Interview with Steve Pemberton​

On September 13th, 2019, prior to the Massachusetts Democratic Party state convention, Kash Jain interviewed Steve Pemberton, candidate for U.S. Senate. Mr. Pembeton is a business executive and author of A Chance in the World, an autobiography concerning his childhood in the foster care system.

In this age of great political discord and turmoil — the shifting of political power and change in how the everyday American views politics — it is more important than ever for the American people to be aware of the candidates running for public office, who they are, and what they stand for.

The interview in it’s entirety proved to be quite lengthy, so if you would like to read the entire thing — including Mr. Pemberton’s views on the education system & student debt crisis — you can find it here.

Without further ado, here is (most!) of our interview with Steve Pemberton:

Q: What does the word “progress” mean to you?
A: Progress means never declaring victory. It means always trying to find out what your best is. It means challenging conventional norms, even when it’s uncomfortable; especially when it’s uncomfortable. It is necessary for the sustainability of any society. That might seem to be an oxymoron because there’s always some kind of turbulent nature to progress, but a fulfilled life is one that is always in progress — pushing, challenging, daring, dreaming, believing — that’s progress.

Q: Why are you a good candidate for Senate?
A: I represent and come from a completely different experience than that which I see in the Senate today. There’s a lot of wonderful people in the Senate and I respect them; the causes that they’ve taken on and the ones to which they’re currently committed. But, my experience — with all due respect — is a very, very different one from what I see. I grew up in New Bedford, in foster care, and my family was quite literally ripped apart by a lot of the issues that are really impacting citizens across the Commonwealth and across the country today. My mother was battling alcoholism — that’s why I was taken from her when I was three. I lost my father to gun violence when I was five. Then I wound up in foster care. It had quite an effect on me for the rest of my childhood — I’d argue for the rest of my life. So, I bring a certain kind of urgency to this race. On the one hand, my journey reflects America’s pain — but also her possibilities. I should not have emerged from that situation intact. Fortunately, I was able to break the cycle. My father was an orphan; my grandfather was an orphan. I would’ve been next in line. But my children — my children are not. I am their dad. 

Q: What do you think is the biggest issue facing America today?
A: It’s virtually impossible to pick out one single issue because we have delayed and ignored so many issues for so long. The environment. Gun violence. Addiction. The foster care system. Affordable housing. Infrastructure. 

I will tell you that there is one issue in particular that has a convergence around the others: income equality. We are looking at unprecedented, historic income inequality, which has disrupted the American Dream. We have to summon the will to deal with all of the avalanche effects of income inequality. It’s no coincidence that when you see record levels of income inequality, you see record levels of addiction, family separation, and suicide. When you’re locked out and believe that your zip code will determine your future from the moment you’re born, it has a cascading effect. We must summon the will as an American people to take on all of [the issues]. And, we can, because generations past did. They never saw issues as too big for them to handle. We can’t, as the inheritors of those sacrifices, say it’s too hard.

Q: What is your stance on the issue of healthcare?
A: Let’s begin with what we value. I think that we have to begin with this fundamental belief that healthcare is a human right. The debilitating and devastating effects of a lack of access to quality health care are all around us. I experienced this actually, firsthand, growing up in foster care. Many, many years later, after a very turbulent experience, I went looking for my biological family; and, my mother and father both passed away. I had no memory of that. But as I got a little bit older I thought, “what happened to my parents that, literally separated me from them?” It was the issue of healthcare; my grandmother — Mary Cabral, my father’s mother — died at the age of 40. She left behind 13 children who then were scattered to the streets, different schools, and foster care. My father was 15. That was a matter of healthcare and Mary Cabral getting access to quality healthcare because, if she did, my father would have had his mother and the matriarch of the family. I do think that we have to allow Americans to retain their right of choice. If you’re happy with your plan, you should be able to keep it. But, if you lose your job or you’re dissatisfied, then you ought to be able to have a plan that’s going to provide the care that you need. 

Q: Do you agree with keeping private healthcare as an option? A: Absolutely. I’m completely supportive of the choice.

Q: One of the biggest issues today that many voters and constituents alike are concerned about is gridlock in Washington. So how would you as a senator work to resolve said gridlock?
A: I think I have to be part of a class that brings a different perspective. We need to seriously visit the issue of term limits. We also have to create a sense of national community, because what is unfolding now when we’re demonizing someone who looks different than you, votes different than you, and might have a different faith than you — not just in Washington but across the country — is costing us. We can create a national conversation about the commonality of the human experience. We just need to have some baseline agreements. This division is weakening us globally, and it is quite literally making us the target of our enemy. We saw what unfolded with our elections. That was Russia saying “listen: we’re not going to be able to defeat America. Not militarily. Their form of government is better than ours. What’s their Achilles heel? The American’s tendency, especially in times of uncertainty, is to lean towards divisiveness. And that’s what we’ll use against them, and we will attack their elections.” The way to beat America is to pit one of her citizens against the other. Putin is not our friend. He’s trying to weaken this nation. Donald Trump, his party, and the policies they pursue are changing the character of our country. And it’s inexcusable. My generation can’t let it happen. Your generation can’t let it happen. If that means that you take on and have to disagree with somebody who’s popular, then you take on somebody who’s popular. You can’t say America’s great and then not realize that it was our ability to unify and collaborate that made us so. 

Q: There’s currently a debate in the Democratic Party; a split if you will between being a relatively centrist party versus being a leftist, progressive party. This is a debate that is really splitting the party. People are splitting between backing Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi versus Bernie Sanders and AOC. Which side of this schism do you fall on?
 A: I don’t.

And this schism has been going on for a long time, by the way. What we must do as the Democratic Party is do what most Americans do: work in organizations, who have families — you know what we do? We compromise. We don’t wake up like so much of Washington D.C. does. We don’t wake up saying “let me prove how wrong you are.” You didn’t begin your day like that today. I didn’t begin my day like that today. I’m always thinking “well, how can I work and align?”

You need both ideas to coalesce into a platform. I will say — with a caveat, what I said earlier — there are times when where America stands is so fragile, like right now, that we have got to fundamentally revisit the covenant between America and our citizens. Income inequality is one of them. Climate is another. You’re not going to be able to fundamentally and systemically, in a sustainable way, address that, unless you revisit the way in which we are approaching them.

Q: How would you as a senator help Massachusetts and your constituents?
A: This is the birthplace of America, and some of the things that I talked about earlier are affecting Massachusetts in particular. We have experienced an unconscionable number of fatalities in our foster care system. Children dying in our care. We’re seeing record levels of suicide. We have massive income inequality, particularly in the western part of the state where you have people who are shut out of the information economy who are having a hard time finding meaningful and dignified work. And so, we need in the United States Senate not people who are interested in the legacy or their incumbency or their privilege, but people who wake up everyday thinking “what can I do that is best for this state?” If you wake up every day with that as your lighthouse, as your north star, as what you’re sailing your ship towards. “How can I bring greater federal funds to address climate change and the impact of climate change?” Like my community in New Bedford that is being affected by climate change where environmental justice and social justice are colliding over this very issue.

Who wakes up every day thinking about that? I’m not convinced that we see that in Congress. It is time — being respectful of generations past — to say that it’s time for a new generation. It’s time to bring a heightened degree of urgency.

Q: What do we do about climate change and concerns about the environment?
A: We have to invest aggressively in research. Right now, we have to spend a fair amount of time looking at all of the issues that we know are accelerating, climate change in particular. We need a drive towards clean, renewable energy. Again, we have to bring forward this new way of thinking, this new way of acting, this new way of operating, and not continue to make investments in fossil fuels. When you’re watching sea levels rise and making a convincing argument about the collateral damage of that, I don’t think we’re fully understanding how to do that. Let me give you an example: our oceans are warming. From New Bedford, from where I’m from, here’s what that means: the center of New Bedford’s commerce is fishing, particularly scups. When the ocean temperature warms, the scups migrate away, and fewer boats are leaving the New Bedford harbor; and those that do are having to move further and further away. And that is the core of the fishing industry. So what does that mean for the fisherman, whose sons and daughters I went to school with? The captains of fishing boats? And so, they have to go further or find a different species to catch. Every coastal city along the East Coast that has relied on fishing is being affected by climate change. I think we have to make a convincing argument of the daily impact [of climate change] on your daily life and paint this future picture of what happens to a community like New Bedford if this continues unchecked. 

Lastly, I think we can summon the will. That’s what we have done as Americans. But, what’s currently unfolding is costing us. It’s costing us with gun violence. It’s costing us with climate change, this divisiveness. In America, we have to find a way of creating a national community that’s about common threads of humanity: what have you seen? What’ve you experienced? You and I sit down and talk about that. We could sit down and unpack a whole list of what makes you and I different, But, if the most important thing that I think that I can learn about you is what makes you different from me, then I really have missed the conversation entirely. Just because you’re younger than me doesn’t mean you don’t have wisdom, and just because I’m older than you doesn’t mean that I don’t know my way around technology. Imagine how much richer the world is when you and I are having that discussion. But if our first conversation is about collision, and anger, and dissonance, and discord? We won’t be able to take on the great challenges of our time. That’s why I’m optimistic; your generation makes me optimistic because by you beginning The Blue Club, your generation’s saying “no more. We’re tired of listening to you older folks, and you don’t have the urgency that we do, so we’re going to handle it ourselves. We’re going to start an organization, and we’re going to show up to the Democratic convention, and we’re going to interview this guy that’s running for United States Senate,” and that’s what you have to do. And don’t let anybody dissuade you from that. Don’t ever accept the idea that because you’re younger, your voice is not the same and not as important as mine or anybody else who’s older. I remember people telling me that, and they were wrong. Anybody who tells you that is wrong. You’re supposed to have a voice. Be reasoned, be considered, be respectful, but be insistent, and be passionate. 

If you’d like to learn more about Mr. Pemberton and his candidacy, check out his official campaign website.

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