May 2014 - Issue IX
Meet Luis Rodriguez - Future Governor of California?
CCM: How did you come to be part of the Justice Party?
LR: I was asked by Rocky Anderson, who ran for President under the Justice Party. Apparently they considered other possible candidates. It was an honor to be considered and accepted. I ran for vice-president under the Justice Party in the 2012 presidential elections, we got more than 40,000 votes.
CCM: Do you see another political run in the future?
LR: I’m now running for governor of California under the Green Party. I’m officially on the June 3 primary ballot. The Justice Party is supportive but this is a Green Party endorsed independent campaign.
CCM: Why do Chicanos have a low voter turnout?
LR: More work needs to be done to register and engage the Chicano voter. For the most part, many don’t feel that elections can make a difference, or that there is not much to vote for (although Obama stimulated this in the last two elections), and/or they need more political sophistication. We are new to this process. We are only a generation away from the first Chicanos in L.A. city and county politics. My brother-in-law, Tony Cardenas, is the first Chicano ever in the U.S. Congress from the San Fernando Valley, although Chicano/Latinos are a majority here and have long-standing barrios. There are also disappointments. Many Chicanos voted into office either did nothing or got involved in a scandal or two. I hope this is all a learning process due to our relative inexperience in politics. We also need to train new political leaders -- this should be what any Chicano/Latino politician and their “machines” should do right away so that candidates are prepared, learned, and engaging -- and can be scandal-free, responsible and accountable once they are in office.
CCM: Thoughts on Citizens United?
LR: This is an outrage. Corporations are already extraordinarily involved in funding political candidates. They don’t need to be more so. Since Citizens United was approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, the costs of running elections have skyrocketed. The last presidential run by Obama and Romney was an obscene $3 billion. This is undermining political participation and accountability. People are more beholden to their donors than the issues or the constituents. As one person said, when corporations can be given the death penalty like persons who murder, then perhaps they can be seen as “persons.”
CCM: What was the breaking point when you decided to turn your life around?
LR: It was the intersection of my art (at the time of my youth in the late 1960s and early 1970s my art consisted of murals/graffiti but also writing) with a cause. The cause was for social justice, deep economic and political change, and the full flowering of the human spirit. I began to get glimpses of this in the street, in jail, on drugs, but it was study and collective action that turned me around. My last jail stint became the crossroads. By age 20 I was out of gang life and drug addictions, and into a life of writing, politics, and community activism.
CCM: Why didn’t you give up Tia Chucha’s although it had a rough start?
LR: We got hit with the volatility of the rental market and the lack of government support for cultural spaces/store fronts like ours. We got pushed out of one space due to higher rents, then we had our equipment stolen when it was temporarily warehoused, then we had a space which people found hard to find. We had to make one more move, our third, to be in a much better position for growth. In the end it was the faces of the youth, the mothers who showed up, the Open Micers (that included local poets, musicians, and people like the lady who sold tamales and sang, or the waiter who did “declamacion” of Spanish-language poetry) that convinced me we had to keep going. When I heard how two young girls -- 14 and 15 -- found the Aztec drums and danza group--and how this transformed their lives, I knew why we couldn’t give up on Tia Chucha’s. One girl wanted to commit suicide; the other was drinking her life away. They are both doing well now, with family and active in the indigenous cultural life of this community. We are now thirteen years old and have become supported by the community, funders, and donors. It used to be mostly my wife Trini (Operations Director for Tia Chucha’s) and I keeping this place afloat, but for the past eight years we have not put in any more of our money (although both Trini, who works more than full-time, does not get paid and neither do I as president of the board.). I’m convinced these spaces are vital. This is how community can come alive. The arts/imagination is the regenerative power of a new economy, politics, and world.
CCM: What’s next?
LR: We will continue to strengthen and solidify what we created at Tia Chucha’s. We are working on having others to take over the reins, not just of the cultural space and bookstore but also of Tia Chucha Press. We are looking at hopefully one last move (a permanent space). And I’ve set up a new business called Barking Rooster Productions for Internet content, films, TV, CDS, and more. In addition, I’m working on new books and other writing projects. On top of this if I can become politically viable through the Justice Party and as a co-convener of the Network for Revolutionary Change, I will place effort in this direction. Trini and I will also continue our healing work through Native American and Mexican spiritual practices. We’re both going to be 60 years old soon. Now it’s about what we can give and teach more than what we can get. Thanks for your questions and interest.