Educator Franca Muller Paz saw the way COVID-19 impacted her students and that inspired her third party run.

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Story Transcript

President Trump: This will be the most corrupt election in the history of our country.

Crowd: [inaudible 00:00:05] and we want it now.

Jaisal Noor: Welcome to The Real News, I’m Jaisal Noor. America’s disastrous response to COVID-19. Over 160,000 dead, more than 30 million unemployed, and one in four children living in households that don’t have enough to eat, could face eviction, or both. All while Trump is pushing to reopen the economy and schools. This crisis has spurred one Baltimore educator to fight for better learning conditions for her students by running for local office. And she’s not running as a Democrat or Republican, she’s running on the Green Party ticket. We’re joined by Franca Muller Paz, a ten-year veteran teacher, a building rep for the Baltimore Teacher’s Union, and a candidate for city council in Baltimore’s 12th District. Thank you so much for joining us.

Franca Muller Paz: It’s good to be here.

Jaisal Noor: So, talk a little bit about why you’re running for city council and why the Green Party ticket in particular.

Franca Muller Paz: Sure. Well, running for office was never really something that I had imagined for myself. I’ve been an organizer for a long time organizing for CASA de Maryland back when I first arrived in Baltimore in 2006. And then organizing with educators, students and families since I became an educator 10 years ago. And so in Baltimore, as you mentioned, I’ve been one of the elected Baltimore Teachers Union Building Representatives, and through that work, I’ve been able to advocate for better funding for the school system, trying to fight for the working and school conditions that we need to keep our kids safe. And also trying to ensure that the opportunities that are in our school system are fair and equitable to all students. And something that we began to realize was just that we were lacking fighters for us in city council. We needed people who were going to really uplift these causes. And there certainly have been city council people who’ve been willing to back up the needs of students, families, and workers across the city. But that was something that I felt was lacking in the council position that I’m vying for.

And so, when the opportunity came and we saw that the progressive Democratic candidates didn’t take away a win this June, it was time to take another shot and see if we could unseat the incumbent that has not been an advocate for us, and try to get a Baltimore Teachers Union organizer and someone who, myself, who have worked to try to uplift the needs of students and to the city council. So I’m really excited to be engaging in this fight and for all the folks that are standing behind our campaigns to really fight for working people.

Jaisal Noor: So the incumbent won by less than 250 votes, but you are seeking to make history running on a third-party ticket for Baltimore City Council, which would be unprecedented in Baltimore as far as far as my research shows. But others, like Kendra Brooks in Philadelphia, have chartered a similar path to office. How do you plan to build a winning coalition?

Franca Muller Paz: I think it’s important to note that this is not an incumbent that the people of the 12th District seem to want to support. Like you mentioned, he lost by 248 votes in the primary. He won that primary with 40% of the vote. Far the majority of people wanted to see different leadership in this district. And even if you go back to 2016 and the general election, 30% voted against the incumbent against the Democratic Party in 2016 and went for Independent or Green Party candidates. So this is clearly a part of the city that’s excited for new leadership, that wants to see politics done a different way. And for myself, I am tired of Democratic leaders who are taking money from corporations and developers.

And I’ll tell you right now, a lot of that money is, there’s a lot of action coming from Comcast. When we look at different politicians within our own state and within our own city, a lot of Democratic candidates taking money from folks like the Atlas Group restaurants, where there was this huge issue earlier this summer of not allowing a young African American boy being able to be served in the restaurant. And these interests are putting thousands of dollars into campaigns. And so, something that I am really excited is to put those old politics aside that are fighting for corporate and profit interests, and to stand with the Green Party who is allied with the power of people. So the Green Party, nor myself, we don’t take any corporate money, no corporate PAC money. We really want to be advocating for the interests of the students, the families, the workers that live in this district. And that’s something that I get to embody by being a Green Party candidate.

Jaisal Noor: And it’s worth mentioning that when The Real News hosted a debate for the Democratic primary for District 12, the incumbent, Robert Stokes, did not show up for that debate. We’ve been talking about the fight for access to broadband. You mentioned Comcast. Comcast holds a monopoly over access for this entire city. And, that’s something that people are really frustrated about. So talk more about the power Comcast wields and what it’s going to take to overcome their power, or to challenge this corporate power.

Franca Muller Paz: Absolutely. And I want to say this company has this much power, again, because they’re buying into our political process. And so when we see that they earn a 10-year franchise agreement, that gives them almost exclusive access to our city. Exclusive access to our residents to become their customers and their means of gaining a profit. We shouldn’t be too surprised if they’re giving money into these political campaigns. And so, Comcast can almost exclusively operate here. They get to control the prices of our city. And something that’s hugely problematic is the quality of the actual internet that they offer.

So they often pride themselves on this program that they have, which is the Internet Essentials program. It’s a program meant for low-income families. And typically it costs $10 a month. But, during COVID, after the advocacy of many organizers around the country, they reduced that price to zero for two months. So there’s two months of free internet you can sign up for. Although there’s a lot of things that can keep you from signing up for that, being, if you’d been a Comcast customer in the past, if you had any old bills, lots of things like this.

But let’s say that you are able to access this temporarily free program. You must sign up for it with your credit card information. And so, once your two free months are up, you’re now on the hook for those $10 to start paying for this program. And what a lot of families are realizing as they get put into this program is that it is not working. And you heard this from one of my students on an interview back in May, that there are students and families that every morning are rationing out their internet because they simply can’t be online at the same time. And so, it’s a really terrible decision that the Internet Essentials’ customers are having to be in, of, are parents going to be using the internet so they can do the jobs that are going to put food on the table? Or are students going to be able to be there so that they can get their education? And this is something that Comcast, again and again in our meetings, has totally been unwilling to hear, saying that, “These are anecdotes. It’s not the reality of most families,” when we know that every time we’re talking to families, the same problem keeps coming up. That the internet can’t sustain multiple people being on video conferences, such as this, at once.

And what’s fascinating to me is that Comcast is really benefiting financially from this crisis. Comcast has had its best increase, its largest increase in new customers, new paying customers, in 13 years. So in their second quarter, they gained an additional 323,000 new customers. And that doesn’t even include the 600,000 people that signed up during that time under Internet Essentials. So pretty soon, they’re going to triple that amount of customers, making tons of profits. And so, it is something where this company is doing so well financially, it really is time for them to be putting their skin in the game to ensure that our kids are going to get connected.

Jaisal Noor: And I wanted to take this back to the national context of this 2020 election. On one hand, a top priority for, especially Democratic voters, voters on the Left, is defeating Donald Trump. I mentioned some of the statistics, the staggering statistics, the COVID-19 death toll and the economic devastation it’s taken, which disproportionately has affected working people and people of color, especially people in African American and Latino communities. So on one hand, voters in the Democratic primary, they went with what they thought was a safe bet, Joe Biden. But more recently, since the Black Lives Matter protest, we’ve seen Cori Bush pull off a stunning victory in Missouri just very recently. And a fellow educator, Jamaal Bowman, beat a 10-term incumbent, very powerful incumbent, in New York as well. Talk about why you think that you can ride this progressive wave into office this year.

Franca Muller Paz: Absolutely. I think our city, like cities and places across the nation, have shown that they’re really tired of how these cities are doing business as usual because it’s destroying Black life. It is targeting the lives and well-being of people of color. And I think people have just had it, and that we need to have a different vision for leadership for how we are going to prioritize the things that we need in our cities to be able to thrive. And so, in our city, there has been plenty of action and mobilizing and organizing around defunding the police. And this is something that is really important to me. I think, as an educator, I have seen a lot of really painful moments happening within our own student body, not just at the school that I teach, but across the city, and I’m just tired. I’m tired of the violence that gets perpetuated by our police department. And I’m also tired of the violence that is perpetuated in our city.

And so what I think we need to reckon with is that our city isn’t prioritizing with the solutions that address the root causes of the crime we’re intending to fight when we bloat our police budget. And so, I think there is a lot of momentum to look at these budgets in our city in particular, our public safety budget, and to bring forward leadership that is going to say, “We’ve been doing the same thing over and over again.” These are band-aids for the kind of suffering that’s been happening in our city. And what we need to do is start to really address what is causing these symptoms of vulnerable people, marginalized people, people that are really being abused by the systems in place today. Whether that be folks who are being infected and foreclosed upon. Whether that be issues around access to mental health. Around issues dealing with drug and alcohol abuse.

And especially making sure that our students have a place that they’re proud to go to for school. We have a tremendously under-funded school system, that’s underfunded to the tune of $342 million every year by the state. But the city is also not putting their part. We look at our budget and we put about 15% of our budget to schools. If you look at the districts around the rest of Maryland, the average is 36% of our budget goes to schools. So I really think there is a deep excitement for trying to imagine what could happen if we really put our money behind the kinds of solutions that take care of our people, as opposed to perpetually punishing them and pushing them through the criminal justice system, which we know has not done Baltimorians any favors.

Jaisal Noor: And before we leave you for this interview, I wanted to ask you, since you are running on the Green Party ticket, talk about your view of the November election, especially in swing states. Do you think voters should vote their conscience and vote third party or not vote, if they don’t necessarily agree with everything that Joe Biden stands for or says even? What is the top priority for you? Is it defeating Donald Trump? Or is it, building a movement as you guys have been talking about?

Franca Muller Paz: Yeah. I think that’s a difficult question to answer, and that every American has to vote for what feels right to them. We have an extraordinarily dangerous man in office right now. We’ve seen how his leadership has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people when it didn’t need to be that way. Why does our country have one fourth of the coronavirus deaths, when there were so many opportunities to try to treat this crisis with the care of people first? Which is, allowing people and giving people the necessities they needed to stay home and stay safe.

And so, I think it’s a priority to get Trump out of office. I think that people have to make that calculus for themselves over whether they’re going to support Joe Biden, despite the complicated history that he brings to the table. And I’ll tell you that, as an immigrant woman, it’s a hard decision to make because he was associated with an administration where they were called the Deporters in Chiefs. And a lot of people suffered under that administration as well, but I think that Trump is so dangerous and toxic that we have to do everything possible to ensure that he does not have a second term. There are too many things in the balance for that to take place.

Jaisal Noor: All right. Well, Franca Muller Paz, a veteran educator, and you’re also running for Baltimore City Council for the 12th District on the Green Party ticket in November. Thank you so much for joining us and we’ll definitely keep checking in on your campaign.

Franca Muller Paz: Thank you. I appreciate being here.

Jaisal Noor: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

Jaisal Noor

General Assignment Reporter

Jaisal is a host, producer, and reporter for TRNN. With his expertise in education policy and systemic inequity, he focuses on Baltimore, Maryland. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio NewsDemocracy Now! and The Indypendent.

Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years.