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 Day 19

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Arrested Democracy

Trying to Ignore Aaron Dixon


Aaron Dixon doesn’t like being ignored.

In the early 1960’s, when the government was ignoring the civil rights of Black people, Aaron Dixon helped organize the first Black Student Union at the University of Washington. When the government failed to meet its promises to Black Americans in the late 1960’s, Dixon organized the Black Panther Party in Seattle.

When our nation’s elected officials ignored hungry children, he organized the Free Breakfast Programs in low-income neighborhoods. When they ignored the life-and-death healthcare concerns of African Americans, he organized the first free medical clinic in Seattle.

Now Aaron is the Green Party’s candidate here for United States Senate. When he rolled out of bed on Tuesday and spread the morning paper across the breakfast table, that all-too-familiar feeling overtook him: He was being ignored again. As he read the quarter page advertisement touting that evening’s televised debate for United States Senate, he realized it was time to take yet another stand–not only for himself but for the 60 percent of Washingtonians who oppose the war in Iraq, who would rather spend military money on social programs, and who were once again unrepresented in the mainstream debate.

So if being the champion for this overwhelming antiwar sentiment is not enough to get in the debate, what is? KING-5 wasn’t shy about revealing that the main criterion for getting into the debates was that the candidate must be rich. As co-sponsor of the debate, the Seattle Times wrote on its web page, "Dixon wasn’t invited to participate because he couldn’t show the minimum financial support to qualify under criteria set up by the Debate Advisory Standards Project, a nationally recognized group."

Democrat Maria Cantwell and Republican Mike McGavick were automatic invitees to the debate because both major party candidates have accepted corporate baksheesh totaling many millions of dollars. However, in a surprise gambit, Libertarian candidate Bruce Guthrie mortgaged his home and then loaned his own campaign $1.2 million. As if to prove that money, indeed, talks, the producers of KING-5’s debate bowed and invited Guthrie to share the stage and perhaps a hundred thousand television screens. Even though he bought his way into the televised event, Guthrie had the presence to turn toward the camera and quip, "I’m the poorest millionaire up here."

Dixon’s $61,000 campaign chest has surpassed every Green Party campaign in the history of Washington State. This money has come from a multitude of supporters–many of whom are turning their pockets inside out to make contributions because they know a real debate is needed in a country where the Senate recently voted unanimously to approve an additional $70 billion for the war in Iraq.

Dixon is polling six times Guthrie’s vote total (3 percent to the Libertarian’s .5 percent) and yet because he hasn’t run a big company like the other three candidates, his voice wasn’t included. Dixon’s life work has been in community organizing and non-profits.

So at breakfast, between bites of cereal and glimpses at The Seattle Times, his exclusion from the debate took on metaphorical significance. Indeed, he thought, the same emphasis on money that perverts our political system in general has corrupted this debate in a very specific way. Making money the key to politics guarantees that millions will forever be excluded from democracy and decision-making.

It proved too much for Dixon. He refused to be shut out of the debate, at least without a fight, and so, just before the mid-afternoon taping, Aaron entered the KING-5 news center’s lobby and announced, "I am running for Senate, and I am ready to take the stage." When he refused to leave the police were called. They handcuffed Dixon, escorted him out of the building and into a waiting squad car. He was greeted by dozens of supporters who packed the sidewalk in front of the building chanting, "U.S. out of Iraq, Dixon in the debate," and "Free Aaron Dixon."

Some hours later, when he was released from central booking, Dixon said, "I have been resting for the last 25 years, since the end of the Panthers, but today I am wide awake."

Dixon’s idea of "resting" between the end of the Black Panther Party and his current U.S. Senate bid meant founding a transitional living shelter for at-risk youth, the Central House, serving on the board of an assisted living home for elders, the Cannon House, while organizing student delegations to the World Social Forum.

"It’s being done around the world–from Argentina to Bolivia, from Lebanon to Palestine: The people have had enough and are fighting back against injustice," Dixon continued. Rubbing his inflamed wrist, where the handcuffs had been cinched unnecessarily tight, he concluded, "It is time to bring that same struggle right here to the United States."

They can try to ignore Aaron, but if his history shows us anything, it’s that, ultimately, they won’t succeed.

JESSE HAGOPIAN is the campaign manager for Aaron Dixon for U.S. Senate. Jesse can be reached at:

For additional information on the Aaron Dixon for U.S. Senate campaign, or for details Aaron Dixon’s "Out of War…and Into Our Communities" tour visit our website.