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Home / Articles / Archive / News & Columns /  Feature | Rocky Times: Rocky Anderson is still on the case. Barack Obama had better watch his back. Page 2
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Feature | Rocky Times: Rocky Anderson is still on the case. Barack Obama had better watch his back. Page 2

By Ted McDonough
Posted // February 3,2009 - n

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Let your leaders know
nThe mission of High Road at first glance is absurdly overreaching. Anderson wants to end genocide, international sex slavery and global warming. And, as if that weren’t enough, he tacked stopping torture and “restoring the rule of law” to the High Road mission statement as his work lobbying the House Judiciary Committee to hold the Bush administration accountable began taking up much of his time.

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But, in concept, the High Road is simple. Anderson says if he learned anything in politics, it was that politicians don’t do anything difficult unless pushed. The big problems, like global warming, are ignored, he says, because elected officials don’t hear about them from voters. High Road exists to provide the shock troops, “to make it clear there will be short-term political costs for those who continue to ignore these kinds of problems.”

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High Road’s pitch is, “You never again have to say you don’t know what you can do.” It promises that changing big policies really isn’t that hard. “Imagine if you had a group of just five people. Every time a congressperson or senator comes home and they hold a meeting, there is a group there pushing on the same issues,” Anderson says.

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The idea appealed to Utah Valley University senior Kindra Amott, who started Utah County’s High Road chapter in December after Anderson presented a video on genocide and human trafficking to her “peace and justice” club.

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“I think so many people feel so powerless,” says Amott. “To know there is something as simple as writing to a congressman or attending a meeting—to have an outlet, finally, where it’s, ‘Hey, let’s do something’—is cool.”

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The sex slavery issue was cemented onto Anderson’s personal agenda during a 2002 trip to New Delhi for the U.N. Conference on Climate Change. Anderson asked his guide to take him to the most notorious brothel street, then went in and interviewed the women and girls kept as slaves inside. Anderson says U.S. policy has talked a good game against sex slavery, yet simultaneously has granted waivers to oil rich countries. Climate change may seem an odd fit for High Road’s human-rights banner. But Anderson argues stopping global warming is about preventing the human-rights tragedies of mass migration and loss of traditional cultures.

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Michael Posner, president of New York City-based Human Rights First (formerly the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights), says High Road is the first attempt at starting a grass-roots human-rights membership organization since Amnesty International. Human-rights lobbying organizations like his have lagged well behind the environmental movement in drumming up grass-roots support, he says, and “we’ve learned the hard way that policymakers and opinion leaders tend to set agendas by the broader public debate.”

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Anderson says it was a book that convinced him to forgo a third term as mayor in favor of becoming a full-time activist. In A Problem From Hell, about genocide in places like Bosnia and Rwanda, author Samantha Power (now a senior advisor to Obama) relates Clinton administration officials telling human-rights advocates that the U.S. government wouldn’t intervene unless advocates “made more noise.”

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“Since the phones in congressional offices weren’t ringing, President Clinton and Congress sat on their hands during two genocides,” says Anderson. “We keep expecting elected officials will do the right thing, and the fact is they never do unless they’re pushed.”

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The Evolution of Rocky
nsrc=/data/449BBE6E-021E-D69E-7A3370304BA7D31B/userData/Image/090205/coverstory/rocky_anderson_smileGre_AFB.jpg In 2007, Anderson’s second term as mayor was winding down and he remained popular enough to easily win a third city election. But even some of Anderson’s supporters began griping he was spending more time solving the world’s problems than fixing Salt Lake City potholes. With his crisscrossing the country to speak on global warming, some wondered if Anderson was running for czar of greenhouse gas in a coming Democratic administration.

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Utah filmmaker Rhea Gavry likens Anderson to Al Gore, as politicians who determined they could do more from the outside. She began rolling film of Anderson in 2007, thinking she was making a movie about the last year of a controversial mayor but says she kept filming because she saw her subject evolving into a full-time activist, “who decided politics wasn’t going to get it done.” Political and public-relations consultant Patrick Thronson, who served as Anderson’s last mayoral press aide, is also convinced the job Anderson was running for is the job he now has.

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“The reason he decided to become mayor was to address the issues he wasn’t able to address as a private citizen,” Thronson says. But eventually, even that platform wasn’t enough. “He came to see citizen involvement and activism as the missing link for crucial change.”

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Anderson himself says being a liberal mayor in the country’s then-most Republican state gave him a great stage. “The only problem was there’d be a rally, then a year would go by before somebody would hold another rally. These kinds of things need to be sustained. That’s how you make a difference.”

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Besides, if Anderson were ever seriously interested in politics beyond the mayor’s job, he would have toned down his rhetoric long ago. Even the most outrageous politician has to compromise, after all. Anderson still spares no one.

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Bush remains a favorite target, but Anderson also beats on Democrats. “When they were in the minority, they were holding mock hearings on impeachment; then they get in the majority, and all of a sudden, impeachment’s off the table and they don’t do anything,” he says. For Anderson, the U.S. Congress is a spineless jellyfish that “completely abdicated its constitutional responsibility” to check the Bush administration's power-grabs. The news media, a favorite target when he was mayor, are “betraying their role,” says Anderson, whose plans for High Road include pressuring newspapers as well as politicians. Not even President Barack Obama gets a pass. Meaty issues for a bulldog

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If he wasn’t looking beyond Salt Lake City in his last term as mayor, Anderson was already acting on the national stage. And many of his famous friends from those days now help make up impressive boards of directors and advisers for High Road that includes Yoko Ono, Harry Belafonte, Elie Wiesel and Anderson’s longtime hero, Daniel Ellsberg, who gained fame by leaking the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times and exposing the official lies of the Vietnam War.

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Michael Zimmerman, a former Utah Supreme Court justice and one of many local heavy-hitters Anderson recruited, says a seat on an Anderson-led advocacy organization was hard to pass up. “One way to look at supporting [High Road] is you’re hiring a guy who is a real bulldog to advocate and organize for issues you think are important but you don’t really know how to get a handle on,” he says. “It’s a perfect fit for Rocky.” Unlike some issues that come through a city mayor’s office, “the topics he has picked, like genocide and sexual slavery, are issues you can’t disagree with. They are incontrovertible evils. You don’t have to temper with them.”

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Anderson may have used famous friends to best effect with the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. In the last days of his term as Salt Lake City mayor, Anderson wrote a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Conyers calling for an investigation of the Bush administration and shopped it around for signatures. The letter, beginning, “We are writing out of deep concern for our nation,” wasn’t nice, charging Congress with complicity through inaction in alleged Bush administration crimes. Anderson’s letter garnered signatures of George McGovern, Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, Harry Belafonte—and the attention of Conyers.

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Anderson was in Washington, D.C., for a climate-change conference when Conyers rang his cell phone asking for a meeting. Anderson brought along Ellsberg and several D.C.-area civil-rights leaders. At the meeting, they found the entire Judiciary Committee waiting for them as well as members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, all with copies of the Anderson letter. “It was amazing,” Anderson recalls. (The letter at RestoreTheRuleOfLaw.com now has several thousand signatures.)

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After several months passed, Anderson telephoned committee staff to ask why impeachment proceedings weren’t moving along. “They said, ‘What is it you want us to do?’” he recalls. Anderson—one of many progressives by then pressing for action—responded with nine, single-spaced pages of questions Congress hadn’t asked about the Bush administration’s activities. He pointed out, for example, that while administration officials had by then admitted tapping phone calls of U.S. residents, Congress had never asked for an accounting of the extent of the program. (A Bush administration whistleblower recently alleged the program included intercepting all domestic telephone and Internet traffic, as well as many conversations of U.S. journalists.)

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Such ignorance continues to this day, Anderson says. “We know the CIA has kidnapped innocent people and sent them off to torture chambers, but we don’t have any idea: Has it been 10? 100? 1,000? Isn’t that amazing?”

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That second Anderson letter led to a second meeting with the Judiciary Committee. Eventually Anderson and friends were asked to testify before a July 2008 hearing into abuses of presidential power.

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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // February 5,2009 at 05:30 Limp Fucking Noodle

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // February 5,2009 at 05:27 Hey John Mac - do you work with Anderson?nnSounds like it.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // February 5,2009 at 05:15 I agree with Tom K’s evaluation. Anderson is no builder. He doesn’t bring people together, except on one side of an adversarial situation.nnSo,if you notice a problem and don’t care to solve it, but instead want to fix the blame on someone else, call on the Andersons of the world. But if you want the problem fixed, call on the Mother Teresas or the churches of the world -- who, really, are everywhere.nnHis popularity among some folks (see some of the above comments) is due to the fact that many people have difficulty expressing their anger. Anderson, on the other hand, enjoys in-your-face criticism, whether he’s right or wrong, especially when the problems are somewhere else, like slavery in Asian and Africa, or when the problems are difficult to manage or resolve, like global warming.nnHe’s great at casting blame, but he falls short in resolving problems. This is made all the more clear by his defenders, who always have to exaggerate his work to make him sound good, like the above comments about open space at library square, or the successful 2002 Olympics (it was all Anderson; Mitt Romney and those other guys, including the thousands of Utahns who donated their time, had nothing to do with it).

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // February 5,2009 at 04:54 And what about all those orange flags at pedestrian crossings. Didn’t Anderson come up with that idea? All right, he didn’t come up with that idea. Other cities did and his people put it in place. But he’s the one who gave all the interviews. And it really caught on -- I’ve even seen them in Park City! So there.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // February 5,2009 at 04:27 The above comments have unfortunately veered away from the nub of the CW article - that Bush and his coterie may have violated several laws, and the Constitution itself, and that there is a small but dedicated group working to keep that fact from being forgotten or ignored.nI am not a citizen of SLC, so I have no axe to grind on the issue of whether Rocky was an effective Mayor. I do know that I felt tears of pride whenever Rocky came by in a parade or at a public affair; pride for his detemination to envision the right and to do what he could to effect it.nLet’s focus on what Rocky wants us to focus on - the crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush debacle.nThanks.