Posted March 4, 2010
Dan La Botz is a member of Solidarity and of the Socialist Party USA running for Ohio Senate. The interview below originally appeared in Columbus Examiner.
Find out more, donate or get involved in the campaign at DanLaBotz.com
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Dan La Botz, 64, a native of Chicago who lives with his wife and children in Cincinnati and teaches Spanish at a local elementary school, has his own reasoned view of socialism and reasons for entering the race.
La Botz said he’s running in the senate race for many reasons, one of them being it gives him a chance to talk about domestic and foreign policy issues including what he sees as an environmental crisis and “these terrible wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
He believes the nation, at this particular moment, has a “sense of the crisis” and is “searching for answers” to them. For these and other reasons, La Botz said he “wants to be part of that debate.”
So far for La Botz, who graduated high school in San Diego County in southern California and who worked at various vocations including truck driver, journalist and community organizer before he started a career as teacher, the only coverage or inclusion by media in Ohio has come with an article in the Cincinnati Beacon and a candidate questionnaire that ran in the Warren Hamilton Tribune newspaper.
Columbus Government Examiner: What’s your working definition of socialism? Do you think Americans have a good/bad view of socialism, and why? How does this answer help/hurt your campaign?
Dan La Botz: The Republican’s battle against the Democrats’ health care plan has had a surprising result. The conservatives accused Obama of being a socialist because of that plan. This has led many to draw the conclusion that if they believe in health care for all, then they must be socialists. So overnight, millions of people have become open to thinking about the socialist alternative.
We live today in a country where capitalism and the corporations provide the model for life: selfishness, competition, greed, and disdain for others. It’s a poor model, violent, and destructive.
Socialism means conducting the political and economic life of our nation the way that—at least ideally–we conduct the lives of our many, varied sorts of families. We hold our wealth in common. We work hard to provide for all: young or old, healthy or sick, weak or strong. We create bonds of solidarity through our common efforts. We make decisions democratically through a process of give-and-take.
So too, we as a people should take collective, social control over the largest industries and corporations in our country. We should democratically elaborate a plan to use our wealth to provide a decent life for all. Most Americans, I believe, share this vision of a just society. We might make our nation one where we take care of each other, where we insure that all are taken care of. We might in that process, create a nation where one loved one’s neighbor as one’s self.
CGE: Why isn’t the mainstream media in Ohio writing about you?
Dan La Botz: Socialist candidates, because they challenge corporate power, including the power of the corporate media, find it difficult to get coverage in the mainstream media. Corporations like CBS, General Electric, Hearst, News Corp, Time Warner, Viacom and Walt Disney own most of the mainstream media, and they are in business to make a profit—not to provide news, much less to present the truth. CNN, FOX and Clear Channel radio present rightwing programming aimed at keeping the American people under the sway conservative politicians and the corporations. Fortunately within the mainstream media there remain some committed editors and journalists, and now we also have independent news sources on the Internet. We will get through to the mainstream media, but only when the social and labor movements become strong enough to forces its way in and get a fair hearing.
CGE: You say you’ve “come to know that none of the problems facing this country can be dealt with unless we end the domination of banks, insurance companies and multinational corporations over both major parties and over our political system” and that “our economic system needs to be changed.” Changed to what? What’s’ the first step in that direction, and how do you sell it to voters in Ohio?
Dan La Botz: Today ten or twenty men meeting in a mahogany room can vote to close a factory or some other workplace and destroy the economy of a town, putting thousands out of work. Similarly, they can bankrupt an industry and destroy the economy of an entire state, as we have seen happen in neighboring Michigan. We need end this system where a small minority makes decisions that affect the lives of millions who have no voice or vote in that process. I think the working people of Ohio know that such a system is unjust. No small group should hold such power. We have to end such a system.
We have lost since the peak a few years ago 650,000 jobs in Ohio and people need jobs now. We have seen no serious effort to put people in Ohio back to work. The people of Ohio want alternatives, they want answers, and they want action now. The Republicans ushered in the crisis, the Democrats have since overseen it, but neither party proposes to create jobs here now.
The Stimulus Bill was not enough and not aimed at the right target: creating jobs for all. The Stimulus Bill’s extension of unemployment benefits, assistance with health care, aid to low-income workers, and help for the very poor were necessary—but they were not enough. And the tax cuts for big business and tax money flowing to private corporations, however, put our tax money in the hands of the rich. We can do better.
Take Wilmington. DHL destroyed the economy of that town by closing its facility. The government let a viable economic center and an entire community collapse. Our tax money could have created a publicly owned logistics center—warehousing and shipping—run democratically by workers and consumers providing jobs for 8,000 workers. The government could take over and keep operating other logistics facilities in the country. We could integrate these into a revamped and revitalized U.S. Postal System. With our tax support, the workers’ know-how, and consumer in-put, we could build a logistics system to compete with and beat DHL, FEDEX, and UPS. Rather than temporary unemployment benefits, we should create jobs at living wages. I will fight to create permanent jobs not temporary handouts.
CGE: You say Democrats, Republicans and Tea Party types are not “prepared to tackle the real problem which is corporate domination of the political system.” How do you propose to take power away from the very corporate culture you say dominates America’s two majority political parties?
Dan La Botz: The corporate domination of American politics has to be challenged by both movements and a political party. We need both the rebuilding of the unions and the social movements and the development of a political alternative with a vision of a democratic socialist society. We see the labor and social movements developing unevenly and the independent political alternative similarly waxes and wanes. And the two, the movements and the political alternatives, seldom become coordinated.
We have seen during the last decade enormous progressive social movements appear and then sometimes disappear: the environmental movement, the gay and lesbian movement, the immigrant rights movement, and the anti-war movement. Unfortunately the movements have often been captured by the corporate-dominated Democratic Party where once it enters the movement often dies while its program is watered down or evaporates altogether.
Similarly we have had progressive independent political movements, most important the Green Party and the Nader campaigns. But the independent movements seldom become the expression of the movements. We cannot change American politics until the labor and social movements become strong enough and until they also break away from the Democratic Party.
The economic and social crisis that we are now suffering has begun to break up the political and ideological logjam. Working class people, middle class people have begun to go into motion, for example around the issues of health care for all, and also to seek political alternatives. We must work now then to build and to begin to coordinate the social movements and the political alternative.
Change in America will come as it always has—as it did in the creation of the industrial unions in the 1930s, as it did in the civil rights movements of the 1960s, as it did in the environmental movement of the 1970s, and as id did in the gay and lesbian movements of the 1980s, and the immigrant rights movement of the 1990s—through massive social protest and confrontations with authority. What is crucial is to provide the growing movements with a political alternative to escape the trap of the two-party system, to break and move beyond the Republicans and Democrats to a progressive alternative on the left.
CGE: Is there anyone else you had to beat out for this spot? What are the basics — funding, staffers, etc. of the Socialist Party in Ohio? Does the party have a member who’s been elected to any Ohio office, from township trustee, up?
Dan La Botz: I have been a socialist since the late 1960s, active in small socialist organizations committed to working in the labor unions and the social movements. I joined the Socialist Party and chose to run as the candidate of the Ohio Socialist Party, part of the Socialist Party USA (http://socialistparty-usa.org/) for several reasons. First, because I believed that the crises we now face—the economy, the environment, and war—can only be solved by turning to democratic socialism. Socialists have an understanding of the root cause of our problems.
Second, I chose the Socialist Party because it represents the American socialist tradition once so strong in Ohio, the party of railroad worker Eugene V. Debs and Presbyterian minister Norman Thomas, its standard bearers in the presidential elections in the early to mid-twentieth century.
Third, the party’s principles and platform today represent the vision of socialism and the program which the American people need at this time if we are to work our way out of the economic and environmental crisis, end war and enter into a path of peace on the planet.
While the organization remains small in Ohio and has not in recent history elected anyone to local or state office, it is part of a growing socialist movement across the country. The party welcomed my candidacy without opposition. Since my nomination I have received many emails, phone calls, and visits to my home from people anxious to help in one way or another. With such volunteers, we will build a state-wide organization and campaign to win a significant vote for socialism and win in November.
CGE: What’s your campaign funding report going to look like, if you ‘ve raised enough to have one to report, because the quarter deadline just ended?
Dan La Botz: As the Ohio Socialist Party candidate running on an anti-corporate program, I can’t expect to be—and wouldn’t want to be—funded by the corporations. My opponents in both the Republican and Democratic Parties will get much, perhaps most of their campaign contributions from the very wealthy, from the corporations and corporate executives, from lawyers and lobbyists. Who pays the piper calls the tune, and those parties will dance to the tune of the corporate pipers.
My campaign contributions will come from working class people, from middle class people who believe that we need to build a movement and raise a progressive political alternative. We have just begun fundraising, principally through my webpage (DanLaBotz.com) and have been delighted with the donations that have come in, some as little as $5 and some as much as $100, but mostly $25 donations. As a first step, we are looking for 1,000 people who will give $25 to support a socialist senate campaign in Ohio, and when we make that goal, then we will set a higher one.
CGE: Had you been in the U.S. Senate now, explain your vote on the recently passed health care reform bill? If you win and you’re faced with voting yea or nay on bills for jobs, climate change, and immigration, none of which [let’s presume] will reflect your concerns given your axiom that corporations control political systems, will you vote with the majority Democrats or the minority Republicans?
Dan La Botz: We have to begin to rethink the role of our representatives who should be in Congress not simply to debate and to vote, but principally to organize and mobilize among the American people to pressure the Congress to respond to the will of the working class majority. If I had been a Senator during this recent period, first I would have spent every possible movement traveling throughout Ohio organizing and building a movement for “Medicare for All!” I would have urged Ohio residents to march, demonstrate, sit-in in government buildings, and to create the sort of civic rebellion that could not have been ignored. We could have built a movement that would have eclipsed the Tea Party and would have won over some its supporters.
Every issue has its own particulars, but the method is the same. If immigrants and their allies really want to pass an immigration bill that will legalize the immigrants living and working her and building our communities without onerous penalties, then immigrants need to use their power. When in the spring of 2006 immigrants held mass demonstrations in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and scores of other communities, some of the larger demonstrations of up to one million people became virtual general strikes.
Those demonstrations revealed the power of the immigrant movement—and at precisely that moment the Catholic Church (but not all Catholic churches), the Democratic Party, and the labor unions backed away from the opportunity and the challenge. If America’s immigrants struck for immigration rights, they could paralyze the economy in many big cities and force the politicians to recognize their rights. What can a Senator do—become the voice of that movement, serve as an organizer for that movement, carry that movement’s demands to the media and to Congress. Such a movement would spark a larger working class rebellion that could begin to turn the tide for labor.
CGE: Bernie Sanders, the longest serving independent in the Senate, caucuses with the Democrats. Where do you differ on any key issue with Sanders’ view? Would you remain an independent, or would you do as Bernie has done and huddle with Democrats?
Dan La Botz: The question is not how you vote on the last day, but what you do in the days leading up to the vote, what you do to make sure that the American people get what they need. In Congress I would have sought out Bernie Sanders, the independent and self-proclaimed Socialist, and would have urged him to join me in building a “Medicare for All!” block in the Senate and among the representatives. I would have worked to strengthen the will of Representative Dennis Kucinich so that he would have stuck with his convictions. Working to build a national movement for Medicare for all to put on the pressure from below, we could have brought others into our camp.
As a socialist in Congress, there will be moments to join with some Democrats to pass measures that will benefit the American people. What is most interesting, however, is how one Socialist in Congress might be able to use that one vote to force important changes in bills under consideration—and think what we could do with a block of half a dozen Socialists, with twenty, with fifty.
CGE: Has Barack Obama been good/bad for America?
Dan La Botz: The election of Barack Obama has had both positive and negative impacts on the American people. For African American people and for all of us who oppose racism in American society, Obama’s election represented the fulfillment at one level of the civil rights movement and the demand for equal civil and political rights—often symbolized by the notion that anyone including an African American might become president. Certainly too, Obama’s election demonstrated a rejection of all that was worst about American politics, as represented by the Bush-Cheney presidency. The defeat for the right was important. And the Obama campaign raised the hope and inspired a desire for progressive change in the American people.
Unfortunately, the hope in Obama and the Democratic Party and the belief that they would bring about progressive change was largely misplaced. Following Bush’s lead, Obama saved the banks by giving them 13 trillion dollars. He saved them but didn’t save us, didn’t save small business, homeowners facing foreclosure, and people losing their jobs. Obama saved the auto companies, but not the workers who faced loss of health benefits and the bosses’ demands for wage cuts. Obama passed a health program regulates insurance companies and provides coverage for more Americans, and that’s good. It’s fundamental result, however, is to save the health insurance companies by forcing 30 million Americans to buy their policies—but which doesn’t give us Medicare for All and still leaves millions without health insurance coverage. Obama has opened up the East Coast seas to oil, good for the oil companies, but bad for the planet and for people. Obama—whose election was in large measure a referendum on U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan—has not ended those wars, but, rather, continues to expand them. Many of Obama’s supporters must be disappointed in these developments.
CGE: Who will Ohio voters elect governor, Strickland or Kasich, and why?
Dan La Botz: Just as climate change has led to volatile weather and sometimes severe storms, so too in our current crisis we see a volatile political atmosphere and sudden changes in conditions. The Democratic Party’s success in passing the health care reform has led to a sudden rise in support for Democrats. Strickland, therefore, despite the state’s disastrous economy and his failure to provide jobs, seems, therefore, likely to defeat Kasich, a nine-term Congressman completely identified with the Bush-Cheney years, and at the same time undistinguished and unknown.
CGE: Outline your campaign going forward.
Dan La Botz: During the next eight months, I will be speaking and organizing throughout Ohio and building up a state-wide campaign organization. We will be using electronic communications and social networking to build up our base of supporters and to put them in touch with each other. Part of our goal, after all, is to build and strengthen the progressive movement. We will have a Committee to Elect Socialist Party Candidate Dan La Botz in every major city and many towns in Ohio, and on the college campuses. We will look for opportunities to support workers fighting for jobs and living wages, African American communities fighting for equality and economic justice, immigrants fighting to win immigration reform, and gay and lesbian groups fighting for dignity and respect. We will join those fights, as we always have, not because we want their votes, but because we want them to build the movement we need to bring justice and fairness to our society. We will join them because the most important thing is to build a movement to challenge the corporations and the two major parties.
CGE: Which Ohio policies/programs have been good/bad for Hispanics?
Dan La Botz: The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicle’s new policy (since the end of last year) requiring Hispanics to show proof of U.S. residency unfairly discriminates against these residents. We have in our state and throughout the United States millions of immigrants, who live, work and contribute to our communities, but who do not have documents. Because we have failed to provide enough visas for those who come to work here, they have come without visas. These immigrants came here to work, raise families, and have built communities that enrich our state economically, socially and culturally. We must move to pass a national immigration reform bill which will give these immigrants legal rights. We can begin, as several states have at different times in our history, by permitting immigrants who can provide proof of identity in the form for example of a passport or consular identification card, to register their vehicles and obtain drivers licenses. Many police departments support such a policy because at present we have many unlicensed cars, unlicensed drivers, and people without insurance on our highways.
CGE: Are unions, broadly speaking, winning or losing in Ohio?
Dan La Botz: Unions and workers have been losing and it’s time to fight back. As government, corporate and union studies over decades have shown, when workers have labor unions they earn more money, have better health benefits and pension benefits, have more job security, and have protection from unfair firing. Most workers, when given the opportunity and when not faced with employer threats, will choose labor unions. For thirty years, however, the U.S. government and the corporations have worked to weaken the labor movement. Federal laws, court decisions, corporate anti-union campaigns and union-busting law firms have severely weakened the labor movement.
Here in Ohio labor unions and workers have over the last twenty years seen a dramatic decline in membership as well as economic and political power. In 1989, 21.3 percent of Ohioans belonged to labor unions, while today just 14.2 percent are union members. The combination of the economic crisis and the weakness of unions help explain why per capita personal income in Ohio shrank by 1.4 percent last year. Ohio’s workers have lost 640,000 jobs, lost health benefits or been forced to pay more for them, and have faced wage cuts. Yet unions have not mounted a serious fight back.
Too many union leaders wait for the Democratic Party to bail them out—but, of course, the Democrats, while they take the unions’ money and use their volunteer campaign organizers, inevitably fail to do much for workers. The unions wanted the Democrats to pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) which would have allowed a simple majority of workers signing cards to create a union—Obama and the Democrats let it die. Many of the unions wanted an immigration reform law—the Democrats left it on the back burner. Many unions and workers wanted Medicare for all—the Democrats passed a much weaker health reform bill.
If unions and the working people of Ohio and of the nation are going to improve their situation, we must have a working class uprising in the form of organizing campaigns and strikes to force employers to negotiate and to pay higher wages. We cannot do this without a combination of strategic organizing ideas, solidarity between unions and among workers, and a grassroots rebellion that draw the line and says, “No more concessions. Fight back now!” We may have begun to see the beginning of such a change with the Ford workers’ recent votes against concessions. Maybe the Ford workers will lead the next workers’ rebellion against the corporations.
CGE: What should public sector unions be happy or afraid about?
Dan La Botz: Public employees stand in danger of layoffs, furloughs, wage and benefit cuts and must be on guard and prepared to fight back.
Government employees who provide so many of our essential services—from teachers and social workers to fire fighters and police officers, from librarians and nurses to water workers and garbage collectors—face a difficult situation. The economic crisis which led to the collapse of some banks and corporations, and to layoffs at others, has meant that federal, state and local governments have lost funding. So the crisis quickly spread from private industry to public employment with disastrous results. State and local governments have been forced to use rainy-day reserves, to lay off employees, or to cut back on hours.
Ohio public sector workers have a stronger position than private sector workers, because more than 45% of Ohio’s public employees are represented by labor unions. On the other hand, those labor unions do not enjoy the same right to strike as other unions, and the members’ political rights are also limited. Public employee unions and their members must pay attention to politics, because it is federal, state and local budgets which ultimately decide hiring policies, wages and benefits for those workers. Many of these unions rely on the Democratic Party, but the Democrats are unreliable allies, and often let them down. Workers in both the private and the public sector need both to rebuild the power of the unions and create a new independent political party for working class people.