Politics

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders pushed for a new future in Kentucky politics during his visit to Louisville on Sunday to campaign for former state Rep. Charles Booker. 

After meeting with racial justice protesters at Jefferson Square Park early in the afternoon, Sanders made his way to a socially-distanced rally outside the Muhammad Ali Center. There, he touched on the progressive themes that have become his calling card since the 2016 presidential election, such as investing in green energy, overhauling the country’s health care system and addressing income inequality.

“Today in Kentucky, in Vermont and throughout our country, over half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck,” Sanders said. “This is the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, yet half of our people are working so hard, and at the end of the week, they’ve got nothing to show for it.”

But Sanders also had a message specifically tailored to Kentuckians, regarding the state’s U.S. Senators. Sanders said his progressive platform is one that promotes the well-being of all Americans, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a politician who caters to the “1%,” he said.

Booker sought to challenge McConnell in the 2020 election, but he lost to Democratic nominee Amy McGrath in the primary. Last month, Booker, a Democrat from Louisville, formed an exploratory committee to consider another Senate run in 2022 — this time against Republican Sen. Rand Paul. 

Sanders said he’s confident Booker can find success this time and help push Kentucky away from the right-wing politics of McConnell and Paul.

“I also want to thank Charles Booker, not just for being here today, but for showing this state and this country, what grassroots activism can mean,” Sanders said. “And despite being heavily outspent, Charles ran a campaign that the whole country looked at. And I have a feeling that the next time around, the results are going to be different.”

The first speaker at Sunday’s rally was Louisville poet and activist Hannah Drake. She promoted Booker as her friend and as a man of the people.

Drake said Booker has proven his willingness to stand up for Kentuckians by fighting alongside a number of different groups, including teachers, racial justice protesters and coal miners. She called on Kentuckians from all backgrounds to return the favor by backing Booker in his quest for a Senate seat to tear down the barriers that have led to decades of inequality.

“Let me be clear, know that it is not confusion that makes this nation pause,” Drake said. “It is not confusion that makes this nation bow down. It is the organization of people that come together. That is when this nation will tremble. Stand strong, stand together, stand with Charles, and we can change this world.”

J. Tyler Franklin | wfpl.org

Charles Booker speaks at a rally for Kentucky’s working class with Senator Bernie Sanders.

Booker started his speech by telling his supporters that he loves them. He commended their efforts to promote progressive politics in Kentucky, despite losing ground to Republicans in the state legislature and the GOP stranglehold on the state’s Congressional seats.

McConnell and Paul have dominated the state’s Senate seats for a combined 46 years, Booker said, but it’s time for change. He said Kentucky has a lot to be proud of in spite of “shameful, ridiculous, embarrassing” leaders who don’t fight for the everyday Kentuckian.

“I have walked through a lot of the struggles that let me know that we don’t face hard times because we’re lazy,” Booker said. “We don’t face difficulty because we don’t pray enough, because we don’t work hard enough. There’s a system at play. That is determining who wins and who loses, and for the most part has determined that Kentucky should lose.”

Booker said he’s ready to fight for many of the same progressive policies Sanders has pushed in recent years, such as a $15 minimum wage and universal health care. He also wants a Green New Deal that will directly impact working families in Kentucky.

But Booker said that can’t happen if McConnell and Paul stay in power.

“Do you believe that we can come together, from the hood to the holler, and transform our future?” he said. “Do you believe that Kentucky can do anything, including sending a young Black man from the hood to Washington to fight for you? Let the country know that now is the time. Let the country know, don’t ignore Kentucky anymore. Let the country know that we’re ready.”

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.