by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Adebayo
The major parties are more concerned with preserving their duopoly than with defeating each other. So-called “progressives” help preserve duopoly rule, failing “to understand that as long as they are complicit with the Democrats, they have no power.” Most people are actually more Green than Democratic in their views, but “have a hard time comprehending that there are more than two parties,” according to Green candidate Dr. Flowers.
Margaret Flowers’ Retrospective on Running as a Green for the U.S. Senate
by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Adebayo
“The message of the Green Party resonates with people because we talk about real issues that they experience in their lives and solutions that they want to see.”
The Democratic and Republican parties’ attempt to monopolize the presidential media cycle was challenged by candidates like Dr. Margaret Flowers, who ran for the US Senate on the Green Party ticket in Maryland. She used the electoral platform to speak directly to working class communities. Dr Flowers was profiled in a recent BAR article regarding the decision of the Maryland League of Women Voters to deny her the right to participate in the only televised senatorial debate. Undaunted, Dr. Flowers took to the stage and demanded to be recognized as an equal participate in the electoral process. She was escorted off stage by security forces under protest with audience members shouting: “Let her speak!”
Margaret is a Maryland pediatrician and mother of three. In 2007, she made the decision to stop practicing clinical medicine, which she viewed as antithetical to the welfare of working class and front line communities. Instead, she decided to “practice political medicine.” The class dynamics of health care is evident to her. “The wealth divide is one of our biggest health care problems” and is the cause of “the greatest disparity” in health outcomes. In 2009, she joined Physicians for a National Health Program, becoming a Congressional Fellow and opening a chapter in Maryland. She was arrested at a Senate Roundtable on Health Insurance for speaking on behalf of the single payer option. Margaret said in an interview: “our first goal was to have a seat at the table….If we couldn’t get a seat, at least we could expose the insincerity of the current attempt at healthcare reform and show that single payer was actively being excluded.”
Margaret views the struggle for health care as “part of a broader social, racial, economic and environmental justice movement.” She has organized campaigns to fight for state and federal single payer health care systems. In addition, Margaret provided leadership and took on corporations focusing on the issue of net neutrality, the concept that everyone should have equal access to the Internet regardless of their usage or ability to pay.
I met Margaret during the Freedom Plaza Occupy Movement in Washington, DC where she helped me organize the Occupy EPA demonstrations.
Below, Margaret provides her reflections and analysis on running as the 2016 Green Party candidate for the US Senate in Maryland.
Adebayo: What political and cultural lessons did you learn from running against the Democratic and Republican machines?
Flowers: Running for office in Maryland taught me that the major political party machines, especially the Democratic Party, are pervasive in our state. Their tentacles reach deep into the non-profit organizations, the media, the polling organizations and the universities.
There is a culture in the state that is trapped in the duopoly. People are so used to thinking in terms of just Democrats and Republicans that they have a hard time comprehending that there are more than two parties. It is almost like a habit. When confronted with the reality that the media, non-profits, polls and universities were excluding our campaign, the most common responses were that this is how it has always been or that they excluded us because they could.
It was disappointing that the Maryland League of Women Voters, which is supposed to be nonpartisan and educate voters about their choices on the ballot, imposed an arbitrary high polling criterion that was used to keep me out of debates. It was disappointing that a public university, the University of Baltimore, which sponsored the only televised senate debate in Maryland, shut down political discourse by excluding me even though I would have provided a perspective that was not heard in the debate.
It was interesting to see how the media and polling organizations create a Catch-22 situation for alternative party candidates. Early on in my campaign, when public pressure was applied, the Baltimore Sun published one article on my campaign that mostly argued that I had no chance of winning and that I was mostly like a Democrat. Their failure to cover my campaign early on, or to even mention that I was running when they covered the other candidates, made it less likely that I would reach potential donors and volunteers. This made it less likely that I would poll well, especially since there were few polls that included me and they were done in September. As a result, my low polling numbers were used to justify my exclusion from events.
When our campaign did reach people, we received a very welcoming response. People are interested in a broader discussion of the crises we are facing and solutions to them. The solutions that I support are widely supported by the public.
And finally, it was interesting to see how so-called progressive organizations are trapped inside the Democratic Party and fail to understand that as long as they are complicit with the Democrats, they have no power. They fail to understand that their undying support for Democrats basically means that they are taken for granted. Unfortunately, “progressive” organizations endorsed Van Hollen and Clinton, even though their platforms include support for fracking and war and only partial solutions to the crises in education, healthcare and other human rights violations. This support and undying commitment of so-called “progressive” organizations to the Democratic Party defies logic.
Adebayo: In your opinion, how can the Green Party use the momentum of your state campaign as well as the national Stein/Baraka campaign to create a more effective popular grass-roots movement?
Flowers: It is already happening. New Green Party locals are forming around the state of Maryland. The current locals are growing. Many of the people who are involved in the locals are also involved in advocacy and activism, so there is a natural synergy. It is our task now to continue to nurture and grow that for the next election and to encourage greater collaboration and visibility of the Green Party with local movements.
Personally, my next focus will be to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). We are organizing to stop it from being ratified by Congress after the election. If we stop that, it will be a huge victory of popular power over corporate power. We can build off that to encourage more people to rise up and demand that the political agenda protect people and the planet.
Adebayo: How do third party organizations, such as the Green Party, fight the political, financial and media dominance of the two major corporate parties?
Flowers: This is a David and Goliath fight, but we have truth and justice on our side. The message of the Green Party resonates with people because we talk about real issues that they experience in their lives and solutions that they want to see. We are working to expose the media blackout and to encourage people to demand that the media and debates are more inclusive. And we are learning to use social media platforms to reach people. One aspect of the campaign that is very heartening is the commitment of the volunteers. People are donating their skills in filmmaking and graphic design. People are doing regular outreach and visibility actions across the state. It is truly amazing and it energizes me to see it.
Adebayo: As you reflect on your Senate campaign, what strategies worked best to encourage activism and what stratagems could you have employed to elicit more public support?
Flowers: Running a statewide campaign is a challenge. Some of the best experiences that I had were doing one-on-one outreach around the state. I would definitely do more of that if I ran again. And holding volunteer training sessions is critical for people to develop comfort with outreach strategies. I am sure that there is more that I could do, but at this point I am still focused on completing this campaign. Then we will debrief more.
Dr. Marsha Adebayo is the author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated: No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). She is Director of Transparency and Accountability for the Green Shadow Cabinet and serves on the Advisory Board of ExposeFacts.com.