For thirty years, I have worked up close and personally with people in crisis. I have found that when things are truly down, you have to do more than just fix something here and fix something there. You have to dig deep into yourself and ask yourself some serious questions — about who you really are and what you’re doing.
As I see it, the United States is a country in crisis. We won’t get out of it just by fixing something here and fixing something there. We as a country now have to dig deep down and ask ourselves some serious questions — who we are as a nation, and what we’re doing.
I’ve longed to see that kind of conversation and that level of consciousness inform the leadership of our country. I have asked myself how I could foster that, and have decided that the best way I can do it is to run for office myself.
WHAT MAKES YOU QUALIFIED?
No American citizen is inherently “unqualified” for political office, as long as they match the qualifications set forth in our Constitution. The fact that we have developed a “political class” with its own ideas about what makes someone “qualified” to enter its ranks — usually meaning a background in business or law or finance – is part of America’s problem today. When it comes to the full and vital participation of the average American in our political system, an elite political machine has created a “lockout.” Unless you have or have access to a lot of money, a story that makes you easy to portray as a “heroic American,” or a profile which the elite would define as “serious” (this usually precludes such truly serious work as teachers, scientists, artists, activists and so forth), then for all practical purposes you’re left in the spectator box. This is exactly what needs to change if we’re going to reclaim our democracy.
The Constitution doesn’t signify that Congressmen, Senators or even the President have any specific previous professional experience in order to qualify for office. Significantly, the authors of the Constitution left it to the people of each generation to determine for themselves the skill sets they felt best matched the needs of the country at the time.
WHY SHOULD I THINK YOU’D BE A BETTER CONGRESSMAN THAN REP. WAXMAN?
The voters get to decide if they think I’d be better; what I can tell you is that I would be different. And I do not think of Congressman Waxman as my opponent. We’re simply candidates for the same position.
When it comes to issues of the environment and holding banking institutions accountable, I would seek to continue Mr. Waxman’s legacy. But I will bring to the position an additional set of priorities, and a new consciousness regarding our political discourse. From child poverty to mass incarceration to the corruption of our food supply to more enlightened peace-building measures – and, most particularly, to our need to counter the assault on our democracy through gerrymandering and the undue influence of money on our politics – I bring a new set of priorities and new energy with which to express them.
Mr. Waxman has been a good Congressman for 38 years, and I believe he deserves appreciation and respect. But a new conversation is required now, and the political status quo – even the best of it – cannot provide that. Waxman knows many things because he’s been in Congress for 38 years, but I know many things because I have not been. Institutional memory is important in any organization, but so are fresh ideas.
HOW WOULD YOU KNOW HOW TO GET THINGS DONE IN CONGRESS?
It is often said about politicians that they need to go to Washington and “get things done.” Which begs the question, of course, as to whether anything is being done there right now. In fact, what is being done is often questionable in terms of the values many of us hold dear.
The House consists of 435 Congressional Representatives. Neither I nor any other candidate can walk in with a magic wand and say, “Voila! I’m here to get things done!” In the House of Representatives as in the life of an individual, the first question is not really what do we do, but rather who we are and what we stand for. I would go to Washington with a viewpoint and a set of values – the belief that as citizens we are stewards of a sacred trust, challenged by current circumstances to defend democracy itself from the tyrannous tendencies of money and power when wielded against the rights and powers of the people of the United States.
It has been said that a person can base their life on circumstances, or on a vision. I believe the circumstances of the United States have become so challenging because we have lost our vision – namely, our commitment to democracy itself; our willingness to do whatever it takes to expand our freedoms and protect them from encroachment; and our sense of responsibility as individuals to be engaged and active citizens. It’s hard to complain about rights being taken away if you weren’t really using them to begin with.
The American government has lost its ethical center and its deep commitment to democracy, drifting ever more consistently in a corporatist direction. And no one specific legislative initiative can fix that. I believe that a wave of independent candidates, all committed to a huge course-correction, is necessary to turn our ship around. I feel my campaign, and most importantly my win, can help inspire such a movement.
If any district in America can help create a new political conversation, it’s California’s District 33. I will not go to Washington just to represent the interests of the people of this district; I will go there to represent the consciousness of the people of this district. Californians do more than simply get things done; they get new things done.
YOU HAVE NO BACKGROUND IN POLITICS. SHOULDN’T I BE CONCERNED ABOUT THAT?
I have had a thirty-year career as a speaker, counselor and author. I have written ten books, one of them named Healing the Soul of America (1997). I founded the non-profit organization in Los Angeles calledProject Angel Food, which is a meals-on-wheels programs feeding home-bound people with AIDS and other life-challenging illnesses, plus two other organizations (TheLos Angeles and Manhattan Centers for Living) that provided non-medical support services to people living with life-challenging illnesses. I co-founded The Peace Alliance, based on the campaign to establish a United States Department of Peace. I am on the Board of Directors of RESULTS, a citizens lobbying group working to create the political will to end hunger and poverty. In fact, it is exactly the skill set I have developed over the last three decades that makes me feel I can contribute something meaningful to the role of Congressperson.
Normally it is said that the devil is in the details, but when it comes to American politics today, I believe the devil is in the big picture. Constant debate about this or that detail, or this or that particular issue, is often like a red herring that hides the larger, most important issues: is America truly manifesting the principles of liberty and justice and true democracy that are the bedrocks of our system? The work I have done for the last thirty years involves aiding individuals and groups in cleaning up their own house, atoning for their errors, respecting others for their own decisions, finding their own meaning and purpose, and working to stand on their own first principles. I personally think Congress could use some of that.
YOU’RE RUNNING AS AN INDEPENDENT? AREN’T YOU A LIFELONG DEMOCRAT?
Absolutely I am. And if elected, I would caucus with the Democrats.
But I’m interested in a new conversation in American politics, one that I don’t think can be contained by any political party. While the two major parties have an important role to play, I think their chokehold on our system is unhealthy. What either of them has to say is less important than what the people have to say, yet their dominance sucks the air out of our political discourse.
America’s best ideas have often emerged from outside the party system. Abolition didn’t come from a major party; it emerged from the Abolitionist Party. Women’s Suffrage didn’t come from a major party; it emerged from the Suffragette Party. Social Security didn’t come from a major party; it emerged from the Socialist Party. I think it would be extremely healthy for both major political parties if more independent voices made their way to Congress.
ARE YOU RUNNING TO ACTUALLY WIN, OR ARE YOU JUST TRYING TO MAKE A POINT AND EXPAND THE CONVERSATION?
I’ve spent the last thirty years of my life making my point and expanding the conversation. For that, I don’t need to run for office. I would not be running were I not serious about trying to win. Anything less seems out of integrity with my requesting that someone vote for me.
I hope this campaign will give people who haven’t participated in a Congressional campaign before – particularly those who have felt sidelined or cynical about the political process – the inspiration to renew their commitment to the exercise of their own citizenship. What needs to be done now can’t be done only from the sidelines; those of us who share the values of this campaign need to stand on them, run on them and win on them. This way we’ll reclaim our democracy and do our part to help save the world.
...believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even if it leads you off the well worn path. and that will make all the difference" - Steve Jobs