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An Interview with John Kusumi

by Kusumi.com Wednesday, Jul. 16, 2003 at 8:22 PM

Kusumi chides the media in this interview -- that goes to his presidential candidacy and the China Support Network

July, 2003

Kusumi 101: a 20-min. interview

Host: If we were to begin at the beginning, you first became known as the 18-year-old candidate for U.S. President in 1984, is that right?

Kusumi: I have roots going back farther than that. In 1984, I was reported to be a computer hobbyist of several years, actually since age 12. Software development later became important to my life, and those skills began there, in 1978. Also, I emerged in the news in 1980, advocating that the United States should have a stronger space program. That was at 14, so before we even get to the 1984 campaign, we had precursors for both my software development, and my politics.

Host: But your public profile was as the teenage candidate, right?

Kusumi: Yes, I suppose that was my first claim to fame.

Host: How does a teenager get started in presidential politics?

Kusumi: Well, we were having a spiraling budget deficit, and a spiraling arms race. And you can't balance the budget the way that Ronald Reagan was going about it. There's an arithmetic error in Reaganomics, and it didn't take more than a 15 year old to see that. I suppose that I would like our presidents to get the arithmetic right, but instead we are being taken for a ride by their irresponsibility.

Host: So that set you off, but mechanically, how do you get started? Did you have to be nominated, or get yourself on the ballot?

Kusumi: Well, for an independent, it didn't take more than filing with the F.E.C.. I also printed bumper stickers -- and called the news media -- and that's about the size of getting started, for what I did.

Host: Okay, so this was with no political party, just entirely on your own--

Kusumi: That's right. I'll say that radio stations took a liking to my campaign. It generated talk radio shows everywhere, in which I got to speak to Americans and present my views.

Host: How was your-- how did people react to that, as you were so young and running for President?

Kusumi: I will say frankly that the reaction ran hot and cold. To some people it's great, perhaps, to hear youthful idealism and politics that are not bought and paid for. That's the hot reaction, but I also heard it from plenty of people who told me, 'You're too young to be President!'

Host: That was the big objection?

Kusumi: That's the situation I was facing. There I was, having just stepped out of high school, and half of people weren't hearing it. Half of my audience didn't have the patience to stick around and hear what I was saying. And so, practical idealism became known only to the "in" people, the other half who stuck with me. That -- practical idealism -- being the name of my platform.

Host: So your message didn't get all the way out?

Kusumi: It got out to those who were listening, and as ever, I can't speak for the people who aren't paying attention. It became a back-page news story, as many third party candidacies do. The two party system seems to still have its monopoly on politics in this country.

Host: What did your opponents say? What did your family and friends say?

Kusumi: Well, this did not become a factor for Reagan and Mondale. I was not invited into the debates.

Host: And your family and friends?

Kusumi: They seemed to take a wait-and-see attitude. A lot of them didn't get a view of what happened, because they didn't go to the broadcast studios with me, and they couldn't tune in to shows in other parts of the country. They may have seen a clipping, but the campaign was really treated as a novelty.

Host: Something different. How many votes did you end up getting?

Kusumi: There was a landslide for Ronald Reagan. My number of votes was infinitesimal by comparison.

Host: Did they count them?

Kusumi: Write-in votes are not even reported, most of the time. There was a bumper sticker that went along with this campaign. If you're going to remember the campaign for one thing, make it the bumper sticker that only said, "People Are Important."

Host: There is a second big story in your life.

Kusumi: The China Support Network. Yes, and here I think we are in a remedial situation.

Host: Remedial? How so?

Kusumi: Well, because this was barely reported at the time. The audience would hardly know that I was in on this story, or that the Tiananmen Square massacre changed my life.

Host: How's that?

Kusumi: Well, let's begin at the beginning, for your audience. It was in 1989 that China had the Tiananmen Square massacre, and even that is a new story to some of your audiences. Young people may not know, that Chinese college students had gotten a movement started, calling for freedom and democracy in Communist China. That was very brave, what the students did, in standing up against tyranny in Tiananmen Square. They made use of American themes, and American principles, in what they did. They were quoting from Jefferson, and Patrick Henry -- "give me liberty, or give me death" -- and they put a statue up in the square. Their Goddess of Democracy looked just like the Statue of Liberty.

There seemed to be an obvious appeal for American support, and out of that, the China Support Network was born.

This was a group that I started to respond to the massacre. Many, many Americans wanted to help, to aid victims and to keep the cause alive. I should back up and say, that perhaps 3,000 people died when the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square. That was 3,000 people my age, Generation X...

Host: That was awful.

Kusumi: That was egregious. That was atrocious, and that was an act against peaceful, unarmed demonstrators. There's no excuse for that massacre, and the depths of tyranny were vividly revealed.

Host: There was-- Was there any way to help those people?

Kusumi: Well, for the dead, no, there's no helping that. But for the living, the survivors, there was a chance to help. The surviving student leaders soon escaped China and came here to the U.S.A.. And, that is when the China Support Network -- my CSN, as I call it -- began its work with the dissident leaders. Those would now be the leading Chinese dissidents in exile, They and we still work together on the Chinese pro-democracy cause.

Host: Was there a lot that can be done?

Kusumi: There's tons. There was tons of work, and there still IS tons of work, that is on our plate to this day. These people are responsible to think about leading China into a democratic future. And, they have innumerable human rights cases to respond to on a regular basis. And, there's lobbying, and we're asking the American people to boycott goods made in China. There's lots going on.

Host: Is there someplace that people can write to to get involved?

Kusumi: There's a web site. People can punch up the China Support Network at www.chinasupport.net. It's convenient to be right across the internet, unlike the old days. And yes, we encourage people to go their and to get involved and to donate still. That may be why I said this is a remedial situation -- because, we are still trying to bring this matter back up to people's attention; as I say, it was poorly reported in 1989. So, this may be the first chance that readers have had in a long time to see our report, and still an early chance to respond. I hope there are still some good anti-communists out there, in fact we'd like to hear from some well heeled anti-communists.

Host: So this is something that you're pushing now? Why the long wait?

Kusumi: Well, Chinese students had to finish college in 1989. They still had final exams ahead of them! And now, it's time for a resurgence, or a comeback. We have some long standing differences with U.S. China policy. We plan to deal with those, through appearances and lobbying and such. Washington has got to hear it from us, and we've got to give 'em hell!

Host: Has the situation changed in 14 years since Tiananmen Square?

Kusumi: A lot has changed, but it is mostly the bad news of China policy going from bad to worse. The response from George Bush senior, and from Bill Clinton, was murderously indifferent. There still needs to be a response to Tiananmen Square. The White House owes us one.

But, your question asks about changes over the years, and I could point out a lot of them -- twists and turns in U.S. policy, and also the stories of the dissidents in the time since then. I'm one of the few experts available who knows the internecine politics and landscape of the Chinese democracy movement.

In this work, it's important to know your Wen Ho Lee from your Wen He Lu, and I could likely talk your ear off, all day on questions like that.

Host: Well, what should Americans know that's the most important story or stories here?

Kusumi: Well, the China Support Network is the right place to financially support the cause of the dissidents. This one is the leading American brand name among the activist groups. And so, we still hope for your support, and we'd like you to connect with us through ways that are at our web site, by punching up www.chinasupport.net.

That's one important point, but there are news stories that have been long suppressed by the news media. Did you know that the Chinese government has launched a crackdown, surrounding the Olympic games that are supposed to be going to Beijing in 2008? --That's something where -- how outrageous is it to have the Olympics' name misused on a human rights crackdown? There should be no 'Olympic crackdown.' This is abuse that the IOC shouldn't stand for, and we've asked them to move the Olympics out of China. We'd like Americans to help pressure the International Olympic Committee.

Another story I could mention, is the kidnapping and detention of Wang Bingzhang. This man is like the Nelson Mandela of China. I mean, this is big -- how could the U.S. news media keep this from the public? For South Africa, Nelson Mandela got all the attention. For Poland, Lech Walesa got all the attention. Now, for China, the news makes it look like there is no opposition, or they report it with pejorative spin. Wang Bingzhang is the Nelson Mandela of China. He has been sentenced to life in prison, after being kidnapped over a year ago, and I bet your audience is just hearing this now, for the first time from me. Our news media should hang its head in shame!

The campaign to free Wang Bingzhang is a large, ongoing matter. I guess you have to belong to the China Support Network to know about these things. The U.S. media has come to seem hopeless, for being biased and one sided -- or shall we say bought off -- about China.

Host: That seems like a very big deal.

Kusumi: The handling of China is the largest scandal that Washington's got going, and it's an open secret. They are fueling a nuclear armed, communist superpower, and they don't care. That's a threat! They have an ongoing military buildup. There are angles of national security and our economy involved here. I may not have time to explain it all to you, but this is not just a news media problem, it's the entirety of U.S. China policy. A problem with all of Washington.

Host: Is it the corporations? Have they basically sold out this policy so as to help the bottom line?

Kusumi: Sold out America, is a good way to put it. And yet, Washington has yet to understand that good business policy and good economic policy are not always the same. In this case, some business is helped, but the economy on the whole is hurt, for everyone. Trade deficits, as we have with China, harm our economy here at home. This is injuring most Americans so that 20 CEOs can make a bonus from China. That -- to me, the trade deficit has got to stop. Free trade is for the free world, is my dictum, or if you will, the Kusumi doctrine.

Host: The Kusumi doctrine! --Do you still want to run for President? --This is presidential material.

Kusumi: I almost feel like I have 14 years of foreign policy experience, where the China Support Network has been responsible to have its own China policy, Tibet policy, Taiwan policy, and recently, Hong Kong policy. This gets heady, but no, I am not running for President these days.

Host: You would be good at it.

Kusumi: They should simply change China policy, accommodating the dissidents. The leading Chinese dissidents are on the same page as myself here, about China policy. That's what's so outrageous, is that Washington and the news media have been cutting these people out of their own issue! And, the China Support Network has a capacity to represent the dissidents, and a role to be a team player with the rest of the Chinese democracy movement. This is an interesting organization for Americans. You could say, I am a man who has one foot in, and one foot outside of the Chinese democracy movement.

Host: That's different. That's not every day you hear that. Is your situation completely unique?

Kusumi: In fact, it is. There may have been other groups that formed early on, but at CSN we surpassed our competition, and now this is where it's at for activism that includes close in support for top Chinese dissidents. We make a good team, and you can see we have a job to press for a stronger U.S. China policy. This issue's not going away, and neither will we, until democracy comes to China.

Host: What are the chances of that? How do you assess the prospects of Chinese democracy?

Kusumi: It is the right side of history to stand for freedom. Change is already happening in China through technology and economics. Politics is next -- yes, I'm confident that China will change, and we will see Chinese democracy in the pretty near future.

Host: Pretty near?

Kusumi: I wouldn't put a date on it, but it is certainly no help when Washington insists on what I call "welfare for tyrants," pumping up communists, dictators, tyrants and thugs through globalized trade deficits. That's why we want to reduce the trade deficit, and why we ask Americans to help us by boycotting products that are 'Made in China.' And check our website. Did I mention that the China Support Network is at www.chinasupport.net?

Host: That's pretty intense. So, do you have events coming up, more things that people can support, or opportunities for coverage?

Kusumi: There are always events in this cause. There are rallies, protests at the embassy and at the consulates, and we give speeches, but it seems the only press we get is overseas press. The American media has been keeping this from people, and to really know what's coming up, you've got to watch the updates from the China Support Network. There's a  newsletter by email, that you can sign up for at our web site. That's www.chinasupport.net, but yes, there are always events, and we'd love to see more people come out and support us. More media coverage would be nice, but they won't like me after I kick them so many times.

Host: And you say you're not running for President...

Kusumi: That's not what I do these days. I just want to get some justice for the China issue, because behind all of this, it is really a matter of life and death for the people who are victimized by this regime, having their human rights abused, and languishing in the gulags of China. This is literally a life-and-death issue. We want to stop the killing, and this American, or I should say, Washington-plus-the-news-media policy on China is effectively leaving the Jews in the gas chambers. That's huge! Let the implications of that sink in. We are leaving the Jews in the gas chambers. Could we stop the killing? That's my question for Washington and Beijing. This will be important to take into other venues, other ways to get the message out, and I thank you for this one. I value this occasion.

Host: There is a third big story in your life, too, isn't there?

Kusumi: We can say that I have a software company holding on line 3, but that is a different story for a different day. I'll get back to that. For now, mum's the word.

Host: No details. Okay, well it sounds like there is more than one big deal in your life, and more to come from you and the China Support Network. Thank you for taking the time out to speak with me.

Kusumi: Thank you, and you're welcome.

# # #


John Kusumi is the GenX politico who introduced Practical Idealism and the China Support Network to America in the 1980s. He is also remembered as 1984's 18 year old candidate for U.S. President. He subsequently went into business, but his politics live on at kusumi.com; through publishing; and, in speechmaking with the Chinese pro-democracy movement.

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