Lawyer and former mayor of Salt Lake City from 2000-2008, Ross "Rocky" Anderson continues to play a part in the city's growth. In 2011, he founded the Justice Party—a political party alternative to what he sees as the duopoly of the two major political parties—that focuses on economic growth, aggressive climate reform and social justice issues. Anderson also founded High Road for Human Rights in 2008, an organization that advocates grassroots activism to address issues such as torture, genocide, slavery, the death penalty and the human rights implications of global climate change.
How has the city changed since you took office and when you left in 2008? What's lacking?
Main Street and downtown have shown tremendous growth. When the City Creek Center was built, I saw the fruits of a lot of labor fulfilled by Utahns trying to energize downtown Salt Lake City. City Creek has so much to offer and places have developed around it—housing, restaurants, great local businesses that set us apart from other cities. Missing from Salt Lake City is a great live music venue. [I'd also like to see a] revival of places like Zephyr or Port O'Call. A city our size should have a lot more.
You are still heavily involved in progressive politics. What are some of your efforts to encourage people to sway from the two-party system?
In 2011 I co-founded the Justice Party. We're very hopeful that we can invigorate the Justice Party and state organizations. We offer a choice. America has been disparaged by wars, low-income, climate change, nuclear proliferation. The vast majority of people need to come together and accept that there are going to be differences of opinions, but focus on the fundamentals of growing a strong economy—building instead of sending away jobs, away with a sense of empire that has driven us into so many disastrous wars. Especially after the Bernie Sanders candidacy, there is a real sense of betrayal by the Republican and Democrat parties and we need a real choice other than that duopoly.
The millennial generation surpasses baby boomers in terms of population size, yet baby boomers vastly outnumber millennials when it comes to voting. What message do you have for young voters heading into this year's election cycle?
Young people that are involved can make all of the difference. This attitude that one vote doesn't matter is so lazy and self-centered. I think that more and more people are realizing that we can come together and that it is up to every one of us to make change. The failure to do that is simply declaring defeat to the forces of greed, and the consequences are going to be felt by millennials and their children. Change is only going to come about by young people becoming active. Voting is only the first step: Once people are in office, we must still be tenacious activists if we are really going to see anything change."
Salt Lake City is Democratic for the most part, yet Republicans have a tight grip on the two Senate seats in Washington. Do you foresee a time when a Democrat might win a Senate seat?
I don't necessarily think it'll be a Democrat, but a third choice like the Justice Party which focuses on fundamental issues, then we could get beyond the one party system we have in Utah. If you take a look at positions of Justice Party, in almost every area, we represent what the majority of Americans support, while Republicans do not. The majority of Americans don't want to see an incarceration state, hundreds of new prisons built each year, proliferation of the death penalty, tax breaks for the wealthy, slavishness to Wall Street, illegal and aggressive wars, and all of those areas. The majority of people want something different. The same can be said statewide. Year in and year out, [people want to see] campaign finance reports, gifts [disclosure] by lobbyists—yet, Republicans know they have the power no matter what happens. We won't see much change from the status quo until we get away from party partisan politics.