Sam Farr: Let me just tell you, everybody you’ve interviewed has come up to me on the floor and said that this was the most amazing group of students they’ve ever met. Kucinich was just blown away, so the work you’re doing, and the way you’re asking questions, John Lewis has been meeting with you year after year, he just said, “It’s just such a joy to meet with students that are so engaged.” What I asked Ward to do was to interview some of the people who have been around here along time, people like John Lewis, now I’ve been here thirteen years, but also some people who are newer. Anthony Weiner and certainly…I’m having a block…Putnam! See how new they are? We don’t even know what their name is. That gives you a sense of the younger generation that’s going into Congress, but I think what we all have in common is that we know we’re going to be passing this torch to another, I mean there’s a time when you’re all in these positions.
What I think is missing in America is the ability to just transfer citizenship responsibility that is about civics, it’s about participating in society in the civil process that informs the laws that we make, and the policies we adopt. About how our communities look, about the kinds of programs, whether it is educational programs, recreational programs, welfare and everything, how those are shaped, and unfortunately I think that is what is happening to America in my lifetime. When I was a young man my father was in politics. I grew up in Carmel, I was shy, I was dyslexic, I didn’t read very well, second and third grades were really hard for me, I was embarrassed in the classroom, and sort of ok in the schoolyard.
I thank God for arts because I made some clay elephants and the teacher entered them in the fair, and I won a ribbon, and I thought, “That’s nice, at least I can do something.” Then I got very active outdoors in cub scouts, boy scouts, loved outdoors so I ended up being into outdoor biological science. The teacher in my sixth grade said, “You’re one of my best students in the sciences.” That was the first time anyone had said “You’re OK.” I just decided right then I’m going to study biology, maybe I’ll be a forest ranger, what I really wanted after high school was to be a biology teacher. Well, my father gets elected about the time I was told I was OK in sciences, and then all of a sudden I just felt the peer pressure of my friends saying, “Oh yeah, you’re father is this fancy politician. You’re going to get all these benefits, and people will treat you differently.” I didn’t like that at all, I was excited by the dialogue at home, but I was shy about accepting it in public, and showing an interest in government and politics.
Nonetheless, in high school I went and worked Europe with American Friends Service, the Quakers and with the Brethren, and other organizations that had these international youth camps. I was always interested in geography, and my mother was very insistent that I learned about the rest of the world. Remember, in those days nobody traveled, you didn’t leave your hometown; you worked in your hometown. Only people who had a lot of money could travel and go places like overseas, so to be a student and going overseas and working in these camps was a real privilege. I worked for a summer in a little town in Germany, in an orphanage. A lot of orphans are left over from World War II, American soldiers who had gotten European women pregnant, and people had given up their children for whatever reasons, so orphanages were created to support these children. We just fixed windows and things like that, and then the second month I was outside of Salzburg working in a Romanian refugee camp. I was working with students, kids from other countries all over Europe. I only learned to speak English, fortunately most of them spoke English, but there were some that didn’t so you had to just communicate with signs, and laughter, and song, and things like that. But that opened up my whole view that there’s another world out there, and I want to know more and more about it, so in college I took jobs.
I was in the Merchant Marine for a summer, and I worked in a factory in Argentina that my cousin’s were. My cousin had married an Anglo-Argentine, who owned the Johnson wax factory in Buenos Aires, so I went down there thinking I was going to be a smart college student. He said, “How much Spanish do you speak?” I said, “None,” and he said, “You’re going to work in the warehouse stacking boxes until you can learn enough Spanish and I can put you on the assembly line.” So I remember my 21st birthday was spent in the cold, because the weather is reversed. Our summer is miserable in Latin America; it was cold with sleet rain. The shortest days of the year are in July, and my birthday is on the fourth of July. It’s a holiday in the United States, there’s always been a lot of parties and festivities, it’s not a holiday in Argentina, its just another day of the week. Here I spent my 21st birthday putting ten thousand tops on Raid cans, and I thought, “Wow, this is a heck of a way to celebrate,” no fire works no nothing.
It changed my perspective, and I decided getting out of college I wanted to go into the Peace Corps. It had just been launched by Kennedy, and his statement in his inaugural that, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” really hit me. It’s also an example what I call leadership, it’s that leadership that is out there proposing a vision that Americans can buy into. I don’t know where that leadership is coming from now in the United States. It’s a selfishness leadership now, it’s about acquiring wealth and materialism, not about joining Americans and I don’t know if sacrifice is a word they like to use, because throughout history whenever we were in tough times like this Iraqi war, we were always asking people in war to sacrifice. And yet we cut the taxes for the wealthiest people in the United States, we haven’t asked for any sacrifices. My feeling was that President Bush had an opportunity that when there is a crisis, and we’ve never had such a national crisis as the day of 9/11, because we never thought we’d be attacked and it as overwhelming. They did what with what where? What’s happening? And the whole world was shocked into saying, “My God, they did this to America. We love America. The world’s sympathy was just incredible, what a moment to come to the people of this country and say, “Look, the world has changed from this day forward. We’re going to have to change to,” because really what I think is the root causes of terrorism is the same as the root causes of poverty. If you grow up uneducated, or don’t have access schools, and when talk about access to schools in California it’s meaning affordable, we have Stanford, and you may get in, but if you can’t pay for it you can’t go. It’s really not accessible. Access to healthcare, what I learned in the Peace Corps is that there are three things that a culture of poverty sustains, it’s generational. That is, people grow up without any education, without access to healthcare, and in many cases in the homeless in this country, without a safe place to sleep. Basically, if you guarantee somebody a safe place to sleep, and you say, “Oh, by the way you can go to school and learn how to read and write, and from there you can build other things, and guess what if you don’t feel well, or you think you have an abnormality or a disability, we can go and get healthcare for you, or we can get you a prosthesis. If you don’t have those things, and you grow up, then, as I saw in South America in the Peace Corps, people who can’t read and right can’t even know when you’ve given them the right change. They wouldn’t know what bus to get on, they have to wait and see if the neighbors that they live around got on this bus. They would recognize that he or she is getting on it, and they live down the street from me, so I know that’s my bus. Couldn’t read the marker! When they gave them money, whether the bus driver gave them the right change, wouldn’t know, they’d just take it and put it away, wouldn’t even look at it because they can’t count. Just think what happens then to what you teach your kids. All you know is, now there is a lot of teaching going on with television, but not in those days there wasn’t, it was what was talked about, which was a lot of mythology, stories that were brought down.
I was living in a barrio, which is a neighborhood of a big city, and just like neighborhoods in big cities around the United States people came from all over, usually from the country and moving in. In this case people were coming from the northern part of the country, Colombia, which is on the Caribbean, a lot of black population, so African Columbians were moving into the barrio. People had not only color issues, but they were from the coast, and the coast is much more liberal, this is a very Catholic country, they’re not as strong of Catholics. People from the south, well they’re mixed with Indian blood, between the Kurds and Sunnis and so on, its this ignorance and bias you grow up because you hear stories about people. It seems to me that President Bush had an incredible opportunity to say to the United States, “We got so much to do, and we can’t leave anybody behind.”
Government can’t do this by itself, and in order to better our country and continue to be a leader and better the world I’m going to call for mandatory national service. Everybody is going to do something. You go to the military, the Peace Corps, you can go and do mental health work, you could do Vista, whatever it is.” And then even set up a tax to pay for it, and set up this process so that there’s a way of helping all those niches that we can’t ever find enough money here in Congress or pay enough people to do. That’s the will that I think Americans would have responded to, they really would have been wonderful and I think the world would have thought, “Wow, look what America is doing under attack.” They’re bringing out the best in America, and we responded by invading Iraq. I came up because I was supposed to introduce the Speaker today; I want to read this book. He’s speaking downstairs in a luncheon, and this book is called “America Against the World.” It’s a series of polls around the world of different people and their attitudes about Americans in the United States, and it has so dramatically changed from just a few years ago. And it’s very negative, a lot of it is anti-Bush, but it’s not going to go away when Bush is no longer President. It’s interesting because when I was your age, there was also a book that came out like this called “The Ugly American.” There were two books that were really instrumental to my years in college, “The Ugly American,” which was how stupid America does things overseas, by not learning languages and by just being arrogant, and just thinking that everybody does it our way and we just have to push our way.
That’s what Peace Corps taught us, it said, “Hey wait, learn the language, listen to what the people want.” An example of that is they say, “When you get into your barrio, this is what happened to me, your first thing is health. I got out in this barrio, and seventy thousand people living without a sewer. You have a flush toilet, if the houses had flush toilets, and it flushed the sewage down and you could run over the wall and see it flow out in the street. There was no sewer. Where did it go from there? It rained everyday and the runoff would push it all into this little creek. When it didn’t rain the whole place just smelled awful. The garbage people just dump it outside their house, and they didn’t have much garbage, because poor people don’t buy a lot of things, and they certainly don’t buy things that are in cans or in boxes, because those are more expensive, they buy the cheapest things which are fresh fruits and vegetables. So they didn’t have a lot of waste, but whatever they did they just threw it in the street or threw it in a vacant lot right near the house.
My American biases were, “God, we got to put sewers in here before everything else,” But Peace Corps training said, “Listen to the people. See what they want.” I got them all together and talked like you would in a neighborhood association meeting, and said, “What do you want? What do you think is important to do?” I thought, “God, you need schools, you need sewers, you need roads, you need some electricity out here,” and they said we want to build a soccer field. That’s not going to help you at all, but I said, “OK.” Where do we build a soccer field? Maybe we can build it over there. Here’s my first assignment and I barely played soccer, it was a P.E. activity when I was in high school. No body played it in America, so I said, “I don’t know the first thing about it.” “Oh don’t worry, we know all the stuff.” So I said, “What do we do?” and he said, “Let’s get everyone together with shovels and picks,” and we did that. They did it because I was there, and it was exciting to see what the gringo is going to do; he’s going to build a soccer field. So we go out in this field and we work for a couple weekends, and we move a lot of rocks, all by hand, and it was pretty crude but it worked. Kids started playing soccer, and this was the first thing they had ever done together, and accomplished together. So know, let’s do something else. What’s next? And from there, we went and built stuff. It was an interesting process for me, because I learned, “Hey, wait a minute. Don’t use your own biases and your own prejudices to tell other countries what they should do. You should listen to what they want to do, prove them that they can do it themselves, and in the end do it and show them the process for doing 1, 2, 3, 4 things.
To this day we’re not doing that, our foreign aid doesn’t work inside of a job, we require contracts be done by American firms such as Halliburton when they went into Iraq, we’re paying American truck drivers to drive trucks in Iraq while Iraqi truck drivers just sat by the road, even though we’re paying them a hundred thousand dollars a year because of the high risk. I think you could probably hire a lot of Iraqi truck drivers for probably five to ten thousand dollars a year rather, and you’d get a lot more then you would of the American drivers, because they needed the work. There is another sign of an Ugly American, why don’t you give us the jobs, and we’re still doing that. So, my job in Congress is to take things I’ve learned in experiences and life and growing up, and try to build them into making our laws fairer, more sensible, more understanding of other cultures and other values. I think that is what I enjoy so much about this job; I tell younger kids that I just fix things that are broken. I’m kind of like your plumber. Somebody comes to me and says, “Oh my god, we got to put some money here, we got to do this, it’s not fair, we ought to change this law.” It’s fine, that’s what we do. Tell me what you want done, and my job is to get it done.
That’s what I love most about politics, the citizens lend me the power, you vote for me, and I’m here for two years to respond to the district. In two years I go back and say, this is what I’ve accomplished, and I’d like to do it again. Fortunately, every time I’ve done that, people have said, “If you want to run again, we’ll elect you.” I’m here for my about seventh time. Let me go to questions, because I know I’m going to get called and I just want to thank you all for being interested in these issues, doing the preparation that you do, and then coming here. I hope that you’ve not only learned about this great city and all the beautiful structures and everything, but importantly what you’re learning is what goes on. These aren’t just pretty buildings; they’re institutions that are working. They are work buildings, we do lawmaking in this building, and we do governing of the nation and the world in the White House. Just ordinary people are elected to come along and assume those roles for a moment in history. And some of you, I expect, will be assuming some of these roles someday, and I will be very, very excited. I’ll say, “Remember me, I was a Congressman!”
Sadanand Maillard: You know Sam; we’ve interviewed you every term since you’ve been in office. I have a chronology of the kids asking questions.
Sam Farr: Uh Oh! Promises made, promises kept, right?’
Andrea Schmitt: I’m Andrea. I understand that the Peace Corps was a very influential experience for you, and in a previous interview with Mount Madonna you said that you followed your dreams by joining the Peace Corps and that it changed your life. I’m wondering if you have dreams that you are following now.
Sam Farr: Yeah, my dreams are that people like you will step into those same shoes and follow those dreams, things like the Peace Corps, things like government service. Why? Because it’s constant work, and as Henry Mello who was a former state Senator from our area said, “Politics is not a spectator sport.” You can’t just watch it, you can’t just every two years say, “Well I’m a citizen, I’ll go vote.” And that’s it. Keeping up on what’s broken and needs fixing and being a participant in fixing it. That’s my dream; I went into the Peace Corps to empower people to help themselves. My dream is still that. The empowerment to wipe out the root causes of poverty, give everyone a safe place to sleep, give everyone access to healthcare, and give everyone an education. If you have that, then you have a way of, as an individual, of succeeding. But without those basic guarantees I don’t think you do, so my dream is to empower the next generation to carry on the responsibilities of good government.
John-Nuri Vissell: Hi, my name is John. The last time we interviewed you, you said, “I think that people want Americans to be involved wherever they go, whether it’s in cultural, educational, or military security activities. It appears to me that since 9/11 people are questioning how we deal with terrorism. How do we protect how we perceive to be the interests of America, without undermining the principles upon which American is founded?
Sam Farr: Undermining them in what sense?
John-Nuri Vissell: In a sense that after 9/11 we all these doubts about how we support the cultural, educational, and military purposes. So how do still protect America’s interests in those fields?
Sam Farr: Well, first of all what I wish Bush had done is called upon Americans to participate in all of these issues. Where we have a shortage of school teachers, and we’re trying to downsize classes to give people benefits, and call upon Americans to get into the educational front, maybe even for a short while, while you’re young and passionate and enthusiastic. To go out and teach in those areas that are hard, to give healthcare where it’s not being met, to mentor people, I think we have the human resources, and we certainly have the financial resources, to do anything when we put our minds to it.
As Kennedy said, “Let’s go to the moon. He didn’t say, “Oh, we’ve got appropriate money, we’ve got to hire Lockheed and Boeing, and we’ve got to go out there and figure out how many scientists we need, you know it’s going to be hard because nobody has ever been to the moon before,” He just said, “Let’s go to the moon.” Everybody just said let’s go, what is it going to take. They just sat down and said, “What does it take to do that?” That’s the enthusiasm and the leadership that I think we need, and we can afford all that stuff, maybe we don’t just give everybody tax breaks. Taxes are all about fairness; it’s always been taking from the wealthy and giving it to government. More from the wealthy, because they have more money and giving it to the government and the government redistributes it. All societies do that. That’s the cost of civilization.
I think if we want to have a more civilized country and a more civilized world, we’re going to have to call upon government leaders to provide incentives for people to do that, to participate, not just by, “Oh you just get to keep more money in your pocket, and maybe if you’re kind, and you think about, you might share some of that money with somebody else.” That’s the “Trickle Down” effect, it doesn’t work. America is a trickle up. Poor people pay the taxes, and support this middle class, and need the benefits.
Casey Lightner: Hi, My name is Casey. Immigration is such a big conversation now, it seems especially important in our area given our agricultural economy. Besides the economy, it also raises the more important question of human rights, integrity, and fairness in general. How do propose we properly deal with illegal immigration, in a just way that respects our laws and allows for the possibility of these people, coming from other countries, to better themselves?
Sam Farr: Well from the way that you ask the question, I’d just say I’d do it exactly like you’d do it. Obviously you understand the problem, and you understand the need to correct it in some kind of humanitarian way. In essence there are sort of three issues here. How do you slow the number of people crossing the border, it’s not necessarily border security in a sense, because we haven’t had anybody crossing the border who’s tried to blow up anything in the United States from the Mexican Border, we actually did find one terrorist crossing the Canadian border. And all this discussion, and it ought to be if we’re building a fence across Mexico, why not build one across Canada.
Why is it the thought that the only way that Terrorists can get in the States is to come in from Mexico? I don’t believe in those fences, but I think we have to do three things. Better border security, to stop the big leakage, I don’t think you’ll ever be able to stop it all because of the desire to get here, dig tunnels, jump over fences, pole vault over fences, or whatever. The second is that we need more workers in agriculture, we need a temporary guest worker program for agriculture, I’m not sure we need it for everything else. I think tourism takes care of itself. In our area some of the best paid low wage workers are in agriculture, believe it or not. They get about an eleven to twelve dollar wage, that’s better then what they pay in Kmart. But its hard work, and you don’t get any credit for being in agriculture. You’re a United mine worker, going down and mining coal all day long, pretty awful work but boy, you’re honored. United mine works are really honored in America. If we honored that workforce, maybe people would stay around a little bit longer. The third thing we need to do is give adjustment of status, that’s a new term for amnesty.
Everybody tells me, “Oh I don’t like all these illegals, they broke the law, that’s wrong, don’t give them any rewards, don’t give them a driver’s license, don’t let them go to a doctor, don’ let their kids go to school, and on and on. But you know what; I have to tell you about Maria. She works for me, and she’s family. Maria is not one of those illegals, and I said “Well, she also doesn’t have any papers. She’s just like everybody else out there. And everybody has a Maria, or a Jose, who mows their lawn. I found out from the growers around here, you know what they’re telling me? “Hey, these aren’t just Ag workers, the cheap labor, these people work for us every year. The same people. Come back, we know them, we know the wives, we know the kids, we go to the Quincianera, we go to their high school graduations, we support them for college. This isn’t just a bunch of undocumented workers; these are human beings that are part of this workforce that is our family business. Unfortunately, that’s never getting explained here. Trying to categorize people, so our law has to be humanitarian and it also has to be enforceable. Just declaring people criminals doesn’t solve a thing, it just creates more problems.
This legislation we passed in the House is the worst piece of legislation I’ve ever seen in my history of being in elected office for thirty years. It is the worst piece of legislation. It’s what we did with the Japanese in World War II, when we made them all go to camps. This legislation that passed the house sets up camps, because we’re going to have eleven and a half million people who are felons. You’ve got to prosecute these felons. The penalty for felony in the United States is the definition of that crime for which you have to spend a year or more in prison. Where are we going to have prisons for eleven and a half million people? Kids, wives, just because they don’t have papers. And what courts are going to prosecute them? It’s just insane.
That was all in the bill. Build a big fence all the way across the Mexican border, and the bill said, study building the same fence again across the Canadian border, and the maritime domain. The maritime domain is our coastline. Imagine a big fence going right down through Santa Cruz County, and Big Sur, so people won’t come up out of the ocean. This bill just didn’t do anything to solve any problems; it just set up penalties, and made everybody criminals, not only the undocumented ones, but if you hired them to clean your floor, to work in your business, you are a felon, and if you are a group like Catholic relief, or Women Against Domestic Violence, you go out there and assist somebody on the street, bring them in and give them shelter, then find out they’re undocumented. “Oh my God!” all of a sudden the Catholic Church and all those organizations around us are going to be felons too. This prison is going to have to be more then eleven million; it’s going to have to put about all American’s in it because somebody is connected one way or another to some organization that takes care of people. It knee jerk of a response, to sort of get angry with the fact that we have a lot of people in this country who don’t speak English and who are going to school. Who are, they think, are ripping off the rest of society. I don’t agree with that.
Edison Dudoit: I can tell that you are very passionate about this issue, and I’m curious to know what the process was that you went through in trying to defend you point of view in the House of Representatives.
Sam Farr: Well, it’s a dumb law because you can’t enforce it. You shouldn’t make laws that are unenforceable. The first thing I did, I don’t know if you saw this interesting series that came out in the Coast Weekly in Monterey by a brand new reporter there, I called him and I said I’ve never read your articles before, he wrote, “Not Enough Mexicans.” It was about how there was a shortage of labor, and then he went in to interview people, who were day laborers, and he did a story on these dozens and dozens of people, who are these undocumented field workers and people waiting on the street corner to get a job for the day. It was all about their desire to work, and to get money to help their families. It was just this incredible, passionate thing, and I said, “No one has ever put a face on these people,” so I got that article and sent it to everybody and said, “Before you vote, read this article. Put a face with your vote. Their minds were all made up; this vote was a done deal. You when they did it? They did it at three o’clock in the morning, on a Sunday night.
We used to have press that would cover those things, and it as in December, it was the week before Christmas. It was colder then hell down here, usually you’d have protest groups out doing vigils, and it was too cold for that. The press all went home; they weren’t going to work on Sunday nights. We’ll pick up the story the next day. All these demonstrations in the street were sort of a slow drip of people learning in January and February and March, “Did you know what the House of Representatives did? They passed this bill; it may become the law of the land, if the Senate passes it. That’s what led to all those demonstrations in the last couple of months. It’s too bad they weren’t here when we were passing the bill, but no body told them. The press didn’t even bother to cover it. I called the Sentinel, I said, “You didn’t hear this?” He said, “I didn’t hear anything on the wire service.” “No, that’s because there was no press there! But guess what, this is the worst bill ever passed in the history of Congress. He says, “You’ve got to be kidding.” About a month ago he called me back and he said, “God, I remember what you told me back in December. I’ve never believed it, but you’re right.” So, I spoke against it, I circulated articles, I tried to alert the press because they could alert the ones at home about how bad this was.
Jonji Barber: I’m sorry, I just have to know. This bill seems ridiculous, the reasons you’ve given against are just ridiculous. I was wondering how the other side of the isle justifies it.
Sam Farr: Well there were some democrats that voted for it too, because it’s an election year, because people don’t like immigrants, and because they have to do something about it. Everyone said, “We knew the Senate was going to kill it, the President wasn’t in favor of the bill, we knew it would be taken care of further down the road. Unfortunately it hasn’t been taken care of; the Senate doesn’t even have a bill yet. Because the pressure is mounting, the Senate’s doing some harsh things. When you get into conference, which is the Senate version, which hasn’t been adopted yet, the other version is what’s over there. It’s this, and politics being the art of compromise, the Senate comes out with something that’s more on the lines of things we were talking about, but then they have get an agreement of the Committee on both of the Conference Committees, which is the majority of the Senators and majority of House members.
Remember the majority of the House members have already supported it, and are standing behind and defending what’s called the Sensenbrenner bill. The movement’s got to be that way, the compromise being more towards this extreme bill. I think that it might be better of, because I don’t think anybody is rational about it anymore, I mean Lou Dobbs and everyone on television every night, CNN and every program is just covering the border. I watch CNN a lot, they have 360 by Anderson Cooper and he’s on the border. The next night you have interviews with Larry King Live, on the border. Then, you have the reporters, whatever the stories are, on the border it. It just won’t stop, and that’s the lead story. People are trying to give two sides to it; NPR did a good job of it this morning.
They went down this morning and interviewed the mayor of Calexico. We have two cities in California on the border, right on the California side is called Calexico, and the city right on the other side is called Mexicali. They’re very small, well Mexicali is a big city. Everybody there are all Spanish speaking, they say that the people on the border just come and talk to each other through the fence. If you build a build a big wall they can’t that, and they say, “We all get a long, we go over there and we have exchanges with the Mexicali city council because we have issues on transportation, education, and of all people in border traffic. All this stuff that is going on in Washington is going to really screw it up. We’re not getting many stories about what the negative impacts are of these proposals.
Sadanand Maillard: Understanding the complexity of the problem seems to be an issue, in terms of getting the American response adequate to addressing these critical issues.
Sam Farr: It’s so key to the issue of critical thinking. We’re not critically thinking, look at what you’re pounded with all the time to buy. You got Ipod’s, my daughter just had to have Guess jeans. I threw a fit; I’m not going to spend that much money on jeans. “I’m the only one in the class that doesn’t have them, I’ve got to have my ears pierced because I’m the only girl that doesn’t have her ear’s pierced,” or a tattoo or whatever it was. There’s this incredible pressure just to do this stuff, it’s so many decisions you have to make and it’s really about material things. That’s what our society has gotten into, and unfortunately, there’s not enough people raising a hand and saying, “Wait, I got a question.” That’s what I hope you do.
If you don’t learn anything else from visiting Washington, learn to ask questions, and don’t be shy about it. I was the shy kid, I never asked questions, and boy I wish I had. I got back from the Peace Corps and realized I knew something that nobody else knew. Nobody I knew understood how smart they were, how entitled they were, or how professional they were, nobody had lived in abject poverty in a barrio in South America. I was the expert for something, and I went around and talked to law schools as a recruiter for the Peace Corps, and I thought, “I really do know something.” I started asking questions, and that wonderful Bobby Kennedy quote, “Some people dream and ask why, others ask why not.” I think you’re of that mindset of asking why not, and that’s the thing you need to do for the rest of your life, is ask why not.
Seychelle deVries: I’m Seychelle. As I understand it, you’re a strong proponent of trying to reduce poverty both in the US and overseas. Americans are pretty caught up in our material possessions, and I was wondering, how do you think that we can combat poverty in other nations, without spreading the environmentally destructive aspects of materialism that are so integral to our society?
Sam Farr: Technology is one way. The telephone is probably the best example. We had a telephone, and when I grew up it wasn’t even a rotary dial, you just pick up the phone. I was six or seven years old, and if I wanted to call home I’d pick up, the operator would say, “Number please,” and I’d give them the number, I remember that from being a little kid. Then we got rotary dial phones, and we thought, “That’s so cool, you can just dial somebody on these rotary dials. You guys wouldn’t even know how to use these things; you’d look at it and think, “How’s the thing operate.” Now you have cell phones, well guess what. All those wires we had to put in the ground, cut all those trees down, and pollute everything, now with wireless technology we can get the underserved part of the world served.
With that service we can educate them, respond to their needs, if people need help you can call easily and ask for it, and we ought to have the ability to respond to that. I think there are a lot of things that one can do. It’s the Americans that are the most materialistic, maybe the Latins, they are pretty materialistic too, but one of the things that all other cultures seem to have preserved is these family and friendship values. I was down in LA to get an award in Hollywood, and I went over to May Company, and they had an advertisement for men’s suits. I thought, “I have some time, I’ll go and buy myself a suit.” The kid that was serving me was this really handsome African American kid, and I said, “Where are you from?” He said, “I’m from Africa,” I think it was Nigeria. I said, “Are you going to school?” He said, “Yeah, I go to UCLA.” “What do you think of America?” “You work to hard in this country.” “You’re working,” he said, “Yeah I’m working because my parents didn’t want me to come here. I’m from a tribal family, we have enough money but my parents didn’t want to come because they didn’t like the American values. But I wanted to come, so I had to do it on my own. They’re not paying for me, and I’ve got to pay for school so I got this job.” I said, “What is it you don’t like?” He said, “You never take time. In Africa we are poor, but we get together with families and it’s all the time, it’s not just a few times a year like it is here, on the holidays. This is constant, it’s weekly.”
If you notice almost every country in the world puts a lot more emphasis on relationships between family and friends, America is too busy. We used to have that, but we’re too busy because we’ve got run, we have to make some money, to buy some things, I don’t know how you guys do it. You are just overloaded with everything. You have a cell phone in one ear, an Ipod in another ear, a laptop, and how do you stay focused? I don’t even know how to operate half those things. I think we can do this, we can help people, but also we have to learn from them. We have to listen, and slow down. Stop, look, and listen, remember you have to do that before you cross the street? Maybe that’s the new motto for America, just stop for a moment, quit being in such a hurry. Look around, and listen to what you hear.
Jonji Barber: Do you think we as Americans should be voluntarily reducing our consumption in order to set an example for the rest of the world?
Sam Farr: I don’t think the rest of the world is going to notice if we voluntarily do this, I think the rest of the world is envious of all things we have and they want them. China is a good example. I do think we have to be more conscious, as consumers, of what we are buying and we ought to be looking at products that are recycled, and certainly women buying cosmetics used from animals. It seems to me that there has got to be a consciousness that there are some organic foods, what have you, and the consumer is the ultimate. And news today is frankly a business. Let me tell you a quick story. When I was in the Peace Corps, my partner was Maureen Orth. Maureen Orth writes for Vanity Fair, she’s married to Tim Russert, the “Meet the Press” and vice president of NBC here in Washington, and their political chief guy. Maureen, when we got out of the Peace Corps, went to work for News Week as a writer. She just wrote really well, she went to Berkeley and she was writing letters home and every said, “God, your letters are so good, you ought to be a writer.” She got back and went to Newsweek, and convinced them that she knew all about being a reporter, she had never studied reporting at all, but she’s a really good writer, and she just wrote a book called “The Celebrity Industrial Complex.” It’s about all the people who are famous, who work at having to have professional advertisers and professional people just making their social calendar, and stuff like that. Some society women in New York are famous for regretting every party, by sending them 250 dollars worth of flowers with a regret message. She pointed out something in her book that was very interesting. When she first started working for Newsweek, she begged them to let her go and cover Elvis Presley’s funeral. She got there and saw all the people that were there, and said, “You ought to run this funeral as your cover story.” Newsweek said, “What? Elvis Presley? When he died he only got a paragraph in the New York Times, he got a paragraph in the Washington Post. He’s an entertainer; we don’t put entertainers on magazine covers. We put important people like government officials. We’re running the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury as our cover story this week.” There isn’t anybody in the United Stats who knows who the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury is today. With all the stuff that is going on in Washington, with the war in Iraq, with the problems we’re having, the deficit, we have more news about Britney Spears then we do on things that are important. So the point is that news is all about selling stuff. They’re willing to sell things that people will consume, which is all this gossip, so what happens to politics is that we’re in the same page, maybe not in the top of the page, maybe lost in the back because somebody is having a baby, or somebody has a scandal, or somebody got divorced, or whatever. All this stuff that really shouldn’t be in the same category as government news, and what messages are you as consumers getting. How does your generation separate what is important, like civic stuff that we’re talking about, versus this other stuff that is just given to you as more important, because it gets more play. I think we have to go back to some basics. I don’t know exactly how to do that, use your consumer awareness for those basics, for Americans to get involved and participate. John Lewis, one of the greatest heroes’s here in Congress, and I don’t know if you talked about the Montgomery bus strike—
Sadanand Maillard: Not this year.
Sam Farr: But the Montgomery bus strike was the first time that pressure on economics was ever used for a social issue in the United States. We’d done boycotts of German products during World War II, and things like that, but here Black’s had said, “We’re not going to ride the bus.” They brought the bus system to a halt because they just couldn’t afford to run it, because nobody was getting on. It wasn’t the white folks that were riding the bus, so when they stopped having paying passengers, and they did incredible things. They did carpools, people walked, sacrificed, it was an incredible sacrifice. Can you imagine what it would take to do that today, to say, “Don’t use the bus, or don’t use your car, but you still have to go to work or you’ll get fired.” They did it, and what they showed was that economic boycotts can really work. There’s what is sort of essential, how do we educate the consuming America as to how they ought to use their discretionary income, how you purchase things, how you invest, and how you spend your money to use that wisely. Maybe it is your generation that can figure out a marketing strategy to do that, but you’re still going to have to compete with Tom Cruise’ baby.
Megan Mitchell: Hi I’m Megan. I have another question, but I was thinking about the integration discussion that we’re having earlier, and I just have this question. How do we define our country if we cannot define our citizens? I’ve heard that repeatedly being asked on both sides, actually, and as far as I understand deportation has been the law regarding illegal immigrants. It’s not anything that’s brand new being brought in now, but that illegal immigrants are deported by law.
Sam Farr: But they’re not felons, they’ve committed a civil offense, and when you commit an offense in this country you have a right to trial. I don’t know anybody that’s demanded that, they get a waiver, which is if you voluntarily go without seeking a trial on your being deported; we won’t hold it against you. The first part of the question is that we have defined citizenship; essentially the ultimate citizenship is being a citizen of the United States. You can be born here and be a citizen naturally, or you can immigrate and become a naturalized citizen. Naturalized citizens should take that oath of office, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is or what language you speak, or religion is nothing. You’re now a full-blooded American citizen, you have the right to vote, the right to run for office. The only office that a citizen can’t run for, an immigrant citizen, the only office in the United States is President. They can be governor as Schwarzenegger is, so I think we do define our citizenship. If you think that are citizens are just going to be all white, I wonder what the Native Americans thought about it. They were the original citizens, all though they didn’t have to have it legalized like that.
Megan Mitchell: I don’t mean a definition based on race, or such standing like that, like ok, “American citizens are European males,” or anything like that.
Sam Farr: there’s been said of a feeling in America because if you look at all the history, all the white folks were all captured. That’s why we’re now having things like Black History, to try and say, “Wait a minute,” or Asian history. There were a lot of other people who participated and did great things; it just never got accounted for.
Megan Mitchell: It’s just seems that people are very concerned with being nice, I definitely agree there are many people I know who have families that were illegal immigrants, and they’re part of our state and our county and our country, but there are also competing interests like national healthcare, and if we add millions more people to our citizenship, how can we ever provide such resources to our people? How do we define our country if we’re constantly adding people, and still provide for those who were there originally?
Sam Farr: California, which is the fastest growing state, thirty-five million people, about half of our new population every year is people born in California, and the other half are people who have come from other states or other countries. I don’t think you can just tackle the problem by saying its just people coming from other countries, there is going to be growth for healthcare and education. I think you have to balance that, first of all we do have priorities for deporting people, or for the INS to go out and say, “If you’ve committed a crime in his country, you’re really in bad shape. You’ve got to be tried and convicted.” I think, frankly, we ought have things like, “If you commit a crime in this country, we’ll go and build prisons in Mexico if you’re coming Mexico, where most of the people are coming, and see you go serve your time in Mexico where your family is and they can support you.” You being a sole person in a prison in California, you don’t get any support, you don’t get anything, so what you’re probably going to do is come out as a much more hardened criminal. Let’s just enforce existing laws which say, “Lets just go out and get rid of the people who are doing harm, and are undocumented. That would be the good first start.
The other start is you also don’t want to deny education; you don’t want people to not be able to read and write, for the reasons I talked about earlier. You certainly don’t want people who have contagious diseases to be walking around and spreading those diseases, because you won’t let them see a doctor. So I think there are some humanitarian things that you’ve got to do, regardless of one’s status. I do think you can also stay, and that’s what we’re trying to do in this legislation, is that “Hey, we’ll allow you to be here, as long as one, you’ve never committed any crime and two, you’re paying taxes or if your social security number faults you’ve still be paying it. Otherwise, you’re not doing any harm.
We’re not saying you can become citizens, we’re just saying we’re going to allow you to have some quasi-legal status, this adjustment of status. You’re adjusting from being illegal, and therefore committing a crime, and hiding whenever you see any authority. A lot of people with that, who are driving on our highways, they don’t have any money so they’re buying these old clunkers, and when a little tail-light goes out, and he cop stops them, they run and just leave the car. All of a sudden they’ve lost the most important investment they have in America, which is the car to get them to work. They know that when the cop arrives they’re going to be arrested for driving without a license, because they don’t have a license either, so they just leave the car. I think we’ve go to put all this into perspective and figure out how do you manage it. That’s the struggle, you can’t make this blanket, “By God if you’re illegal you’re illegal, and you’re going to prison.” Frankly, the argument I would make, and nobody has really said this, for the adjustment of status you have to show that you’ve really been working in America.
What you see, in most of these cases, and we do a lot of casework, is it’s the women who are in the most difficult situation. The men are here, they came as laborers, they may have married somebody here, maybe they just have a domestic relationship and the have kids. Kids are born here, they’re American citizens. All of a sudden the man has the ability to adjust status, and the woman says “No, I’ve just been in a house all the time. I’ve been afraid to go out because I’m not a citizen, and I have really participated and joined anything.” I said, “You know, what good have you served?” “I’ve been a mom, and my kids have stayed out of problems, and they’re in school.” So do you deport her? Is that fair? I don’t think so. This is complicated, that’s all I’m trying to say. It takes keener, more sensitive thought to get laws that will allow that the border isn’t just leaking as much as it is, and to deal with all the people here.
Frankly, we ought to be having a Marshall Plan for Mexico. Mexico is a big country; it’s the fifteenth largest country in GMP in the world. It’s a relatively wealth country. It’s got a lot of discrepancy between the poor and the rich, but the fact of the matter is, if you talk to your parents, we’re all taking, about investments. What can we do and invest in today to gain us a return. If anybody says, “I can guarantee you in today’s world that you can get a five hundred percent return on your investment tomorrow,” you say “How do you do that?” Well you just stand on the Mexican side of the border and you cross into America. The wages in Mexico are one fifth of what they are in California. So why wouldn’t you take all that risk if you were a poor Mexican saying, “Hey man, I can make five times as much money, and I can take care of my family better, and I can pay bills, and I can do all kinds of things, if I just get over the border.
We have a big problem because we have to make sure that difference between rich and poor, which is the biggest contrast in the world, there are a lot of borders in the world, but this between Mexico and California, is the contrast of the wealthiest side and poorest side of any border in the world. It’s the busiest border, most people pass legitimately, traffic, cars, people, everyday back and forth that are legal then any other border in the world. In that there’s also illegal people and commerce, drugs and so on. We got to attack each one of these problems in a way that makes sense, that’s all. I think you would all agree to that.
Daniel Nanas: I’m Daniel. Yesterday, as you know, we interviewed Congressman Kucinich, who told us that when he toured the country during his campaign for President, he found an underlying unity of the people. He said it didn’t necessarily reflect the day to day conflict that takes place in Washington DC. How do you think the country might be better served by having the same spirit of unity, and how might we achieve this?
Sam Farr: Good question, because I think that’s what we need. I think, frankly, there’s only one person that can do that, and that’s the President of the United States by the title that we give him, “We the people of America, give him to be our President.” He has the microphone that the press pays attention to. You see how we’ve admired Presidents, Carter, because he was right in the middle of the Iran war and Iran revolution, we had captured prisoners in Iran, and the gas prices went up, not what they are today, but they were higher then they’d ever been at the time, people just hated him. He got bounced out of office, and you know what, he’s probably the most respected former President in history.
He’s no different now as a human being then he was as a President; he was advocating a lot of this stuff. People are now listening to him, he’s not President, he’s just a citizen who’s involved, but I think it shows that President Bush, and Bush 1, and Clinton I think in the tsunami tried to call for the better angels of Americans in participation. That was an effort by two former Presidents, so I think that those are the people, the Presidents, can get the attention. The President has got to have a vision, and he’s got to be credible. The only way you can be credible is you have to demonstrate it as part of what you’ve been doing in your life. I don’t know if you saw Barack O’Bama’s speech, you should get it from the national democratic convention in Boston. I just felt in that room, you know a lot of people who go to conventions are old politicians, I mean they’re all fans of the club, but they’re also cynical. “I’ve heard that, it’s not good enough.” In this place among our peers we can be very critical. Once and a while somebody comes along among us and gives this incredible speech, and you just see everybody thinking, “Wow.” We need a little “wow.”
Sadanand Maillard: We tried to get to him, but of course we never made it, but we made a valiant effort.
Sam Farr: We need “wow,” we need a “wow” person. My job is in politics, but it would be nice to have a “wow” in the religions, and the faith based organizations, “wow” in industry, just a bunch of people that would come up and make people say, “I want to follow that.” I can’t lead in any kind of new ideas, or try to fix things that are broken, unless I have support. I can’t lead unless people will follow. I’ve learned that people won’t follow even if you have a brilliant idea unless they understand it. Basically it’s constantly an educational process, where the citizens of the United States have understood the problem. You know you’re thinking you’re beginning to see with this debate on immigration, a lot people who have been either hard-nosed or loose on it, have moved. They’re moving towards the middle, which is where you usually get a compromise. The hard guys or gals are beginning to say, “Yeah, maybe there is something to do with the legitimacy, maybe we ought to have a change of status.” Some of liberals are saying, “It’s not a problem, the fence to Mexico has been there forever, a few people come across but it’s no really an issue.” Then they start seeing the backlash is, and they say “Maybe we do need something.” That’s the educational process that comes about with debate. We need more debate, we’re too busy listening to Ipods, we’re too busy jogging, I don’t know what, but we’re too busy doing all these things. We don’t debate anymore.
Daniel Nanas: That’s ironic, I just recently subscribed to Barack O’Bama’s weekly podcast that he puts out on national issues. It can also be a tool.
Sam Farr: That’s great, so tune into the right thing. You know that technology that I don’t even know.
Sadanand Maillard: We got a little bit of “wow” from Kucinich yesterday, wouldn’t you guys agree.
Sadanand Maillard: It was something about the message that he was bringing, that he seemed very aware.
Sam Farr: Dennis is wonderful; he’s on top of all this stuff. The trouble is that Dennis has this problem that people won’t follow him. I told Dennis, I said “You’re just one of nine guys up there who are running for President. You got some incredible talents, not just what you say, and you say it pretty well, but McCain and all these other people are out there, they’re all saying things and people are listening to them, your real problem is that the President isn’t saying these things, and that’s why you’re running for president.” I don’t know if he ever old you, but Dennis is an incredible, he’s a professional ventriloquist. He has a dummy doll. I said, “Dennis, you really want to get on the national news? Just get your doll, dress him up like George Bush, and say ‘The President won’t debate me, but I’m having a debate right here on the stage tonight.'” He could do all that, and thought people would think it was silly. I said, “No, they’ll see that you’re human, that you’ve got character, and this is what the country is looking for, Dennis.” Did Anthony Weiner tell me what I told him?
Sam Farr: He probably didn’t like it. He was running for mayor, you know he’s single. He was saying, “I’m running behind,” and I said, “There’s one way to do it. You go down, in New York, you go to the best clothing store in New York. You get outfitted in the best clothes you can possibly find. You go out and get your hair done, and you go to a professional studio and you have a full length picture taken of you,” handsome guy. I said “You run this, ‘is he straight, or is he gay?’ “You will unite all of New York, everybody who will think you’re straight will think you’re handsome and a potential, and all the guys out there will think ‘maybe.’ You will be the talk of New York.” So, he came when he lost and said, “Next time I’m hiring you as my campaign manager. You’ve got to have some humor in this job, it’s real serious, but it’s also not. The one the thing that was so good about Clinton, the thing that was so good Kennedy, he was the first young guy, they were all stodgy old men that were Presidents and suddenly this young guy came along, and he was bright, articulate, fun, he had a beautiful wife and cute kids. This is a whole new America, a whole new opportunity. The best thing was he was so funny and witty, and I think America just fell in love with this guy, and all of a sudden “boom,” and who would ever have thought he would be assassinated.
Edison Dudoit: While being in Washington DC, we’re seeing that things here are nothing like the impression we got from at home in California, so why do you so little of positive effort that people are making here leaks out to the rest of the nation?
Sam Farr: I think mainly because, as I said, news is trying to sell, make money, it’s all for profit. That old adage, “If it bleeds, it leads,” I remember just recently I was rushed back to California, it was a rainy night, I got home and I was so tired, I called KCBA over in Salinas and they said they were waiting for you right now, the studio is all set up. I started driving there, and I got about half way there and the traffic was awful because it was raining, I called them and I said, “Man, I’m really going to be late. Maybe we could do this interview later.” They said, “Oh, we forgot to tell you. There was this auto accident and we’re going to cover that, we’re not interested in what you have to say.” I just thought, “Yeah, that’s it. Big important news get’s trumped by an auto accident.” What you’ve learned here is that it’s a very busy place, a lot of fascinating stuff going on.
The people that are here are ordinary, they really aren’t kind of weird, they aren’t privileged, they aren’t rich, they don’t have butlers and chauffeurs like people think we do. They’re kind ordinary people, much like your parents and friends. They’re responsible for running this country, it’s kind of neat. We’re a participatory democracy, and a representational democracy. I always tell people there are all kinds of people, and there are not enough women. If we were really representational, we’d have more then fifty percent of Congress being women, because more then fifty percent of the voters are women. We had a very small percentage; I think there are about sixty women out of 435 men. Fortunately in California the majority of the California delegation in the House of Representatives is women, and both Senators are women. We’re way ahead of the rest of the nation. What you’ve is there are smart people, and not so smart people; there are wealthy people in Congress there are very poor people in Congress. There’s probably people who are very ethic and religious, and there are people who aren’t so ethical and aren’t so respectful.
It’s all types, and in many ways that’s what a representational government, it’s representing all those aspects of society out there. I just think that what’s happened with politics is followed the media. When I grew up, and you started seeing advertisements where Coca-Cola was attacking Pepsi, and people were attacking Aspirin, you know Tylenol and all those. The media world of Madison Avenue started realizing that if you went negative on your competitor, if would help your product. Politics pick up on that right away, if you went negative on your opponent, or went negative on the other party, it would help your side. Most of politics is being sold today in the negative. We pay for those things by buying ads, and our campaigns, so how can you expect when the people, and the only thing they see is thirty second ads and your saying that this guy who you just thought was a wonderful person is a rotten individual, and you think, “God maybe we’ve elected somebody who’s not that good after all.” You also wonder when you come back here and you just saw those two people hate each other in the street and call each other the worst names you can possibly imagine, and then they get up on the floor and recognize my distinguished friend from Iowa. We joke around here; we say that under the breath we’re saying that distinguished means such and such.
Tom Tucker: The more you distinguish somebody on the floor, the more you’re sort of throwing knives at them.
Sam Farr: The very learned, and distinguished, and you know, just the opposite. I’m sorry I didn’t get to all your questions, I really love these opportunities. With out a doubt you ask better questions then all the college students and everybody who comes here. You also have the privilege of getting access to people that nobody else does.
Group: Thanks to you.
Sam Farr: No, I’m just one of the many. People wouldn’t give you time if they didn’t think it was worth while, and I think you have, with the new people that you’ve interviewed this year, like Dennis and Anthony and others, they’ll tell other friends that, “Hey, this is worth it.” We like these kinds of discussions; I think you could pick up from a lot of them that they enjoyed it. We don’t get a chance to be this honest, even though you have that thing on. I think everybody feels that they’re off the record, which this isn’t going to be showing on the six o’clock news.