Tom's speech at the Turn NY 27th Blue Event
Date: 1 February, 2018
Location: Geneseo College, Geneseo, NY
Event: 27th Congressional District Forum: Turn NY 27th Blue
My positions on a wide range of issues, which I’ve posted on my website, spell out the future I want to give my grandchildren and all the children of the world. Throughout my life, I have been many things: business owner, manager of environmental group, government manager, organizer of hundreds of parents striving to improve their children’s public schools, non-veteran providing jail support for arrested members of the amazing Veterans for Peace group—a group which demands that the United States use diplomacy, not war--and halfway house resident volunteer for men getting out of Attica (where I truly learned that “there, but for the grace of God, go I”). All of these experiences have taught me so much.
Our necessary political revolution begins with acknowledging the truth that we need to put the people first, not the special interests and moneyed whose ascendancy began after Ronald Reagan’s coronation. We desperately need to restore our democracy. I believe that process can begin with the Democratic Party in 2018--but only if we choose to passionately pursue this. Critical issues have been purposefully ignored for political gain by both major parties. Democrats have done great things: FDR fought for the working men and women who drove the money changers out of the temple of government; LBJ showed immense courage in standing for civil rights even though he knew would lose Democrats in the south for a generation; Carter called for sustainable Social Security and energy independence, including the symbolically important act of installing solar panels on top of the White House. But the Democratic Party has lost its vision and its commitment in too many ways. We sold out to the monied interests. This is evidenced by Eric Holder having an office waiting for him at a Wall Street law firm after never finding one single CEO guilty after the 2008 recession that devastated many families. In the 1990s, our party, along with the Republicans, ended Glass Steagall--literally putting the money changers back in the seats of power and laying the ugly deregulation foundation for the 2008 recession. Obama’s administration successfully fought to keep the Haitian minimum wage at a family-distressing 62 cents and recognized the democracy-overthrowing Honduran coup. And now today, we are training and financing security forces there that have become death squads, killing defenders of democracy with impunity. We fought for trade agreements that were giveaways to corporations and did not demand human and labor rights, or environmental standards. When we are undermining democracy abroad, how can we expect it to survive here in the United States?
My 4 Calls to Action are:
- To take a stand and reverse the actions that are destroying our democracy, shrinking the middle class, and increasing the concentration of wealth;
- To take responsibility for reducing the federal debt now, and understand that is a moral imperative that we not leave this burden for our children and grandchildren;
- To embrace the message of groups like Veterans For Peace who are fighting for an end to our reliance on military force, and acknowledge that our military actions and spending are bankrupting us financially as well as morally; and
- To protect Mother Earth. If we, as a nation, don’t begin to immediately address climate change, we soon won’t have an inhabitable planet to call home.
To win the 27th, Democrats need a fiercely independent Democrat who can resonate with Republicans, Conservatives, and Independents, as well as with the non-affiliated and young voters who are fed up with both parties. I am this kind of Democrat. This is how I received 40% of the vote in this district running for state senate against a 34-year Republican incumbent. Our political system is in crisis, and we need to call on the Republicans, Conservatives, and Independents who are appalled by the current administration to vote Democrat. We need to work together to create an economy that leaves no one behind and to send a message to the party leaders that they are misleading America. We need to ask all the residents of our district to join with us so that we can restore democracy to the 27th and to our country.
A few years ago, when I camped out on the first night of the occupation of Freedom Plaza in D. C. with a coalition of progressive groups, many young people told me they were equally dissatisfied with both major parties. Then in 2015 and ’16, Bernie Sanders showed everyone that disillusioned young voters could become highly motivated if a candidate spoke directly and truthfully about economic and social inequality. The Democratic Party should always be striving to engage and involve young voters, and it is a serious failure of vision and potential when it doesn’t.
There are so many ways to put families first, and Democrats need to emphasize them: We need to provide adequate health insurance, adequate wages that will actually financially support families, paid maternity leave, and strong social programs that help those on their way to or trapped in poverty.
- We need to take Teddy Roosevelt’s big stick to the big banks and mega-corporations.
- We need to support the small businesses and farms that are the heart of our economy.
- We need to support families whose children need a better education.
- We need to end the out-of-control military-industrial alliance spending.
When we Democrats take over Congress, we must have a concrete plan that will call all Americans to be their better selves--a plan we are ready to resolutely, forcefully, and spiritually stand for, in the same way that our Indigenous brothers and sisters, Veterans for Peace, and many others stood at Standing Rock.
While campaigning, I met a vegetable farmer at the Canandaigua farmers’ market not too far from here. After lecturing me for almost ten minutes (including quoting Jefferson and Madison and apologizing 3 times for taking so much of my time) and me asking him to keep inspiring me, the very last thing he said was, “I was a rifleman in the Vietnam war. I am proud I fought for my county but I did not risk my life for what is happening in Washington and Albany today.”