The 2012 election is shaping up to be of critical importance for the North Coast. If the political pundits and media talking heads are correct, 2012 will be yet another year of political gridlock and economic stagnation. At the center of this dilemma are elected professional politicians determined to hang on to their power. For the North Coast the stakes could not be higher. Budgets are shrinking at the county and city level. More jobs are threatened. Without tax reform and fresh approaches to entrenched economic and structural problems, the North Coast will not be positioned to reverse these trends. The upcoming June primary and the November election provide the best opportunity to overcome the obstacles to a better future for the North Coast.
With this picture in mind, Norman Solomon, Democratic candidate for the newly drawn 2nd U.S. Congressional District, agreed to be interviewed. In fairness to the other announced candidates, at their request they will be extended the courtesy of an interview.
AVA: Mr. Solomon, there is a famous quote that says ”All political parties die at last of swallowing their own lies.” (Garnett, Life of Emerson) You have made much of your not being a professional politician and of the need for real change in the way we do politics. How would you describe the current Democratic nomination process that is heavily influenced by the current political elite of the North Coast? And, do you believe that the Democratic Party has indeed been swallowing its own rhetoric without substance?
I’ll begin by quoting the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass: ”Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” I’d add that it’s not enough to demand; we have to organize, effectively. The Occupy movement is a step in that direction, but we need to become more methodical — at the grassroots — for basic progressive change. That’s threatening to political elites, but it’s enlivening to people who yearn for a society that reveres and nurtures life instead of Wall Street.
With an open seat and no incumbent, this race for Congress is a free-for-all. Ultimately, our new congressperson will be a Democrat, but the question is: What kind of Democrat? Anyone who googles my name and ”Democratic Party” will find many years of articles and activism challenging the corporate allegiances of party leadership. There are plenty of progressive Democrats — and Greens and ”decline to state” voters and others — who are fed up with the extreme corporate plunder, environmental degradation and perpetual war that have dominated this century.
The same Martin Luther King Jr. who condemned ”the madness of militarism” warned against what he called ”the paralysis of analysis.” He had the insight that we must go forward with principled struggles and take risks in the process. That’s why I’m so excited to be part of a campaign that has already drawn in thousands of active participants. There’s a base of progressives — many of them Democrats — now on the cusp of taking the power initiative away from economic elites. When genuinely mobilized, grassroots can defeat Astroturf.
We’ve had way too much rhetoric with scant substance. Lofty rhetoric doesn’t feed people, pay their rent, provide healthcare or education, and it doesn’t prevent foreclosures or end endless wars. Only we — ”we the people” — can do that. And we must.
AVA: Given that your campaign is based on making real change, how do you see the role of the Federal Government in being a force for good in the economic life of the North Coast? What specific areas of funding do you envision as the focal points of economic revival for the North Coast?
I was co-chair for the Commission on a Green New Deal. It was built on promoting a green economy in Northern California. I think that there is a huge opportunity for creating jobs and revitalizing the economic life of Northern California by creating an economic, social and physical infrastructure that takes on the challenges we face — including resource depletion, climate change and the ongoing refusal of politicians in Washington to fund the vital programs we need to move ahead.
Getting a jump on the creation of the post-fossil-fuel economy will lessen the impact of climate change and create cutting-edge, well-paid jobs that can position Northern California to become a leader of the future economy. I have visited and support the solarization project at the Mendocino Transit Authority, which is moving public transportation from fossil fuels to solar energy. Such projects offer new models for positive transformation while reducing the threats of climate change and resource depletion.
The Mill Site in Fort Bragg is another wonderful opportunity for a job-generating development. I fully support the creation of the Noyo Center for Science and Education on that site. It will be a research facility to look at the ecosystem from the headwaters to the sea. It can be a research engine for moving from the extraction economy to the restoration economy, rebuilding our forest habitats for the benefit of both our communities and the environment.
This is the kind of local science that can only be done on the North Coast, and the kind of project that will multiply jobs into the future. The land is being acquired and the plans are drawn up. The City of Fort Bragg just needs construction funds to get this project going, and that is the type of stimulus the federal government should provide. I intend to fight for that kind of funding.
I also know it’s vital to reformulate the overall federal budget. We have to defund the perpetual war machine as well as make sure that everyone, including the top 1%, pays their fair share in taxes. That can give us the federal funds we need to jump-start programs to move us toward a sustainable economy that nurtures both the community and the environment, from local food security to a pollution-free environment and a stable climate.
It’s also essential to fight for vast increases in multi-year funding for education and job training with the goal of full employment. The federal government is the only government entity that can engage in the necessary magnitude of public investment — that’s the only way we got the New Deal, and that’s the only way we can get a meaningful Green New Deal. I’ve been endorsed by Congressman John Conyers (a fellow co-chair of the national Healthcare Not Warfare campaign), who has introduced a bill to commit the federal government to full employment while imposing a one-quarter of 1% transaction tax on Wall Street that would raise $150 billion a year.
We also need a much larger, sustained federal commitment to healthcare for all. One vital step is expanded multi-year funding of Federally Qualified Health Centers. Because of community dedication, such clinics are literally lifelines on the Mendocino Coast, in Anderson Valley and many other places on the North Coast. But the federal funding is fragile. We’ve got to fight for federal funding that’s stable and adequate.
AVA: In recent years one obstacle to growth on the North Coast has been the failure to re-establish a viable rail link to the major trans-shipment hubs of the Bay Area. Without such a rail link, the opportunity for attracting manufacturing, improving access to markets for agriculture, and reducing truck traffic along the 101 corridor are perennially frustrated. What is the proper role of Congress is providing funding and stimulus for a North Coast rail link?
Railroads are highly fuel-efficient, and when done right they can be an environmentally friendly alternative to other options. The federal government played a big role in funding the initial railroads in this country, and I think it should do so again. But this time, instead of providing subsidies that benefit wealthy private investors, these new programs should be funded to benefit the public good. On the North Coast, public investment from the feds has to pay for well-planned rail projects that are really shaped by the insights, knowledge and values of people who live in the region. Frankly, a rail link concocted from Washington, DC, without local and public decision-making on the North Coast would be problematic. People in this region have to be the ones who decide how the federal funding can best be spent.
I’d also add that when DC planners are looking at spending $100 billion for high-speed rail, they need to be reminded that — for a small fraction of that money — we could have much-improved rail here on the North Coast. Such an investment could more than pay for itself in increased economic activity generating additional tax revenue.
AVA: In recent years various proposals for developing wave generated electricity off the North Coast, such as at the old Georgia Pacific property in Fort Bragg, have come and gone. Do you see a future for wave generated electricity on the North Coast?
Wave energy has great potential, but it has to be a proven and safe technology for our fisheries, other wildlife and overall environment before it’s implemented on the Northern California Coast. I support the establishment of a small testing facility to figure out which of the myriad wave technologies would have the least impact on the fisheries and environment of the North Coast. Private energy providers that may have a financial conflict of interest regarding concerns for the fisheries and environment, however, should not be entrusted to perform these tests.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is in the process of taking over jurisdiction for implementation of this technology. As a Congressman, I would fight to make sure the process of implementing wave energy technology is fully responsive to concerns about the fisheries and environment while promoting the long-term public good of the North Coast. If FERC can’t really provide this important function, then authority over wave energy should be overseen by a more transparent and responsive public agency that allows thorough public input into the process.
AVA: Of course, every new technology brings with it unanticipated challenges. With respect to wave generated electricity, some are concerned that it will interfere with fishing. Given that the fish stocks are already imperiled, do you see an opportunity here to insure benefits both to the need for green energy sources and helping to maintain and enhance the North Coast fisheries?
I think that it’s important to establish a collaborative process in developing wave energy. It should be possible to identify technologies and implement them at a scale that will be safe for the environment and the fisheries. But, again, these can only be implemented with the full participation of advocates for fisheries and the public.
AVA: On a related note, should wave energy generated electricity receive support and funding from the federal and state governments, would one component of the initiative be to provide for a new, underground transmission system, one that may rely on the existing railroad right-of-way, as opposed to overhead transmission lines?
Energy transmission is an important part of our future, but much energy is lost in the transmission process. Decentralized energy production is the model for the future. So long-distance energy transmission should largely be avoided, and wave energy should be scaled to local needs.
That said, if it comes to pass that we have a single wave generator facility, we should be mindful of the negative impacts of overheard power lines. Certainly, if there’s a need to move energy long distances, it is safer and healthier to move it underground. Utilizing railroad right of ways may be a good way to make that happen.
AVA: Besides concerns for expanding and integrating transportation to boost the North Coast economy, there is a long-standing frustration with the current administration which came to power in 2008 promising to insure access to high speed internet service to rural communities. What would you do to promote universal access to high speed internet and broadband service to the North Coast?
I share this frustration. We need real investments, not just rhetoric, to expand rural broadband Internet access; there are many parallels with the federal government’s far-reaching rural electrification programs in the past century. Broadband Internet is fast becoming a necessity for most people who want to carry on a productive life in the economy of the future, and the government has a responsibility to make sure that infrastructure is in place for everyone. We must end the ”digital divide” — and the public should not be ripped off by financing a system that ends up benefitting privately held mega-corporations like Comcast. We should only fund public agencies that return the benefits to the people of the North Coast.
Question: Calls for more nuclear power plants and drilling for oil and natural gas off the California Coast are certain to be renewed in the next Congress. Given the recent nuclear disaster at Fukushima and the continuing reality of oil spills throughout the oil and gas industry, how do you see your role as a member of Congress for energy policy?
The cleanest kilowatt is the one we don’t use. More than 30 years ago, when I was working on shutting down nuclear power plants and spending time in jail for nonviolent civil disobedience in the antinuclear movement, we were already reading Amory Lovins and other visionaries. The most important — and most overlooked — concept in sane energy policy is ”conservation.”
I am categorically opposed to nuclear power, and just as categorically opposed to offshore oil drilling as well as fracking and other corporate-driven assaults on our wondrous natural world.
Our campaign for Congress has taken out a full-page newspaper ad stating my unequivocal insistence on closing nuclear power plants now. We don’t need nuclear power, certainly not in this state where two nuclear plants are located on coastline earthquake faults.
We not only must promote conservation — we also need to expose and end the billions of dollars in federal subsidies to the nuclear, coal and oil industries. In Congress, I intend to give voice, author legislation and rally support for these goals.
Question: One of the most immediate concerns on the North Coast is the impending closing of many of our State Parks. Park Closures will mean to the loss of jobs, both for those who directly support the park system and to the local economies that depend heavily on tourism. What can and should the federal government do to help alleviate this situation?
The devastating closure of parks along the North Coast is a tragedy for the local economy, the people of California and all of the visitors to these parks from around the world. The implementation of this policy points out the failure of both the California legislature and the state budgetary process. It’s notable that so many of these parks are in rural areas that are politically weak in the decision-making process — a fact highlighting the reality that the North Coast needs elected officials who are willing to fight the power structures on behalf of the people and environment of the North Coast.
As with so many other state responsibilities that are being left to twist in the wind via diminished funding, the state parks are too precious to be allowed to die the death of a thousand cuts. The federal government needs to step in and provide funding when needed to avert the disasters of closures — which is exactly what I’ll fight for in Congress.
Question: One thing that is at the heart of every concern raised in this interview has centered on the need for job growth. Without serious initiatives to expand into new areas for economic growth, the North Coast will continue to suffer long term under employment and dependence upon a narrow range of opportunities for meaningful job opportunities. The North Coast needs to expand opportunities for local agriculture, restoration of the fisheries, better forest and timber management, a green energy infrastructure, and the need for leading edge technology manufacturing facilities. Do you see a role for the federal government in establishing basic research facilities, with a practical solutions focus, on the North Coast?
From the outset of this campaign, and in my work for the Green New Deal commission, I’ve been an enthusiastic advocate for recognizing the enduring significance of what the New Deal did for workers and our entire society during the Great Depression. It’s telling that a good number of the state parks that are now being closed — and have provided so much benefit over the years — were built by New Deal programs. For the future, we need a Green New Deal that will build the green infrastructure of the future, from broadband Internet to solar transportation to a decentralized energy and food system that will guarantee a safe, secure and healthy future on the North Coast.
Specifically for the North Coast, I intend to work in Congress to fund local research facilities that would focus on sustainable resource management (fish, timber, agriculture) and how our rural communities can thrive in the next several decades. Faraway research centers in Davis or Scripps cannot provide the focus or stimulus that locally sited research centers can provide.
Question: In this race, you have declined to take corporate PAC money to fund your campaign. Since the current political climate is one in which corporations and special interest groups have become the major source of campaign finance, how can you mount a successful campaign without accepting such donations?
We’re in the process of doing it. Our campaign is interwoven with a wide range of progressive social movements. Already, many hundreds of people are actively involved as volunteers — with idealism, generosity and hard work. The Solomon for Congress campaign (www.SolomonForCongress.com) has already raised several hundred thousand dollars. Grassroots can defeat Astroturf, and our campaign is mega-grassroots.
By the way, the latest poll in this race has me just 5 points behind the corporate-backed frontrunner, Jared Huffman. Meanwhile, our campaign’s momentum is accelerating.
AVA: Would you briefly summarize the reasons why you believe that you are the right candidate to represent the new 2nd US Congressional District?
For the last four decades, I’ve worked as a policy researcher, writer, activist and organizer — as part of progressive social movements. I’ve learned how to build coalitions while challenging the entrenched power of Wall Street and the military-industrial complex. I stand on principle, and I know the difference between workable compromise and capitulation. I know what it’s like to live paycheck-to-paycheck. I’m campaigning the same way I’ll serve in Congress — meeting with and listening to people all over the North Coast, not attending fancy corporate fundraisers. I’ll fight for Main Street — and against Wall Street — because that’s who I am and that’s what I believe in. I can effectively occupy Congress for the 99%.
Norman Solomon’s campaign website is SolomonForCongress.com.