Kensington activist makes bid to turn the White House ‘green’

Cheri Honkala, a West Kens­ing­ton mom and long-time anti-poverty act­iv­ist, is the Green Party's can­did­ate for vice pres­id­ent and on the bal­lot in 48 states. But third-party can­did­ates are shut out of the de­bates due to what she called an un­fair sys­tem.

This Novem­ber, River Wards res­id­ents will see a loc­al mom on the bal­lot for vice pres­id­ent of the United States. But al­though Amer­ic­ans in 48 states can vote for Green Party vice pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Cheri Honkala and her run­ning mate, pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Jill Stein, neither wo­man was al­lowed to par­ti­cip­ate in the pres­id­en­tial or vice pres­id­en­tial de­bates.

In fact, Honkala and Stein were both ar­res­ted yes­ter­day after be­ing for­cibly pre­ven­ted from en­ter­ing Hof­stra Uni­versity, in Hemp­stead, NY, where the second pres­id­en­tial de­bate was held. The two wo­men had sat down in the street after giv­ing an im­promptu press con­fer­ence. Loc­al po­lice ar­res­ted them for “ob­struct­ing traffic,” which Stein’s law­yer Alex Howard called “bogus.”  

“If you can math­em­at­ic­ally win the elec­tion, you should have a place at the de­bates,” Honkala, 49, said in an in­ter­view last week. “It’s time for us to get up to speed with the rest of the world and ac­tu­ally have a demo­cracy, where maybe there can be five polit­ic­al parties, ten parties or fif­teen parties.”

The pres­id­en­tial and vice pres­id­en­tial de­bates are or­gan­ized by the non-par­tis­an, non-profit Com­mis­sion on Pres­id­en­tial De­bates, whose cri­ter­ia for in­vit­ing can­did­ates since 2011 are that they must be eli­gible to take of­fice, are on the bal­lots of enough states to en­sure they can get the Elect­or­al Col­lege votes needed for vic­tory and that their parties have the sup­port of at least 15 per­cent of the na­tion­al elect­or­ate. Ac­cord­ing to in­form­a­tion on the CPD Web site, that sup­port is meas­ured by tak­ing an av­er­age of five most re­cent pub­licly polling res­ults. The Green Party doesn’t re­gister sup­port from more than 5 per­cent of the elect­or­ate.

Honkala, however, did have a chance to par­ti­cip­ate in the de­bates – in­dir­ectly — through the TV and ra­dio news pro­gram Demo­cracy Now, which has been broad­cast­ing minor party can­did­ates’ re­sponses to the ques­tions posed in the pres­id­en­tial de­bates. (Vis­it www.demo­cracy­ for a list of loc­al par­ti­cip­at­ing sta­tions.)

Last week on the show, Honkala de­scribed the Green Party’s vis­ion for Amer­ica.

“We need to bring our sol­diers home and turn them in­to or­gan­ic farm­ers,” Honkala said dur­ing the de­bate. “We need to turn un­em­ploy­ment cen­ters in­to em­ploy­ment cen­ters. We can put the home­less to work paint­ing aban­doned houses. There are more aban­doned houses than home­less people in this coun­try.”

Honkala, of Mut­ter Street in West Kens­ing­ton, nev­er has held polit­ic­al of­fice, but she’s been polit­ic­ally in­volved for the past three dec­ades. She is the founder of the Kens­ing­ton Wel­fare Rights Uni­on and the Poor People’s Eco­nom­ic Hu­man Rights Cam­paign.

As a moth­er who has lived on wel­fare and was home­less, Honkala said she knows what it’s like to struggle.

“I’ve been across the coun­try talk­ing to people, and un­like Mitt Rom­ney and [Barack] Obama, there isn’t a dis­con­nect,” Honkala said.

“I know how much it costs to buy a loaf of bread, a gal­lon of milk,” she said. “I know what it’s like work two to three jobs, to struggle to make rent. I’ve talked to people los­ing their homes to fore­clos­ure and seni­ors shar­ing their medi­cine.”

Honkala said she be­lieves in the Green Party be­cause it doesn’t ac­cept dona­tions from cor­por­a­tions, and, as she put it, the party of­fers “people a real choice.”

“People are go­ing to have the op­por­tun­ity to cast the vote that’s about their own choice and a fu­ture for their chil­dren, in­stead of vot­ing for the less­er of two evils,” Honkala said. “It’s like an ab­us­ive re­la­tion­ship. If some­body keeps throw­ing you down the stairs, it is OK to leave that re­la­tion­ship.”

Honkala has been stump­ing for the “New Green Deal,” the party’s polit­ic­al-ac­tion plan. It in­cludes end­ing all for­eign mil­it­ary in­volve­ment, rais­ing taxes on the rich, leg­al­iz­ing and tax­ing marijuana, and us­ing funds from those av­en­ues for schools, so­cial pro­grams and gov­ern­ment-work pro­grams with a fo­cus in “green” in­dus­tries like wind­mills, sol­ar power and or­gan­ic farm­ing.

“I live in Kens­ing­ton and Pennsylvania, and I love my neigh­bors, my state, and my coun­try, but I haven’t seen either of the polit­ic­al parties do any­thing about what people are fa­cing,” she said.

Honkala com­pared liv­ing on Mut­ter Street to a liv­ing in a “war zone.” She said that she lives next to a crack house and that her 10-year-old son, Guillermo, has wit­nessed knife fights in the street.

Honkala said that, at this point in her life, she is com­mit­ted to ad­voc­at­ing for the peace­ful for­eign policies and so­cially pro­gress­ive do­mest­ic policies that the Green Party rep­res­ents.

“I’m a part of con­tinu­ing to build the Green Party in Phil­adelphia and Pennsylvania and across this coun­try be­cause I that’s the kind of demo­cracy and fu­ture I want to cre­ate for my kids,” she said. “I want them to be able to have a fair and hon­est and demo­crat­ic elect­or­al sys­tem, in their life­time, where we take the money out of polit­ics.”

Honkala ran as Green Party can­did­ate for Phil­adelphia sher­iff in 2011. It was her first cam­paign. She said Philly is a tough place to be out­side the polit­ic­al main­stream. In pres­id­en­tial elec­tions, Green Party can­did­ates typ­ic­ally have got­ten 2 per­cent to 3 per­cent of the vote.

“I think that Pennsylvania and Phil­adelphia are very hos­tile to­ward third parties and very threatened by [them],” she said. “When you have an out­sider with new ideas, try­ing to link people to an in­de­pend­ent polit­ic­al party that is not fun­ded by cor­por­a­tions, that’s kind of threat­en­ing.”

Honkala is look­ing for­ward to re­turn­ing to her work at home after the cam­paign if she’s not elec­ted, and con­tinu­ing to ad­voc­ate for the poor in Kens­ing­ton.

“I’m com­ing home, and I’m com­ing home hard,” she said. “I love Philly, and we can’t let it go to the rich guys. It be­longs to our neigh­bors.”

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­

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