Championing Democracy from the Hood to the Holler (with Charles Booker)

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Julián and guest co-host Maya Rupert speculate on Twitter’s future now that Elon Musk has officially bought the social media giant. They also dive into Trump’s new legal troubles and President Biden’s commitment to financially assist Ukraine in its ongoing fight against Russia. The two then welcome US senatorial candidate Charles Booker of Kentucky to talk about his exciting campaign and his newly-released memoir: From the Hood to the Holler.

Follow Charles online at @Booker4KY and Maya at @MayaRupert.

Keep up with Julián on Twitter at @JulianCastro and Instagram at @JulianCastroTX. Sawyer can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @SawyerHackett. And stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.

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Charles Booker, Julian Castro, Maya Rupert

Julian Castro  00:13

Hey there. I’m Julian Castro.

Maya Rupert 

And I’m Maya Rupert.

Julian Castro 

And welcome to OUR AMERICA. I’m really excited today to have my former campaign manager, Maya Rupert. Y’all know her because this is not the first time that she’s guest co-hosted this show. In fact, Maya you were here a couple of weeks ago, I was totally out sick. Yeah, really a lifesaver. You and Sawyer did a great show.

Maya Rupert 

We had a lot of fun with it. So I’m thrilled to be subbing in for him this time.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, well, thanks so much for filling in. Before we get started Lemonada Media the network behind our show is excited to share its newest project with you. BEING is reality TV for your ears. It’s an innovative audio format, like no other podcast you’ve ever heard. This season, it’s BEING: TRANS. Meet Chloe, Jeffery, Mariana, and Psy, so like over the course of six episodes, you’ll get to be a fly on the wall for their most intimate conversations and unscripted raw moments. You’ll ride alongside them as they handle health, family relationships, love lives, friendship, professional careers, and everything else that comes with living life as a transgender person in Los Angeles. With this podcast, you’ll also getting unique insights and an empathetic understanding of their personal experiences, which I think is so important and especially these days with everything that’s going on around the country, BEING: TRANS premieres April 28, wherever you get your podcast. Now, this week on our show, we’re talking about Trump’s new legal woes and his former Chief of Staff’s explosive text messages. We also unpack President Biden’s latest commitment to Ukraine following a historic diplomatic visit by two top cabinet officials. We’ll also be joined by us senatorial candidate Charles Booker of Kentucky to talk about his exciting campaign and his new book, called from the hood to the holler, a story of separate worlds shared dreams and the fight for America’s future. First, we have to talk about the news that’s breaking that Elon Musk has actually purchased Twitter. What is the world coming to? And what is Twitter gonna look like with Elon Musk as the CEO, as the head of it, I assume he’s not gonna be the CEO. He’s gonna, but he’s the majority owner now.

Maya Rupert  02:38

It’s kind of terrifying. I think what it does is illustrates for us how challenging it is to live in a world where social media platforms have the power that they have, because at the end of the day, they’re corporations, and they can be owned by someone. And that person becomes a majority shareholder and has decision making control that is going to vastly impact our ability to build communities, the way we do our politics, the way journalism happens. It has such far reaching implications. And that’s a lot of power for a corporation to have.

Julian Castro

Yeah, I mean, no doubt. I mean, many people have pointed out, basically, Twitter is like the 21st century public town forum. It’s a place where people exchange ideas, some good, some dumb, some bad. It’s also the place where a lot of people in the traditional media get their leads, or their story ideas or get a sense of what is quote unquote, important to talk about. And so it influences so much of our popular culture, our political culture, that’s a lot of power. And now it’s going to be in the hands of a guy who says he’s all about free speech, but also in Mehdi Hassan did a great rundown of this has actually a track record of trying to shut down people within his company, and outside of it, that disagree with him.

Maya Rupert  04:07

Right. And I think this is exactly the I mean, this is the challenge, right? What if the sort of our old school notion of the town square could be purchased, and the new person who owns and controls it gets to set the rules and those rules? I mean, right. He’s, been talking so much about free speech, but right, I think that is belied by his previous record with shutting down, you know, union organizing, so many types of speech. And then I think there’s also the concern that a lot of times, especially when we’re talking about online spaces, this idea of unfettered free speech, people have this concept of how it can work online that is very different by how then how it looks in real life. And sometimes what we can see is speech that starts looking like action speech that is threatening speech that is going to lead to violence, not getting treated the way it would sort of in real life under the heading of but I need to protect free speech. So I think that’s another sort of challenging thing about what he is threatened, promised about what Twitter will become under new leadership.

Julian Castro 

And one of the first questions he’s gonna have to deal with, when he takes over is, are you going to let Donald Trump back on Twitter? And, you know, if you’re all about free speech and letting somebody say what they want to say, with I imagined very, very limited exceptions, then do you allow the former president to have all of those 10s of millions of followers back with that account? I mean, what do you think he does with that?

Maya Rupert

I mean, I think everything he sort of indicated both from, you know, to the extent that he is throwing out an actual philosophy, he’s going to try to sort of govern by with this idea of, you know, he wants, he wants robust free speech. And also, truthfully, just someone who seems most interested in getting attention, I predict that the move he makes will be to reinstate Donald Trump. And I think that that will be signaling something to people about when he says free speech, he could mean, even where that speech is doing something like inciting a coup, you know, or deliberately spreading known misinformation. And so I think it will be really telling what he decides to do there. But I think there will be other signals about what kind of a space he’s going to be trying to create. With Twitter.

Julian Castro  06:35

You know, when you’re in the position of Elon Musk, although neither one of us is in his position, He’s the richest person in the world where that’s true. You may be one of those, like, when you die a few years from now, many, many years from now you leave like $200 billion to somewhere. But assuming that’s not the case. But when you’re in his position, or any of these CEOs, you’re in a very privileged position in society. And I’ve always felt like folks who are in the I’m in a privileged media, you know, I mean, but folks who are in a privileged position, when it comes to recognizing the damage, that some of what is said on Twitter, put forward, some of what is done out there, to our democracy, the effect that that has, especially on vulnerable people, you have to go above and beyond your own experience, to try and understand that and try and make corporate policy in this case, that reflects that. And I understand sticking by a principle, free speech, and so forth. But there’s no single right even in the Constitution, that is totally unfettered, that is 100%, and much less so when you’re dealing with corporate policy. Usually, corporate policies are very, very, they’re very, very pro corporation, slanted toward the corporation. And they’re also much more restrictive than what you would find under the Constitution. I mean, companies get away with muzzling employees about a whole bunch of stuff from non-compete agreements, to, you know, restrictions in the workplace and so forth. What I feel is like, Elon Musk doesn’t get that he’s in a position of privilege, he hasn’t felt the sting of being in a very vulnerable position, like a lot of Americans are. And it’s almost like it’s playland for him by this, this influential huge company that’s now the town square and do what you want with it and call it the haven for free speech. But there’s doesn’t seem to be nuance there, and a recognition that, hey, you know, people are getting hurt sometimes by what happens through this medium. And I hope that he develops that, you know, assuming that he takes it over, and now he’s going to be the one in charge ultimately, of helping to craft those policies. Because there’s a big difference between saying your first free speech, and actually in a nuanced way, figuring out what should be allowed and what shouldn’t be allowed on Twitter or any of the other social media platforms when it comes to threats. When it comes to misinformation, intentional disinformation, the kinds of things that have had, like you said, real consequences, like January 6th, and also oftentimes end up hurting the most vulnerable people. Elon Musk needs to do a better job of realizing that, I think.

Maya Rupert 

Obviously, sort of depending on what it comes, but what it becomes, but I really hope that communities don’t sort of immediately leave Twitter. My plan is not to you know, I’ve seen all day people sort of threatening and saying they’ll go to different platforms, and I’ll say this, I think there are a lot of communities that have organized themselves. have you on Twitter, there are a lot of voices that have been able to be elevated on Twitter that have not I haven’t seen elevated elsewhere, right? I’ve seen sort of communities come together and people being able to influence the trajectory of some of our, our national conversations because of the Organizing power that I’ve seen on Twitter and especially for vulnerable communities. A lot of people who can’t necessarily assume that if we just go to another platform, they’re going to be able to sort of occupy the same space that they have built and worked hard and really sort of cultivated themselves as you know, sort of being able to put some of these issues forward. I don’t want to lose that. And I My hope is that we will sort of jealously protect those communities, those voices, and make sure that billionaires bullies, whoever wants to threaten a conversation that I think people have put a lot of time and energy into building does not just sort of disappear overnight. So that is my fervent hope I’m with you. I hope he gets a better sense of this. And I hope that that we as a community online, see what this becomes because I just don’t want to lose all of the incredible social people capital that’s been dealt.

Julian Castro

Well. Speaking of folks with an ego. Just today, the former President Donald Trump was held in contempt, civil contempt of court by a New York judge. In the case, in which the New York Attorney General Letitia James is pressing the Trump Organization, potentially bringing claims against the Trump Organization. But in this motion, they were pressing the Trump Organization for documents, more documents, and the judge ruled that Trump was in contempt because they have not produced the documents that were subpoenaed by the New York Attorney General Letitia James. This felt like a breath of fresh air to me, a little bit of accountability for Donald Trump. I mean, doesn’t this guy always seem to escape accountability?

Maya Rupert  12:07

He really does. And what’s so telling and what’s so frustrating is that when I first heard that, I assumed I’d miss read, because I, I thought it was so unlikely that he was actually going to be held in contempt that there was going to be any measure of accountability. It was I have to go back and read it a couple of times to understand that oh, wait, no, this is actually, he didn’t do what he is supposed to do. And we’re treating him like we would treat any other citizen in this exact same situation.

Julian Castro 

Yeah. I mean, that’s it right? Like are everybody keeps waiting for this guy to be treated like they would be treated if they did the same thing. And they went in front of a judge. I mean, it’s like he’s a man child that’s gotten to live with breaking the rules, doing his own thing, stretching, you know, testing the limits of courts, waiting plaintiffs out, basically burying them in litigation, you know, outspending them with huge, you know, legal bills, but he never gets held accountable. And this was the first guy to get impeached twice. And even then he ultimately did not get held accountable because he wasn’t convicted in the Senate. Either time. This judge has said that Trump is gonna get fined $10,000 a day until he comes out of contempt by producing the documents that have been requested. Now his lawyer said that they’re going to appeal and that they actually already did submit the documents that the New York General Attorney General is requesting. So you know, they’re gonna fight another day. And who knows, it’s possible that this thing may get overturned on appeal. But I hope that the accountability sticks, and that this is the first in a long line of accountability measures for Trump. I was just disappointed; you know what it said civil contempt and not criminal contempt.

Maya Rupert  14:06


Julian Castro 

This morning, there was also news out of the Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and defense secretary Lloyd Austin actually met with President Zelenskyy in Kyiv. And they of course, again, expressed the strong support of the United States for Ukraine and also pledged additional aid to help Ukraine in their effort against Russia. And by the way, I mean, we’ve said this before, it’s been pretty encouraging you think about the power difference between Russia and Ukraine and the fact that Vladimir Putin obviously thought this was going to be easier than it’s turned out to be. A lot of people did. But Ukrainians have fought back. I mean, they have resisted tremendously. Europe has put forward a lot of aid. The United States already has put forward a lot of aid and they made an announcement that the US would provide more than 713 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine, and 15 allied and partner countries. Biden a few days ago, at a press availability spoke to what he called the uniting for Ukraine program that’s going to expedite the US immigration process for Ukrainian refugees. He pledged to resettle 100,000 Ukrainian refugees in the US. And also, he said that he would nominate a new ambassador of the US to Ukraine, that slot has actually been vacant, since Trump pulled his ambassador from the Ukraine, you may remember the ambassador their, previous ambassador, but essentially turned into a witness against him, I think, in how he had tried to get Ukrainian president to do his dirty work and fraudulently investigate the Biden’s at the threat of withholding military aid. You know, what I get from this is that the United States has clearly recognized it needs to support Ukraine to a greater extent, militarily. Also, perhaps this is recognition that, hey, they’re doing better, perhaps than we thought they would do. And we see an opportunity here to really give Russia a push back and perhaps a Black guy to Putin and maybe discourage him from trying this thing again.

Maya Rupert  16:34

Right. It really, I mean, absolutely. It’s it really is astounding, how clearly Putin misread the situation. And I think that is an incredible testament to the Ukrainian people military. To the efforts there. And also, I think, to just an international community and sort of diplomacy efforts, that really, it’s one of those things, it’s difficult to talk about, because you sort of can’t argue in the counterfactual, right? Like you can’t see what how bad it could have been. But the efforts that went into this type of support, so many allies coming together, Finland and Sweden now submitting applications to NATO, this has been really a triumph, I think of a diplomacy effort that really took a very specific type of leader and international community. And it’s one of the moments I’ve been so grateful that Joe Biden is the president who is sort of leading us through this.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, I mean, this should be and I think it is a natural place for strong leadership, from President Biden, he understands these issues. From the time he was a senator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of course, Vice President and now as president was so much experience and knowledge of personal relationships with foreign leaders, including Vladimir Zelenskyy, and a sense of the world and you know, where we have been, where we are and where we ought to go and think you see that and how fairly decisive I think he’s been on these issues. There are a lot of folks who were saying they thought the US needed to invest more in the Ukrainian effort. And that’s what he’s doing now, with this pledge. Finally, President Biden is meeting with the Hispanic Caucus to talk about an issue that I know is near and dear to them, and also one of the most hot button issues in the country, which is the issue of immigration reform, and specifically title 42. Title 42, of course, being the public health order that the CDC put in place at the behest of Stephen Miller of the Trump administration, that from March of 2020, through now has meant that about 1.7 million potential applications for asylum. In other words, people coming in trying to come in to claim asylum have not been heard, because this does not allow for somebody to come in to the United States and claim asylum and have their claim adjudicated, Biden administration said they were going to get rid of this thing. Finally, on May 23, there’s been a lot of pushback among Republicans and even some Democrats, including some that are up for election like senators Mark Kelly, and a couple of others that are up this cycle, and then even some in the House of Representatives. I think the Biden administration has reached this point. To me, it seems like where maybe they’re equivocating. They’re trying to figure out what they’re really going to do or they’re going to lift title 42 on May 23. To me, it’s always been the right thing to do to withdraw the use of title 42. I don’t think it ever should have been put in place in the first place. There are more precise and effective ways to make sure that people all who come into the country don’t have COVID? I mean, starting with, like testing them, and vaccinations and quarantining, if somebody did see you don’t need this blanket, no entry law, essentially. But what do you make of the possibility that Biden could go back on his pledge to get rid of this thing on May 23?

Maya Rupert  20:24

I mean, I think that would be, that would just be a huge, huge mistake. This is I mean, I, I’ve been so grateful to hear you sort of talking about this over and over again, because I feel like this is one of the issues that if people had not been beating this drum would have been way too easy for people to sweep under the rug. This was never an immigration policy; this was put forward as a public health issue. The CDC is saying, there’s no reason for it, there is no reason for it. And the idea that this would be such a mistake, it would be a humanitarian mistake, it would undermine one of the strongest, I think, things that the Biden administration has done, and that is that they have been so adamant that they are going to listen to the CDC that they’re going to take recommendations. And this, you know, sort of going back on this would completely undermine that. It would it would be the wrong thing to do. You’re right. There are so many other ways, there are so many better ways of capturing the same issue that I am afraid I think that that would be a I think it would be the wrong thing to do. And I also think politically, it would not be a strategic move to make this would not be something that is going to benefit Democrats in the midterms. In the long term. I think it would be incredibly short sighted.

Julian Castro 

I agree with that. And, you know, we’ll have to see what comes of this meeting between Biden and the Hispanic Caucus, I would imagine he’s gonna get an earful. I know there are a lot of folks in the Hispanic Caucus who have wanted title 42 to be lifted for a while. There are also one or two members who have said they think it should be kept in place. So he will get an earful back and forth. But the vast majority of him I think, wanted to be lifted. And all of this within the context of this first two years is going to come to an end and no immigration reform. Not even anything for dreamers. That’s a big disappointment. I mean, there’s no way to square it, other than to say that people have been waiting a very, very long time. This is going to make it easier for Republicans and 22. And then 24, to run their little Facebook ads and their, you know, disinformation campaigns and tell folks, you see, these folks are just lying to you. They always promise immigration changes, you know, reform, but they never actually do it. Now, there are a whole bunch of reasons for that Republicans have been terrible on this issue. They’ve scapegoated immigrants, they have divided they’ve polarized based on the issue. They have very dirty hands on it. But they’re still going to make this disingenuous argument and unfortunately, with some people that works, so we’re going to have to, we’ll see what happens. What comes out of that meeting. Well, I’m excited for our interview today, we’re going to have one of the most dynamic up and coming senatorial candidates with us, Charles Booker, who’s running against Rand Paul in Kentucky, stay tuned.

Julian Castro 

Welcome back to OUR AMERICA. Charles Booker is a progressive candidate in the 2022 US Senate race in Kentucky. He first drew national attention after his previous run for the position during the 2020 Democratic primary. He also served in the Kentucky State House of Representatives from 2019 to 2021, at that time, becoming the state’s youngest black lawmaker during his term, and it is a pleasure to welcome him to the show. Charles, thank you for joining us. It’s exciting to have you and I know that you’re in the middle of a race. We’ll look forward to talking about all of that, especially because the stakes are so high in 2022. But first, I just want to ask you, if you can tell us a little bit about your journey. Your path, how’d you get here?

Charles Booker  24:27

Absolutely. And first of all, it’s good to be with you. Very honored and very grateful. My journey is really, it’s interesting if I didn’t know this story, because I lived it. It’d be hard to believe it. I stumbled into politics. I come from the west end of Louisville. Louisville is a hyper segregated city, one of the more segregated in the country and the West End is majority black and brown. All my family’s from the West End. And I would never say we were poor. We just didn’t have any money. Both my parents dropped out of high school. And there were times we didn’t have a place to stay. There were times my mom went without eating to feed me. And all of these things really lit a fire in me, honestly, it pissed me off because we’re hard-working people. Both my parents are actually ministers too. And so I knew we weren’t morally deficient. And going down this path of figuring out how do we change things, I’ve had cousins murdered the last six years, each year. And I’m just lit up with this fire of trying to make things better for my family, and my Commonwealth. And I found myself in the political arena, and having the chance to work at the local, state and federal level, and see how government could work for regular people really gave me the charge to be the voice to make it happen. And so running for US Senate really is a testament to just a regular guy, this pissed off and wanting to be a voice for change. And I’m inspired to be on this journey.

Maya Rupert

Beautiful. I wonder. And I don’t know if it would be sort of a single moment. But if you do you have something that you sort of cite as one of the that, that moment that was really influential for you, either making the decision to run or more than that, just the development of your theory of change.

Charles Booker  26:10

So the moment that really transformed my perspective on what leadership could look like or should look like, and gave me the sense of urgency is a story I wrote about in my book from the Hood to the Holler, which it was about my cousin TJ, my cousin TJ, was wrongly arrested. He was charged with a crime he didn’t commit, was kept in jail as a young person, because he didn’t have enough money for bail. He couldn’t get out. He lost his job almost lost rights to his son. And then he was part of what was called the misidentified four if you recall, the exonerated five, the misidentified four were here in Louisville, were for young black men that were charged with inciting a riot that they had nothing to do with and ended up getting a settlement from the city. Now, at that time, I was a staffer for everybody worked in Metro Council, I was the director of Fish and Wildlife, staff, the state legislature, so I’m in all these spaces. And when my cousin was murdered, because he got that settlement from the city and someone tried to rob him and they killed him. It really charged me with what are we doing? What am I going to do? And at the same time, I had a daughter coming into the world. And so I’m questioning how do I fight for her future in honor, my cousin TJ, and it really put me on this path to be an advocate. You know, it’s the trauma that urged me to take a stand. And so many Kentuckians can relate to that sense of hopelessness and frustration and pain. And they’re being inspired to stand with me too now. And it’s, it’s incredible to see it from the Hood to the Holler.

Julian Castro 

We’re excited about your book, as you mentioned, it’s coming out this week. I mean, what do you see as the message that you hope folks get out of it?

Charles Booker 

The message that I hope people will get in reading my memoir, from the hood to the holler is that in the forgotten places, in the areas that get written off the communities that get overlooked and demeaned and doubted, there is not only greatness and brilliance and potential, but that’s the power for real change. There’s the power to make democracy real there is the opportunity for us to heal as a country. And I tell this story as a young Black man who found myself in spaces where I was the only person that looked like me and came from where I came from, but walked out of the room with a whole lot of family, in rural communities in Appalachia and Western Kentucky, because our common bonds are so much greater than anything that divides us. And to be able to take that truth and put it on center stage and the 2020 election cycle against one of the most well-funded campaigns in history, and show that we can be big money when we go to communities and give people a vision that they can believe in and actually listen. It’s something that we need right now in this election cycle. And it’s how I’m going to win this race for Senate, in spite of a lot of the cynicism.

Maya Rupert  29:08

Now just so for some of us, not from Kentucky, can you give us a little you say from the hood to the holler what exactly does that mean?

Charles Booker 

Yes, I’m grateful for that question. I love it every time I get asked so. So you’re familiar with the hood, you know, and I represent the hood proudly. But the holler is where I take great pride and I was actually in eastern Kentucky. I was in Appalachia over the weekend, an event called hillbilly days, I was the first black person in our state’s history, seeking federal office to speak at that event. So the holler essentially the hood for white folks. These are areas that are in between the mountains, there’s typically a waterway, one stream and there’s one road in and out and there is a saying that you can holler from the front of the entry to this area in talks to someone in the back of the house. So it’s really just like a neighborhood. And when you walk through hollers and areas where people are living, you’re gonna see conditions similar to what you see in my community in the West End, where housing insecurity, lack of access to healthy food, people that are struggling to get by folks rationing their insulin like I’ve had to do. And so that saying, from the hood to the holler was really a rallying cry of people who may look different may come from different areas, but have so much in common, that if we fought together, we could change things together.

Julian Castro  30:36

And what was the reception that you got when you went out there? I mean, the common sort of thinking among a lot of politicians is, hey, you know, just go campaign where you’re going to find the greatest support, and that sometimes there’s a huge gulf between the experience of somebody who grew up like you did on the West End, and somebody who grew up in the hall or somebody who’s Black and White, and a whole bunch of other differences. I mean, as you reflect on your visit, how was the reception? And what did you take from it?

Charles Booker 

Well, you know, one thing is true, there are a lot of differences. So this is not to say that, you know, all of our experiences are the same. But the common bonds were just so palpable, it was so evident, that we’re sharing these struggles. And my reception everywhere I would go was one of relief, and one of gratitude. Most folks would say, Thank you for even coming to talk to us, because nobody cares about us. Nobody comes to see about us, no one listens to us. And this really the same thing that we feel in the west end of Louisville that, you know, no one comes to talk to us until this election time. And they’re saying get out and vote. If that. And those threads, you know, dealing with poverty dealing with the struggle, working hard to barely get by, they really helped to build a coalition. Because although they may not look like I do come from where I come from, they see me and they know that I see them. And we’re family. And it’s been inspiring. I mean, I’ve knocked on doors with Confederate flags in the yard. With Trump flags in the yard, I got people who still got their MAGA hat that are organizing on my campaign, we hope because the issues that we’re talking about are not actually partisan. It’s about humanity.

Maya Rupert  32:24

I’ve been so inspired, watching what you’re doing, just exactly that message that you just articulated. And in 2020, it was I feel like you really captured energy, and attention and imagination, not just in Kentucky, but across the country. There was something so it was so cool to watch people across the country getting excited. Democrats getting excited about what was happening in Kentucky, I wonder if you can just reflect a little bit on that race? What do you feel like, what did you learn from?

Charles Booker 

Well, my first takeaway is, I was so proud and I am still so very proud. One to be a Kentucky and two to help shine up light, that’s what we were able to do in this 2020 cycle. And what we’re doing even now is shining a light that a lot of people didn’t expect to see. And they saw it in a time of a lot of pain when Breanna Taylor’s door was busted down. And she was taken from us. And they saw the resolve of people all across Kentucky saying that we need justice, and we’re gonna stand together to get it. And the thing that I learned was really just a it was an affirmation, and it was a reminder honestly to, to not ignore people in those forgotten places to don’t buy answer the stereotypes and write off, folks because they either don’t typically vote or you don’t see them at the city council meeting or, or they don’t have a lot of money in their pocket, don’t write them off. And truthfully, what we’re realizing is the pathway to true democracy goes through places like Kentucky, and we were able to showcase what that type of solidarity can look like. And I’m telling you all now, it’s only grown since then. me running for Senate this time was really in response to the Commonwealth saying, Look, we’re not done fighting. We have two terrible senators, and the movement that we’re building has to continue and so even today, in my campaign, we’ve launched Kentucky New Deal action candidates. So my vision of the Kentucky New Deal is how do we end poverty. And so we’re lifting up races across Kentucky, where people are running inspired by my vision. And so to see it even grow now. It’s incredible. We’re gonna win this race, but we’re gonna win our future.

Julian Castro 

Charles, speaking of being written off, oftentimes Democrats who run in what have been fairly red states, like my home state of Texas, or your home state of Kentucky, are I think unfairly written off. Talk to us about how you’ve been making the case about why this is a winnable race? And also, how do you do it as a progressive there in Kentucky?

Charles Booker 

Well, you know, I’ve looked at you for a lot of example, and I’m grateful for you, because what you said is true, we’ve been written off, and it’s at the expense of one realizing true democracy. But it’s also given room for the Donald Trump’s of the world. We got a lot of them here. And you ignore places like Kentucky, to our collective detriment. And what we’re doing now in the case that I’m making is, we’re building infrastructure. So this isn’t just about running a race. It’s about galvanizing communities that no one talks to, it’s about building up a new wave of citizen lobbyist and encouraging people to run for office and training them. So I have an organization called hood to the holler. We’re training folks to run for office, we’re building the type of machinery that Mitch McConnell did, to be honest with you. And what I’m encouraging folks to do is to remember, remember, Georgia, if nothing else, because you know, a lot of us have short term memories. But think back to Georgia, when we were thinking about how we’re going to win the presidency, and how do we get Mitch McConnell out of that majority seat, a lot of folks laughed at the idea that Georgia would win either one of those races, let alone both of them. But they were organizing in Georgia, they were doing issue based relational organizing, they were talking to folks and inspiring more people to get involved. And we see what happened. That isn’t a fluke. And if anything, we need people to invest in that type of infrastructure building, not just candidates that have fit a typical definition of viable, because oftentimes, that doesn’t include people from communities like mine, but looking at those who are actually inspiring a vision that are building infrastructure, and that are lifting up a true message of our future. A lot of people in Kentucky, they voted for Trump, voted for Bernie Sanders. So it’s not like these issues are so defined in a box that we can’t reach people. They just want to know who’s actually fighting for them. And that’s why we’re going to win this race.

Maya Rupert 

One of the things I always say is that, you know, a lot of times what we call sort of political miracles is just organizing that people weren’t paying attention to, right? I feel like that’s what you’re describing. In Georgia. It’s what you’re talking about sort of building in your campaign. Can you just talk a little bit about because I think basically, what we’re talking about is sketching out a blueprint, right? Moving forward for how Democrats can run and win. Can you talk a little bit about like, what is that? What does that organizing need to look like?

Charles Booker  38:07

First of all, that is so true. And the reason why I’m honored and excited to run for office and to tell this story is really to help to emphasize why we can no longer ignore regular folks. We can’t write off communities, you know, and what we’re doing really is meeting people where they are, and we’re building community. So this is about us getting going below the national talking points, going below the rhetoric and really listening to folks, what’s pissing you off? What are you concerned about? Here’s what we’re fighting for. Here’s why. Let’s do it together. Let’s take actions together. So we’re mobilizing actions across the state. So when the tornado ripped across the Commonwealth, 200 miles and wiped-out whole communities, we started mobilizing actions for relief, to show love and support. And we’re still doing that. And when you actually show through your actions that you care, and that you want to be there, you want to show family and solidarity, people respond. And they get involved. And that’s what they’re doing on our campaign. And because of that, once we win this race, we will be able to win state and local races because people are more engaged and believe that democracy can be real.

Julian Castro 

In 2020, you ran in the Democratic primary that year, Senator Mitch McConnell was up for reelection. This year. It’s Rand Paul, talk to me about the reception that you’ve gotten from the DSCC for instance, because there’s been some criticism of the powers that be so to speak at the DSCC and other DC organizations about picking favorites sometimes, often to the detriment of progressive candidates, and especially candidates of color. How have you navigated that?

Charles Booker 

You know, what is I always tried to do as a survival mechanism. And certainly now in this run for US senate is we’re making ourselves inevitable. I’m used to being counted out; we’re used to being the underdog. We’re used to folks saying, oh, no, not them. Not now. And because of us understanding the power of people coming together, and the fact that I have over 20,000, people volunteering in my campaign, we’ve really made ourselves inevitable. So I am in a primary going to be on the ballot for May 17. But we’ve essentially cleared the field because we have created so much presence, we have built relationships we have mobilized, and really just galvanized so many people, that the response across Kentucky is, we’re gonna get behind this black man from the hood, who’s standing for us. And to take this message to the DSCC and say, Look, we’re showing you and RDS what it means to invest in places like Kentucky, there is a lot of cynicism. And I know you’ve seen it, a lot of folks coming out of 2020 saying get out now, it’s not possible. And you mentioned a very fair point about picking winners in the primary because, you know, that happened to me, I was against one of the most well-funded primaries in history. And the DSCC chose to go down a path to support a candidate that no one on the ground, wanted to get behind. And because of that, in the organizing that I was doing, we came within two points, although I was being outspent my 40 to one. And so nowadays, you know, the DNC and the DSCC, have acknowledged that what we’re building is real, and that the country should take notice. But there’s still a lot of cynicism, and we’re building this without a lot of the help that candidates in the past would have received. But it makes me proud to see Kentucky and stand up and say, You know what, even if the DSCC and DNC and not really getting behind you, we’re behind you. And it just makes me proud. And no, we’re gonna prove the doubters wrong and win this race.

Maya Rupert  42:05

You said something that I think is so interesting, and I wanted to come back to it because you talked about, you’re gonna win this race, and then we’re gonna be able to win state local races in Kentucky, right? Democracy. I mean, I feel like in so many ways I, this this fight over our democracy and the future of our democracy, it is something that happens at the state and local level. Right? I wonder if you can speak a little bit to what building that infrastructure to be able to win at those levels, it’s going to mean for the future of, of just sort of reifying our sort of democratic institutions,

Charles Booker

The path to realizing democracy, because we’re still pursuing it. You know, we’ve, we’ve made tremendous gains, of course, we celebrate that. But we know we’re still working to bend that arc. It goes through state and local governments, you know, and from serving in the state legislature in the twilight zone, and seeing how much Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul really shaped so much of what we do at the state level, that didn’t dictate what can happen at the local level, you really see the chess game that’s being played all of the commotion that’s being drummed up over critical race theory, when you know, they don’t care about what it actually means it has been taught in schools, they’re going after school boards, they’re going after council seats. They’re building infrastructure. And what I’m saying is, we have to do that work, because democracy is not promised. And so by doing issue-based organizing, where we’re talking about the common bonds, and really bringing together new unexpected coalition’s is giving us the chance to have more people behind our message, we are on the right side of the policies, we’re on the right side of history. And now we just have to bring the people along with us. So when I’m saying everyone should have quality health care, it’s not because of Bernie Sanders, or any national discussion, is because I nearly died from diabetic ketoacidosis. Because I chose to buy groceries for my girls, instead of get a refill, because it would have taken all my money. And when I tell that type of story, folks get it. And we need to do much more of that and pull more people into the process.

Julian Castro  44:18

What is the biggest difference would you say between the leadership you would offer and the leadership that Rand Paul has offered in the United States Senate?

Charles Booker 

Well, we certainly don’t have enough time. But the one thing that I will say about Rand Paul, and not giving too many bad words in this conversation, is that he’s a crisis actor and a conspiracy theorist, and he seeks out the areas where division exists and he exploits him. He pours gasoline on them. He causes chaos, and he exploits the people of Kentucky. He really doesn’t do anything in Kentucky. He is a national figurehead. And so to be able to stand and the US Senate as a Kentuckian and fighting for the people of Kentucky, with compassion and the intentionality of bringing people together, I pass legislation in the state house with Republican supermajority and work with folks who were proud Trump supporters, because at the end of the day, diabetes, for instance, doesn’t care about your party registration. And so to be able to do that, to fight for voting rights, to fight for investments in our infrastructure, for financial freedom and prosperity, these are things that will help Kentucky spring into the future, and get us off the bottom of the list and damn near everything where Rand Paul has his foot on our back, and I cannot wait to get him out of that office.

Julian Castro 

Well, that’s a wonderful thought to end with. Charles Booker, author of a new book called, from the Hood to the Holler a story of separate worlds shared dreams and the fight for America’s future, which comes out this week. hope folks will look forward and also, most importantly, a candidate for United States Senate in Kentucky Buena suerte Good luck, Charles, thanks for joining us and hope to call you Senator Booker. The second Senator Booker. Y’all are gonna need a name tag.

Charles Booker  46:27

We’ll swap out from time to time some costume mustaches. But no if you can encourage everyone to go to Support us in this run. Let’s send another Booker to Washington. Thank you so much, brother. Thank you both.

Maya Rupert 

Thank you.

Julian Castro 

Boy, I really hope he wins that race. Thanks to Charles Booker. Thanks to you Maya for joining me again you’re gonna have to become a regular something on this show.

Maya Rupert 

I mean, I seriously I have so much fun whenever I do it. So thank you so truly for having me.

Julian Castro 

Thank you. Leave us a voicemail sharing the stories you care about the most right now. At 833-453-6662 That’s 833-453-6662 And don’t forget to subscribe to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts. Take care y’all.


OUR AMERICA is a Lemonada Media Original. Our Producer is Xorje Olivares, with executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer, Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Julian Castro. Mix and scoring by Veronica Rodriguez. Music is by Xander Singh. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @JulianCastro, at @Sawyer Hackett and at @LemonadaMedia. If you want more OUR AMERICA, subscribe to Lemonada Premium, only on Apple podcasts.

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