Most people — I was one — expect that folks who run for a public office are swamped with opportunities to speak in public. As a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, however, one who is co-nominated by the Green Party, the Progressive Party, and the (national) Pirate Party, I have found that, in fact, you have to hunt for them. In my experience the most important task of a campaign manager is to look for and find opportunities for the candidate to address an audience.
So it came as a pleasant surprise to be invited to address a Candidates’ Forum at the Springwater, Oregon, Grange Hall, a cultural and social club in a small town 40 miles south of Portland.
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As an urban sort of person (grew up near Boston, went to college in Pasadena and Berkeley, California, and taught for two decades in Portland Public Schools), I found it a treat just to drive along the road leading to Springwater: the turnoff from the freeway led to a riverbank road, wriggling beneath a heavy cover of trees, which then after ten miles gave way to a set of straight sections, humping over foothills directly to the next turn a mile or so away.
The candidates and the audience mingled in a room adjacent to the main hall before the talking began, and I was honest with the middle-aged man I found myself talking to, that I had no expertise in agriculture, beyond being very much in favor of agricultural activity. Indeed, I would suppose that that might well be included as one of the Ten Key Values of the Green Party, respect for agriculture.
“So, what’s your stand on water rights?” he asked.
I was obliged to repeat that I didn’t know enough to have a stand, since beyond repeating a clichÃ©, I am by no means expert in agricultural affairs.
“What is your strong point, then?” he continued.
What a cordial way to welcome a stranger!
Opposition to the constant, soul-destroying, endless imperial, aggressive war, of course. Offering an alternative to the major-party consensus that our country deserves to conduct an empire, and to run it with force and violence.
Not only he, but a younger man listening, and others that I spoke to before the event, were open to a presentation that the war had become endless and pointless.
The meeting involved five-minute presentations from each of the candidates present, starting with the federal candidates — my Republican opponent was there, but not the Democratic incumbent — and then moving to the state, and finally the county, candidates. Questions would be entertained after that.
Those speeches, and the response of the audience to them, is what I found the most interesting part of the evening.
Everyone — everyone but me — had some connection to the rural region where the meeting was taking place. The candidate for state senator even went to the length of telling us about his great-grandfather, who had if I remember correctly built a house in the town. Most of them could not say that they’d been born and grown up there, but they had all visited the place. It was almost amusing, how much store they put in the fact that they could remember their visits.
The state candidates, running for the Oregon legislature, tended to come off much worse than the county candidates, who were cogent, specific, and focused on issues and topics. The same fellow who went on about his great-grandfather, for example, gave an address composed entirely of utter bromides. His father told him he had to work hard, tell the truth, and help his neighbor. Really. That constituted his most specific substance; the rest was even more vague than that.
Republicans all repeated shibboleths about the U.S. Constitution, no one more than my opponent for the 3rd District, Delia Lopez. “In American politics,” writes the editor of the British newspaper The Guardian in the current New York Review of Books,”Republicans routinely speak in broad themes and tend to blur the details, while Democrats typically ignore broad themes and focus on details.”
Ms Lopez complained about regulation of private business, safety, and property. She promised to fight for “liberty” and “freedom.” Applause was polite. I responded with an attack on the Congressmembers who had just failed to impose a modest increase of taxes on people earning more than 250 thousand dollars a year; I suppose that made me sound like a Democrat. But I was clear as I could be, that the real reason for my running had little to do with how the national pie of goodies was divided among the political interests. I was running because we are now waging aggressive war, that war is being escalated, and the effort to control an empire is shredding our civil liberties at home.
During the question period, much to my surprise, a serious-looking gentleman at the back of the room, after pointing out that wealth was distributed more and more unequally in this country, asked my opponent how she would vote on the matter I had raised, of the extension of the Bush tax cuts. She resisted answering, giving way to what I can only call a rant against the Internal Revenue System (“Gestapo,” “totalitarian,” and similar adjectives came thick and fast); but when he asked her please to answer his question, she agreed that she would indeed vote to keep the tax cuts for the wealthiest.
I was delighted to be able to point out that the gap between rich and poor in this country is at historic highs, that it has reached a level comparable only to 1929, before the onset of the Great Depression, with pretty similar economic results. After the question session was over, i had to hustle out to the parking lot in pursuit of that similar-minded questioner. He came back from his car when I called to him, and we talked. He’s an engineer, named Franco Martinez, and he was happy to accept the bits of Green party literature I was able to press on him.
At the conclusion of the event, I was talking to four or five people who had nothing but good things to say about the Green party. The disaffection of people, even in small rural towns, with the Republican and Democratic Rule by Rhetoric, is real.