Thursday, October 16, 2008

LaRiva battles ballot access and media access

LaRiva battles ballot access and media access

"I hear people say, 'There's socialists? There's actually socialist parties? I didn't think they existed.' We get no media access," presidential candidate Gloria LaRiva said over coffee in Iowa City. "We can hardly get through."

Presidential candidate who? Look at your ballot. She's there, along with Obama and McCain and six others in Iowa -- Gloria LaRiva, nominee of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. She had the time to give this member of the media a 45 minute world exclusive interview -- something I failed to obtain from her Republican opponent the next day.

Presidential candidate Gloria LaRiva addresses a crowd of about 20 on the University of Iowa campus.
Presidential candidate Gloria LaRiva addresses a crowd of about 20 on the University of Iowa campus.

It's hard to picture the serious LaRiva, visiting Iowa City as part of a driving tour that took her to Louisiana, Tennessee, and Chicago, as a Letterman or Leno guest. She says she is never asked the kinds of personal questions about things like family or musical tastes that the major party candidates are asked about. "They ask me 'president of what?'" she says, and then voters, and LaRiva, quickly move on to the issues.

LaRiva, whose day job is as Typographical Sector of the Northern California Media Workers Union, Communication Workers of America, says she's in an unusual position for a third party candidate in that she actually represents majority opinion, citing health care as one example.

"When you hear Obama and McCain talk about health care, McCain is obviously for privatizing health care because he speaks to the rich. Obama's audience is the working class, but it's hard without a leftist or progressive explanation to know what he's saying. What did he say the other day in the debate? He said 'we will make it more accessible for people to buy insurance from all the plans that Congresspeople are entitled to. And if millions of more people buy insurance, it'll lower the price of the premiums.' Says who? There's no discussion about limiting how much insurance companies can charge you for health care. There's no solution to the health care crisis with Obama or McCain."

"What do we say? End the war now. Use the military budget to provide health care. It should be provided by government. That should be the role of government, to make sure everybody has the right to see a doctor and have preventive care simply because they're human."

This is LaRiva's second presidential bid. She was the nominee of the Worker's World Party in 1992, was their vice presidential candidate four times, and has also run for state and local office in California. "Since I've run so many times, I've learned that people take elections very seriously."

The new Party of Socialism and Liberation was founded in 2004, and this is their first time on the presidential ballot. "We've accomplished quite a lot in our four years of existence," said LaRiva. "The fact that our first time out we are on the ballot in more states, twelve, than other socialist parties, is quite a feat. It's an endeavor to get on any state ballot." Iowa requires 1,500 signatures to get on the presidential ballot. LaRiva and volunteers gathered the names during June, when they also helped sandbag flooded areas.

"The fact that third parties have to go from state to state to get on the ballot, while the Democrats and Republicans are on automatically, shows that the game is locked up for them."

Ballot access is one barrier for third parties of the left, but LaRiva says the Democratic Party is also a barrier. "They have historically been the party that captivates and co-opts the movement."

LaRiva lives in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco congressional district, and helped antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan get on the ballot against Pelosi. "There were a lot of progressive people saying, 'Why are you doing this, (Pelosi)'s the best hope we have' --even though she voted for the war budget and against impeachment."

"He's raised a lot of good ideas," LaRiva says of Democrat Dennis Kucinich. "A lot of people are still wedded to the Democratic Party but very unhappy, or think it's the only viable option." But she added even a Democrat like Kucinich had trouble getting media access.

"Even though the Democrats, when they were running in 2006 said 'elect us and we'll end the war,' they used it simply for political purposes," said LaRiva. "Both parties have financed every dollar. It's interesting to even now hear Obama say 'I was against the war from the beginning,' when every vote for emergency funding has been unanimous. So they're both guilty," she said of the major parties.

"A lot of the people we've met, from New Orleans to Tennessee, Iowa, everywhere we're going, there's a strong sentiment for Obama. Which is fine. I mean it's understandable, because all they see is two choices," said LaRiva But they are very open to what we think."

"The financial crisis is due to the deregulation of the last 20 years," is what LaRiva thinks of the bailout bill. "The right wing always talks about less government, less government, but what they really mean is less government on the right of capital to exploit." She is calling for the prosecution of those responsible. "They're getting rewarded and given a free ride. Congress can't even find the guts to limit executive pay." Then LaRiva corrected herself: "Not pay -- pay is when you work for it."

"They're guilty of war crimes," in Iraq, LaRiva says of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and others in the administration, hoping they will eventually be prosecuted. "The progressive movement, of which we're very much a part, has over the years had tribunals, indictments, and people's prosecutions. It's very necessary for the historical record."

In Iowa, five of the nine candidates on the ballot can generally be described as "left." But as for the thought that the multiple candidates of the left split the vote, LaRiva disagrees. "It's a question a lot of people new to the movement ask; why not just have one candidate? But if all the left got together, we're still not big enough. We really work together in many ways. We don't spend our time fighting each other. We all have our different areas and outreach, and together it adds a lot."

La Riva describes one of her opponents -- though she certainly wouldn't characterize Green presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney as an "opponent" -- as a "great friend," and it doesn't sound like the My Great Friend platitudes major party politicians pile on each other (usually the pile gets deeper the less they like each other). "We support each other very much," she said. "And Ralph Nader has a right to run and a right to be considered a legitimate presidential candidate."

LaRiva doesn't indulge in the vanity of some obscure contenders who rhetorically pretend they're going to be elected. "I know where we'll be" at noon next Jan. 20, said LaRiva. "We'll be in Washington at a counter-inaugural."

"It'll be interesting in 2009," she said of the next inauguration. "Probably Obama will win, if things continue as they are with the economy. And if he wins, it'll be thoughtful for us to figure out how to have a counter-inaugural in the wake of a historic development of the first African American president. We will want to take note of that and recognize the achievement and what it means for the African American community and all of the United States. At the same time, we know that that will not make a change in terms of the end of the war, employment for people. And Obama will be the head of an imperialist government in a capitalist country."

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