Much has been made of the today's Democratic primary in Brooklyn’s 8th congressional district, with controversial former Black Panther Charles Barron going head-to-head against the media-endorsed moderate Hakeem Jeffries (also known as “Obama-lite”) for the seat being left vacant by the retiring Ed Towns. But for those who feel that neither candidate represents their best interest, there is another option.
Green Party candidate Colin Beavan, author and environmental activist best known for documenting his year-long experience as No Impact Man, is also running to represent Central Brooklyn. I had the opportunity to talk policy and politics with Mr. Beavan as he discussed his reasons for throwing his hat into the ring. Below is an excerpt of our interview.
What drove you to run for Congress, and make the leap from environmental activist to policymaker?
I believe that we’re in the middle of a number of concurrent crises.
We’re obviously in an environmental crisis—the ability of the planet to support the human species in peril. At the same time, we have a crisis in our economy. The idea used to be [that] the economy would help as many people as possible but it turns out it doesn’t do that anymore. All the new money that is made is ending up in the hands of 1% of the people. It is a consumption-based economy. Not only does it not work economically, in terms of helping the maximum number of people, but it’s also the force that’s causing the environmental degradation.
We [also] have a quality of life crisis. Even in affluent parts of the developed world, people are working their butts off and they’re not actually even happy. Even the winners are not happy. And then the last thing is that the entire system is now controlled by corporations, so we have a crisis in democracy. There’s so much money in politics that we can’t do anything about it because the corporations are invested in maintaining the status quo. None of those ideas are new [but] they’re being discussed everywhere except in politics.
When the Green Party invited me to run for congress, at first I didn’t want to. But then I realized that people like me who care about this stuff, who have been outside politics, begging the politicians to talk about it…it seems like the only way we can get these conversations into politics is to bring it in ourselves.
If you could point to one major theme in your campaign as being the foundation of what you stand for, what would that be?
Communities before corporations. The entire economic system needs to be replaced. Basically the Republicans are saying, “Give business as much freedom as possible, it will cause a flow of money and everything will be fine.” Democrats are saying, “We need to regulate and make sure that the flow of money goes to the underprivileged.” But both of those views are predicated on the idea that the system itself can be adjusted to work. I don’t think it can. The system is a multi-national corporation-based economy.
The main theme I’m running on is putting investment in communities and community businesses before investment in corporations. Nobody knows what will fix all the problems that I talked about but definitely part of it is localizing. [For every] dollar spent in local business, 60 cents on that dollar stays within the community, as opposed to corporate business, only 30 cents on the dollar stays within the community. The idea is that if you strengthen local communities and local economies, then you make those communities resilient against climate change and the global ups and downs of the economy.
What do you feel separates you from the other candidates?
Jeffries is now closing down on three-quarters of a million dollars in corporate donations, much of which comes from Wall Street. He’s politics as usual. Nothing will change under him.
Barron, I love him and I feel his heart and I know he won’t be in the pocket of the corporations. But his argument is basically about getting the crumbs at the bottom of the potato chip bag. He’s basically trying to work to make the system fairer. I’m saying the system is completely broken and can’t be fixed. The system needs to be replaced.
Brooklyn has been changing drastically demographically. How would you balance the competing interests of your different constituencies?
I’m running on the platform that we’re in a planetary, environmental, humanitarian, economic crisis. The thing that I would do to represent all those interests is to be one voice forcing the attention of the world political system to that crisis instead of continuing to talk about how to fix the system at the margins. We’re lots of different constituencies, but the system will fail for all of us.
How can young people move this country in a different direction and how do you plan on engaging them?
My work has always been about letting people know that they can make a difference. The millennial generation and the generation after them are increasingly disenfranchised and they just think politics is a load of *%^$ that nothing can be done about. Part of what I consider my job to be is re-engaging those generations and saying that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you decide that your engagement doesn’t matter, it really won’t, because you won’t engage. My challenge to the millennial generation is that we still have time. There are so many elections across the country from now until November. Just run. Get in there. Fix it.
The big goal of our campaign is modeling the idea of citizens deciding to get into politics.
Part of the dysfunction of Congress is a divisiveness based solely on ideology. How can we bring civility back into our public discourse?
I don’t believe that the people of the U.S. are divided—they are worried. The politicians, however, are at war for power and control.
Of course I want to represent the people of CD 8. But my campaign is not just about winning. My campaign is about bringing a conversation to a community that doesn’t get to have that conversation. It’s about engaging people in the political process that aren’t normally engaged. It’s about modeling the occupation of politics with people locally, nationally and internationally. So we’re already winning, because we’re already achieving those things. I think the point here is to be a leader, rather than a politician.