Pledged to Our Democracy

As an ardent champion of getting money out of politics and restoring our democracy, I recently joined progressive leader Rep. Alan Grayson in signing the Greenpeace Democracy Pledge, committing to accept no fossil fuel money as a Representative in Congress.

This involved responding to four questions:

1) Tell us a little a bit about how you would identify yourself by things like you're job, certain community activities, your region, political and life philosophies, etc.

I am a community builder, teacher of people’s history, and candidate for United States Congress in California’s 5th District. I’ve been a grassroots organizer with the Transition Movement, working toward thriving resilience and local empowerment, for several years in Lake County, CA and around the North Bay Area. I am a father, I am an active citizen, and I believe in democracy: rule of the people.

I am running for Congress because we face urgent and epic-scale issues — from global warming and income inequality to systemic racism and the prison-industrial complex — and I see our elected officials doing very little to address the issues most important to the people. Most of our politicians in Congress, Democrat and Republican alike, take money from big banks, the fossil fuel industry, and other ‘special interests’ that undermine our democracy. They vote in line with those who cut the checks, and keep silent on the most critical issues, like climate change. This is why electing representatives who actually represent the people is tantamount to political revolution. 

2) What about the trend toward greater money in politics concerns you? What measures would you take as a Congressperson to get money out of politics?

In order to restore our democracy, we need to get money out of politics. I stand for electoral reform including automatic voter registration and the public financing of elections, and I am committed to doing whatever it takes — including passing a Constitutional Amendment — to overturn Citizens United and establish that corporations are not people and money is not speech.

The current system makes it easy for the wealthy elite to maintain their power, and much more difficult for working-class people to get involved in politics. Even to get my name on the ballot and my statement in the send-home voter guide, I needed to raise thousands of dollars from my network of working-class friends, which was no easy task. 

The hardest part is that my incumbent opponent in this race is a Democrat who accepts contributions from an alarmingly large roster of mega-corporations — including the fossil fuel industry — and most of the people in my district don’t even know about it! Even in order to appreciate the magnitude of the problem of money in politics (let alone solve it!) we need a great deal more transparency and accountability in our government. I will fight to implement this transparency and accountability, and bring awareness to this crucial issue.

3) What about the trend toward less voter protections concerns you? What measures would you take as a Congressperson to address voting rights?

In the decades since the legislative victories of the 1963 Civil Rights Act and 1964 Voting Rights Act, we have seen a gradual weakening of the democratic rights fought for by our martyrs and teachers like Martin Luther King and Ella Baker. We’ve seen voter suppression, mostly in lower-income communities and communities of color, as some states and counties have begun requiring photo identification to vote, making it harder to register, purging voter rolls, closing polling places, disenfranchising convicted felons, and engaging in other tactics that result in the suppression of millions of votes.

I believe we need to do the exact opposite of this. We need to make it as easy as possible to vote and get involved in our democracy. Oregon’s new automatic voter-registration program is a great example of this. I would also support democracy-enhancing efforts like automatic absentee voter registration, and making Election Day a federal holiday to encourage civic participation.

4) Tell us about your commitment to turning away fossil fuel money. Why do you believe it's important to make this commitment?

As a father, I see addressing global warming and environmental depletion as a top priority. The world’s leading scientists continue reminding us that we need to act quickly and powerfully to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly, as we risk rising sea levels, mass-displacement, and energy and food security issues, and geopolitical tensions emerging over resources. The time to act on global warming is yesterday, but all we've got is today.

We’ve already seen devastation from climate change. I was recently displaced from my home following a wildfire caused in part by drought conditions. Meanwhile, toxic practices like fracking are destroying our natural environment and polluting our drinking water. It really is “Capitalism Versus the Climate," as Naomi Klein suggests. Meaningfully addressing climate change will require nothing short of a radical departure from the current economic paradigm which glorifies endless growth and immediate shareholder profit at the expense of planet and people. 

Our elected leaders are unlikely to anything about this crisis, as long as their campaigns are funded by lobbyists from the very same corporations that are doing the polluting. A commitment to reject all fossil fuel money is essential, because the stakes for us all are simply too high to allow for more politics-as-usual. I am committed to standing up to fossil fuel companies.

I will work in community to make global warming the legislative priority it needs to be. I will vote to ban fracking, block pipelines like Keystone XL, and stand for a return to an ethic of stewardship.

This planet is home to us all, and we need to treat our home with respect.