For many Americans watching the Danville vice presidential debate, the discourse presented in the context of two major parties yielded limited returns.
A conservative Democrat Joseph Lieberman and an even more conservative Republican Dick Cheney
looked like two Wal-Marts "competing" on not-so-opposite ends of town rather than a robust marketplace of ideas.
"Democracy is challenged by the diminishing number of voices," said Winona LaDuke, the Green Party's vice presidential nominee who visited Lexington and Danville for the debates that she was prohibited from participating in.
"Non-voters are the single largest party, not Democrats or Republicans," remarked LaDuke, a 1982 Harvard graduate who lives on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota where she works on environmental and Native American issues.
Voter disillusionment is mirrored in the debates that exclude third party candidates, LaDuke said.
"We need to have more, not fewer, voices," she said.
LaDuke used her appearances at the University of Kentucky and Centre College to air some of the issues missing from this year's presidential discourse.
"I live in one of the poorest counties in Minnesota with an increasingly smaller number of farmers... a result of bad farm policy concentrating power in fewer and fewer hands," LaDuke said.
Corporate control of agriculture is an issue that greatly impacts Kentucky where giant factory farms threaten to overwhelm their neighboring communities. LaDuke also called for the legalization of industrial hemp which is crucial to many Kentucky tobacco farmers looking for a new crop to grow.
Yet, neither of those issues rank high on the list of priorities for the two major parties, she noted.
In another tip of the hat to local concerns, LaDuke mentioned Lexington's sanitation workers as examples of those Americans seeing their incomes stagnate or fall behind as CEO salaries race far ahead.
"Our campaign supports economic dignity and justice, not charity," LaDuke said.
Steve Hamm sat outside the entrance to the festivities area on Centre College's campus with a sign declaring himself to be on a hunger strike in protest of third party exclusion from the debates.
Hamm, 54, reported his strike began September 30 and he traveled to Danville after appearing at the first presidential debate in Boston.
"So far so good," said Hamm. "It's been six days. I get a little dizzy and weak sometimes, but it passes."
Hamm said he is a computer consultant from Washington state. When asked what gave him the idea to go on a hunger strike, he responded: "Gandhi."
"I believe this is a viable, non-violent way to make a difference," Hamm said.
Hamm called on people to contact the presidential debate commission and ask that third party candidates be allowed in. To date, third party candidates are still blocked from the debates. At press, there was no word as to how Hamm's hunger strike is progressing.
One of the high water marks of the day-long protest was an evening parade of about 300 people past Centre College and through some Danville neighborhoods.
Several tense moments occurred during the march, including the point at which marchers filled the streets in defiance of a police order to remain on the sidewalks.
One worried protester said, "I want a sign saying, 'I'm on the sidewalk.'"
Billionaires for Bush (or Gore)
You can't say the Danville activists lacked a sense of humor.
Breathing life into the lost art of satire, a handful of protesters dressed like cartoonish socialites from some bizarro vision of The Great Gatsby pranced merrily alongside the rest of the marching protesters.
Calling themselves the "Billionaires for Bush (or Gore)," these activists cheered the two-party system that has yielded candidates sharing the same positions on many economic issues.
As the marchers chanted "This is what democracy looks like," the Billionaires gleefully answered, "This is what plutocracy looks like!"
If you want to see what this bunch looks like, visit their web site at www.billionairesfor bushorgore.com.
On the web page, you can see the disturbing photo of George Bush and Al Gore morphed into a single candidate. The page also contains a run down of Bush and Gore's commonalities - for example, they both support "free trade," oppose tying the minimum wage to the cost of living, and are mediocre golfers.
Alex De Grand can be reached at 225-4889 ext. 232 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Kentucky visitors to a recent CNN site, filled with news of the vice presidential debates, could click on a helpful link to Danville
(www. cnn.com/ 2000 /ALLPOLITICS / stories/10/06/debate. wrap/index.html), where they could learn all about Danville.... Illinois.
Patients' bill of rights fight
On October 9 health care advocates gathered outside Congressman Ernie Fletcher's office to urge him to do what he can to stop the stall the patients' bill of rights is currently experiencing. The Norwood Dingell bill - a patients' bill of rights passed by the House of Representatives - is now stalled because the Senate has passed a much different bill. Fletcher is a member of the House-Senate conference committee convened to resolve the differences to the two bills, but activists, including members of Families USA, a non-profit non-partisan health care consumer group, charge that the legislation needs to pass through Congress this month before they adjourn for the year.
"More than 17 million Americans have had health care delayed or denied by their HMOs while a sorely-needed Patients' Bill of Rights remains stalled by Senate inaction," says Jeff Kirsch, Deputy Executive Director of Families USA.
But according to Wes Irvin, a spokesperson for the Fletcher campaign, Congressman Fletcher won't push through a bill that he thinks inadequate. "The Senate bill didn't go quite as far as Fletcher wanted it to, and the House bill went too far," says Irvin. He's doing all he can at this point, Irvin points out. "It's not a political issue. It's not a Republican issue." -ST
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