Marcus’s MA04 Candidate Profile: Alan Khazei [OPINION]
Alan Khazei is a pioneer of social entrepreneurship whose work has inspired one of the most well-noted humanitarian efforts in modern times. A lifelong New Englander, Khazei graduated with honors from Harvard College in 1983 and Harvard Law School in 1987.
After graduating from Harvard Law, Khazei and his roommate Michael Brown founded City Year. City Year is a non-profit that has become an international staple in humanitarian efforts to connect with and empower underserved communities. City Year recruits young people ages 18-24 to commit to a full year of community service. They believe that a young and diverse coalition working toward a greater cause is the key to addressing our most pressing civic challenges.
Bill Clinton visited City Year during his first presidential campaign in 1992. Clinton’s visit left such an impression on him that after he was elected, he enlisted the help of Khazei and Brown to create a national model of their work at City Year. This initiative led to the establishment of AmeriCorps, a national service program that is described as the domestic version of the Peace Corps famously established by President Kennedy in 1961.
Since its inception in 1993, AmeriCorps has contributed over 1.2 billion hours of public service. City Year, which joined the AmeriCorps network, eventually retooled its focus to primarily helping public school students in underserved communities. In 2005, Khazei expanded City Year's reach internationally by working with Clinton and South African President Nelson Mandela to establish a site in Johannesburg, and later in the United Kingdom.
Khazei’s endorsements include Leadership Now Project, National Iranian-American Council, Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans People, Former U.N Ambassador and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Four-Star General Stanley McChrystal, Congressman Jamie Raskin, Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Former Undersecretary of Defense Michelle Flournoy, Former U.S. Senator Gary Hart, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Doug Wilson, Newton City Councilor Holly Ryan, MA Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, Harvard Business Prof. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Sunrise Movement Spokesperson Saya Ameli Hajebi, Civic Entrepreneur Colette Phillips, and Civil Rights Activist Hubie Jones.
1. Why did you decide to run for Congress?
“I’m running for Congress in Massachusetts for several reasons. First, as a parent, I don’t want to be part of the first generation since the founding of our country to leave the country worse off for our children and grandchildren than our parents and grandparents left it for us. Second, because I believe that we are in the worst of times but also the best of times for our democracy. Worst because Trump is an existential threat to our values, principles, ideals and pillars of our democracy. But best of times, because of the extraordinary new movement energy that has emerged. I’ve been a movement leader, builder and activist my entire career and I’m inspired by the new energy. I’ve been on the outside building coalitions to get big things done in our nation, but now want to get on the inside, bust open the doors of Congress and bring this new movement energy in to break the logjam in DC. Third, I am a service person at my core. Serving in Congress is an extraordinary opportunity to make a tangible and daily difference in people’s lives.
Now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel a deeper sense of urgency to make change in Congress that delivers a progressive reform on the order of the New Deal. We are entering a new New Deal era, where we will have to have experienced and driven leaders in Congress that start with bold ideas and a focus on equity (as you’ll see in my later answers, that is what drives this campaign).”
2. How has your campaign adapted to the new realities of the COVID-19 pandemic?
“COVID-19 has changed the entire way we live, including the way we do politics. One of the most difficult realities of the pandemic is that my most fulfilling experience on the campaign trail, connecting in-person with all kinds of people, has become impossible to do.
Our response to this has considered a few key factors: 1) how do we help keep people safe, 2) how do we come out of this crisis with a stronger community, and 3) how do we continue to communicate with the people of this district?
To help keep people safe, we have done everything we can to focus our campaign’s efforts on COVID-19 communication. We launched a comprehensive page on our website to keep people informed of all their resources, posted updates on social media, and raised money for critical organizations.
To restore our community and the country after this pandemic, we have really honed in on what policies we can propose and support which will directly address the COVID-19 crisis. We played an integral role in the Paycheck Security Act that is in Congress, as well as in our call for National Service Year Jobs, which was featured in the Boston Globe and is being proposed in the Senate. We have made COVID-19 leadership and action our number one policy priority because it encompasses all the other major issues, including healthcare, the climate crisis, and even democracy reform.
Finally, we’ve done our best to continue communicating with the district even in this digital-only moment. Through Facebook Live town halls with leading health experts, to a weekly show with guests who cover the issues, to joining local town committee meetings or organization Zooms and sharing our story, we’ve made it a focus to keep the conversation going digitally. The reality is that this could become a norm for the foreseeable future. Our campaign has adapted to it and is ready to continue and hopefully eventually represent the district with all the tools available.”
3. What experiences and qualities do you have that separate yourself from the other candidates in the race?
“I am not a career politician. I am a movement leader, a march organizer and a builder who’s founded multiple non-profits, including City Year, all in service to people and our local communities. Founding City Year, saving AmeriCorps, and helping pass the Kennedy Serve America Act paved the way for 1.1 million volunteers to improve lives and local communities across the country.
Most importantly, I lead with my values and mobilize broad, inclusive coalitions to drive progress that others thought couldn’t be done. I’ve shown through my experience that in fact it can be done with an innovative spirit and a movement.
We need new thinking to secure the public health and Main Street's livelihood in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We need a different approach to stop climate change, achieve gun safety and restore the American Dream. I am a proven, progressive pathbreaker with a 30-year track record of innovating and empowering people to get big things done.”
4. What do you think is the most important issue facing the country today and how do we address it?
“As COVID-19 spreads across our country, it is exposing inequities and injustices in our society: who has healthcare and who doesn’t? Who has access to computers and high-speed broadband and who doesn’t? Who has paid sick leave, adequate child care, and housing and who doesn’t? Who has rainy day savings and who is as little as $500 away from economic calamity?
As we confront the coronavirus, we must also commit ourselves to creating a more fair and just society of mutuality. We need to do this so we are better prepared in the future and more importantly, so that we become a more united, humane and just nation.
The two most important issues that are highlighted by COVID-19 which we face are the climate crisis and affordable healthcare. Both are significantly threatening our district, and disproportionately impacting communities of color. What is on the top of my mind, and on the top of many others, is why we don’t have accessible, affordable healthcare for everyone in this district and country, and how we can change that.
Everyone in our country must have comprehensive health care coverage. Providing healthcare as a right for all Americans is the moral thing to do, the right thing to do, and also the practical thing to do. Today, there are more than 27.5 million uninsured Americans, and millions more are underinsured. As the pandemic makes clear, lack of care is also a public health risk: Americans without access to healthcare either cannot get treated when they have a contagious disease or avoid treatment and emergency care to prevent receiving debilitating bills. This crisis shows we must ensure every American has access to healthcare.
I support building on President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and providing a “Medicare for all who want it” system. I support a strong public option that will allow anyone who wants to use that option instead of private insurance the chance to do so. My focus is on reducing healthcare costs. That can be done by allowing Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate much lower prescription drug costs with the drug companies, and also buying lower-cost drugs from Canada and other countries. We also need sensible investments in wellness and the Social and Environmental Determinants of Health (SEDOH) to increase our preventative healthcare.”
5. What is one of your favorite features of MA04 District?
“My favorite feature about the MA04 district is how amazingly historic and iconic it is. Franklin is the home of the first public library, and where Horace Mann proposed a public education. Taunton was the first community to oppose the British. Wellesley is the home of Kathie Lee Bates, who wrote “America the Beautiful." Brookline was part of the Underground Railroad. Lakeville is home to the capital of our cranberries, the pride of Massachusetts. Fall River is home to the largest ever textile manufacturing center in America. Attleboro is the jewelry capital of the world.
We have such a deep history in this district, and it plays a critical role in the very things that make Massachusetts what it is. I love constantly learning new things about this district. Every time I talk to people from the 34 cities and towns, I hear something different! I want that deep history and constant forging of pathways to guide our leadership and our decisions as a community, and to make it possible for us to do more, to reach farther, and to help each other.”
For more information on Khazei’s campaign visit alankhazei.com.
Marcus Ferro is an attorney practicing in New Bedford and a weekly contributor to The Chris McCarthy Show on 1420 WBSM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.