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.democracynow.org 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.