Mickey Z. interviews Richard Oxman
What do you think of Obama's reaction to the Gates incident? Who killed Michael Jackson? Why did Palin resign? Why are 90% of the large fish in the ocean gone? Which question doesn't belong?
California-based organizer, educator, activist-writer, and playwright (and, oh yes, home schooling father and devoted spouse) Richard Oxman knows the answer. He's more than aware that our current system – our very culture – is designed to shove the "big" questions to the fringes. This is why Oxman has conjured up a unique form of dissent: TOSCA - Taking Over the State of California.
"A necessary, urgent action," he calls its, "designed to put thirteen non-politicians into the Sacred Seat in Sacramento (the Governor's seat)... with all of those citizens having an equal say... along with the working figureheads who will be our candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor in the 2010 gubernatorial race."
Oxman feels California is ideally suited for such an effort and has begun the important work of getting the campaign (so to speak) rolling. I recently asked him some questions via e-mail and here's how it went:
MZ: What is it about the state of California and its political apparatus that makes it a logical venue for your efforts?
RO: The Governor of California can wield great influence in the state, having the legal right to move unilaterally on many fronts without having to compromise with opposing politicians. The state itself is tremendously influential, nationwide, internationally. Her/his role - the Guv's - in Higher Education alone could change the world. Think divestment, for one. And because California is in serious - historic - trouble on several counts, citizens there are primed to follow a new paradigm for change. They are desperate.
MZ: If/when this succeeds, what might be the first obvious difference the public would notice?
RO: It will succeed, it must... or we are doomed. Everything else on the table is either disingenuous or moving at an arthritic snail's pace. Once in office all decision-making meetings will be filmed for public consumption, to help citizens to self-educate, and decide for themselves who has their interests at heart, what to demand, who to pressure , etc. Our Guv can actually teach citizens HOW to pressure. That's one of several aspects of TOSCA that have no historical precedent. Our tenure in office will be citizen-centered and communally-centered, NOT about the self-interest of career politicians or their money men.
MZ: Speaking of money…
RO: Our campaign will be waged on a ZERO budget. Whereas people concerned with the influence of money in campaigns to date have tried to change things with efforts such as campaign finance reform... we will Be The Change We Want To See. Meaning, we intend to demonstrate what miracles can be wrought with no money. TOSCA is all about opening up a window to see what the public will do on their own once they see how much can be accomplished without any funds whatsoever. How much pure joy can be generated, how much human connection can be had... with nothing in one's pocket.
MZ: Considering the roadblocks involved with even getting a candidate on the ballot, how do you intend to accumulate enough votes?
RO: One thing we're going to do is do away with all the time, energy and money that's always put into getting on the ballot. What we save there we'll put into recruiting... on an intimate basis. Not with signs, petitions, online blah blah, meetings, announcements or any of that habitual generic stuff. Sure, we'll accept high profile plugs, but our basic m.o. will be to have friends contact friends one-on-one, bonding in an unprecedented way, passing the word incessantly; we have a huge jump on others already. No real time needed. That 61% who didn't show at the last statewide election will provide mucho. Then there are the voters whose votes weren't counted because of carelessness, more than what the Green Party garnered! None of our unaffilitated write-in votes will be lost in that Black Hole. I can't fit "reasons" and much else into this telegraphic bite, but... contact me. There will be easy crossovers from major and marginalized parties... for it'll be effortless to sell the notion that we need deep institutionalized changes... like detaching our economy from the Pentagon... which no one else can offer. Before much longer highly influential souls will take up TOSCA's cause... almost exclusively. And then the first step in our legal, non-violent revolution will kick in.
MZ: Okay, I've asked to sound-bite and condense and reduce your idea to an easily digestible morsel to keep it ready for prime time…but now imagine you have a totally different audience: radicals, activists, etc. Why should, say, an anarchist get on board the TOSCA Express?
RO: Express, yes! Everyone should get on board "yesterday" because individual freedom will be of paramount importance - on an ongoing basis - for all connected with TOSCA. There are different kinds of anarchists, of course, but like the vast majority of anarchists... TOSCA's core members believe that an appropriate economic order cannot be created by the decrees and statues of a government. We're into the collaboration of workers in all aspects of production... keeping in mind, however, please... that we have no intention to approach "production" along traditional, environmentally destructive lines. The taking over of management in all facilities by the producers themselves is of prime importance to us, and of great appeal to most anarchists, I believe. We see separate groups within industry as independent members of the Big Industrial Picture, carrying on production/distribution of products in the clear interests of particular communities... on the basis of free mutual agreements. That said, it doesn't mean that the thirteen people serving as Governor together will not be trying to influence decisions made in each little corner. Everyone has an obvious vested interest in moving in solidarity respecting certain environmental facts, at the very least. And, by the way, this business of anarchism should not scare anyone away. For everyone who opposes the Pentagon being inextricably bound up with our economy's success, functioning... must, absolutely must acknowledge that we're going to have to have radical institutional changes in order to create greater democratization in society. To say nothing about other equally important (related) issues...like abominations abroad... which we will spotlight daily on our own media outlet.
MZ: When you talk about the need to move in solidarity respecting certain environmental facts, are you saying that we may differ on certain issues but everyone is heavily impacted by 80% of world's forests being gone?
RO: Perfectly put. We are all doomed if everyone is merely doing their own thing. TOSCA would respect anarchists more than any other group in office in history, but... we would do our damnedest to help everyone self-educate about our mutual environmental threats, and do what we could to encourage those making decisions in little corners to deeply consider larger communal concerns. Their own survival, to put in another way.
MZ: Who - besides me - have you asked to serve as an advisor and who have approached about being a candidate? What kind of response have you generally gotten?
RO: High profile figures and others such as Howard Zinn, Michael Parenti, Bill Blum, Derrick Jensen, Glen Ford, Afshin Rattansi (in Iran at present), Jennifer Loewenstein, Greg Moses, Wallace J Nichols, Michael Stocker (of Ocean Conservation Research), the great African specialist who constantly risks his life to get great news to us... Keith Harmon Snow, Dave Lindorff, Cindy Sheehan, Ron Jacobs, Kim Petersen (of Canada), Henry A. Giroux (who Routledge named as one of the top fifty educational thinkers of the modern period), L.A. attorney/author Ellen Brown, Argentina's Marie Trigone, Bruce Anderson (of the Anderson Valley Advertiser), Devinder Sharma (of India), Ronnie Cummins (Executive Director for Organic Consumers Association), David Yearsley, organic farmer Dr. Shepherd Bliss of Sonoma State University, Murray Dobbin (of Canada), Stephen Martin, and artist Jerry Fresia (in Italy) are just some of the people who have offered us their public imprimaturs.
We're still in the process of trying to recruit Mike Davis, Paul Hawken, Michael Albert and Arundhati Roy... and everyone else! Noam Chomsky hasn't come on board yet, but we haven't given up on anyone, and even people like Noam - who for very legitimate reasons want to take "a little more time" to consider all aspects of what we've put on the table before adopting a public stance - have taken the heartbeats to go back and forth with us, very generously. Much is not written in stone, and so we can take the time to ask people to make recommendations, to feel free to tweak this and that to, possibly, suit their own purposes... their angle on society.
MZ: So the reactions have been encouraging?
RO: Everything considered, I'd say that we're getting an over-the-top positive response. I mean, the above list was compiled over a period of only about two weeks of me working alone, spending only minimal time on recruitment. That's actually phenomenal by any standards, yes? And one really has to factor in that we're coming out of nowhere, dumping ourselves in the inboxes of individuals and organizations quite suddenly, absolutely no prep for what's essentially, arguably, the most radical proposal in the realm of politics... for the electoral arena... in the history of the country. IRV is one of our big/small potatoes.
Some groups and some activists are truly puzzling in their responses, but that's another book, as they say. The reasons for silence in response to my missives sometimes, the dropping of the ball inexplicably by some, the lack of nurturing well-intentioned efforts like TOSCA's, and premature dismissal of what we put on the table for consideration now and then is all part of the animal we're taming. By which I mean any effort to mobilize citizens for the purposes of moving in solidarity meaningfully - not in lockstep automatic meaningless mode following old paradigms for protest/change - is going to encounter all kinds of resistance for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is what I call territorial trauma. But that's part of the beautiful satisfaction that's coming our way, this TOSCA making a dent in all that. The fact is that there's nothing else on the table that I know of which has a shot in hell at saving this "heaven on earth" in time.
MZ: How can readers learn more and get involved?
RO: Readers should contact me directly IMMEDIATELY. They can reach me at email@example.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org for starters. Urgent connection is crucial... whether one wants to limit one's participation to only ten minutes total running up to the election in 2010, OR whether one wants to work alongside me 24x8 to create this watershed in history. PLEASE NOTE that I always get back within 24 hours at the outside. If one doesn't hear back from me directly within that time frame, something's amiss. The link http://oxtogrind.org/... is a decent place to start learning about TOSCA, and a reading of that can be followed by encouraging others to contact me.
Mickey Z. is the author of two upcoming books: Self Defense for Radicals (PM Press) and his second novel, Dear Vito (The Drill Press). Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net