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For People, Planet & Peace: Interview with Lisa Savage, Ind. Candidate for Senate in Maine

Lisa Savage is running for Senate in the state of Maine, against Republican incumbent, Susan Collins. Lisa is long-time antiwar and environmental organizer, as well as being a public school teacher and a grandmother. Although she has been an active member of the Green Party, Lisa is running as an independent candidate due to restrictive ballot access laws in Maine. The state does, however, boast the advantage of having ranked choice voting, which gives independent candidates a better shot.

I interviewed Lisa for my podcast, “Voices for Nature & Peace,” on May 7th, 2020, and we covered a lot of ground: COVID-19 relief (including her call for a People’s Bail-Out), healthcare, agriculture, campaigning during a pandemic, the recently released documentary, “Planet of the Humans,” the Green New Deal, and US militarism. If she wins, she will certainly be one of the most progressive people to ever serve in the US Senate.

What follows is a partial transcript of our conversation. Listen to the full interview here.

Kollibri terre Sonnenblume: I’d like to start today with the COVID-19 pandemic. The response from the corporate duopoly in Washington, DC, has been entirely inadequate so far, as I’m sure you’ve noticed and many people are experiencing hardship. But I see that you are calling for a “People’s Bail Out.”

Lisa Savage: We’ve now seen three pieces of legislation passed and they’re debating the fourth right now. They’ve been bailing out different sectors of society: corporations have gotten trillions of dollars in unaccounted-for dollars. We’ve seen some relief to hospitals. We’ve seen some money put into unemployment compensation. And we’ve seen some money put into small businesses in the form of loans and payroll protection, and so forth. But the paltry amount of money that was budgeted for individuals who are unable to pay their bills was extremely austere compared to other wealthy nations and many of us, myself and my husband included, have yet to receive that one paltry payment.

We know that one third of people in the US were unable to make their rent payment on April 1st. I haven’t seen the statistics yet for May 1, but I suspect it was an even greater proportion of the population than one third unable to make the rent. I just read yesterday read a shocking report about how many families with small children are experiencing food insecurity and how many mothers responded to an academic study saying, “I’ve cut down on meals for my children; my children are often hungry.”

I teach school in a very rural, low income part of my state, Maine, and I’m well aware of how very close to abject poverty many of the families in my community are. But I think that the pandemic throwing so many people out of work has exacerbated the problem hugely and Congress continues providing relief for their big campaign donors, the corporation that give them millions and millions of dollars to get re-elected. They have failed to bail out the American people. I would be in favor of providing relief for anyone who is a resident in the US.

Kollibri: So this would include also relief for rent.

Lisa: Yes, my campaign also has a petition demanding that their be relief for renters and for home-owner mortgages… to provide relief. Meaning that, don’t just freeze rent and mortgage payments; that just postpones the problem. If people are out of work they’ll be no more able to pay their rent six months from now than they are right now. [So we need to] put a freeze on evictions because obviously people experiencing homeless is a huge problem and a pandemic where people are told, “Just stay home,” and then it overlooks the fact that millions of Americans have no home to stay in. Certainly, not being able to pay the rent two months running makes a huge amount of growth in housing insecurity.

A People’s Bailout would be in the form of direct payments to the people, such as other countries are doing. I believe Canada gave each of its people $2000 a month. Almost all the other wealthy countries have provided similar relief because you can’t ask people to stay home and not go to their job and not continue earning money and at the same time, how will they eat? How will they pay their bills?

Kollibri: When it comes to the bills that are related to healthcare that more and more people will be getting as this goes on, that’s also unaffordable for many people in the United States.

Lisa: The lack of public healthcare in this country is shocking. It’s been a crisis for at least a couple of decades. The pandemic didn’t create the crisis, but it has certainly shone a spotlight on the glaring inequalities in our healthcare system. Also, the risk to the public when we do not have a coordinated national public health system in place that can respond to something like an unprecedented and novel virus that’s extremely communicable and nobody knows how to fight it yet. If we had a coordinated national response at the healthcare level, I think it would be quite different than what we’re seeing, which is that most people are thrown out of work lose their health insurance because it was tied to their employment.

Many people don’t seek healthcare, either for suspected COVID-19 infection or from other health issues because they literally can’t afford to go to the doctor. Almost no one in the US has adequate dental care. I have a friend who is a big part of my team here in Maine on the campaign, who has Veterans’ Administration care; he’s a member of Veterans for Peace and he goes to the VA, but that doesn’t include dental care. This week he has a terrible tooth ache and he’s very worried about whether they’re going to say he needs a root canal because he doesn’t have thousands and thousands of dollars to fund that.

This system has been in meltdown for awhile and the pandemic, I’m hoping, is the final blow to this terrible, for-profit system. I’m a person who doesn’t believe that the words “profit” and “healthcare” belong in the same sentence. Not every human activity is appropriate to seek profits and healthcare would be right at the top of that list.

Lisa: Many people in the US are unaware of the Pentagon’s role in driving climate change. Not only is the Pentagon a huge polluter–in terms of chemicals and polluting water tables where its bases are, and so forth–but it’s the largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels on the planet. Its greenhouse gas emissions exceed that of 140 nations. The Pentagon has been driving climate change, while waging wars to control access to fossil fuel in other parts of the world. It’s a vicious cycle. If you would stop building weapons systems, that’s one win for the climate right there.

If instead of throwing people out of work and shutting down the factories, you said now we’re going to build that light rail system that everyone’s been dreaming about, economists’ research repeatedly–using models of how much an investment of a certain amount of dollars generates jobs–have shown that you would generate probably 50% additional jobs if you converted from building weapons systems to building clean energy systems. Building weapons systems is not a very good job program although our member of congress constantly tell us they can’t stop doing that because: “Jobs. Everybody needs the jobs.”

We’re talking good union jobs with benefits, but building weapons systems is capital intensive and involves a lot of robotics so it doesn’t actually generate as many jobs as investing that same amount of money in many [other] different sectors of the economy.

Kollibri: US militarism and foreign policy are something that have been missing from the national conversation since the W presidency. The last time we had a vibrant national antiwar movement was 2003. Yet it has continued unabated, not just in the form of hot wars, but in the form of sanctions. I was hoping you could talk about that.

Lisa: Sure. This is really where I came up in political organizing. As my family grew up and didn’t need my care anymore, I became very involved in peace activism and antiwar organizing against specific wars….

I’m the age that I was a high school student during the Vietnam War. I wasn’t old enough that I had to worry about my friends being drafted. That set my understanding. A good friend of mine whose parents were Socialists, brought a pamphlet and shared it with me at school that was written by the North Vietnamese. The analysis was that imperial wars are about money. You can say they’re about ideology and fighting communism and so forth, but really they’re about corporate profits.

I began to look at America’s constant war-mongering with a different eye at that point, when I was about thirteen, fourteen years old. Over the years, it’s certainly been borne out. Probably the war that I took the most active stance against was our war on Afghanistan, where the 9/11 events were used as a pretext for attacking a country that didn’t have any nationals involved, but it had also been a target of many empires: the USSR wanted Afghanistan, Alexander the Great wanted Afghanistan. It’s a very geographically crucial, powerful, strategic area. Then when the second Gulf War–the shock and awe attacks were about to happen–by then my family had grown up and I had enough time to get involved in antiwar organizing.

I have a communications background and so I was always interested in, “How is it that the people in the US don’t seem to be upset by wars?” So many people turned out worldwide to protest the Iraq war, but when it went ahead anyway, most of them faded. Once Barack Obama was elected president, most of the people that I had stood outside with, holding signs, just vanished. They were not going to question America’s first black president. They were not going to criticize him, or question his foreign policy.

I noticed that you interviewed Margaret Kimberley recently in Counterpunch. She’s someone who I met in the antiwar movement, during Obama’s first term. She and some of the other people who write for Black Agenda Report, like Glen Ford, said you know, you don’t have to give Barrack Obama a pass on foreign policy just because he’s black. He’s still wrong. He’s conducting foreign policy the same way that George Bush did, and it’s wrong. We’re not going to support it, no matter how we feel that finally the racial barrier was broken to put a black man in the White House.

So I have studied the financial underpinnings of our constant, endless wars. Starting in ’01 we have a “war on terror.” Well, “terror” is an abstract concept. Terror is never going to surrender, because it’s a thing like freedom or trust. It’s not capable of waging war. It’s a tactic that people use in wars. So they created a war that could not be won, by definition. Particularly in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Syria too.

I was a history major and I’m not aware of other empires that actually funded their own enemies in order to keep the conflict going. Because the profits are rolling in whether we’re quote winning or quote losing any of these wars. Every president has continued bombing civilians pretty much non-stop.

The press doesn’t pay much attention to it. The corporate press is owned by the same corporations that own our government, so they’re going to look aside from it. Really, this is where your corporate Democratic candidates can not talk about wars.

I went to an event in Portland that was a supposed town hall with Susan Collins. She’s our current Senator. It was put on a by a Democratic group. They took questions from the audience on cards and it was a very managed conversation. It took an hour for anyone to be able to ask a question about climate. And no one ever the words, “wars,” “military,” “Pentagon.” Anything to do with the military was just verboten. You cannot talk about it. Democrats don’t want to talk about it because they’re no better than Republicans on that score. They’re no different. It’s inconvenient for their false dichotomy narrative that, guess what? We take donations from General Dynamics just like Republicans do, and we vote for the biggest military budget in the history of the world, just like Republicans do. There we all are, voting yes.

That is the main thing that motivated my political activism for the last twenty years. It’s unsustainable. It’s a disaster just barreling down on us.

…Democrats like a more polite, more educated, more articulate spokesperson for the corporations that rule us, and many people now prefer the bombastic world-wrestling type, braggadocio style of the current occupant of the White House, but I have to tell you, in terms of foreign policy, in terms of the federal budget, there really is not that much difference between those two administrations [Obama and Trump].

…One thing I’ve noticed in my lifetime that’s been really interesting, Koll, is that the closer the two parties move together, the more vigorously the false dichotomy narrative is pushed. So there’s a huge amount of playacting going on all the time about these huge differences between red and blue.

It makes sense that you can fool most of the people some of the time. I think that information control has been the most significant factor in keeping people fooled, in keeping people voting against their own interests, in not seeing the reality underneath the surface that’s presented to them. We thought that the internet and digital information age would make information so much more accessible; it would be an equalizer. And in some ways, that has happened, because people who care to do the work of finding their own information, in fact can find more information. When I was a kid growing up, reading the daily paper that my parents subscribed to, and Time magazine and Life magazine, until my friend handed me that pamphlet from the North Vietnamese, I wasn’t getting a lot of information that wasn’t part of the mainstream.

Now, in the last five years, we’ve seen so much internet censorship, so much more managing of the information that reaches us on various platforms. If you’re committed [and] you like research, and you like reading and digging around, you can still find really good information. I notice that you publish in Counterpunch quite often. That’s an internet source that I consider useful for information that’s outside the narrative. But the vast majority of people that I’ve known in my life don’t spend their time looking. They actually think that National Public Radio is public radio and that if they listen to that, they’re well-informed. They believe that.

Kollibri: I was raised in that milieu, where National Public Radio and PBS were really held up. And perhaps in the 70’s they were a little bit different than now, but now the corporate ownership of them seems nearly complete.

Lisa: I think it was Noam Chomsky who said the American populace is the most heavily propagandized populace that has ever lived. There’s a quote I’ve never been able to source that has intrigued me for years as a communications person, and that is, in really sophisticated propaganda, even the opposite isn’t true. Really, the power of propaganda isn’t in telling us what to believe; it’s in putting the frame around what we should be looking at. It’s directing our gaze and saying, “Here’s where you should be paying attention,” and anything outside of that is not of interest. “Don’t pay any attention to that.” I see the affect of that on people’s understanding of what’s going on.

I don’t like to see people suffering, or toddlers going hungry, or people of color dying in way disproportionate numbers because they’re underlying conditions were already poor due to poverty and racism in our healthcare system. But I do like it when the scales fall from our eyes and we realize what a bad system we live under. Because that offers us the hope that we will be motivated to say, “What can I do? How can I join with others who understand this and try to craft something better so that our children and grandchildren have a more survivable world than the one that we’re living in?”

To find out more about Lisa Savage’s campaign, visit lisaformain.org or follow her on FacebookTwitterYouTube, and her blog, Went 2 the Bridge.

Listen to the full interview on my podcast, here.