Interview
Bob Levis, Green Party candidate, Wisconsin's 5th Congressional District
by Aaron Barlow for ePluribus Media
01 October 2006

ePluribus Media: Thanks for taking the time to answer questions for ePluribus Media. To start, I'd like to allow you a chance to tell us a little bit about yourself.

Bob Levis: I've been an activist most of my adult life. Having grown up in privilege I easily jumped into the New York corporate world after graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1963. The button- down pyramid structure of the media companies I went to work for (NBC, Westinghouse Broadcasting and Time Magazine, Inc.) was way too confining for me. I began to experiment with a variety of classes in the evenings and hooked up with a couple of different theatre groups. Eventually, I headed out to San Francisco, having read about the Haight-Ashbury counter culture. There I co-founded a theatre and also a film company that produced several socially relevant documentaries and a rollicking anti-establishment feature "GOLD." From there I worked briefly but intensely with the United Farmworkers, which was my seminal political experience in organizing. Later I moved to England with my co-vivant and we were at the center of the squatting movement that resulted from the impossibly high prices for living spaces. Our daughter was born there and we returned after four years and settled into Oakland, California. My Better Half started a community newsletter, which we built into a bona fide tabloid, advertiser- supported newspaper "GLAD RAG." I was elected President of the merchants' association.

I continued supplementing my income with a variety of sales jobs and working on a multitude of social justice issues. A series of political events brought me back to my roots in Wisconsin to challenge the incumbent Republican F. James Sensenbrenner for the fifth congressional district of Wisconsin. I went to school fifty years ago with Sensenbrenner, and I have watched him become more and more disconnected with the voters and connected with only the money interests that rule Washington.

ePMedia: As your artistic life is not separate from your political one, could you tell us a little about your writing, particularly "The Wicked Priest"?

BL: "The Wicked Priest" is a theatre piece I cobbled together after years of research on the negative effects of religion on culture. I am firmly in the U.S.'s constitution corner of keeping religion and the state separate.

ePMedia: Let's start with a little about the Green Party and how you see its "Four Pillars." First, on "Ecological Wisdom": As a member of the House of Representatives, how would you go about convincing Americans to examine their lives in light of all of the interactions in their lives, especially those with the natural environment?

BL:It's evident that we need a broad cultural shift away from fossil fuels, but neither the republicans Republicans nor the democrats Democrats can make the necessary adjustments because they are the corporations. We have to stop jumping into our automobiles every weekday morning to go to an office where more energy is being used. Each person should only have a small space of which he or she is the shepherd. Computers can allow us to work from that space. We can work on line and we can buy online. We don't need to be building big box stores on perfectly good farm land. The concrete and asphalt severely affect the water tables. We have to start treating water as a resource, not a commodity.

ePMedia: In the eyes of the Green Party, American social justice needs to extend to all people, not simply to citizens. In light of our government's treatment of "aliens" from Gitmo to students overstaying their visas, how would you suggest we change our laws concerning them? Would you agree that social justice includes such things as a livable wage? Why?

BL: If poverty is eliminated most of the world's problems would be eliminated. We've gotten into such a cycle of violence reacting to violence that we have lost our way collectively. The money spent on weapons could easily eliminate world hunger. Everyone who eats and is healthy is a potential consumer. Of course, we have to change the mind set of the current system that justifies a CEO making on average four hundred and seventy times the worker.[1]

ePMedia: The Green Party stresses cooperative decision-making and grassroots organizing. However, whenever a party starts to gain a presence in Washington, it starts to lose connection with the very people it claims to represent. How would you keep yourself as a part of the community?

BL: There are so many problems that need to be addressed that if I stay on point there will be plenty more issues to tackle after I depart. I'm sixty-five years old. My ambition is to see human energy turned toward feeding people and making them healthier rather than destabilizing governments and putting them in debt. This concerns everybody. There will be no peace without justice.

ePMedia: Are there ways you see for bringing more control to local communities and away from the Federal government? As a representative, how would you go about insuring that the "consent of the governed" is always a guiding light -- especially if, on an issue that arises after you are elected, you find yourself at odds with your constituency?

BL: To start we need to take huge chunks out of the military budget and bring that money back to local communities where the infrastructure is crumbling. Eighty billion dollars are spent annually on servicing weapons that are obsolete. Now that's waste! Of course there will be disagreements on who should get the money locally but consensus works better than the current method of lobbyists influencing the legislators.

ePMedia: What could you do, as a representative, to help bring the principles of nonviolence to our national foreign policy? Also, there certainly are models of development aside from Western-style industrialization, as the Green Party claims. However, the attraction of "jobs" and "money" is strong. How could the United States help developing nations work out their own ways without falling to the temptations of corporate economies?

BL: It won't be easy, but I feel up to the task. We need to have summit after summit of experienced people gathering to address the problems. Social forums are wonderful platforms for spreading non violence as a viable alternative.

ePMedia: Let's spend a few minutes on some of the issues that the nation will be considering in the elections this fall. One of the big issues these days is terrorism. Specifically, what strategies would you, as a representative, push as adequate means of removing the threat of terror?

BL: Obviously terrorism is a threat. And the favorite line of the current establishment is that you can't negotiate with them. I answer that by saying we shouldn't be provoking them, which is what our foreign policy consists of these days. This administration only seems to be able to try military solutions. We need to look way beyond the military for methods to establish a dialogue.

ePMedia: Health care is becoming increasingly expensive in the United States, and there are too many Americans with inadequate coverage. Have you looked into specific means of addressing the problems of health care?

BL: I am hosting a health care summit in October where I am inviting experts from all areas of the health field to address the question: "What do we do now?" Republicans and Democrats are always blaming each other, and both parties are beholden to the insurance industry. I want to see a moratorium on any charges that someone incurred as a result of a catastrophic health emergency. That's just for starters.

ePMedia: Finally, a "horse race" question. Many progressives are seeing the Green Party as a "spoiler" instead of a contributor to a positive political process. How do you address such criticism, especially in the 5th district, where it is unlikely that you would siphon any votes from Sensenbrenner, but would be taking them from the Democrat Kennedy, making it even more unlikely that he will unseat the incumbent?

BL: If I don't get any Sensenbrenner former voters in my corner, I won't stand a chance. But, I learned a lot during the signature gathering for the nomination papers. There are many disgruntled, dissatisfied and angry Republicans. They don't see their representative as fiscally conservative and the environmental record of the Republican party is horrible. Furthermore, the immigration policy has yet to be tested at the polls. As far as the charge of being a "spoiler," that has run its final, undistinguished lap. Guess what? There's nothing to spoil. The rascals in government have desecrated the process. That's why I threw my hat in. And, if anyone thinks things will change if the democrats Democrats get in, their reasoning is "spoiled." We have seen nobody but a Bush or Clinton in high office since 1988, and they are gearing up to get Hillary or Jeb in there for at least another decade unless we, the people say, "NO." The Green Party is the hope, not the scapegoat.

ePMedia: Are there other issues you would like to comment on?

BL: I will gladly keep you apprised of the developments of my campaign. Wisconsin is a Petri dish of America's politics. Not only the battle for legislative offices, we also have the death penalty and the ban on gay unions on the ballot in November.

ePMedia: Thank you again for taking the time to answer our questions.

ePluribus Media fact checker note: Barbara Ehrenreich uses this figure in an interview (http://www.commonwealthclub.org/archive/01/01-05ehrenreich-speech2.html) in her book Nickel and Dimed. Other sources vary cite 430 to 1 or -- over 400 to 1.

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