MoviePoopShoot.com presents - Off the Radar
September 5, 2003
Peter: What are we talking about today?
Thom: We are talking about activism, progressive social and political issues and
your involvement with those things.
Peter: Can I give you my first poop on the word activism?
Peter: Its a word that was invented by our enemies so I never use it. If
you want to isolate people from the mainstream of humanity you put an ist
after them. You get Communist, Socialist,
Environmentalist and the implication is that most people sit around and do
nothing about their beliefs and there are a few hard core people we call
activists that go out and do something. And its turned the whole ethical
balance around. If you think about it, people who dont act on their beliefs
are people we call hypocrites. I prefer never to use the word
activist. I prefer people to use the word engaged because
thats what you do. You are engaged with your life and you are engaged with things
you think about. Activist is like someone who calls you a
consumer. Like the stuff is theirs and you are using it up. So I never use
But I do use engaged and I am engaged.
Thom: What does that mean, to be engaged?
Peter: To be engaged means to follow issues that impact your life and to take
the assumption that your efforts can impact them in some way and that you have some
personal responsibility for trying to make things better.
Thom: What are the important issues that we need to be focusing on?
Peter: I think there are lots of them. But since you cant do everything,
Ive prioritized them for myself. I think the most critical thing, because its
the biological common denominator for all life, is the environment and that the idea of
forgetting that all human affairs take place in the environment, business is a subset of
the environment, not the other way around, should remind us that you cant have a
healthy economy, you cant have a healthy anything in a degraded environment.
So to me, pure air, pure water, pure food, allowing other species the right to fulfill
their evolutionary destinies and to realize that we are inexorably entangled and that we
mutually evolved with these other species is the first and foremost overriding principle.
Then you have to say, okay, the greatest threat to this is human affairs and human
political affairs. So from this, I extrapolate and I say, Well, nothing that I care
about politically will come to pass without campaign finance reform. Because until
the politicians work for the people, until they are fully employed by the people and paid
for by the people, they will serve the people who paid them. Its real simple. They
will serve corporate masters.
And its not a deep secret. Everyone knows that our current system is kind of like
legalized prostitution. The corporate sector completely controls the civic sector.
Anything that any of my friends care about, whatever their priorities are,
womens rights, human rights, civil liberties, death penalty, whatever it is,
health care, pharmaceutical benefits, education none of those will come to pass,
there is not a chance of a snowball in hell until campaign finance reform is enacted
fundamental campaign finance reform. Which would mean full federal funding of
elections, free air time for qualified candidates on every network starting six weeks
before the election. The obligation for each candidate to appear on each network in
unstructured debates to take questions of each other and the audience and there are no
handlers and no minders, and to give citizens and 501(c)3s the same tax benefits and
write-offs for disseminating information that corporations that are trying to defeat our
best interests have.
When corporations run all these educational campaigns for the voters to defeat their
best interests, they write them off. And we pay for them. Until that happens, there is not
going to be any change.
The next subset under that is the vote itself. Thats voter fraud. Its a big
deal to me that all the voting machines basically are owned by Republicans. Their software
is private. Its not open for investigation by the government. Its easy to
change without showing that its been changed. And certainly after the presidential
election of 2000, weve seen how the system is vulnerable and can be rigged.
Those are my three stacked priorities, in that order. And then there is a host of other
stuff. Im really interested in Native American sovereignty issues and Im
really interested in Buddhism. Thats the pyramid of interlocking importance.
The other one, I left out one - even over the environment, is nuclear radiation and
nuclear issues. Because unless we get that under control, there will be no environment.
Thats the mega threat to all living systems, everything with reproducing cells.
There are still 18,000 nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert on the planet. There are tons
and tons of waste and dumps all over the United States. We are considering building new
Bunker-Busters and low-yield nuclear weapons, which is horseshit. We left 3,000 tons of
depleted uranium weaponry in the Balkans and 3 or 4 thousand tons in Iran and Afghanistan
turning these places into sacrifice zones that will be irradiated forever.
Unless that gets under control, there will be no environment to protect. Thats
the set of all sets in my priorities.
Thom: What motivates people in the world to continue to create things like
nuclear weapons and then leave them in other countries. Whats the reasoning behind
the trade-off between political power and the environment?
Peter: Buddha suggested that all human kind suffers from three afflictions:
Greed, or Attachment; Hatred, which is Anger; and Delusion, which is not seeing things
clearly. Im no more exempt from that than Donald Rumsfeld. So this is the
background, the backdrop for all human activity. You can certainly say that people who are
making biocides are not looking at the big picture, they are not looking at the reality
that science, and physics and transcendental experiences show us, that we live in a vast,
interlocking system. You can not be releasing poisons in one part of your body to cure
your hand that ends up destroying your liver. The simplest answer to your question is to
say that its a delusion. Its a severely restricted thinking that excludes much
of whats important.
The very simplest level is to say that its a kind of rigid logic that excludes
anything that it doesnt look at. Its like old-fashioned science where you
isolate everything except what you are studying. But if you look at new physics, modern
physics tells you that we change things just by looking at them. Thats how sensitive
and interdependent our world actually is. So these guys that are thinking of taking over
the oil in Iraq or whatever their game is increasing corporate profits for
shareholders they are looking at one system, they are looking at an economic
system. But they are not looking at the basis of the economic system which is the commons
from which all this wealth is drawn.
If for instance, gasoline had to include the cost of the damage it did to the
environment, and the damage it did to human beings, wed be paying fifty dollars a
gallon for gasoline. And wed have very different vehicles on the road. But as long
as we can write the costs off and business can pretend that these costs dont exist
and pass them off to the public pollute the water, cut down the timber, cause
topsoil runaway, fuck up the fish they are always passing the cost on. It comes
from a kind of tunnel vision. Its not that they are bad people, but theyve
excluded all the problems that stand between them and wealth.
Thom: What kinds of steps can everyday people who want to engage with these
issues take? What kinds of things can people do without completely stepping outside of
their reality and say, chain themselves to a Redwood tree.
Peter: I think the very first thing they can do is start getting on the Internet
or start reading and pick an issue and pay attention to it. And lets say you pick
something like chemicals in your food. So the simplest way to begin is dont bring
chemically tainted into your house. This means that maybe you are going to start by
finding an organic market near you. And this means that if you pay twenty cents a pound
extra for organic rice at the market, you dont necessarily have to give a hundred
dollars to the Sierra Club because you are already, everyday, with your purchase of rice,
taking care of the birds and the insects and the land and the soil.
So you take this one issue and you just start looking at the way it impacts your life.
I ride a motorcycle everyday because I wanted to get my gas mileage over forty miles to
the gallon. I still have a car. I need a car. But I dont use it anymore than I have
to. Stuff like retrofitting your house so you waste less energy. Buying less, using less,
recycling. And more than that, writing letters and notes and email and demanding of your
legislatures that they pay attention to these things too.
And I think these things can be dealt with within the context of your life. I
dont think everybody has to chain themselves to a tree. I think those people are
doing that for the rest of us and we should be grateful for them. But someone has to be
out there minding the store and driving the busses and doing the this and doing the that.
Everybody has a right to pure water and everybody has a right to pure air and nobody has a
right to despoil the commons. Thats not part of the business contract. All this talk
about being reasonable theres like Gods law and mans law. God
gave us pure water, pure air and pure food. Man can argue, We can have two parts per
million of this and three parts per million of that. Its all quibbling. We
started off with pure water. Those are my standards.
I think that on those levels, everyone can demand that right where they are. Just
because you are poor doesnt mean you have to live in a chemical dump.
Thom: That brings up so many class issues. The cheapest foods in the grocery
stores are usually the ones that are the most chemically fortified and the land near and
around toxic hazards like smog sinks, waste dumps, oil refineries, agricultural run-off in
the water table, de-commissioned military bases, which are some of the most toxic sites in
the U.S. have the lowest property values and thus are the places where the poor are forced
into. And these people, who have scant or no access to quality of affordable health care,
are at a higher risk for many cancers, lung and skin diseases. Its almost like a
kind of economic Nazism a program to rid the world of so-called undesirables in an
invisible, yet equally insidious, way. Which of course, wouldnt be the case, if we
had stricter environmental protection laws that were written for the well-being of people
rather than the financial well-being of corporations.
Peter: Sure, because once again, the manufacturers are not called upon to pay
the costs. They are not paying the cost to the consumer. They are not paying the cost to
the environment. They use the most toxic substance on the planet, methyl bromide, to grow
strawberries so people can have strawberries in February. They are not paying the deaths
to the farm workers, they are not paying the toxification of the soil and water runoff.
They are fouling public waterways to grow farmed salmon while they kill off wild salmon as
if its an equal trade.
I think the people in those neighborhoods, as they learn, as poor people, will start to
make a connection between their health and the food they buy. And we can help them. I
dont think you need to stop your life. I think you do it within you life. You just
start saying to people, You have a right to clean food.
Thom: I think poor people feel very disenfranchised as if they dont really
have any political power, as if their vote doesnt count as much because they
dont have as much money.
Peter: It doesnt. They are right. I feel disenfranchised. My vote
doesnt count because I dont have as much money. If you look at the disparities
between what I can give to a candidate and what a PAC [political action committee] can
give, its just really clear. We are disenfranchised. Thats the reality.
But that doesnt mean the games over. Its not over until the fat lady
sings. Fifty percent of the people dont even vote. And if those people knew that by
not voting, they were being poisoned, children were being sent to substandard schools,
their future is being robbed from them because they are ill-prepared to take their place
in the world. They are getting sick because they are breathing in foul air and taking in
foul stuff into their bodies. Its basic self-defense.
When they tried to privatize the water in Bolivia there were riots in the streets
everyday because people could understand, Oh yes, water. We shouldnt have to
buy water. So Im a big believer in old-fashioned organizing and spreading
information. I think thats the best thing the Internet offers us. I think
thats the best thing we can do with one another.
Thom: Dont you host a cable access show about these kinds of topics?
Peter: I host a show called "The Active Opposition". Its on a
satellite network called WorldLink TV on every satellite network [Channel 375 on DIRECTV
and 9410 on DISH Thom]. Its a political talk show where the people dont
interrupt each other. We get the kind of experts you dont often see on corporate
television, we take national phone calls and we discuss issues for an hour and a half in
depth. And a lot of the people who hear the show are rural people who are out there in the
hinterlands on satellite. Its something that I love to do. I love the show but
were always begging for nickels.
Thom: This has been a great interview, by the way, so I thank you. You have a
long history of engagement. I was reading that you helped to found the Diggers in the
Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in the late 60s.
Peter: I wrote a book called Sleeping Where I Fall
thats still in print and it will give you the whole back story on that period.
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