I have no long-term aspirations to be a United States Senator, or to be elected to any public office for that matter. My life is more than full with the projects I am involved with: doing investigative journalism for the Confluence (a local, independent bimonthly); organizing around safe-food/anti-biotechnology, peace, justice and rabble rousing in general; and, of course, working to build the Missouri Green Party.
Although the Greens spent many hours gathering signatures to gain ballot status for 2002, no one stepped forward to fill the most important top of the ticket: the senatorial candidacy. I lamented to my comrades, "How can we spend all this time gathering signatures and not run a Senate candidate?!" So, reluctantly, I was nominated as one of six Green Party candidates in Missouri last July. "I'll be little more than a name on the ballot," I thought at the time. "My voice will be like a mouse's in a hurricane." Little did I know that I would soon be thrust into the middle of a hotly contested Senate race (albeit only for a moment).
The campaign started in September with a statewide tour featuring an international cause celèbre. Over four days, I drove with Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser to seven Missouri cities to raise support for his legal battle against Monsanto. Percy is an "everyman" who has spoken all over the world telling how his canola crop was contaminated by pollen from genetically modified plants. Monsanto, the evil biotech corporation, sued him for patent infringement, and has already won decisions in lower and appellate-level Canadian Federal Courts (the case is bound for the Canadian Supreme Court). I spoke and introduced him at all our stops, content to play second fiddle to someone whom I felt had a heroic stature.
Last October 24, the campaign shifted into overdrive when I participated in the debate in Columbia with the other three senatorial candidates. For a long time beforehand, I was in a sort of denial the major party candidates wouldn't really appear at such a forum with an upstart radical from the fledgling Green Party, would they? The sponsors of the debate the Associated Press, the Missouri Society of Newspaper Editors and the Columbia Daily Tribune had insisted, however, that the Libertarian candidate and I be included.
It all seemed surreal as I walked onto the stage at Columbia College that day. I stood before a panel of journalists from around the state and a crowd of 500 people, plus a national audience viewing via C-Span. To say I was nervous would be an understatement; I was petrified. I made a few gaffes. I swear to God I meant to say, "A missile defense system could NOT have prevented the September 11 attacks." (Unfortunately, I left out the word NOT.) I still wince when I view the videotape of the debate and watch my brow wrinkle every time I spoke.
When Jim Talent spoke of "environmentally sensitive drilling" in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, I got to respond and correct the record. As is apparent to anyone who studies the industry's record (except for stockholders, perhaps), there is no such thing as "environmentally sensitive oil drilling." Jim and I also tangled over Iraq. "Digger, I disagree with you that this is a war for oil. This is a war to stop terrorists," he said, responding to my previous remarks. (Sorry Jim, you were wrong again.)
Jean Carnahan looked... well, rather pathetic during the episode of shaking her finger at and scolding Talent, "You have no right to question my patriotism!" When asked if we supported reparations for African-Americans, she totally evaded the question with a liberal, I-have-black-people-as-friends answer. Scott Charton, the moderator, followed up by asking, "Was that a yes or a no, Mrs. Carnahan?" ("That was a no," she replied sheepishly.) Seated right next to her up on the stage, I couldn't help but feeling a bit sorry for her and her doomed campaign.
The Libertarian candidate, Tamara Millay, was certainly dressed and ready for the role. However, her responses revealed the Libertarian's schizzy platform: sort of liberal on civil liberties and foreign policy, ultra-conservative on economic, labor and environmental issues. Well, she ended up getting more votes than me statewide, so I'd better stop here before someone accuses me of crying "sour grapes"!
After the debate, I became a minor celebrity of sorts, with incessant phone calls and e-mail messages from friends, family, strangers, the press, detractors, and admirers. I had gained the "15 minutes of fame" promised by Andy Warhol. I was invited to appear on TV news shows, radio talk shows and was even interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. In a Post-Dispatch column, Kevin Horrigan railed on me as a "fringe party candidate" who "looked like he slept under a bridge and talked about the Zapatistas and Subcommander Marcos in Mexico as his political role model." (Note to Kevin: I took it as a compliment.)
Ultimately of course, I Iost, but 10,484 brave voters registered their discontent with the status quo by voting for me. The Greens did not get enough votes to gain statewide ballot status, but Jason Murphy's impressive total in his bid for St. Louis City License Collector (15 percent of the vote!) allows us to run candidates for the St. Louis Board of Alderman next spring. And for a brief, shining moment, I got to thumb my nose at the political establishment.
On the street now, strangers frequently stop and tell me, "I saw you on television!" and, "I voted for you!" It is as if I have become some sort of a hero. Well, I've had enough of being anyone's hero. A real hero is that ordinary person who does what needs to be done when no one else will.
Everyone can be a hero, if they will only be courageous and take a stand when the time comes. Please do not wait for me or anyone else to save you and/or be your hero. That was the underlying theme of my campaign: It is time for YOU to stand up, speak out against war and oppression, speak up for the poor and working people of this land (the real heroes), defend the earth, get rid of the bosses. Take a chance and be a hero you never know where it will lead.
digger, a.k.a. Daniel Romano, was the Missouri Green candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2002.