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Greening the Elections, State and Federal

Melissa Schlag and Jill Stein in Middletown, CT

On the same day that the New London Day’s editorial board was drafting an endorsement of Melissa Schlag, the Green Party candidate for Connecticut state senate in the 33rd district, the Green Party presidential ticket, Dr. Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, were arrested and shackled to a chair for 8 hours for trying to get into a presidential debate.

Schlag (who, in full disclosure, I helped recruit to the Green Party) has wowed in debates, and has done a great job running a campaign. She has collected more than 6,000 signatures to get public funding, but fell short $3,000 short of the $15,000 needed for public funding. (Disclosure: I donated money to Schlag’s campaign.)

Stein did hit public funding for the presidential elections, but that was not enough for her to surmount the impossible obstacles to participate in the tightly controlled presidential debates.

As the police at Hofstra University slapped the handcuffs on the Green Party’s standard bearers, Stein called the Obama-Romney bout at Hofstra “this mock debate, this mockery of democracy.”

How can our worlds be so far apart, that locally, a Green Party candidate is so exceptional that a difficult to please editorial board like the New London Day endorses Schlag without reservation, yet nationally, we arrest candidates for attempting to be heard?

This is our schizophrenic corporatocracy, where local elections show features of progressive democracy, and national elections are staged events devoid of freedom and real debate about the problems facing this country.

It is not just Jill Stein that has been excluded from the debates. Stein, who is on the ballot in 38 states (and litigating in six more), has a mathematical chance to win the presidency. She is a write-on in Connecticut, as the Green Party could not get its act together enough to mount a petition drive.

In full disclosure, again, I was co-chair of the Connecticut Green Party this year, and resigned in April. My philosophy was that a candidate like Schlag held more potential for party building and winning than Stein’s presidential bid did.

Stein’s arrest held echoes of Ralph Nader’s exclusion from the 2000 debate at UMass-Boston, when Ralph was given a ticket by a UMass student, but police prevented him from entering the arena. Rather than risk arrest, Nader walked away.

Ralph once explained his failure to take an arrest as a matter of legal strategy. He told me he prefers to litigate offensively, than to be fighting criminal charges. A Nader arrest in 2000 would have been global news.

Nader subsequent lawsuit revealed that all police on site at UMass-Boston were given his picture and told to prevent him from entering the debate. That the non-profit corporation Commission on Presidential Debates (“CPD”) can enforce its two-party stricture using taxpayer-funded police is fascistic.

Today, Nader’s rejection is a distant memory, and Stein’s arrest is little more than a footnote to a press obsessed with Romney’s “binders full of women” quote.

A writer from the Guardian in the UK dismantled the rest of Romney’s story as sexist and condescending.  Given Romney’s dismissive attitude towards women (you mean he is a titan of industry and couldn’t find qualified women), it’s no wonder Stein was excluded.

Oh, did I mention that Jill Stein ran against Romney in 2002 for Governor in Massachusetts, and debated him and beat him up, enough to get her more than three percent of the vote? Binders full of women. I admit I too loved the irresistible absurdity of Romney’s theatre.

But that’s all the debates are. Theatre. Obama and Romney negotiated an extensive, secret debate contract with the uber-secret CPD. The contract, whose existence was originally denied, was revealed this week, showing how the CPD sets the parameters for all the debates, like cutting out all other candidates.

So Stein shouldn’t feel bad about her exclusion, because it was calculated, and politicians with seemingly more credibility have been shut out from this year’s presidential political conversations.

Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson has the top spot on the Libertarian ticket, and he is on the ballot in 47 states. This is a huge accomplishment, and Johnson is fighting lawsuits in Oklahoma, Michigan and Pennsylvania for ballot access.

Oklahoma is no surprise, considering that no third party ever gets on the ballot there. But Johnson was a rising star in the Republican Party. His views on ending the drug war are not part of the national, corporate fueled debate, so he was excluded.

Virgil Goode, a former Democrat and Republican Congressman from Virginia, is the Constitutional Party’s presidential candidate. He is on the ballot in 26 states, enough for 257 electoral votes. Not quite enough to win the presidency.

But his views should be heard, as well. Yet the CPD and the two party duopoly do not want to have a national discussion about issues Stein would bring up – the prison-industrial complex and single-payer health-care.

Goode, who I heard on Democracy Now! this week, has an authoritative grasp of health care policy as well, and champions single payer, Medicare for all. Imagine Romney and Obama duking it out over the particulars of the Affordable Care Act while Stein and Goode are selling people on Medicare for all.

Romney and Obama both lose. But they win when the armed officers arrest and shackle presidential candidates to chairs for eight hours. That is more absurd than Romney’s binders full of women quote, but it is such a painfully unpleasant fact, it cannot be packaged into a meme.

Looking at history, this is normal for American politics, though. Eugene Debs ran for president from prison in 1920. He was arrested and jailed in 1918 for opposing World War I, and he was convicted of sedition for making speeches inciting men not to register.

At the closing of his trial, Debs said: “Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”



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