It has been hard going for John Brooks, the environmentalist candidate for San Diego’s Congressional District 53 since we talked with him last October 19th. As the elections have been getting closer, he has become acquainted with the politics of exclusion.
Brooks thought he had a natural fit in the forum for Democratic candidates held last week, February 3rd. “It was right up my alley: 350.org [created to end the age of fossil fuels] was holding a San Diego forum where wannabe representatives could stand up and explain their take on how to save the world. I have more experience with environmental matters than most. Certainly more than any of the other candidates.”
He has spent the last 30 years as a wildlife inspector with the federal government. He views his candidacy as being about putting climate change on the very front burner.
“I believe passionately about it. I have a lifetime’s experience in it. I have degrees in it. That is why I am running. And yet 350.org froze me out.”
Indeed, only the “top” 5 of the 15 declared candidates were allowed to participate. “We had all paid our fees, and yet our ideas were suppressed, excluded. This organization 350.org says it’s about climate justice? How about hearing the candidates before you throw them aside? Oppression of thought remains, if one is not allowed to be heard.”
When Brooks asked about the basis for 350.org’s “triage” of two thirds of the candidates, “I was told it came down to name recognition, and how much you raised in the last quarter. But in this marketplace of ideas, quarterly donations are how you evaluate them?”
He says the same thing happened at forums at SDSU, the U-T, and KPBS.
“When I objected to KPBS excluding me and my other nine colleagues, they told me ‘You can put a table at the back, but not onstage.’ I did, but I didn’t get to speak, and people just walked past me. They didn’t even know who I was. These unelected gatekeepers are telling voters whose ideas have worth?”
So what would he do to remedy this inequality of opportunity? “Firstly, publicly funded elections. That is the point of my social-media-driven, no-cost campaigning. Except it isn’t no-cost: you have to pay a $1740 fee to become a bona fide candidate, and actually by the time you’re truly in, you will have spent $5000 of your own money, for sure. But it doesn’t have to be this way.”
He says if he does get elected, the first thing he’ll do is “introduce compulsory Civic Duties to schools. Right now, no young person has a stake in the nation’s politics. Kids’ eyes glaze over, because they’ve never been involved. But if civics was mandated like math or English, they’d be, ‘Can’t wait till I turn 18 to actually participate.’”
Second, he says, “voting itself should be mandatory, just like going to the DMV to qualify for your license, or registering to pay your taxes. If we don’t take voting seriously, voters won’t either.”
And thirdly, “The environment, hello! I tell people we have three — three! — years, before things start flying out of control. Folks say ‘What about immigration?’ I say, ‘Pretty soon even immigration won’t matter.”