John Prysner, the Peace & Freedom Party candidate, is an experienced activist and organizer who made it clear, as we spoke, that he was running to represent a movement rather than out of any personal ambition. He spoke quickly, with great passion. We met at Sabor y Cultura in East Hollywood for this interview, which is reproduced in full below. -Ace
KNOCK: First, I understand you’re running under the Peace & Freedom Party?
John Prysner: Yes
KNOCK: Now, a lot of people don’t know about third party local politics — local politics aren’t something people don’t talk a lot about in LA, especially when it’s a third party. Why did you decide to run under that party rather than as an independent or a Democrat or something else?
Prysner: Well, you know, I’m also a member of the PSL, Party for Socialism and Liberation, and Peace & Freedom Party, and we recognize that the main force that’s going to bring about social change is grassroots movements and the united independent action of the people, independent of the electoral political process. But at the same time, there is an opportunity within the electoral process and we need a diversity of tactics as well, so this is a pretty good opportunity, this campaign — we feel we can reach people we couldn’t normally reach with our other efforts. And it is important to challenge the two-party duopoly — both parties represent the same ruling class, they basically manage the common affairs of the bourgeoisie, so, we definitely need third parties but as I said the real way to effect change is with mass united action.
KNOCK: Running under a third party label, do you feel like there are extra challenges for you to overcome?
Prysner: Hm… I feel like there’s less challenges, because I’m not beholden to any corporate interests, or my views are the same views as that of my party. It’s easier to draw myself apart from the other candidates because my views are so different. I obviously receive less financial support and funding, so — and ever since I became a candidate I’ve been getting my inbox flooded with emails offering me deals on marketing materials, and we’re doing none of that. We’re spending — we should come under our, we should be spending less than two thousand dollars on our campaign so we don’t have to go through the additional processing and stuff like that. It’s all volunteer based.
KNOCK: So you’re relying on a volunteer, grassroots sort of approach?
Prysner: Yeah, no corporate donorship, completely grassroots.
KNOCK: How has that process been for you? A lot of people are talking these days about grassroots movements, grassroots action, putting together a team of volunteers — what’s that been like?
Prysner: Well, it’s been pretty easy because being a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation — we’re a democratically centralized cadre organization, so we’ve allocated volunteers within our organization to form a committee, basically, to work on the campaign. So all the volunteers working on this campaign right now are people that I already work with on a daily basis. And with the upsurge in the movement we are getting more and more members in general, so we have more resources to devote to things like this.
KNOCK: So there was some agreement that you were going to be the person to run as the candidate, and then the group got together and decided how to allocate resources? ‘
Prysner: Yeah, this wasn’t like an independent move on my part because I wanted to run for this, we decided collectively that we wanted to run somebody for this campaign, and of the people who resided in that district I was the most available and willing and felt like would be a good candidate. So yeah, that’s how we decided.
KNOCK: I want to talk about political platform a little, some particular things that are going to come up in the assembly in the next year, next two years. One thing of course is SB562, single-payer. I assume based on everything we’ve discussed so far that you’re for single-payer health care?
Prysner: *laughs* Um, yes, absolutely for single-payer health care. I believe that health care, full access to health care for everyone, regardless of citizenship status or any other status, should be a right, and single payer is one of the big steps, a major reform that we could win in order to move towards universal health care. And the fact that the campaign for SB562 was betrayed by Democrats and a single Democrat was an absolute travesty and disgrace. It really shows that we can’t depend on the Democrats to get our basic rights.
KNOCK: I was about to ask you what you thought about that whole thing but you beat me to it.
Prysner: I could elaborate on that though! It’s really not the first time that something like that has happened. You know, when Obama was elected, when the Democrats had a majority in the House and the Senate, almost veto proof, and a popular president, and there was already 70% of people stating in a poll that they were very supportive of a single-payer system, and healthcare reform was going to be his big thing, they COULD have passed single-payer…
KNOCK: But they didn’t.
Prysner: But they didn’t! They passed the Affordable Care Act, which was based on a report by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, which was basically a massive handout to private medical corporations and still left twenty million people uninsured.
KNOCK: Now, one question related to that, do you think single-payer is going to be more achievable at the state level or at the national level first?
Prysner: Obviously with the superior collective resources of the nation it would be great to have national single-payer, but I think that achieving it at the state level — especially in a big state like California — would hopefully create a ripple effect of public opinion that people would really realize that this is an achievable thing, that it actually is more cost-effective and actually provides people the care that they deserve.
KNOCK: Another thing that’s going to come up in the assembly, that they’ve been discussing and is going to come up if you’re elected, is bail reform. Do you have any opinion as to the bail reform bills that are going forward, or do you have opinions more broadly on how the system of cash bail should or shouldn’t be reformed?
Prysner: Yeah, the system of cash bail is totally corrupt and unfairly hurts working class people more. Rich people don’t have to worry about paying bail. In general mass incarceration is a major, severe problem in our country that needs to be addressed. Addressing bail reform would be one of the really good ways that we could do it, but we really need to completely abolish our system of mass incarceration, privatized prison-industrial complex, aggressive policing, putting people in jail for minor offenses…
KNOCK: I was going to say, this is something that’s very close to my heart. I am a public defender actually, by day, so it’s heartening to hear you put forward those sort of opinions. Moving on to another issue that’s been coming up and is going to be coming up now that the entire world is breaking, people are talking about climate change, people are talking about environmental control. How do you feel about what California’s been doing on the environment and what do you think we need to do?
Prysner: That’s a really massive problem that we’re definitely not going to be able to solve as California alone. We need a complete restructuring of our entire society in order to not only stop the emission of carbon but since we’re already past the tipping point of carbon emissions we need to work towards reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, which means a massive investment in infrastructure and technology that can actually reverse climate change. But on the state level, there’s a large amount of environmental racism that’s run rampant, the ravaging of natural resources and pollution of our communities — Exide and the different refineries that are here which are extremely dangerous and often in the most poor and working class communities of color, so that’s definitely something we need to address. As far as climate change as a whole, reducing emissions — I would support anything that reduces emissions but understand that it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the total restructuring of our society that’s necessary.
KNOCK: In terms of more recent stuff there was SB 398 or AB 398, the cap and trade bill that was recently passed in California, or re-passed. Do you have any feelings on the execution of that, or cap and trade in general?
Prysner: I don’t have strong opinions, because it is something that’s going to be manipulated by the corporations in order to try and get around — there’s always a difference between the letter of the law and how it’s actually enforced and carried out — but I support any initiative that would seek to low carbon emissions. But we need to invest our resources in creating a mass movement to educate people in that we need a complete system change if we’re going to save the human race.
KNOCK: Now, moving on to something we discussed a little before we started the tape, you work as a coordinator in a warehouse?
KNOCK: And you have a strong interest in labor and unionization, and those societal issues?
Prysner: Yeah, having strong union rights is one of the only ways to protect workers from their employers who, at the end of the day, seek greater and greater profits, and one of the easiest ways to extract greater and greater profits is to lower the rights and pay of working class people. So the employers are fundamentally opposite from the interests of the workers, and union rights are one of the only ways that we have in our current structures to protect workers. I support the expansion of union rights, and stopping the attacks on union rights that have been going on consistently.
KNOCK: Like quote-unquote right-to-work and so forth?
Prysner: Yeah, right-to-work is an absolute travesty.
KNOCK: If you were sent to the statehouse, are there any proposals you would have or changes you would like to make to state law to encourage unionization or to make it easier for workers to unionize?
Prysner: I would say that all workers should be able to vote by simple majority to get their union. I don’t have a very specific proposal off the top of my head right now but it’s definitely something I would strongly advocate for.
KNOCK: With regards to immigration — California has a huge immigrant population, a huge undocumented population especially in Southern California, and a lot of people are feeling a lot of fear and stress right now because of the actions of the government. You’re obviously not in favor of those actions judging by the nodding — what are some particular proposals or particular tactics you might take in the government, if you were elected, to protect our immigrant and undocumented populations?
Prysner: Again, I’m supportive of full rights for all immigrants regardless of quote-unquote criminal status; definitely one of the things I feel separates me from the other candidates is that most people say things like they support immigrant rights for “law-abiding” immigrants which is a way to divide people unfairly.
KNOCK: Between the good ones and the “bad hombres”?
Prysner: Good ones and “bad hombres,” right, it feeds into that fascist ideology. And also many of those people are pushed into poverty and forced to turn to crime in order to meet their basic needs. I think that, especially now — we already have a horrible immigration system that has deported so many people and ripped so many families apart, and Obama deported more immigrants than any other previous president —
KNOCK: And people don’t always like talking about that so much.
Prysner: People don’t like to talk about that, but it was a very large problem, and now with this infrastructure, this state apparatus of ICE terror campaigns against the immigrant community, now that it’s being headed by openly racist bigots really the leash is off and we’re seeing unprecedented levels of attacks — the rescinding of DACA, which is an absolute outrage. We really need people in office who are willing to obstruct and fight against these attacks by any means necessary, whatever it takes to prevent ICE from working with local government or just straight-up obstruction by any means necessary. In addition to that we need to continue to perform mass actions in order to stand against these attacks. DACA was won by the largest demonstrations in the history of this country, topped only maybe by the Women’s March recently — that’s how it was achieved, and it was led courageously by undocumented immigrant youth at great risk at great risk to themselves. These are the kinds of power that we still wield and need to continue to wield, but I feel that having somebody within the government who can staunchly defend these rights on a legal level is also important.
KNOCK: Is there any particular legislation, if you’re elected, that you’re aiming to make an early priority, or something they’re doing right now that we need your voice there to oppose?
Prysner: There are some specific things like repealing the Ellis Act and the Costa-Hawkins Act, repealing the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights, passing SB562, all these things — full rights for immigrants, passing SB54 even though SB54 has continued to be watered down in a really horrible fashion.
KNOCK: I noticed they added some amendments just the other day… not amendments strengthening the bill, obviously.
Prysner: Yeah, it’s really quite bad. I noticed that one of the amendments is that they will now allow ICE officials to troll jails with the criminal alien program — which you know accounts for 75% of all deportations, which is really taking the teeth out of that bill — but I would support any bill that at least pushes towards more rights for immigrants but I feel that, if I actually do get elected, the first order of business would be to collectively draft as many bills as possible to address these pressing, pressing issues in addition to the ones that are already underway.
KNOCK: The last question we’ve been asking everybody is, what are the voices or constituencies or groups that you’re going to elevate if elected, that you’re bringing with you to Sacramento?
Prysner: I would say that — everyone, immigrants, people of color, working class people, LGBTQ people, really all of the oppressed who have no voice in our government at this point. Even though the Democratic party tries to pretend that they’re the voice of these people they ultimate server their donors and corporate bosses, and I feel that with a true working class organization we can actually give a voice to these people.
KNOCK: Alright, any final thoughts?
Prysner: La lucha sigue!