“Standing up for economic social justice. That’s what I’m all about,” said Peter Mathews, professor of Political Science at Cypress College, last Wednesday in an interview with The Cypress Chronicle. Mathews new book, Dollar Democracy: with Liberty and Justice for Some: How to Reclaim the American Dream for All, chronicles his personal political activism as well as address the current inequality in the U.S. political process.
Born in Kerala, India in 1951, Mathews spent much of his first 10 years exploring the family garden — a wild place, teeming with viper, Kerala laughingthrush, king cobra, bamboo — and attending the school in which his father, Ernest Paul Mathews, was headmaster. His mother too was an instructor there, and Mathews would sometimes address her as “moms” in class.
During a royal tour of his kingdom, Siddhartha (the boy who will become Buddha, “the enlightened one”) encounters for the first time the sick and dying. The experience reveals to the young Buddha the universality of suffering. As a boy, Mathews said he experienced similar revelations. Poor families often waited outside the gates to his family home.
“My mother and father would bring these poor people in, and feed them and clothe them. These parents, they loved their kids as much as my parents loved me. But for faults not entirely their own, they couldn’t provide for them. Even then I saw how bad economic disparity was.”
Ernest Paul Mathews moved his family to Maryland, U.S. in 1961, to complete his doctorate in Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Peter Mathews followed in his father’s footsteps, majoring in Psychology at the University of North Texas in 1969.
But in the summer of his junior year, Mathews went to Europe and saw the Berlin Wall. Confused as to why a people of shared language and culture would build a wall between them, Mathews crossed to East Berlin to seek answers. He spent the night drinking with East Germans, and saw Fidel Castro pass in a sleek, black limousine. Mathews considers the experience a pivotal moment in his life. “It was an aha moment for me.” A later international relations course taught by professor Robert Dole Judy further cemented his interest in politics.
Under the mentorship of Professor Dale Judy, Mathews completed his masters in Political Science at the University of North Texas. His thesis was on land reform in India. He completed his Doctoral Studies at the University of Southern California.
Mathews taught at the University of Cambridge in 1990, under Cypress College’s Study Abroad Program. During his time there, he participated in a demonstration against Britain Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and the proposed “Poll Taxes”, a single flat-rate per-capita tax on every adult for government services such as trash collection.
In 1994 and 1998, Peter Mathews was the Democratic Party’s Nominee for U.S. Congress in the Long Beach based district. He faced incumbent Republican Stephen Horn both races, narrowly losing in 1998 with 44% of the vote. Mathews refused corporate money during both races, opting for grass-root campaigns. These experiences are detailed in his new book.
Today, Peter Mathews is a full-time Professor of Political Science at Cypress College, an adjunct Professor of Sociology at Long Beach City College, and a popular political analyst on radio. He’s served as a guest host on KPFK 90.7 FM, forming his own afternoon show, “Standing up for Economic and Social Justice”. Notable guests include: Dr. Michael Parenti, author of Democracy for the Few, Pamm Larry, California Coordinator for LabelGMOs, and “No Nukes” Harvey Wasserman, leader in the movement to shut down the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo.
The growing gap between the rich and poor, Citizens United vs. FEC, and the influence of lobbyists on the political process are discussed thoroughly in Peter Mathews’s new book, Dollar Democracy. He writes, for example, “The problem is that only the top 1% can afford to pay and get to play. The rest of America, the bottom 99%, can’t afford to pay and don’t get to play in the game of politics which effects many aspects of our lives: access to good jobs, quality affordable education, adequate health care, good roads and clean efficient public transit, safe neighborhoods, good parks and recreation, public libraries, dependable infrastructure, after school academic and arts programs, and leisure time, such as guaranteed paid vacations, to spend with our children, families, and friends.”
Peter Mathews lives with his wife and daughter in Long Beach. When asked what drives him, Mathews responded, “My parents taught me to value human dignity and education.”