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Life Arts    H3'ed 10/6/09

Part Two: Talking with Harvey Wasserman, activist, journalist, author, college professor (and more)

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Welcome back for the second portion of my interview with author and activist Harvey Wasserman. In the first part of our interview, Wasserman told us how, in the '70s, he and his cohorts thwarted a nuclear power plant planned almost literally in their backyard. Can you tell our readers a little about exactly how you accomplished that? It might give modern-day concerned citizens some ideas for activism.

To stop the nuke, we organized throughout our region on economic, ecological and political grounds. In February, 1974, a member of our commune named Sam Lovejoy toppled a weather tower at the site of the nuke. it was a great protest, memorialized in the award-winning "Lovejoy's Nuclear War" from Green Mountain Post Films (gmpfilms.org). When the cost of the nuke started to skyrocket, there were riots in Connecticut against rate hikes meant to pay for the plant. Facing increasingly stiff local and financial opposition, Northeast Utilities canceled the plant.

Skyrocketing costs and fierce resistance led to the cancellation of scores of reactors across the US in the 1970s and '80s. Our demonstrations and interventions made a huge difference. Had there been no resistance, no one would have heard a word about Three Mile Island, which put a serious nail in the industry's plans. However, with the attempted "renaissance" of this murderous, suicidal technology, we will have to restart our movement.

I'm afraid you're right. You mentioned in "Obama's LBJ Moment" that, instead of Afghanistan, this administration should be devoting its energy to health care, among other things. What's your take on the current health care debate?

Unfortunately, the corporations are dominating this debate. Obama failed to start things off with the single-payer option, which the corporations simply cannot tolerate. There will be a health care bill, but it will be weak and possibly even counter-productive, especially if it tries to require individuals to get their own coverage. This is a terrible imposition and will be hugely unpopular. We need a single-payer system and Obama lacks the courage or conviction to fight for it.

The biggest problem in our government is corporate power, and with that, the huge amount of resources and political power taken by the military. Until we deal with those issues, we will go nowhere in this country on health care, the environment, social justice or anything else of importance.

People should now understand that while it's been monumentally important to finally have an African-American as president, (a woman will come next) it's now more important to have someone who is not a Republican or a Democrat, and who is committed to the welfare of the public rather than that of the corporations.

What a concept. Switch hats for a moment, Harvey, if you will, and let's talk about the importance of the recently announced ES&S/Diebold merger. As a long-time chronicler of our troubled electoral history, you're in a good position to do so.

The ES&S purchase of Diebold is indicative of a larger problem. Right now, between the two of them, they control 80% of the touchscreen machines in the US. Both are corrupt GOP-dominated corporations. So, the idea that just one of them will be in control doesn't matter that much, although it has been a positive to see so much attention paid to the situation. The real problem is the use of the machines in the first place. All electronic voting machines, tabulators, etc. should be banned. We need universal automatic voter registration, and universal paper ballots that are hand-counted. Simple as that. Until we get there, there is no reason to believe any election in this country will be a reliable reflector of the popular will.

You and Bob Fitrakis wrote a great article about it:
"Diebold and the Electronic Vote: The Rig is Up." So, I'm asking you as an old-time activist, how do we make authentically transparent and accurate elections happen? What are the steps and how do we get there?

We're going to have to continually and imaginatively campaign to get rid of electronic voting. Maybe we should have a public demo where we smash a touchscreen machine. That'd make a great YouTube. Shred some scantrons and smash a tabulator. Also, show how universal automatic registration would work.

Our first priority now needs to be to keep Obama from escalating in Afghanistan. And we will be swamped if the Supreme Court allows unlimited corporate campaign contributions. (Colbert has done a terrific parody on this.) The answers are often simple: out of Afghanistan altogether. Single payer health system. No nuclear power, and a total shift away from fossil/nukes and to renewables and efficiency.

With voting: universal automatic registration, hand-counted paper ballots. We also need a national holiday for voting and for vote counting, to give working people an equal opportunity to vote.

During the eight long years of the Bush administration, it was painful to listen to the news. Many of us expected to feel a whole lot better once W and his cronies were gone. But the bad news keeps coming. And many of the 'bad guys' are still around and pulling strings. For instance, it's customary for incoming presidents to replace all the states' attorneys general. There was tremendous politicization of the DoJ under Bush yet Obama has not taken this simple, elementary step. Any idea about why?

The simple explanation is that the government is owned and operated by large corporations. No headline news there. Obama is clearly a corporate creature. Bush's violations of the Constitution and basic sanity were horrific. It's also great to have finally elected an African-American to the White House. This is a big deal. But getting down to the nitty-gritty on actual issues is much tougher. Clearly, Obama is not going to take on the corporations. The issue is no longer race or gender, it's corporate power.

Any good news on the horizon?

The biggest news domestically will be Afghanistan. The administration did cut back on the missile defense system in Europe. This indicates someone up there has some degree of sanity. If a corner is turned on Afghanistan it will be a huge deal. The fact that we're debating a health care bill and a climate bill is also good. We can count on mediocrity at best. But maybe it's a start. The improving economics of renewables is also good. And, after all, we do have an African-American in the White House. This is a monumental moment which will not go away.

Corporate as he may be, Obama is not George W. Bush and he is an African-American. So, that far we have progressed. The issue now is the power of the corporations. It is the all-defining barrier to meaningful change, the 800-pound gorilla. Let's hope we can punch some holes in their power and move ahead. The real question is not whether there will be female or men of color in the White House; the question is when will we get a government that's no longer owned and operated by the corporations, which are the most powerful institutions in the history of humankind...

The fact that the administration is openly contemplating not sending more troops is important. There's no place to hide now. This does not mean I'm necessarily optimistic. But I do believe with the decision made out in the open, we will have a greater chance to stop it.

Let's take a break. When we return for the conclusion of our interview, Harvey will sum up where we find ourselves right now and what we can do about it. Please stay tuned.

Part one of my interview with Harvey

Part three of my interview with Harvey
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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