INTERVIEW WITH ROCKY ANDERSON
With all the insanity surrounding the battle between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, it’s easy to forget that this election includes candidates who are actually talking about things that matter.
Ross “Rocky” Anderson is a perfect example. The former mayor of Salt Lake City is currently running for president with the Justice Party, a third-party candidate on the ballot in 12 states. His campaign is based on the principal that justice—economic, social, and environmental justice—is vital for the wellbeing of our nation. He believes the current for of government is unacceptable, and that sticking with business as usual policies will likely lead to catastrophic consequences. Since I was stuck in Utah thanks to one of these catastrophes, Hurricane Sandy, I decided to take the opportunity to sit down with Rocky and talk to him about his campaign.
Why even bother running as a third party candidate?
“Because this country needs to be taken in a very different direction. Although we knew there was little or no chance of ever prevailing in the election, we could certainly prevail in helping to launch and sustain a broad-based democratic movement that will bring about change. That’s the only way change is ever brought about in this country. Those who are elected take advantage a very corrupt system that has brought us the plutocracy we have today. They will never be trusted to reform that system. It’s not unlike the situation before woman’s suffrage or the labor and civil right’s movement. There is so much inertia by our elected officials that it took people at the grassroots level organizing, mobilizing and making it clear that they were not going to let up until there was change. That’s exactly what we have to do now. Further complacency by the American people is simply going to sustain the status quo and exacerbate it. The mantle of leadership is really on all of us, and hence the call for an engaged broad-based citizens movement. So that’s what this campaign is all about, what the Justice Party is about. That’s why you’ll hear me talk so much about not just about this election but what needs to be done far beyond this election.”
How would you counter voter apathy in this country?
“We have to pay attention to psychological and linguistic research. For instance, people who are self-described conservatives are much more likely to hang on to their worldview regardless of the facts and the evidence. You can see that with respect to evolution, and certainly towards climate change. Our job is to keep paying attention to that research, and not keep rolling Al Gore out to talk about climate change. We need to utilize the religious leaders and the business leaders that can make the case within the context of a lot of people’s pre-existing views and value structures.”
It’s interesting that you’d bring up climate change. I watched all the debates and thought it strange that the topic wasn’t ever discussed.
“You didn’t watch all of them then, because in the third party debates, we certainly raised the issue.”
Fair enough. So why do you think climate change wasn’t brought up in the mainstream debates?
“Well, for one thing, the media was characteristically irresponsible, with the moderators failing once again to raise the most urgent and consequential issue facing our planet. The moderator’s neglect of climate change was simply a continuation of the corporate media’s irresponsibility towards the topic for years. But the reason the candidates don’t raise it is explained really well in the introduction to Al Gore’s first book on the topic, Earth and the Balance. Even back then, that long ago, when he tried to raise the issue in the primary debates when he raced against Clinton, he was completely dismissed. It was a sleeper issue for both the media and voters.
Unless a candidate has enough guts and a core set of values that would lead him or her to raise the vital issue regardless of political consequences, they’re going to leave it alone. They find other topics that are more politically advantageous. The reason you’ll hear Jill Stein [the Green Party candidate] and me raise climate change in all our presentations is because we’re trying to be honest, regardless of what the polls show, and we’re both completely concerned about the long-term global impacts on all of earth’s inhabitants. I think we’re leaving a shameful legacy and our children and grandchildren are going to look back and wonder what in the world we were doing by continuing with business as usual when all of the evidence is there, not only regarding the causes and consequences but also the solutions that can be undertaken now.
There is no greater national security issue than climate change. But the interesting thing is, there’s already been a lot of religious leaders and both national and multinational corporations who have issued very strong statements on the crisis and the need for urgent action. But the environmental and human rights community have completely blown it in terms of their messaging. Then of course there’s the misinformation campaign on the other side. Taken together, those two things are why we see in the face of even more robust science on climate, a decrease in public support for climate protection measures.
I just wrote an article on that very topic. I’m not going to be well liked by a lot of people in the human rights and environmental community.”
You were mayor Salt Lake during the 2002 Winter Olympics. What was your relationship with Mitt Romney like during that period?
“Our relationship during the Olympics was very positive. We had an incredibly constructive and friendly working relationship. We were very candid with each other and I frankly really admired his leadership and the very loyal and effective team he put together to pull off what was probably the best Winter Olympics ever held. I also viewed him as a very moderate, reasonable person and thought that he was the kind of person who could maybe return some sanity to the Republican Party by moving it away from the far right. That’s why I endorsed him and cut an ad for him when he ran for governor of Massachusetts. And he ran on a very moderate and reasonable platform, presented himself that way, or he’d never been elected in that state. It’s mostly a very democratic state.
But the Mitt Romney who has emerged during this presidential race is a diametrically different human being, a man who has no core sense of principles. He makes me wonder if I was fooled along with Massachusetts’s voters, because I can see changing your position on one or two issues, but not this wholesale transformation the day you decide to run for president. That’s exactly what you see with Romney. That lack of integrity is really troubling to me, because if a man is willing to do that to get elected, who knows what he’d do in elected office.”
What’s your take on the free market system?
“Well a truly free market system is catastrophic to the vast majority of people. To protect the health, safety and welfare of people, there must be reasonable protections in the form of regulations and enforcement, including civil remedies, but not as Libertarians would have it with only civil remedies. I think government is meeting its highest duty when it’s striving to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. The free market has no regard for the health consequences of dirty air and dirty water. The free market has no consideration for abject poverty, for our brothers and sisters going out without essential health coverage. But what we have in the United States right now is a pretense of democracy, when in fact all of the strings are being pulled by a rapacious corporate community that has their way, simply because they have all the money. That’s what you get with a free market without the pretense of government protection.”
Why do you think people should vote for you?
I’ve got energy and passion behind bolstering and sustaining a broad-based movement. People in this country are being completely shafted by our government. It doesn’t matter which party is the majority, they’re all feeding at the same trough of special interest money and we, the American people, are suffering horribly from it. We’re in the midst of a new Gilded Age, with a greater disparity between income and wealth since the 1920s and the highest poverty rates since 1965. It’s as if all the gains of the war on poverty have disappeared. That along with our outrageous healthcare system, including Obamacare, results in incredible suffering, including the loss of tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives every year. We have the second highest rate in infant mortality in the developed world, and among fifty nations we have the highest rate in women dying in connection with pregnancy and childbirth.
People in this country want better. On most major issues, I actually represent what the majority of the people say they want, and Mitt Romney and Barack Obama do not. Whether it’s ending the war on drugs, ending the budget busting Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, providing single payer Medicare for all healthcare so everyone in this country has affordable access to essential healthcare, cleaning up our campaign finance system—all of these are things that I’ve talked about the Mitt Romney and Barack Obama don’t.
The majority of the people in this country want to see effective regulation of the financial industry. We’ll never see that under the Republicans and Democrats. They are bought off by Wall Street. It doesn’t seem to matter to these people that there’s been so many people who have lost their homes, student and former students who are living under crushing tuition debt that congress, at the behest of the banks, have outrageously made non-dischargeable in bankruptcy.
So the government is our enemy. When President Obama keeps saying that his formal duty is to protect the American people, the protection a growing number of Americans want is to be protected against our own government. This is the president now and a bipartisan congress that think the federal government should be able to kidnap any of us that are fingered by the president, imprisoned for up to the rest of our lives without charges, without trial, legal assistance or the right to Habeas Corpus… it’s astounding. It’s the most un-American subversive act ever by our congress or by a president. And yet, Democrats who would be raising holy hell if this were done during a Republican administration seem to just blindly fall inline and support this man who has taken on the role of a tyrant.
I say that without exaggeration. This is a guy who came in as president as was asked about legal accountability for war criminals, accountability for those who illegally spied on American citizens. And he said we should just move forwards and not look backwards? As if one person should ever have the right in this country to determine who is above the law? Our system of government is built on the major premise that nobody is above the law, and yet that principal has been overwhelmingly rejected by this president and by our congress. That’s why Wall Street bankers who gave record contributions to Obama four years ago are getting off scot-free after their massive financial fraud that helped lead to the economic meltdown from which so many people are still suffering.”
Yeah, that stuff really bothers me…
You know, you hear that slogan we’ve got to take our government back? It’s never needed to be applied with more force than now. The American people need to unify around these issues: corruption of government, the expanding imperial presidency, the shredding of our constitution, our outrageous foreign indentures including illegal wars of aggression, and toting to Wall Street and the financial industry. We need to stand up against all of that and say we will not put up for it anymore. If we don’t, it’s all going to get worse.
They’re mining all of our communications now, billions of communications, every single day. If you speak to somebody on the phone, if you email somebody outside of the country, the NSA grabs it. That was made illegal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act following the disclosures of intelligence communities’ abuses during the Cold War. Then what happened? When President Bush violated the law countless times, each of which is a federal felony that nobody has been held accountable. Then in 2008 when President Obama was still in the United States Senate, Congress, with President Obama’s affirmative vote passed an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act saying that government could go to the FISA court, and without showing any particularized need or identifying whose conversations would be subject to surveillance, get a blank check allowance by the visa court to engage in dragnet surveillance of American’s communications.
Absolutely unprecedented. Any yet we put up with this as American citizens? We put up with a president who targets U.S. citizens for assassination? Through his killing program, at least three American citizens have been assassinated in drone strikes, including a 16-year old boy from Denver, Colorado.
All of this spells a huge transformation of our nation, where we have a two-tiered system of justice and a two-tiered economic system, where more and more people are being left behind, where more and more people are subject to sometimes brutal criminal penalties, because they’re not part of the special class that gets exempted from the laws. President Obama showed his true when he was in the United States Senate and voted to grant telecommunications company retroactive criminal immunity for their federal felonies for cooperating with the Bush administration’s illegal surveillance program.
With national security letters, they could be tracking you. They’ve done hundreds of thousands of things. They could find out from the library what books you’re checking out, they could go to you web provider and find out to whom you’re sending emails, what website your accessing, and the recipient of a National Security letter cannot disclose to you that they’re provided the government that information, or else they’re subject to prosecution. What kind of country are we living in? This is like the KGB in the Soviet Union but so much worse because of advances in technology, where they can spy on so much more of what we do and what we communicate.
Like how Google knows exactly what to sell you…
Not only what they’re going to sell you. If you look for new sources, you type in Egypt, and somebody else who likes to travel and buy a lot of stuff at Nordstrom types in Egypt, you get very different responses on Google. So they’re feeding it. It’s like somebody who just watches Rush Limbaugh all day—they keep getting more and more Rush Limbaugh. Again, it’s very un-democratic and it results in such a degradation of our democracy when people don’t have access to trustworthy information.
Do you plan on running again?
“No. After next Tuesday, I’m looking forward to the flexibility to teach, speak, mobilize and write.
A lot of my friends feel like there’s no point in voting, nothing’s going to change. Why would you say it’s important that my friends and me vote?
“Young people should do a lot of things. They should be out on the streets, they should be organizing, mobilizing, joining and starting movements for real change. What Margaret Med? said about never doubt that few people working together can bring about real change, because they’re the ones that always do—it’s absolutely true. But you’re never going to see change if you just sit things out. When I hear John Mayer sing, “just sit back and the world will change,” that is the most immoral, irresponsible message, especially for young people who are going to face the results of all of this in the future. Most social progress movements in this country came about because of young people mobilizing and pushing. To remain complacent, to be cynical, be resigned to say, “Why should I bother because there’s too much money involved,” or, “it’s already too corrupt,” that is such an unbelievable cop out. People who don’t stand up and fight at every level to bring about change, they are the enemy. They are as responsible as the wrongdoers, because if you see wrongdoing and don’t stand up against it, you’re on the side of the status quo.”