BuzzFlash Interview, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky
TO DEFEAT THE BARBARIANS AT THE GATE, WE NEED MORE JAN SCHAKOWSKYS
"We need more Jan Schakowskys," New York Magazine recently declared and BuzzFlash agrees. Who is Jan Schakowsky? Well, the Congresswoman from Illinois (the Ninth District) represents the future of Democratic progressive politics, according to New York Mag.
Schakowsky, Democratic Floor Whip, began as a grassroots consumer advocate and has stayed true to her roots. In a button-down world of political caution and calculated positions, she's a breath of fresh air and a tonic to Democrats longing to put up the good fight on behalf of principles and justice.
Last week, we talked with Congresswoman Schakowsky about a variety of issues of interest to Democrats, Progressives and Independents -- in short, BuzzFlash readers. If you're yearning for an elected official who's out there battling for core values and principles, then read on.
BUZZFLASH: Do you feel that Bush is the duly elected President?
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: I do feel his ascendancy to the presidency was
But the fact of the matter is Bush is the President. Now I've come to the realization that we have got to make George Bush wear the jacket and take full responsibility for every single thing that happens. We are doing ourselves a disservice if we don't force him to be the wily one wearing the jacket and making the decisions. He does have a worldview, and this is reflective of the fact that he's putting in place exactly what he wants and exactly what he believes -- and the buck stops there.
BUZZFLASH: What do you say to Democrats, Independents and Progressives who feel demoralized by the unrelenting onslaught of the Bush right wing agenda?
SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I would say 'Get off your ass' is what I would say
to them. In my thirty years of organizing, the common things I would hear
at meetings and gatherings are "I don't know what's going on"
and "I don't know who to write to." All that info is a click
away. Probably a lot of it is on your website so there's no excuse anymore
for people not to be completely wired, literally, into what is going on.
So they are going to have to accept responsibility if George W. Bush gets
away with lying about carbon dioxide. And Christine Todd Whitman--let's
get her to resign. She's being rolled over. It's embarrassing. She should
feel embarrassed. It's one thing after another where she's forced to show
that she's a lackey. This is a woman who was the governor. She
BUZZFLASH: What do you think about the battle between the Green Party and the Democrats?
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: My view is that our future isn't in the Green Party but the Democrats can't dismiss their arguments and positions. In criticizing Ralph Nader we better not be criticizing his position on the environment. That's for sure. Or be shutting down debates on trade, which was part of their platform.
I'm mad at Ralph. I think of myself that someone who is an organizer and wants to build a progressive majority. I don't hold Al Gore and the Democrats blameless. But the fact is the indisputable fact is that without the Nader votes, Gore would be President. It's just true.
But I don't want to go back there. I think what we need to do is figure out how we move forward and I don't see it as building the Green Party. That to me is not the productive way to go.
BUZZFLASH: What do you think about the debate within the Democratic Party that the Democrats were either too strong or not strong enough on progressive issues in the last election? Like gun control.
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: There was a battle, no question. And it's somewhat ongoing
as far as an analysis of the election. Frankly, I think the gun control
forces have lost the post election battle in terms of analysis. And it
is reflected in the aftermath of this latest school shooting. The conventional
wisdom around here is that this is not a
think Al Gore would have done better if he had been more clear and more
vocal on gun control. He didn't have to worry about a particular rural
district. He's looking at the whole country, which I think is solidly
for gun safety legislation. The NRA, I think one can safely say, supports
Republicans. And given the choice to support a pro-gun Republican and
Our future, in no way, lies with pandering to the NRA. Particularly because we are not espousing to take away guns. The evidence that we can win with this issue is to look at what labor did. Labor ran a very effective campaign towards a group who was very much like those people who vote the NRA line--working class white males. Labor Union members voted Democratic because the message was, "Al Gore doesn't want to take away your guns, but George Bush wants to take away your Union." And that worked.
BUZZFLASH: And that's proven to be true.
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: And that's proven to be true and it was effectively communicated. If we do exert leadership and we have a way of communicating with our base and we have a good message, then we can win! I'm longing for more of a fighting spirit here.
BUZZFLASH: Democratic leadership in the House and Senate seem to be in a defensive posture. If investigations are called involving financial issues, the Democrats are almost always the ones being investigated. BuzzFlash realizes that the Republicans control the committees. All the hammering that comes on these issues comes from Republicans towards Democrats and not much the other way.
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: I think we can go on the offensive without even
We could talk about the kinds of relationships the Bush appointees have with corporate America. Not only the top appointees but even those who are further down. And I hope that we will do a lot more of that. So people will know who's populating those executive offices. How we are getting decisions like that and how that links up to political contributions and that sort of thing.
I'm not advocating that we get into the same slime game as the Republicans because in the end what I think Americans really care about is: "What's going to happen to me?" "Am I going to lose my Social Security? Are my kids going to be living in a safe neighborhood?" I have enough faith in Americans that if we give them the truth about what is going on here and the real threat to them, that that will be more compelling then these slime hearings. But we can't be mealy mouthed about it. We've got to be really aggressive and clear about it, and unapologetic about it, and not defensive about it because this is needed important information for every American to hear.
will accuse us of class warfare, and we will get "sensitive"
about it. But, hey, we are not the ones declaring war. They are declaring
the war. They are the ones who are giving taxpayer dollars to the absolute
wealthiest Americans. That's their plan. That's not our plan. And the
way we shrink at the slightest little squawk from their side on important
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: I think that what people want is the end to the injustice. What people want is an end to unfairness. There's a lot of talk about changing the tone in Washington. I don't think Americans care what our tone of voice is, I really don't. And I don't think Americans are so into politeness for its own sake, or manners. You know, Miss Manners, that's not what this is about. But I think that there is this impression that we are going to be viewed as rude if we stand up to them -- or something else irrelevant like that. I think we have to get over that. I think people want us to work together when it's possible but not at risk of sacrificing our basic values, principles and needs.
BUZZFLASH: Moving to a more technical question. What's the most effective way for constituents to express their viewpoints to a member of Congress?
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: I think that e-mail--there have been stories on the front page about our inability to effectively manage e-mail--is not the best way. So obviously, face to face visits as usual are the best way.
BUZZFLASH: What about snail mail and tabulations for or against certain positions?
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: Yes. And every letter gets answered in every office.
BUZZFLASH: As compared to e-mail where a lot of mail probably gets lost?
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: A lot probably gets lost, and it's such a problem to deal with for so many offices. And I don't know what level of staff is dealing with it in each office. Whereas they are all set up to better handle snail mail.
The Cadillac of contacts is if you can get a meeting of some sort with your congressmen or senator, invite them to an event or something in the district. I spend a lot of time at home doing that sort of thing. And telephone calls with the representative are effective.
BUZZFLASH: When a person calls in and tells a staffer, "I want Congresswoman S. to vote for this bill." Does that get tallied?
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: Yes it does.
BUZZFLASH: Is it tallied "for" or "against"?
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: Yes they are tallied. And I do know about it. It's better than nothing. People say, "petitions don't work," but getting someone to affix their name is a tiny bit of activism. So that's a good thing. It's better than nothing. It's a continuum. So obviously if you can get the member of Congress on the phone that's better than leaving the message. Nonetheless, leaving the message is better than nothing.
BUZZFLASH: What do you say to people who are so disillusioned at this point and wondering what is the most effective thing to do to survive the next four years?
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: First of all there's a lot of good news. Look at the census. The census is good news.
BUZZFLASH: Even in spite of the way that the count was determined?
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: Despite the fact that we can't use the scientific method, we see that the population is growing.
The future of the United States is good news for the Democrats. It's more urban. It's more minority. It's more multi-cultural. And that's good. This is a good thing for us.
And quite frankly, I think that the success of this right wing deluge that's come through and what's going to be revealed about the budget - if we can capture it and turn it in a positive direction, it should inspire more people to vote and participate in elections and to write to their congressmen. Because this is really bad stuff. They are going to be doing some critical cutting to programs from community policing and firefighters to really jeopardizing Medicare for tax breaks to the wealthy. This is going to start unfolding in a much more clear and dramatic way in the next few weeks.
I actually feel that if all of us, including your angry readers, resist just feeling turned off and alienated and decide instead to nag their elected officials, to talk to their friends, to have meetings and do it the old-fashioned way, we can see a pretty dramatic turnaround.
I am not of the school that things have got to get worse before they get better. That's why I wanted Al Gore win because I don't want to see people suffer. And I think real people are going to suffer under the Bush administration. And we have to make sure that that suffering is not in vain. That we are able to organize around it and fight back the Congress and make Bush a one-term Presidency. Organized labor is in the crosshairs, a woman's right to choose, and on and on. We can't be foolish enough to see those opportunities to organize and fight back.
BUZZFLASH: How can Progressives influence the main stream media?
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: Start with letters to the editor. Believe me those are influential. When someone writes a bad or a good letter about me, I know about it and I know a lot of people know about it cause they are reading about it. That is a very effective way to not only communicate to the public at large but to the elected official.
I would agree that the media has given George Bush a pass. That's part of the reason we have to stop saying 'Oh he doesn't know what he is doing' and 'he's just a tool.' No. He has got to be blamed. And I'm tired of this press media honeymoon that he's getting. BuzzFlash readers should write letters to the editor, lots of them.
BUZZFLASH: So we should treat President Bush as an adult.
CONGRESSWOMAN SCHAKOWSKY: Like the grown up that he should be.
CLOSING BUZZFLASH NOTE: Now you can see why BuzzFlash agrees that we need more Jan Schakowskys. How about an order for 435 Schakowsky clones in the House of Representatives? That would do the trick.
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