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An Interview with Joshua Collins, Truck Driver, Democratic Socialist, and Candidate for U.S. Congress

Joshua Collins is 25, the minimum age required to run for Congress in the United States. Collins is, among many other things, a truck driver, a Twitter maverick, and self-proclaimed democratic socialist–and he’s running for the 10th U.S. Congressional District in Washington state. He’s challenging longtime Democratic incumbent Dennis Heck, on a platform of new and progressive policy initiatives including support for a Green New Deal, ending wars, supporting worker’s rights, and advancing Medicare for All.

Special thanks to Joshua Collins for taking the time to speak with The Politic.

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Collins: The last time I was visiting Yale, I was actually delivering freight there—a shipment of flowers, I think.

The Politic: Oh really?

Yeah, they’re probably still there actually—they were for planting, like bushes. That was the only time I’ve been to Yale I think.

Interesting. So, you’re a truck driver? How long have you been doing that?

I’ve been a truck driver since I was 21—and I’m 25 now.

In your campaign you often present yourself as a “Truck Driver running for a Green New Deal”—and you’ve made a lot of comments about how your experience as a truck driver informs your platform on environmental policy and regulations. What kind of policies do you, in your experience, think would help someone who’s a truck driver, or any other industry worker, like yourself?

I guess the biggest thing that’s come from my perspective as a truck driver is understanding exactly how important it is in a transition to green energy, that we make sure the workers and the majority of the people in industries are taken care of. Because a lot of solutions could ruin a lot of lives. Like the most obvious thing, you’d think in respect to truck driving, would be to get diesel trucks off the road, right? They produce incomparable pollution, are inefficient, and could easily be replaced with a standard truck to at least mitigate some of the environmental damages that accumulate from diesel trucks as they travel great distances cross country. But there are millions of truck drivers who drive diesel trucks, and millions of jobs attached to these trucks. So if we were to do something very simple—say just ban diesel trucks, or just increasing fuel taxes on diesel as a way to get those trucks off the road—we’re just hurting people on the base level of the industry, and only make an impact on the industry where the burden largely falls on the workers, rather than the corporations who are making a lot of money off of these workers.

What I would like to do is provide a solution that focuses on taking care of workers, but still deals with the impact on the environment. And something that most politicians aren’t willing to say—or not even willing to consider—is that to solve the issue of carbon emissions, and actually save the planet from what we as a population are doing to it, we have to aim our policies at the impact of the rich. We have to increase taxes on the wealthy, we have to decrease spending on things like war and conflict, and otherwise we’d end up doing something like we did in France, where they tried to increase carbon taxes and that only succeeded in screwing over every truck driver and every lower-level worker in the country who drove to work. It was because of this that we saw the Yellow Vest Protests.

I would like to pre-empt this with a plan that actually doesn’t hurt truck drivers, Uber drivers, etc. that wouldn’t hurt people like them, but take from someone who can afford it to invest in green solutions like green vehicles and green energy in general. And in addition, provide more social safety nets for workers and guarantee things like free college and healthcare for workers.

The main issues you’re running on, according to your campaign, are first and foremost the Green New Deal, followed by Medicare for All, and then what you call “A Peace Economy”—you said that a lot of politicians are unwilling to say something or unwilling to do something–do you see yourself as a politician for those issues? How do you see yourself in relation to, say, establishment democrats like your opponent in this election?

Well, one of the biggest differences in the way I do my messaging and the way I’ve stuck myself in this political narrative is that I don’t give service to corporations, whereas most current democrats do. If you listen to the vast majority of them, they will talk about how American corporations will benefit from a certain policy. They want solutions to things like climate change that don’t impact the profits of corporations – but in my opinion, that shouldn’t be a concern. That concern should be what happens to the workers. 

We need people who are willing to push for policies that are not only popular but are going to directly benefit people. Because truth is, there aren’t really a lot of solutions to these large-scale issues like climate change, war, and medical care that don’t hurt the large corporations. That’s a reality that the majority of politicians won’t acknowledge. They want to pretend that we can end the wars without hurting companies like Boeing and Raytheon. Because in reality, if we end the wars and adopt a conflict-avoidant policy, corporations like these are going to lose profit. My only concern is to make sure that the workers are taken care of, not Boeing and Raytheon.

That seems like what politics is supposed to be—right? Someone who represents the people first—why aren’t more politicians like that in office? Why are so many politicians, do you think, representing corporations first?

Well, the vast majority of people in Congress are funded by the corporations that they are coincidentally also protecting—or not so coincidentally, I should say. The few that aren’t, they are surrounded on all sides by people who are, so they feel the need not to scare corporate interests. I don’t have that fear, because I realize that it’s something that regular people like you, a student in college, or me, a truck driver, don’t really care about in our day to day lives. No regular person is really too concerned about the profit margin of Boeing of Raytheon. (I use them as my top examples because they’re some of the top donors for my opponent). 

That’s the thing though—we have to be willing to say explicitly “this is going to hurt Boeing, this is going to hurt Raytheon. If you are someone who is profiting off of war, I’m sorry but we, as a people and as a government of those people, are no longer going to be funneling money to you. We want to spend the money on our people, on our healthcare, infrastructure, and schools, not on killing.”

So in my best estimation, politicians are just in a bubble where they are surrounded by disconnected, wealthy corporate elites.

Are there any politicians in Washington right now who you believe are trying to fight against that? Are there any that you look up to as championing the same things you push for?

I would say Bernie Sanders is one. I’m a really big fan of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as well, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib. Those are probably the three biggest figures in politics for me right now. We have very similar policies and ideas and principles. And when I get to Congress, I want to be just as outspoken as they are, but maybe just a little bit more radical on the policy I advocate for, I guess.

That’s interesting. I often see AOC or others like the ones you mentioned described as “what politics could be” in America. Do you see yourself as what politics could be—younger people in office, more grassroots people in office?

In these last few days, I’ve had over 14 million Twitter impressions, probably more than almost any congressional candidate who isn’t already in office. And that is just from me tweeting—just me saying my thoughts. I think what that speaks to is the condition of a politician who says things that another politician isn’t willing to say. It resonates with people, especially young people.

If I were in Congress, I would be the youngest member of congress at just 25. I actually find it unacceptable that you have to be 25 just to run for Congress because a lot of the things that Congress is making decisions about are directly affecting young people and can impact the lives of young people in a lot of ways. As soon as I turned 25, I knew I was going to run for Congress, no hesitation. I’m not a politically connected person, I’m not a very powerful person nor do I have any powerful friends. I don’t have a lot of money, institutional power, or anything really. But I’m running because I feel like I have to.

If I don’t, who will, right?

A lot of people who decide to run for office are people who don’t necessarily understand how popular our ideas are as young people, so they’re not willing to say them as aggressively. And that’s one thing that I’m trying to convey to other candidates. I’ve personally watched the difference between someone who is willing to speak the way that I am: very straightforward, direct and honest. And I say the things that are often seen as “too radical” by a lot of people–I’ve watched the difference between those people who have their radical message grow on social media, and the people who are more shy about their views.

If you’re not even willing to say the radical things, I don’t see why you’d expect people to trust you to get into office to fight for them.

So through this, you’re hoping to inspire young people to not only listen, but to speak up about politics—to run for office or support young people like you in office. Is this the goal? I was certainly surprised to see such a young person like yourself running for office—do you think it will change the image of politics?

Our country was founded by young people, and nearly every movement of significant change originates with young people. There’s usually more of us, but if you look at any of the biggest populist movements in the history of the United States or even in other countries, and you’ll see that they’re full of younger people. When you mobilize the youth, that’s actually how you get real change. You have to mobilize a generation in order to change the nation.

That’s already what I’m doing, and my hope is not just to run and get elected just to “tone it down” while I’m in office and work with those people who I got elected to office by speaking out against. I don’t want to work hand-in-hand with people that I oppose. I want to inspire waves of younger people who think like the generation of change, like myself, to run for office and join me. I want them, who are aggressively pushing for our ideas, at every level of government. Even me who’s just starting to run now, my message has reached people who just because they see me doing it, they decide to run for city council or school board or something like that.

My goal is to get people to realize their potential. If I, as a high-school educated truck driver, with not a lot of money and not a lot of influence and power, can just start saying my ideas and grow my message at the rate that I have and be able to get elected, then I guess almost anyone could do that. That’s part of my intent as a young person running for congress.

That is in a lot of ways inspiring to young people who don’t believe they’re represented by either Democrats or Republicans—you call yourself a Democratic Socialist, a Radical Leftist at times—and what’s more, you don’t shy away from calling other politicians things like white nationalists, or fascists, even. What motivates you to use terms like these as opposed to the conventional Right and Left?

I think people are tired of the terms that we’re seeing in politics nowadays. Our generation is more concerned with policies that party lines, like civil policies and practices rather than civil language. It’s something that I’ve actually convinced a lot of older folks on—like look, if you curse, if you just say what you mean with the passion of how much you mean it, young people will be more likely to listen not less likely.

Following the rules of the establishment, and these rules that they’ve made up for existing in their bubble. That is in favor of them because the more they can get us to sound like them the less likely people will think that there’s a difference. So, when my opponent comes out and he’s unwilling to say anything bold or aggressive, he can’t sound passionate, and everything is a canned or pre-written speech, and then they hear me, maybe I resonate more with them. Maybe I speak formally here or there, but I still have to sound real—like a real person who speaks like real people speak. That, I believe, is a huge advantage for me and a huge advantage for us as a younger generation in general. Our willingness to call out bad actors—people who are secretly or sometimes evenly openly fascist, straight-up White Nationalist sometimes, that’s important. A lot of the time people don’t recognize it because no one is willing to say it. They don’t want to call a policy fascist even when it is, because political rhetoric has avoided the use of those terms even though they’re real ones that real people are aware of and realize the significance of.

People then don’t realize that someone with decision-making power over them is just a bad actor, and a lot of people in Washington are afraid to say things to expose these bad actors. I’ve actually spoken with Nancy Pelosi on this, but you’re not allowed to call someone “racist” in Congress, even if they’re pushing for racist policies or saying racist things, you can’t call them a racist. Congress will actually punish you for it—they can censor you, they can take you off committees, they can actually take real power away from you just for calling someone a racist. That’s been true throughout our history because our country has, even very recently, had people in power who were racist. The rules were specifically designed to protect racists and white supremacists. We had people pushing to protect slavery, for instance, and Congress passed a gag rule on people who opposed slavery because they don’t want people talking about those issues. But even if you can’t say things about bad political character now, I’m going to say them anyway, and I think that’s something that most people in our country today would agree with.

Amazing. Is there anything else that you’d like to add or say? 

Yes. I just want people to know how little power the establishment has over them. There are so few of them, and so many of us. Show up, be active, participate – and if you like what I’m doing then recurring donations are really helpful, for me or for any politician who you think is doing a good job at speaking for you and your interests.