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"Biden Has Blood on His Hands" — An Interview with Congressional Candidate Pervez Agwan
We talk Palestine liberation, labor rights, and the threat of the military industrial complex.
This is an interview with Congressional candidate Pervez Agwan. Mr Agwan is running to be the Democratic candidate for the newly redrawn Texas 7th Congressional District, located in Houston. He is a DSA-endorsed candidate who has pledged not to take any money from PACs or special interests. His opponent, incumbent Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher, is a member of the centrist New Democrats Coalition. The primary election will be held on March 5th, 2024.
The interview was conducted on October 25th, 2023. It has been edited for clarity.
Let’s start simple. Why are you running for Congress? What are the constituents of Texas's 7th district going to get from you that they're not getting from their current representative?
Pervez Agwan: It’s important to realize that because the district has changed so much recently, it's actually much more progressive than the traditional Democratic party line. One of the biggest problems we see in Congress right now is our politicians have been there for decades. They all take money from special interest groups; They take money from every corporate PAC. Because of that, Congress no longer represents the American people. Instead, it represents big money and billion-dollar companies.
My father came to this country as a blue-collar worker. Near the end of his life, he struggled to afford access to healthcare. When Houston's oil and gas industry crashed, he lost his job, and with it, his health insurance. I believe that in the richest country on earth, no one should go bankrupt, and no one should be struggling to afford insulin, healthcare, blood tests, or blood checkups. [America] spends more per capita on healthcare than any other country, and yet we have some of the worst healthcare outcomes of the G20. Every other peer country has some form of single-payer or universal healthcare access system.
But ours is still a for-profit system. So when my father passed away suddenly, there was a lot of responsibility thrust on my mom, my brother, and me. And that entire saga really opened my eyes to how broken the American healthcare system is.
My dad passed away 20 years under the general life expectancy because he couldn't access healthcare in a state that refuses to expand healthcare access in a country where healthcare is for-profit. So, I decided to throw my hat in the ring because it is unacceptable that most of our districts in Houston, including the newly drawn 7th District, are represented by people who represent the billion-dollar health insurance companies and are bending to Big Pharma, rather than representing the people.
You’ve made the issue of Palestinian liberation a focal point of your campaign, even before the recent crisis. That's not something we see a lot from congressional candidates. How has the response to your pro-Palestine stance been on the ground in Houston? What are you hearing from the people in your district about this issue?
PA: People want politicians to be honest. Right now, big lobbyist groups — the military lobby, the defense lobby, the foreign interest lobby, including AIPAC — are dictating this country's foreign policy. War is profitable and we need to stop that. So the reason the United States is involved in all these foreign wars is that the defense industry wants it to be.
Our politicians are not being honest with people. And it's this dishonesty, this legalized bribery, that causes America to send billions of our tax dollars abroad to endless wars that the American people don't want. Depending on the poll, between 60 to 80 percent of Democrats want a ceasefire (in Gaza). People don't want war in the Middle East. Nobody likes civilian casualties. Nobody wants innocent people to die. So why can't we get that to happen? Because our politicians only listen to the money that funds them.
Our campaign has always tried to be honest about this issue. [In Israel-Palestine] there is an occupation. There is an apartheid system. There are mass civilian casualties. And we can stop that with a ceasefire.
But my opponent is not for it. We're the only [Congressional] campaign in Houston that's calling for a ceasefire because we don't bend to the defense lobby. We don't bow down to AIPAC or other foreign interest lobbies. We want to run an honest campaign. And being an honest campaign means we’re calling for a ceasefire.
And the reception on the ground has been what you’d expect: People in Houston don't want to see thousands of innocent people die. So because we're being honest, I think Houstonians are recognizing that we're running against some very dishonest people.
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You mentioned AIPAC. They have a reputation for flooding races with money against candidates who are critical of Israel, such as yourself. Tactically speaking, how do you plan to combat the exorbitant amounts of money that AIPAC and other members of the pro-Israel lobby will likely spend to defeat you?
PA: First, I'd say bring it on. We have the truth. We're going to stand for the truth. It's plain and simple. Bring it on. We're going to fight with the truth. We're not afraid of you. We're not afraid of any lobby. We don't care how much money you're going to spend against us. Truth beats money because money won’t work as hard as we will.
And, quite frankly, it costs a lot more money to sell a lie than it does for us to spread the truth. So we're not going to be afraid. We're going to talk about the necessity of human rights for everybody. It's not just about the Palestinian issue. People need to recognize AIPAC challenges anybody who wants lobbyist money out of politics.
Their very existence is detrimental to democracy. The painful reality is that military lobbies and foreign interest lobbies run the [American] government. It’s obvious a lot of Americans want a ceasefire [in Gaza] and don't want to send more money to the Middle East or to the war machine. But our President, our Secretary of State, and the people that work in the Biden administration are saying there will be civilian casualties, and that we should “deal with it.”
That doesn't make any sense. We're watching innocent people die on our phones and our politicians choose not to do anything about it. That's what differentiates me from my opponent. My opponent is a war hawk who bends to lobbying groups, and we don't.
You hit on something else there. I read one of your recent interviews in which you said, “President Biden has blood on his hands for funding Israel's attacks on Gaza.” If elected, how do you plan to hold Biden and other Democrats accountable for their support of Israel, as well as other oppressive regimes?
PA: Using my voice and the power of the grassroots. I want people in this country to have hope that the United States will not always have blood on its hands. I want people to have hope you can elect politicians and support campaigns that want to end wars, not commission them. I want people to have hope that we can run ethical grassroots campaigns that want to cut the defense budget and that we don't have to put a trillion dollars a year into the war machine. I want people to have hope that there are campaigns in this country that want to put money into schools, renewable energy, and other things that better the lives of the American people, not war.
What I’ll do is use the voice of this campaign to build a coalition to push these kinds of issues into the broader public narrative. There aren't many people in Congress who have the moral courage to step up because they care more about keeping themselves in office than they do about doing what's right.
So, how would I do this? Quite frankly, Joe, it's by continually pushing these narratives in Congress and continually pushing my future colleagues. But more than anything, it’s important to be clear the President has failed. He still hasn't called for a ceasefire. Literally, just yesterday, 300 children [were killed in Gaza]. These kids didn't deserve it. They didn't do anything. The President is causing the death of civilians in Gaza. One wrong doesn't justify two wrongs.
You’ve made foreign affairs a central point of your campaign. Not only in talking about Palestine, but I've also heard you criticize Pakistan for outing Foreign Minister Imran Khan. What would you say to a Houston resident who asks, “How does your focus on foreign affairs help me here in Houston?”
PA: Two answers. Number one, there are a lot of foreign nationals and people of foreign descent that reside in this district. They carry multiple identities with them, so they also care about what happens back home.
But we also need to realize that our national security in this country is threatened when we make poor decisions abroad. You can see with our very own eyes right now. Our tax dollars are being diverted to other causes instead of helping Americans, here. I think the number one thing that we need to realize is that spending less on war means spending more at home. [That means] paid family leave, universal health care, making higher education more affordable with student debt forgiveness, assisting with medical debt, and lowering drug costs. Every dollar we can pry out of the hands of the military-industrial complex means the lives of Americans will be better. So, we must be clear foreign policy is inherently tied to the average American's domestic affairs.
And quite frankly, if there's one thing every politician and political candidate in this country should do is directly challenge the military-industrial complex. It has grown too strong. We do not need a trillion-dollar defense budget, which is more than the next nine countries combined. We do not need $200 billion in new weapons manufacturing. Our tax dollars should not be used to kill people halfway around the world. They should be going to help Americans in my district and your district.
Turning to domestic affairs, we're seeing a growth in the American labor movement that we haven't seen in decades. Polling for unions is at an all-time high, especially with the ongoing UAW and DAG-AFTRA strike. As a result, many Democrats have expressed surface-level support for unions, but they’ve failed to back it up with material support. How can Houstonians trust that your vocal support for workers' rights will extend into action that improves their working conditions? Is there any labor-focused legislation that you plan to introduce or support if you're elected to Congress?
PA: Absolutely. I should mention that during my opponent’s first race, which was just a few years ago, labor groups rallied against her because she was a corporate lawyer who worked against unionization efforts and workers' rights.
[When it comes to labor issues,] I believe in a variety of things. The first is that every job should be a union job. All workers deserve at least a $15 minimum wage. We need that immediately. Worker productivity has far outpaced wage growth. Right now, a minimum wage job won't cut it. Non-union jobs just won't cut it. Employers have all the power in our system. We need to [change that] and build an economy focused on providing for workers.
It doesn't matter what type of work you’re doing. You should have the ability to own a home, the ability to send your kids to good schools, the ability to live in a good neighborhood with parks, and the ability to achieve the American dream. To get there, all jobs need to be union jobs with the right for people to unionize. That should be a bare minimum.
Second, I have a lot of plans for green energy policy. I used to teach in the space, so I have a vision for a green economy where every new renewable energy project is served by union jobs. And those are bills I plan to put on the floor. Bills for green energy, union-only jobs.
We need to realize that the American economy is built on the back of labor. It's built on the backs of typical, everyday people. And right now our government is being held hostage by the ruling class. It's being held hostage by big corporations that want to squeeze everything out of the average American worker. Look at the railroad labor saga. [The workers] were just asking for sick days! When I get into Congress, I'm going to write laws that immediately start shifting the balance and the power back to the people. And that starts with getting big corporations money out of politics.
It's really that simple. We have to start fighting back against the system that's prioritizing profit over people.
I want to finish on the matter of electoralism as a whole. I'm sure you're aware, many people on the Left have been let down by ostensibly progressive candidates in recent years, especially on the issues of supporting Palestine and supporting labor efforts. What would you say to someone who, as a result of these letdowns, has reservations about putting their time, money, and energy into a congressional race right now?
PA: I think the first list litmus test is; “What kind of candidate are you supporting?” There are very few candidates that do politics [the way we are]. This is the hard way to do it. We don't take any special interest money. We don't take any corporate PAC dollars. We don't take any lobbyist money.
Running grassroots campaigns is very difficult. But when we get in [to Congress], we won’t be beholden to anybody. We only represent people. So, to the people who are feeling discouraged, I want this campaign to serve as a beacon of hope that average everyday people can run for office. We can run on ethical campaigns. We can run on people-focused campaigns, and we can win.
Second, for those who are discouraged and who feel like electoral politics is broken, well, we can't fix the system from the sidelines. If we want actual change in politics, it's not a spectator sport. We have to step up. Income inequality is at the highest level it's ever been in this country's history. 10% of the population owns 70% of the country’s wealth, while most Americans are saddled with student debt and mortgages. Meanwhile, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are building rocket ships to take them to space! [Musk] might even become the first trillionaire!
We need to step up because these people are buying everything. They're funding everything. They're funding our campaigns and it's a moral imperative for us to start stepping up and writing laws that can help move America forward. And the only way we do that is by continually engaging in politics.
Politics is not a spectator sport. We can't play from the sidelines. We have to be in the arena, playing ball. So, my message to everybody is that our team is pretty damn good. We have the ball. Now let's march it down the field.
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