Every quarter, Positive Activism seeks to discover a new activist and find out what what really makes them tick! This spotlight piece features Asher Platts. Asher, of Portland Maine, has been involved with activism since he was a child thanks in large part to his mom. In his adult life, continued that struggle into the electoral arena. This led Asher to join the Maine Green Party Steering Committee and eventually run with the Maine Greens for State Senate. Here Asher shares his story of how he came to be so involved with the Greens and offers inspiration to those considering becoming involved with the political system.
Sarah: Thanks for taking the time to talk. Seems like you’re a super busy guy. What sort of things have you been working on lately?
Asher: Well, I’m currently serving on the Maine Green Independent Party’s Steering Committee as a volunteer. That takes up quite a bit of time. We’re working on building out our volunteer committees that are under the State Committee, as one way to get the public more involved. We have a bunch of goals that we’re keeping track of all at once, and it can take up quite a bit of mental bandwidth. One of which is doubling the number of candidates for state legislature in 2016 from 15 to 30. In order to do that, we’re going to need to do a lot of work this year in growing our active membership.
So we’re brainstorming all sorts of different ways to engage with the public and attract new members, as well as doing “consciousness raising” to get people thinking about Green ideas, and think about why the Green Party is an important organization and why it’s important to run as a Green as opposed to running either as an independent, or as a Democrat or Republican.
I currently have a job with the Green Shadow Cabinet, where I serve as director. That’s part time. I also do other things to supplement my income, like painting, graphic design work, consulting, etc. I’m looking for another part time job currently.
Some people might not be familiar with the Green party, can you talk a little about what sets Greens apart from other parties?
Sure! So the Green Party of the United States was founded back in 1984 after a bunch of inspired activists had gone to Germany in the late 1970s when the German Green Party was first getting off the ground. One of those founding members was John Rensenbrink, a professor of Political Science at Bowdoin College (now retired). He still plays an active role in the party as Senior Advisor. We’re very lucky to still have him involved, he grew up in the midwest during a time when the Republican Party still had a progressive legacy with the likes of Fighting Bob LaFollette being a not-so-distant memory. The Populist Farmer and Socialist Parties both still had elected members in US Congress and state legislatures around the USA back then. It’s interesting to have that perspective, because these things are easy to forget for us as a culture.
So, what sets the Green Party apart from the Democrats and the Republicans? We are the one national political party, with ballot access in enough states to win the Electoral College, that refuses to take corporate money, and has been able to avoid the sort of entrenched relationship to Wall Street that the other two parties have.
We have our intellectual legacy going back to the European anarchist/socialist left as well. So while I don’t think that we are in the middle of the Democrats and Republicans, our philosophy bridges the differences between the two.
We believe in Decentralized Government, which is supposedly a value shared by the Republican Party and the Tea Party. We want to reduce the size of government by eliminating government spending on the global war racket.
But we also believe in cooperation, economic democracy, and things far to the left of the Democratic Party.
How did you yourself get involved with the Green Party?
I first got interested in the Green Party because of Ralph Nader’s run in 2000. He was talking about things that actually interested me. Al Gore and George W Bush were both talking to an audience of people who were over 65 years old, primarily. Of course, those were pretty much the only demographic that votes with any consistency. I was a big fan of Michael Moore and other prominent leftists who came out in support of Ralph’s run in 2000, and I found that my values and ideas about how this country should be, (in fact, how I was taught this country was) aligned with the Green Party more than with the Democrats or Republicans. So I identified as being a Green ideologically, and voted for Green Party candidates when I got the chance, but I didn’t make the jump until later in 2007.
I used to think that the Demcoratic Party could be saved, or to be made more progressive. And of course, there are a lot of nonprofits that are dedicated to exactly that cause. It seems like there’s a new one every day: True Majority, Common Dreams, Democracy For America, MoveOn.org, Organizing For America, and so on. But they’ve cleared failed at that mission, and catastrophically so.
Because they have never been willing to challenge the power structures where it really counts– on election day. So they end up backing really quite moderate, or even right wing leaning Democrats simply because they aren’t Republicans, and it leads to the entire political spectrum shifting to the right.
In 2003 and 2007, I worked for Dennis Kucinich in the DNC (Democratic National Convention) primaries. He was a real leftist candidate. I worked for the campaign out of their headquarters office in Cleveland, and then was dispatched around the USA as the primaries came and went through 2008.
In 2006, I had registered as a Green to support Pat LaMarche, but it was only a brief blip as being a Green. I still identified as being a Green, but I was in the Democratic Party for what I told myself were strategic reasons.
I was a canvass director for Kucinich in New Hampshire, and it drove me absolutely batty, that door after door, we were being told that people agreed with Kucinich, but didn’t want to vote for him in the primaries because they didn’t think he had a chance at winning. This sort of “prisoner’s dilemma” had taken over the Democratic Primary process, and people were voting for the lesser evil candidate in the PRIMARIES, which I thought was totally daft.
Working in the headquarters though, and attending the debates, and brushing elbows with the staffers of the other campaigns, I realized how little these people cared about the same things I did. They only cared about winning, they didn’t care about issues– except as a way to trick people into voting for their candidates. One staffer for the Hilary Clinton Campaign said to me, something along the lines of, “yeah, we’ll promise whatever, and if we get elected, we do what we can. But it doesn’t really matter. What matters is what’s polling well. That’s where you need to be, and that’s why Kucinich is going to lose.”
I also got to see the way the entire process is manipulated by the corporate media. We were excluded from the MSNBC debates, despite meeting the requirements for entry. Through all of the experiences I accumulated through that election cycle, and all the conversations I had with the people “making the sausage” and really seeing how the debates are manipulated, how access to the ideas of the candidates is manipulated– I mean in these debates, Clinton, Edwards, and Obama would be asked over 50% of the questions, and people like Kucinich and Mike Gravel were basically there as stage props.
If they cut in to respond to questions, they got booted from the next debate as punishment. If they get cut from the next debate, their polling drops, and then they have the excuse to exclude them from every debate thereafter– which is what almost happened with the MSNBC debate, but then they decided to just outright exclude him. A judge ruled that it was the corporation’s first amendment rights to do so. SO… I just saw first hand how totally corrupt the DNC is from the inside, and the corporate apparatus that surrounds it.
There is no path for reform within that structure. Obama was supposedly that reforming force, but we knew back during 2007 and 2008 that his biggest campaign contributors were Goldman Sachs, Wal Mart, etc.
It’s amazing to me, though, that you saw these things and realized they were corrupt, wrong and you didn’t want to be involved with that. A lot of people probably disagree with how these things are done but continue to engage with them regardless. That must have took a lot of courage to decide to fight against it.
Well, for me it was just a matter of logic.
At that point, I had spent 10 years within the Democratic Party as an activist, trying to elect progressive candidates.
There were two other experiences that led up to that breaking moment that made it clear to me that building the Green Party was the only viable option:
First, in 2002, Maine elected the first Green Party state rep in the USA, and then re-elected him in 2004.
Second, I had done work with this supposedly non-partisan progressive group to develop a slate of questions for candidates in my home town, and then based on the candidate questionnaires, we endorsed candidates and made voter guides.
Some of the questions that were really important to our campus chapter were things like Instant Runoff Voting, proportional representation, progressive taxation, and other pretty boilerplate progressive policies.
We tried to set up individual meetings with the candidates that we’d endorsed, and they decided to all meet us at once.
And they basically told us that they weren’t going to do any of the things that they said they supported in the questionnaires, because, “the system works fine the way it is.” So I saw that the Democrats were corrupt locally, and were corrupt nationally, and so by 2008, I was totally done.
How did you manage to stay invested in the issues after all these let downs? I think burnout for activists is a very real issue.
Well, we’re lucky that here in Maine we have a very strong Green Party, compared to many other states.
When I was an activist in the Democratic Party, I found myself engaging in conflict more with the organization that I was supposedly a part of more frequently than I was engaging in conflict with Republicans. It became clear to me that the biggest stumbling block to getting anything progressive done wasn’t the GOP blocking the DNC from doing it– it was the DNC and DNC donors preventing the DNC from pursuing progressive policies.
The issues, like single payer healthcare, environmental protection, trade policy that’s based on human rights, reducing military spending, these are all issues of life and death for people that I know.
I don’t think that any of us can afford to be burned out on the issues. If it becomes clear that a tool isn’t working, it should be discarded in favor of a tool that either works, or can be made to work eventually.
I never really identified as a Democrat, I viewed that organization as a tool. When it became clear that the tool was actually a hindrance rather than a help, I discarded it.
So that’s when I made the jump to the Green Party.
I sent emails to the Steering Committee at the national level, and at the state level, and wanted to get plugged in, and find out how I could help.
It was a bit of a struggle actually, because the Green Party nationally doesn’t do a great job of plugging people in, but thankfully, the Maine Greens had me join then at a Steering Committee meeting, and before I knew it was serving on committees, and eventually was elected to the Maine Greens Steering Committee myself.
How did you come to run for office? You ran for Senate, correct?
I had been asked to run a bunch of times prior. I was asked to run as a Green in 2004 against one of those same Democrats that eventually told my group to shove it. In retrospect, I kind of wish that I had.
In 2012, I found myself on the Steering Committee, and we couldn’t find a candidate to run for Senate in Portland. So I was asked by activists in the Portland Greens to put my name on the ballot, just as a place holder.
I am not really the “running for office” type of person. I like working behind the scenes, connecting with people on a person to person basis, but being in the limelight isn’t really my thing. I enjoyed being able to keep a low public profile.
During the course of getting on the ballot, and qualifying for the Clean Election system, the conversations I had with voters made me realize that nobody in the race was actually speaking to the issues that mattered to me. And that the issues that mattered to me, were the issues that mattered to most people. And so I began to run my campaign in earnest.
I ran again in 2014 because I had gotten quite a bit of support last time around, earning almost 30% of the vote.
The district was different and leaned more conservative, and my opponent had been very intelligent about setting himself up as a foil to our Republican governor in the media. Our Republican Governor was always attacking him, and that only boosted his support in Portland. Unfortunately, this sort of Red Team vs Blue Team mentality left the issues on the sideline. I also lost two friends to suicide that year, and I didn’t really have the energy to throw myself headlong into the campaign as I had two years prior.
I still managed to beat the Republican in the race though, which is promising. I think it’s important to realize that running for office and losing can be setting yourself up for a win down the line.
Ben Meikeljohn ran for some office, every year, for like 6 years. Eventually he won, just because people recognized his name.
Running for local office is really important too. It sets the stage for the future victories of other candidates running for higher office.
When Greens win at the local level, the public usually digs what they’re doing, and knowing what they are going to get, and knowing that they can actually win, people are more willing to vote Green for higher level office.
It goes both ways though. Running for State Senate, or for US Congress, or even for President, it gives you a bigger platform to reach out to more people, and you can act as a lightning rod for issues and actually boost the lower-level candidates chances as well.
So top of the ticket candidates are vital to the success of lower level candidates, but we aren’t going to see top of the ticket candidates win until we see more municipal and state level candidates winning and serving and doing a good job as elected officials.
So that’s another goal for the Maine Greens. (to bring us back to the beginning of the conversation)
Do you have any advice for any young people that might be either already thinking of someday running for office themselves or even just thinking about getting started in being more politically active?
So I’m going to be 32 this March, and I feel like I wasted half of the last 20 years fighting for progressive policy in the Democratic Party. My advice to young people would be to build the Green Party up from scratch, and to run for office, even if you don’t see yourself as the “run for office” type of person.
In fact, we need MORE PEOPLE who are not the “run for office” type of person. The people who want to run for office because they are egomaniacs– we’ve got a glut of those already, and they’re going to take the easy way to power by running as a Democrat if they are in a strongly blue district, or Republican if they are in a strongly red district.
I wish that I had spent the last 20 years building up the Green Party instead.
I think with the crisis of Climate Change bearing down on us, we just don’t have time to fight against the Wall Street interests within the DNC. We don’t have time to spend all our time and energy fighting with the Democratic Party from the inside.
We need to go outside of the two party structure, and run candidates for office, and win so that we can bypass all the bullshit and get into making policy that actually benefits the 99% — of Americans, Humans, and Species on this planet.
I think building a strong Green Party is the best way to do that. There’s a great opportunity right now to be part of the first wave of people who really shape the future of electoral politics for the next 100 years.
Can we switch gears and talk about Punk Patriot for a minute?
How did that come to be?
Well… in 2000, after Bush stole the election thanks to the illegal disenfranchisement of over one million voters in Florida with the help of Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris… I went to college. September 11th 2001 was the first week of college.
Now, I’m an Eagle Scout, my family on both sides has military background, so I have pretty strong ideas about what patriotism means and all that. What I saw happening after 2001 wasn’t anything that I recognized as patriotism. I saw Islamophobia, xenophobia, jingoism, and war mongering.
So I created the Punk Patriot as a pseudonym to engage in anonymous activities.
I met Dennis Trainor Jr (current press secretary for Jill2016.com actually) while working on the Kucinich campaign, and he had this YouTube show called “The Hermit, with Davis Fleetwood.”
He was a YouTube celebrity at the time, and had come out strongly in favor of Kucinich. He ended up working on the campaign, and I even helped him create a few videos.
I realized that it was something that I could do too.
I had a lot of thoughts about the Democratic Party and the ideals that people in it supposedly held dear, and how it was so incredibly illogical that they would willingly vote against their own interests, after working on the Kucinich campaign.
So I started making videos.
I haven’t really kept up with that lately. I didn’t really have any other outlet for expression at the time, so the videos were a way to express those ideas. Running for office is another way.
I love it. I think it’s brilliant. And apparently I am not the only one considering you have over 5k followers on Facebook.
Yeah, I really started doing it because it was better than screaming into a paper bag or punching the wall, I am consistently surprised by the attention that it gathers.
Absolutely! Is there anything else you want to add that we haven’t covered?
Not that I can think of…Thanks for doing this!
Cool. Hey, no, thank you! I really appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us. I think it’s really inspiring.
Well, as Ralph Nader says, “the true purpose of leadership is to create more leaders.” I hope that I can be doing that.
About the Author
Sarah Eggers: Feminist, activist, humanist and future change maker. Graduate student studying disability studies at Syracuse University.