October 10, 2002

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Local candidate John Eastman—

Seeking office as a way to speak with a new voice and new ideas

John Eastman
John Eastman

These days John Eastman doesn’t have a lot of spare time. As the Natural Law candidate for governor of Ohio, Eastman rises each morning around 6 a.m., works at his job or campaign until midnight, sleeps, then begins again. It’s an exhausting schedule, but most of the time Eastman doesn’t feel tired. He feels exhilarated.

“It feels like a calling,” said Eastman, an environmental engineer, in a recent interview. “I have a sense that there’s a new way of being that’s calling for a voice, and if I want that voice spoken I need to begin to speak it myself.”

That new way of being reflects a political and social transformation that Eastman has longed for since he was a Yellow Springs High School student in the 60s, engaged in political debates with his peers.

“I had the realization then that for us to survive as a human race we needed a revolution in how people interact with each other as significant in society as the industrial revolution,” he said. “We needed a human revolution, a transformation in the way we relate to each other.”

The key to that transformation, Eastman believes, is people feeling their connection to each other.

“It’s about unity, about feeling that we’re all one, about seeing the community as a whole and caring for the quality of life for all people. It’s concern for making decisions now that benefit future generations,” he said.

Many Americans share his desire for that transformation, Eastman believes, and their dissatisfaction with “politics as usual” fuels his campaign. In “politics as usual,” politicians play on people’s fears, he believes, focusing on what people have to lose and pitting interest groups against each other. In contrast, Eastman and the Natural Law Party encourage people to consider their individual welfare as tied to that of the whole community. And when people are asked to think in such terms, he said, they rise to the occasion and do so.

As an example, Eastman cited a recent campaign stop at a senior citizen’s center. Representatives of Republican candidate Bob Taft and Democratic candidate Tim Hagan both gave the same message, said Eastman, telling the seniors that “they’d get their prescription drugs and they wouldn’t have to pay more taxes.”

When Eastman’s turn came, he offered a different, less expected scenario, one that called on the seniors to see their needs as interrelated with the needs of those different from themselves. Was there a way, Eastman asked, to meet everyone’s needs, a way that might involve higher taxes but that would result in a healthier overall society? Ohio has an abundance of resources, he said, enough to meet the needs of all citizens if “we could see ourselves as a community big enough to share what we have.”

“There was an amazing shift,” in the energy of the room, he said. “You could see people sit up straighter. Something in their generosity was being touched, and they responded.”

A belief in people’s basic goodness colors his campaign, said Eastman, who believes that “seeing people as generous and caring and magnificent allows ourselves to show up that way.”

As well as sharing goodness and generosity, people share a desire to “live in a humane, just and loving world,” said Eastman. “It’s what we hunger for, what we hope for our children.”

But most often, people see that vision as impossible to reach, so they settle for the status quo, he believes. But Eastman wants to challenge Ohio voters to believe in their visions, because doing so will help those visions move toward reality.

He doesn’t mind being called an idealist, Eastman said, because “idealism is the only way we move forward.”

Eastman would bring his visions of a positive future to governing the state of Ohio, where of the state budget’s four main parts — education, criminal justice, health care and welfare — only one, education, “is an investment in a positive future,” said Eastman. “The other three are all dealing with our mistakes, with the things that didn’t work.”

In contrast, Eastman would work for positive futures in the areas of health care, criminal justice and welfare as well.

“What would it be like if, rather than just treating disease, we used the resources of the government to help people stay well?” asked Eastman, who stated that 70 percent of diseases are preventable.

As a first step, he said, “we need to set wellness as a goal. Then we’ll begin to move toward it.” Just in declaring a goal, he believes, “we begin to gather together the resources to reach it.”

Likewise, he believes, the criminal justice system is more aptly titled the “criminal creation” system, in which “all people are not able to be productive members of society, and when they commit crimes they’re sent to prison, the best place to learn criminality. So we train them in crime, then when they’re released, they can’t get a job, so they go back to prison to do graduate work in criminality.” Overall, he said, “it makes no sense.”

Rather, he said, he would focus on strengthening the economy and on creating effective programs for rehabilitation and for “effectively integrating people back into society as productive citizens.”

The key to creating a positive future, said Eastman, is education. He’d like to expand the state’s focus on education to move beyond K-12 schools to include lifelong learning, including “education in specific skills and in living, in making responsible choices.”

Eastman would encourage education that respects each child’s individuality. “I don’t think one size fits all,” he said. “Part of the magnificence of human beings is their diversity.”

Children are natural learners, he believes, when they have a reason to learn, a reason which goes beyond standardized tests.

“Children eagerly learn reading, writing and arithmetic when it’s in the service to something that’s fulfilling to them,” he said.

School officials could also enhance learning by building buildings which have a sufficient amount of natural light, Eastman believes. Studies have shown, he said, that more light serves to both increase learning and cut energy costs.

An environmental engineer, Eastman has a keen interest in environmental issues, with “living in harmony with the planet, with clean air, clean water, sustainable agriculture and renewable energy.”

The common thread to his approach to all issues, said Eastman, is his focus on prevention, on seeing positive outcomes as doable and taking the necessary steps to do them.

John Eastman’s desire to make the world a better place and belief that individual people can do so began in his childhood, he said, specifically growing up in Yellow Springs and growing up as a Quaker.

Living in Yellow Springs, he felt “exposed to models of people living empowered lives,” including his parents, Billie Eastman, who began the Better Health Co-op, and Dick Eastman, for many years the Greene County Engineer.

A sense of empowerment also grew from his Quaker upbringing, from “the stories I grew up with as a Quaker, stories of a small group of individuals impacting the world.”

His belief in the goodness in people also grew from his Quaker background, said Eastman, who felt surrounded by people who treated others according to the Quaker belief that there is “that of God” in each individual life.

“That’s what I grew up with,” he said. “It’s huge to grow up in that belief.”

Always keenly interested in politics, Eastman chose to pursue his interest in environmental issues and engineering. After graduating from Antioch College, he received a master of environmental engineering from Johns Hopkins University, then a Ph.D from the University of Washington. He taught for seven years at Michigan State University before becoming a consultant.

Divorced and the father of four grown children, Eric, Leah, Bryan and Robin, Eastman is now engaged to marry Terri Brown of Miamisburg.

Eastman became directly involved in politics six years ago, after his mother, an early supporter of the Natural Law Party, talked him into “just putting his name on the ballot” as candidate for the Ohio State Senate. Soon he found himself more and more involved with the Natural Law Party.

“It was the only party that spoke to the big emerging issues,” he said. “It’s the only party that has a sense of the holistic nature of life, of the interconnectedness of issues. It’s the only party that recognizes that we are all one.”

However, being a third party candidate can be frustrating — just getting his name on the ballot required collecting almost 7,000 signatures, Eastman said. And even though Eastman and his supporters successfully collected the signatures so that he will be on the ballot, Eastman is being excluded from two of the three one-hour debates taking place between the gubernatorial candidates, since organizers decided including Eastman would take away necessary time from the Republican and Democratic candidates. He has been asked by the Cleveland City Club to take part in the third debate, on Nov. 1.

The decision to exclude him from debates is profoundly undemocratic, Eastman believes.

“The voters deserve to hear from all qualified candidates,” he said. “The voters, not a small elite, should decide who they hear. It’s usually the independent candidate who brings new ideas.”

People sometimes tell Eastman they believe in his ideas but won’t vote for him because they don’t think he can win. Such an attitude, Eastman believes, causes our society to remain stuck in the status quo.

“The most powerful vote is a vote for something you believe in,” he said. “Just voting for your beliefs can cause those ideas to grow.”


—Diane Chiddister