"The Arab Spring was about people taking their rights and taking their dignity and Occupy Wall Street is about asserting our rights and asserting our dignity." - US House Candidate Steven "Cody" Reynolds
BY KRIST NOVOSELIC Portland Oregon - November 23, 2011
I wrote a recent article for the Seattle Weekly about Steven Reynolds, Progressive Party Candidate for US House in this January's special election in Oregon's CD 1. I was struck by how much the Progressive Party platform mirrors sentiments of the Occupy Portland movement, so I contacted Reynolds and we sat down for an interview.
OWS and others stormed the first day of Washington State’s special legislative session last month. Now #OccupyPDX can storm the halls of congress by way of the public ballot. If OWS really is the 99 percent, with this election, they only need 25 percent +1 to win! And a strong second or third place could send a variety of messages to the movement across the nation about engaging electoral politics – just in time to get ready for the November 2012 election.
Krist Novoselic: Let’s start with the Progressive Party. How long have you been associated with this group?
Steven Reynolds: I was taking courses at Portland State University and I always considered myself a Democrat. I was in a class with a lady who was a member of the candidate discovery committee for the Oregon Progressive Party. It was a constitutional law course and we were talking about issues that affect everybody. She liked my rationale and suggested I come down to a Progressive Party meeting and find out what they are about. I started attending the meetings and liked their platform. If you check out the Progressive Party platform, you’ll find out that they are not fringe people. Their issues are real and affect people. I supported the platform but hadn’t really considered running for office until this summer when the debt ceiling debacle occurred and I just sort of got angry. It’s ridiculous that we are paying these politicians and all they are doing is bickering while people are hurting and I have a real problem with that.
I have gone to the Progressive Party website and I looked at their policy platform. I’m not a Occupy Wall Streeter myself, but from what I understand your Party platform seems like a mirror of the issues Occupy Wall Street are advocating.
That’s really true. The core issues of the platform are that we were against the bailouts from the very beginning. It was corporate welfare. We are for higher tax margins on the top one percent. What is really the difference in making 150 million dollars a year and 200 million dollars a year? What is that, another super yacht? I don’t think it matters significantly to the person who is making that kind of money. We have an accelerating income gap between the 99% and the 1% that needs to be addressed. Other core issues; we are against cooperate personhood. I am a member of the Oregon Move to Amend Movement. We are drafting proposals for the Portland City Council to pass a resolution condemning the Citizens United case and asking an amendment to the constitution be made to reflect the fact that corporations are not people and money is not speech. These are three very important issues that mesh with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Now there are some fringe elements in the Occupy Wall Street movement, people who may have anger that may be a little misplaced and they might be a little misinformed, but that anger America has is real and does need to be addressed.
The whole anti-corporate personhood thing. So a corporation or a group will not have rights? Can a city like Springfield, Oregon pass a resolution banning Nirvana CDs? Do you think they should have the ability to do that because Nirvana is on a corporate label and a corporation doesn’t have rights?
Well I think there is a distinct difference in that we’re talking about Nirvana’s label which is music and guaranteed expression of free speech. What we are talking about is corporations being able to spend money to affect the political outcome of an election. In the event that Nirvana starts spending money to influence elections, then yes I would say that they would lose that right to speech because our government is for the people. It is not for the business and when businesses have an interest in government, they need to exercise their influence in a manner that is fair. They have essentially unlimited resources. These mega-corporation do and you and I don’t. We have what we have and that’s it.
Citizens United really had to do with associations and groups. The ruling mentions the Sierra Club, they mention NRA. It was about a group being able to express itself because Citizens United was this right-wing group and you know this…
Yes, there was this thing with Hilary Clinton
This group Citizens United made this hack job film about Hilary Clinton. The old law said associations like a corporation or a labor union couldn’t spend money so many days before an election. If PETA wanted to make a film about some candidate that supported slaughtering horses, before Citizens United a group like PETA couldn’t spend money. The Citizens United ruling also favored transparency with political contributions. And that could be seen as a nod on how to fix things. Citizens United wanted to hide who their donors were and the Court said they couldn’t do that. We need to think long and hard before we take rights away from groups. You and I agree that corporations have too much power and that they spend too much. But perhaps with solutions, we have a different perspective.
Okay, so I think the fundamental difference is that groups like PETA, groups like the NRA they’re represented by people and they don’t have a profit incentive. They have a message. Corporations have a profit incentive. Corporations have boards of directors. If they had a separate board of directors that directed their speech based on a representation of their shareholders, maybe I’d have less of a problem with it but right now, they’re advocating on behalf of what’s best for them to make money and not what’s in the best interest for the people.
I see Occupy Wall Street with parallels to Arab Spring. Do you think it’s fair to say that?
I think that the Arab Spring was about people taking their rights and taking their dignity and Occupy Wall Street is about asserting our rights and asserting our dignity. We in the United States have been fortunate to live in a free society that is maybe becoming less free and people are recognizing that and they are standing up and saying that that is not okay. Where as in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, they said, “We are not free. Let’s take our freedom. Let’s fight for it.”
Let’s look at Tunisia and Egypt. What came out of these struggles were free and fair elections. A big improvement over the tyranny the people suffered under. So is there any sense in Occupy Wall Street, not that you speak on their behalf, but do you see what the next step is? Instead of camping in some park, perhaps it’s time to engage the electoral system like a special election for the United States House of Representatives in northwest Oregon in January.
You’re setting me up, but yeah, this is the last national election before another cycle starts before fall of 2012. If Oregon 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 entrenched politicians. Challenge them, challenge these people. Challenge them from the right. Challenge them from the left, but make them defend their values because right now they are not. They are voting with the interest of staying elected and not in the interest of their constituents. I don’t think politicians respect their constituents because if they did we wouldn’t be having the issues we are having right now.
So there is all this energy on the streets. People are excited. There’s a mobilization. Do people in the movement recognize Steven Reynolds for United States House? Do they recognize the Progressive Party and are they willing to go and put that energy in things like knocking on doors?
So, I have had a real problem just getting my message out. People don’t know I exist but once people know that I exist they don’t disagree with my message.
You went to West Point.
I graduated from West Point and duty, honor, country; those words mean something to me. I have always had a strong commitment to service. As far as the Occupy Wall Street movement goes, I am not trying co-opt the movement. I was angry before the movement started and I put my name in to run before Occupy Wall Street started. But we do have the same goals. I think that if enough people know that I exist and they know that I am serious about winning that they will put that energy behind me.
There was an open seat for the United States House across the river in Washington’s third congressional district in 2010. There was a record amount of money spent. Most of it coming from outside of the district – 7 million dollars. A lot of that money went to television advertising and of course those slick mailers you get every other day. Bogus groups, like “People for Fairness” or “People for blah, blah, blah” -- when these were the usual lobbies. Anyway, there was a candidates debate sponsored on KATU television here in Portland and yourself, along with James Foster the Libertarian Party candidate, were excluded. Do you know how much money respectively or combined have the Republican and Democratic candidates raised so far in this race?
Well as of the Primary election, Susan Bonamici had raised nearly $600,000 and Rob Cornilles has raised close to $650,000. I’ve raised a total of a few hundred dollars. I can’t win if it comes down to money. I’m only accepting donations of up to $50. I mean the Republican and Democratic candidates they go through a process that is known as bundling. They bundle individual contributions and that’s not free money. That’s money that comes with a string. That’s a favor that they owe someone. Every time you see a politicians face on television that is a favor that they owe someone
Did the major party candidates buy television advertising during the primary campaign?
Steven: Yes, Susan Bonamici, was on television three, four times an evening on multiple television stations. And, Rob Cornilles essentially ran unopposed. His brand of conservatism in any other state would be a Democratic platform essentially. Yes, he was running television commercials also.
Do you know how much the rate is for a thirty second ad on the 5:00 pm news in the Portland media market?
I haven’t even raised enough money to bother checking. No I do not.
Because you haven’t spent a dime on television advertising and you don’t have enough money to do so, are you surprised at all that you weren’t invited to this debate?
Yes. I think 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 everybodies 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 be crazy because I have never heard of them. When that’s not the case at all. They haven’t heard of them because they are being marginalized by the corporate parties and the corporate media.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Really, I would challenge people to go to the Progressive Party website and look at what our platform is. Evaluate it. Does it align with your values and if it does I would ask you to vote your values come January when you have the chance. Don’t choose who you think has a chance of winning. Choose who you want to win. If you want me to win, I’m going to win.
Here are some more of my thoughts regarding OWS engaging elections. (Seattle Weekly Nov, 16, 2011) HOW OCCUPY WALL STREET CAN OCCUPY THE BALLOT BOX