that different in Kentucky, he said.
What Booker calls an “unlikely coalition” among differing Kentuckians in efforts to level up a grassroots campaign is also what he’s searching for here. “Building allies,” networking, establishing relationships with supporters from other states, near and far, is essential to the overall effort to promote a healthy, working democracy, he said. “In the end, it’s not about voting for Charles Booker,” he said. “It’s about voting for yourself.”
Booker’s visit was met with an enthusiastic willingness to help promote progressive ideals. Carla Cooper of Indivisible Martha’s Vineyard, an advocate of helping fellow Americans “flip Senate seats,” in order to secure civil, human rights to all, expressed her commitment to spreading the word of Booker’s campaign — indicating the importance of interstate relationships.
Given the focus on the midterm elections, Booker’s visit is probably not the last by an out-of-state candidate to the Island.