Hours before Democratic presidential candidate President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney were scheduled to go on stage for the second presidential debate, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and her running mate, Cheri Honkala, were arrested outside Hofstra University.
Video has been posted by Long Island Report that shows Stein and Honkala delivering a statement to press. Police officers are standing right up against them so they have nowhere to turn if they try to enter the premise where the debate is being held.
Stein says something about the debate making a “mockery” of democracy and the people deserve democratic debates. “Only we can take [the debates] back” and make them “democratic.” Honkala adds, “We’re going to represent the 85% of people across the country who agree that we should be in there and be a part of the debates today.”
The two turn to walk and are met with a wall of uniformed flesh. The press ask for their names. They give their names, spelling them, and Honkala tries again: “On behalf of democracy, we think that democracy starts today by opening up the debates for every single party in America.” She also says something about the debates no longer being “corporate-sponsored debates.”
After trying to push their way in and go around the uniformed wall obstructing access, the candidates decide to sit down and do a traditional nonviolent civil disobedience action.
An officer quickly appears to tell them they are blocking traffic and need to move and, if they do not, they will be arrested. The police themselves are blocking traffic by not letting the candidates through, but that reality is lost on them.
“We are practicing our First Amendment rights,” Stein says. The officer immaturely replies, “To block traffic.” Honkala tells the officer, “We are practicing our First Amendment rights to go in there.” Again, immaturely, the officer says, “So you’re refusing to move?” And, seconds later, the officers arrest the two candidates and remove them from the premise.
Stein is on more than 30 state ballots in the United States, enough to win the election and assume the presidency. She receives a small percentage of support in presidential polls when she is included.
As the campaign for Stein notes in a posting on its website, “Over 14,000 have signed a statement calling on CPD to change its criteria, and repeated public calls for opening the CPD debates have been ignored by that corporation.” The statement calls for debates to “include every candidate who is on enough ballots to win the White House and who has demonstrated a minimal level of support — meaning either 1% of the vote in a credible national poll, or qualification for federal matching funds, or both.”
Yesterday, a leaked copy of the secret contract both parties signed for the debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was posted. It detailed how the two campaigns from the two most prominent political parties in America cooperate to effectively keep out candidates like Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.
George Farah appeared on “Democracy Now!” to talk about third party presidential candidates and how the CPD, co-chaired by Frank Fahrenkopf, “former chair of the Republican Party and the nation’s leading gambling lobbyist” and Mike McCurry, “former press secretary to Bill Clinton,” control presidential debates. He said:
…They like to say every four years that hundreds of candidates run for president every four years, including Joe Crustacean the Crustacean Liberation Party that wants lobsters to colonize the moon. He runs every four years. But these candidates are not on enough state ballots to come close to having a mathematical chance of winning the White House. If you just say, “Let’s include all the candidates in this election cycle that are actually on enough state ballots to have a chance to actually win the White House,” we have four, maybe five, candidates in total, and that’s including Obama and Romney. We had seven, eight candidates in the Republican primaries. So, even having the most liberal candidate selection criteria would only result in five candidates.
And if you ask the American people—if we’re going to use polling to actually determine who gets to participate in the debates, which is what the commission does—the commission says a candidate must reach 15 percent in the polls to participate in the presidential debates, which, if you apply that criteria historically, excludes every third-party candidate for the last 100 years from any conceivable presidential debate. But if we’re going to use polling criteria, why not simply ask the American people, “Who do you want included in the presidential debates?”…
The Democratic and Republican Parties in America control the debate. As the leaked contract shows, they want less debate, not more. The two campaigns agree to not participate in any debates or anything on television that might appear to be a debate. It effectively maintains the CPD’s monopoly on this aspect of the American political process. It rations debates, which as Farah points out is just a convenient way to keep key domestic and foreign policy issues the candidates don’t want to discuss from being raised.
Eight years ago, Ralph Nader showed up to a debate stadium to participate. According to Farah, “64 percent of the American people” supported the inclusion of Nader. He was able to get on the ballot in a majority of states. He had a ticket to be in the “viewing audience room adjacent to the debate stadium” but was “escorted by police out of the actual presidential debate arena.” He “filed a lawsuit, and the Commission on Presidential Debates had to issue a formal apology and make a $25,000 donation to a pro-democracy organization.”
All of which shows the very presence of third party candidates nearby these debates (let alone in the debates and on stage with people they are running against) is abhorrent and intolerable to the Democratic and Republican National Committees. Like what Glenn Greenwald said on “Democracy Now!”, third party candidates show “how mythological this idea is that the Democrats and Republicans are universes apart.” Really, they share more similarities than supporters of Democrats or Republicans care to admit. They are both willing to serve the same interests. They have to exclude the candidates otherwise they cannot go on stage and focus on tiny differences while moderators they approved offer weak challenges to their given answers and presented policies.
It is obnoxious that the American people call these debates, that they do not add or print a disclaimer each time one is held which says not all candidates on a majority of ballots in the United States are going to be on stage.
They are not debates. They are examples of political theater carefully crafted to appear as if they are being carried out by people, who care about what the American people really care about. They are functions put on by the Electoral Process™—a public relations industry and corporate boondoggle unto itself. They reinforce elitism and the culture of secrecy in the United States. And the Commission on Presidential Debates should be dissolved completely with control of the debates wrested from their hands and placed in the control of an organization that has no duties to any corporate interests, whether they be businesses or bought-off political parties.
Tune into “Democracy Now!” for coverage of the debate and tomorrow as they “expand the debate” with a two-hour broadcast featuring Stein, Justice Party presidential candidate Rocky Anderson and Constitution Party presidential candidate Virgil Goode.