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Monkeywrenching with Minnie the Cat

Blogwriters note: The crux of this story is only a problem when a third party has automatic ballot access. Hopefully GPNYS will regain ballot status in 2010 by getting 50,000 votes for our governor candidate and be back to a fairer system of ballot access. See 50,000 or Bust.

Boog City, Issue 3

2/25 – 3/10/02

by Kimberly Wilder

fbi_file.jpgI have found a new pleasure. it annoys authority figures. it weakens and frightens the two-party duopoly. And it is more legal, and safer, than moving surveyor sticks around in the Redwood forest. It is political monkeywrenching.

Monkeywrenching is tossing a ratchet into the clockwork of the corporatist system. Usually monkey wrenching is a form of civil disobedience. You might pitch a tent in a tree so that a logger cannot chop it down (see Hill, Julia Butterfly ). You might stand inside a store distributing leaflets about its use of slave labor. Monkeywrenching is usually a little illegal or involves a potential to wind up in jail.

Political monkeywrenching is so much easier. Here’s why. At the heart of the political system is not an evil logging company with oodles of money. At the heart of our political system is the Constitution of the United States. And—get this—it was created to support the kind of freedom and justice that us monkeywrenchers cherish. (I know, I know, the Constitution isn’t perfect either. For a very long time it allowed for the persecution of slaves and the virtual exclusion of women from the political process but, with amendments, evolution, and our current national spirit of some semblance of political egalitarianism, it pretty much serves the purpose.) Monkeywrenchers playing around a forest at night are there to trespass just a little, to fearlessly confront capitalism and perhaps even the local sheriff who may have been convinced to stand there with a gun guarding clear-cutting sites. When you start injecting yourself into the political system, you are often staring down Democrats and Republicans who have themselves broken or trifled with the law. You are just the only one brave enough to shine a flashlight on the machinery of their deception.

And, if you see the abuse in our current system, if you know that peoples’ votes don’t always get counted, that corporate money has smothered the process, and that they are all a bunch of crooks, wouldn’t it be wrong to just stand there and do nothing? To people who say “just don’t vote,” I say: Can’t you come up with something more creative? Sure, you don’t want to play their evil, little game. But aren’t you a fool to allow the bad guys to disgust, bully, or confuse you off the playing field? It’s your neighborhood, after all.

I recently found out the immense power of the “Freedom of Information Law.” You would be surprised how much trouble you can stir up by requesting revealing documents from your local town hall, county clerk, or, better yet, board of elections. It seems that in many areas Democrats and Republicans have a gentleman’s agreement not to ask for each other’s campaign finance documents. So, with a simple request (and 25 cents per page), I uncovered a long list of campaign contributors and financial dealings that activists, the local press, and my political buddies are very interested in.

If you want to be a third-party politico, monkeywrenching will involve the blowfish routine. You are really small, and you might not have a lot of people enrolled in each area. But you have to make the big guys see you as having the power to protect your turf. You have to be able to compete in a system where they have $700,000 dollars and hundreds of patronage jobs to give out, and your team has $1,500 in checks from your mommies, no jobs, and no one who really wants to be treasurer.

It takes a lot of chutzpah, a lot of antics for the press, a lot of creativity, and, of course, a strong commitment to the sincerity, goodness, and specific values that made you choose your third-party path.

My favorite Green Party monkeywrenching was the time we realized that other parties could “steal our ballot line”, and we had to figure out some strategies to stop them. Our problem started with an election rule called an “opportunity to ballot”. It allows a candidate from one party to collect signatures, forcing a blank, write-in space to be open on the primary ballot line of someone else’s party. The strategy can be useful in allowing a “little guy” access to a major party line. But, in 2001, the Democrats and Republicans tried to use it for questionable write-in campaigns to give, for example, Right-to-Life Republicans we would never support, a chance to sneak up on the Greens. Sometimes, the Greens in an area would have such low numbers, a major-party candidate could steal our line with two or three write-in votes. We were in real trouble if the line was opened in a place where, as a new and small party, we could not find one of our own people willing to run for the line.

As a group of Green activists and enrollees, we had to think fast of what names to tell our friends to write in on the various ballot lines. It had to be someone belonging to each, specific district. It had to be someone who we wouldn’t mind winning, or who would not be able to accept the nomination if they won it. One of us thought of putting in officials of the same party who were already serving in a higher office. That was a good idea that could work. But we kept thinking, brainstorming, and chugging down diner food until we figured out something even better.

In one town, there was an evil campaign manager, a kind of political operative figure. Let’s call him Boss Doe. Boss Doe is a Democrat. Boss Doe was running several candidates in Crookville. He had been bragging to others that he was infiltrating the Green Party and would soon be able to outvote us and steal our County Party. Boss Doe told our Green Party chair that his candidates didn’t need our approval, he would manage the Green line without us. Our Green think-tank decided to suggest Boss Doe’s name as the write-in candidate for our Crookville primary. And, he won.

The real beauty of monkey-wrenching, of goofin’ around with nothing much to lose, of being a little progressive David, trying to slay the Giant, is that you never know what wild consequences your creativity might engender. For our group, getting Boss Doe the nomination was only the beginning. Our maneuver also managed to get the Democrats at the board of elections angry with him. You see, Boss Doe was so mad at us, he didn’t know whether to accept or decline our nomination, and his Democrat friends at the board of elections had deadlines to meet on printing absentee ballots. Boss Doe wound up accepting our nomination, thus taking votes away from his own candidates and making his Democrat friends even madder. We also had the distinct pleasure of seeing Boss Doe in the local paper’s “Candidates Guide”, trying to explain how he got there.

But even smaller monkeywrenching moves have proven entertaining and fruitful. In another district, a Right-To-Life Republican and a weaselly Democrat both started write-in campaigns for our line. Local Green Party member Wendy Fuchsberg decided to show how she felt about them by writing in a better candidate—her cat, Minnie. Wendy’s cat received mention in Newsday in an article about other important write-ins, like Rudolph Giuliani. No Suffolk County Greens won any elective offices, but we sure got a lot of press for our candidates and issues. And I think our noodling and monkeying exposed the major parties and taught them some lessons.

Local politics operates as a pretty exclusive club. One or two people joining the fray together can make a big difference. Politicians take their authority so seriously, that just scribbling in a funny name as a write-in can be a coup. But to run a third-party candidate is a huge monkeywrench. By throwing a third opponent into the race, you make the big guys rethink their whole campaign by taking away mud-slinging and the obvious, reactive slogans. It also frightens them into thinking that they might lose races in which their bean counters had already declared them victors. It stops the two parties from making the usual “I won’t expose you if you don’t expose me” deals. Every debate and newspaper article you can shove your little mug into eats into the major parties lie-time and their expensive form of hypnotism.

So, if you are afraid to wander around forests at night (or even if you have that mud on your shoes), think of running for office as a third-party candidate. Or, at least, take the time to go to the polls and write in “Minnie the Cat.”

3 Responses

  1. […] such information. Don’t be surprised if a major party candidate is poaching on your spot (Notes from My FBI File about protecting your line, p. […]

  2. […] Monkey-wrenching with Minnie the Cat by Kimberly Wilder, Boog City,, Issue 3: 2/25/02 […]

  3. […] as published in Boog City and Onthewilderside Monkeywrenching with Minnie the Cat by Kimberly Wilder …But even smaller monkeywrenching […]

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