Local firebrand and former Democratic Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson threw down the gauntlet against the political establishment by helping found the Justice Party in late 2011, and agreeing to run as its 2012 candidate for president. Now, with the election a month away, Anderson has spent more time fighting to get his party on state ballots than actually stumping on the issues. He’s won a lawsuit in Vermont, been priced completely out of Oklahoma and discovered the hard way that in Mississippi, your entire party can be deregistered if your party’s designated vote caster for the Electoral College is caught having sex with a minor.
“A 17-year-old girl got into a bar with a fake I.D., had sex with somebody and now we’re not on the ballot in Mississippi,” Anderson says with a sigh.
Like the punch line of a bad joke, the Mississippi incident is the latest ballot-law stumble to keep Anderson’s party off a state ballot. While the difficulty of getting a third party on all 50 states’ ballots might seem absurd, Anderson’s not amused by the rules and regulations that have so far kept the Justice Party from making it onto all but 15 states’ ballots for the upcoming election.
Lacking big-money resources and sharing a progressive campaign agenda that’s similar to the Green Party’s, the Justice Party faces an uphill battle. It also doesn’t help that the Justice Party’s attempts at courting the Occupier-esque vote are hindered by the fact that many in that demographic don’t trust the electoral system.
Anderson’s party is fighting among even third parties to gain a lasting toehold in the political landscape.
“He’s been elected and he’s run successfully for office, but on the other hand, he’s making a fairly strong indictment of the system, and if you do that, it’s not exactly clear how that’s all going to fit together,” says University of Utah political-science professor Matthew Burbank of Anderson’s attempt to use the system to take down the system.
Anderson, however, knows how all the pieces fit—it’s just a matter of making the connection clear to voters. While Anderson believes the Justice Party has grabbed the greatest media attention this year of any third party—from coverage by Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman to being featured on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show to even Al-Jazeera—it doesn’t change the fact that party politics have already stacked the deck against third parties. He cites the fact that the Republican Party is challenging signatures for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson in the swing state of Pennsylvania. Constitution Party presidential candidate Virgil Goode gave up on getting his name on the ballot in Pennsylvania after facing resistance from Republicans there.
“Democrats did exactly the same thing in 2004 to Ralph Nader that the Republicans are doing to Virgil Goode and are trying to do to Gary Johnson,” Anderson says. “It’s obscene, particularly when these two parties, in so many respects, are just serving the very wealthy and betraying the public interest.”
Anderson gained a victory in August when the Justice Party sued the state of Vermont and got an extra two weeks to turn in ballot signatures. In that state, independent presidential candidates are required to have all signatures verified by town clerks before being turned in to the secretary of state.
While the Justice Party can at least claim a victory for ballot access in Vermont, Anderson says the party won’t be pigeonholed simply for kicking down the doors that are holding back electoral choice.
“You have the core obstacle of the corrupting influence of money—which is at the center of every major public-policy disaster—but we’re also focusing on those public-policy disasters,” Anderson says. He rattles off some of those issues, which range from comprehensive health care (“Even with ‘Obamacare,’ 30 million people will be left without essential health care,”) to true leadership on climate change to reining in big banks (“Wall Street makes record contributions to people like Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and they get a really great return on their money, but the American people get completely shafted”).
While Anderson deftly wields populist talking points the way a conservative politician might name-drop Ronald Reagan, part of the struggle of the Justice Party may be the party’s near-identical alignment with the positions of the Green Party, the anti-corporate, rabble-rousing national third party that the Justice Party agrees with on many issues.
Anderson admires the Green Party but believes they’ve peaked as far as effectiveness goes. “They’ve actually worked really hard and are getting on a lot of state ballots. They’ve been running candidates for 12 years now, but I don’t see them doing any better in 50 years in terms of making a difference on a national level,” he says. “I think the bottom line has got to be: What can we all do to come together to bring change?”
Anderson cites the effectiveness of movements like women’s suffrage, labor and civil rights as examples of community power that were equally met with the right kind of leaders inside the system.
His anti-establishment message would seem to resonate with followers of the Occupy movement, but unfortunately for Anderson, many in the movement don’t view the electoral process as being fair or impactful.
“Even though he wasn’t connected with us, Rocky did [capitalize] on the Occupy movement, but he did little to support us locally,” says Justin Kramer, an Occupy SLC member who, since the camp’s eviction from Pioneer Park in November 2011, has been active in the organization’s community gardening project, as well as advocating against the for-profit prison industry.
Kramer points to other direct-action groups like Vote Nobody, which advocates against any electoral participation, and the National Prison Divestment Campaign, as organizations that are “much more realistic structures for change and tools for opposition than punching a card or voting for president.”
Anderson dismisses this apolitical attitude as being “exactly what the Republican and Democratic parties are hoping for.”
Still, Anderson hopes his party’s rocky road will make its difference on the political landscape. Anderson has not only called out Republicans and Democrats but even points out that the Green Party in Cooke County, Ill., is looking to challenge the Justice Party while at the same time squawking over ballot access for their own party. For Anderson, it’s not the choices offered to voters that “spoil” elections, but the way parties use the systems to maintain control.
“If this were going on in Eastern Europe or Latin America, the United States would be issuing scathing reports on how anti-democratic it is,” Anderson says.