Editor's Note: This is the second post in a series from SW contributor Krist Novoselic. The first post, "How Occupy Wall Street Can Occupy the Ballot Box," ran last month.
Krist Novoselic (left), seen here with Steven Reynolds, was the founding bassist in Nirvana, and is the chairman of Fair Vote.
Occupy Wall Street has an extraordinary opportunity with next month's special election for Oregon's U.S. House District 1. One of the four candidates on the ballot that voters will receive in the mail is Steven Reynolds, the nominee of the Oregon Progressive Party. This group's platform is a virtual mirror of OWS issues. It's all there: anti-corporate personhood, controls on banking, and an equitable democratic system, among other proposals.
Since there are four candidates running, Reynolds could conceivably win the race with a little more than 25 percent of the vote. But even a strong second or third place could also send a variety of messages to the movement across the nation about engaging electoral politics. This isn't just an opportunity for voters in Portland, it's a chance for Occupy Wall Street to storm the halls of congress through the democratic system.Reynolds is a 29-year-old veteran who graduated from West Point, and was injured while serving in the Army. He taught English in China for a year, then settled in Portland. There, he started associating with Progressive party folks, and eventually became the party's nominee for this special US House race.
I sat down with Reynolds recently to discuss his campaign. He supports most of the sentiments of the OWS movement and tells me he was mad about the Wall Street bailouts before the protests started this summer. He received the party nomination before the movement took off and has approached these issues as a candidate for federal office.
You don't have to be an OWS person--and I don't consider myself to be one--to see the barriers to participation for third-party candidates. Reynolds, along with the Libertarian party nominee were recently locked out of a major televised debate. They were stuck protesting outside and Reynolds knows the score.
"It's a pay-to-play-system," he told me. "The major party candidates spent a lot of money in the primary election. The national money is pouring in, especially behind Democrat (Suzanne) Bonamici. This is where the campaign contributions end up - in media coffers. And that money has strings attached: every dollar is another favor for special interests. Now is not the time to be suppressing third-party voices. I think that the media has a moral obligation to the people to make everybody's voices heard, especially with the anger that has been generated by the Occupy Wall Street movement. People are angry and people are not happy with the electoral process but they don't know they have choices. They assume when they see a third-party candidate that this person must not be viable -- when that's not the case at all. They haven't heard of them because the corporate parties and the corporate media dominate with their big money".
Reynolds doesn't see much of a difference between the two major party candidates in the race. He sees his candidacy as a clear alternative. "If Oregon's First District can reject the Democratic candidate and reject the Republican candidate in this election, then we can send a clear message that we are paying attention, that our country is dysfunctional and it's your fault Republicans and Democrats. It's your fault and we are going to hold you accountable. I hope I inspire people across the nation to stand up to status quo politicians representing the broken, big money parties in DC."
So, do people in the OWS movement recognize Steven Reynolds for United States House? Do they recognize the values of the Progressive Party and are they willing to go and put that energy in things like knocking on doors? "I have had a real problem just getting my message out," says Reynolds. "Most don't know I exist. But once they do, people don't disagree with my message."
There was an open seat for the United States House across the river from Portland in Washington's Third District in 2010. There was a record $7 million dollars spent -- most of it coming from outside of the district. A lot of that money went to television advertising and of course those slick campaign mailers you get every other day -- bogus groups, like "People for Fairness" or "People for blah, blah, blah" when, in fact, these were the usual special interests. Voters in Northwest Oregon have an extraordinary opportunity to send a message to the nation about broken politics.
Unease and anger over corporations and other interests dominating elections is at the core of #OWS. Money is speech in the United States - and this is a point of contention with protesters. I believe that money is indeed speech, and here's why: One million Americans can each contribute five dollars to Steven Reynolds to help get a candidate with their shared values into the U.S. House of Representatives. Protesting is speaking up and marching in the streets isn't the only way to get something off your chest.