One of the most fascinating Senate primaries in recent memory played out last summer in the state of Massachusetts, where Senator Ed Markey was running for reelection on the Democratic ticket against his challenger, Representative Joe Kennedy III. Kennedy was the young buck from one of the most hallowed political families in American history, but he met his match with Senator Markey, who, at the age of 74, was not only the more accomplished of the two, but out-and-out the more progressive grassroots candidate. High among his causes is the environment, and, in 2019, he co-introduced the Green New Deal with his friend and ally, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. From childcare to gay rights to health care, Senator Markey had become one of the wise leftist warriors of the Senate. On November 3, Massachusetts will go to the polls in the race between the Senator and his Republican challenger, but Markey took some time out of his campaign to tell us about shooting hoops and saving the planet.
INTERVIEW: Where are you and how long have you been isolating?
SENATOR ED MARKEY: I’m in my home in Malden, Massachusetts. I have been back and forth to Washington, DC, to fight on the Senate floor against Mitch McConnell for coronavirus relief, for funding for our cities and states, for $2,000-a-month recurring payments to help those struggling to pay their bills during this pandemic, for funding for our postal service, and to stop the Republican’s corrupt political agenda that puts corporate profit over people.
INTERVIEW: What has this pandemic confirmed or altered about your view of society?
MARKEY: This pandemic has confirmed how important a progressive agenda is. Medicare for All anticipated this moment—the need for every single person in this country to have health care as a right and not a privilege. The Green New Deal anticipated this moment. It will help this country emerge from this crisis and create millions of blue-collar union jobs with benefits while saving our planet.
INTERVIEW: What is the worst-case scenario for the future?
MARKEY: People adopting cynicism over idealism. There’s no place for cynicism when those around you are experiencing pain. Cynicism is not pragmatic; rather, it is a willingness to accept the world as it is, not as it should be.
INTERVIEW: Do you think there is hope for true racial equality in the United States? What do you think is the first step in that goal?
MARKEY: Yes, and it starts with this election where justice is on the ballot. We have to promote justice and equity by stopping the current—and preventing the future, and repairing the historic—oppression of indigenous communities, communities of color, and migrant communities.
INTERVIEW: Do you think protests are effective tools for changing the system? How does it make a difference in the long term?
MARKEY: Absolutely. No true reforms in the history of this country have happened without the public making their voices heard, often taking their fight to the street. In this country we are guaranteed the right to assemble, and to protest against our government and systemic injustice. Change is accomplished through activism.
INTERVIEW: How do you personally channel your anger? Do you find anger to be a useful emotion?
MARKEY: I go into my driveway and shoot free throws. And then I get to work. Everyone has a choice as to the road they take when they see injustice or feel aggrieved. Anger is only a useful emotion when it galvanizes people to become the best versions of themselves. When it forces us to see the disparities and difficult situations in our society and then take real action to solve problems. But the anger spewed by demagogues like Donald Trump and his racist allies only results in division and harm to our country. It comes down to whether or not we allow anger to be constructive or destructive. I personally choose constructive.
INTERVIEW: Which young leaders of the moment inspire you?
MARKEY: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, my partner on the Green New Deal, and the young activists in the Sunrise Movement. They know that climate change is the greatest existential threat our country is facing, and they refuse to back down. We need more disruptors on the national stage who don’t act based on a political calculus, and instead act with conviction.
INTERVIEW: What thinker have you taken comfort in of late and why?
MARKEY: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Right now we are confronted with our FDR moment. Our moment to think big, act big, build big. To build back better, stronger. Our government has the ability and the resources to do it. We just need the political will.
INTERVIEW: Which (admittedly totally unqualified) celebrity would you trust with the planet’s future?
MARKEY: Until this season, I would have said Tom Brady. Let’s go with David Ortiz.
INTERVIEW: What prevents you from giving up hope in the human race?
MARKEY: Young people. Young climate activists, gun violence prevention activists, and Medicare for All activists. Young people are not afraid to raise their voices or make enemies. They will save us if we trust them. We must look to them, listen to them. We must follow these young people because they are the ones impacted by the decisions made by politicians today.
INTERVIEW: What is the most pressing issue facing the nation and the world that needs to be addressed in the next four years?
MARKEY: Combatting the climate crisis. That’s the defining issue of our future. Every other problem is linked to it. No solution to any challenge will be successful unless we address it. There will be no peace, no justice, and no prosperity unless we stop the march to climate destruction. This is a matter of life and death. The very future of our civilization depends upon it. There is no time for simply doing what we can.
INTERVIEW: Who should be the next president of the United States?
MARKEY: Vice President Joe Biden.
INTERVIEW: What will happen if Biden gets elected?
MARKEY: Joe Biden will reenter the Paris Agreement so that the United States can once again serve as a global leader in the fight to stop climate change. He will restore our country’s standing in the world and he will defeat the most corrupt and reckless president our country has ever known.
INTERVIEW: What will happen if Trump gets re-elected?
MARKEY: It will be a death sentence for our planet.
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