I am a professor at Western Michigan University, teaching national economic development and evaluation of government and nonprofit programs. My family has lived in Kalamazoo for 21 years. We attend First Presbyterian Church, where I served as an elder and chaired the Outreach Committee. I was the founding chair of the Kalamazoo Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Justice, established in 2003 to protest against invading Iraq. I helped my church to join the Michigan Organizing Project, a faith-based group working for housing for the homeless, support for citizens returning from prison, dental care for children, and immigrant rights. I was on the founding board for Michigan United, one of the state’s most powerful grassroots social justice organizations, a leader in immigrant rights and for raising Michigan’s minimum wage. At Western Michigan University I co-founded the Climate Change Working Group, a dynamic group of professors and students working to improve understanding of climate change and to promote action for environmental sustainability. My wife, Aedin, is a librarian. Our daughters, Anna and Bridin, attended Kalamazoo Public Schools.
My interest in politics stems from my faith and my commitment to democratic equality and social justice. I was born in Texas, but my family soon moved to Hong Kong where my parents were Methodist missionaries. My father was a carpenter and social worker. He established one of Hong Kong’s first comprehensive social service agencies, working on economic and community development and providing services in daycare, home nursing, a free dental clinic, and support for people with disabilities. Later we moved to India where my parents worked to improve economic and social conditions in the slums of Bombay (now called Mumbai) and in village development projects. I spent most of my high school holidays helping out in village and slum projects with some of the poorest people in the world, working together to improve their lives. From these experiences and my parents’ example, at a young age, I became committed to a life of service.
I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to Harvard (though I still had to work to cover costs). Even before college, I saw that service and social justice are connected, and I knew I needed to learn more about how society works. Studying economics, philosophy, and other social science informed my understanding of and commitment to democracy and social justice. I helped to start a summer youth enrichment project for children in Roosevelt Towers, a local housing project, and I was a leader in our student organization calling Harvard to divest from companies doing business in (at that time) apartheid South Africa.
Living in Kalamazoo, and southwest Michigan has been a blessing for my family and me. I love the university where I teach, the city where I live, my church community, and the region that surrounds us. I’m a runner, a biker, and a swimmer, and I love the Kal-Haven Trail, Asylum Lake, Markin Glen Park, the Kalamazoo Nature Center, and of course beautiful Lake Michigan. We are grateful for the flourishing community in Kalamazoo, in the arts, theater, music, and our vibrant local foods movement.
But Kalamazoo, southwest Michigan, and our country also face enormous challenges. There is no change that could do more to address these challenges than to fix our federal government, our democracy, to build a government that really is of, by and for the people. This will not be accomplished in a day. To do this we have to change the people in Congress. For these reasons I ask for your support.
I was speaking on The Politics of Climate Change at Kalamazoo Public Library, explaining that our Congressman, Fred Upton, had become chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he was now the most powerful member of the House of Representatives on climate policy, and suddenly he had become a climate science denier. Someone in the audience said, “Paul, you should run for Congress!” That was the start.
But my calling is to service for social justice. Here the priority is to get our government working for the well-being of the American people. To restore government of, by and for the people, so the 21st century can be America’s century, so our children can do better than our generation has done, we need leadership that is both visionary and pragmatic. I believe I am well equipped to offer this leadership.