Its name points to roots in the radical politics of the late 1960s and its embrace of socialism might make some people squirm. But in the 40 days between Jan. 1 and Feb. 10 of this year, the Peace and Freedom Party gathered 13,000 new registrants needed to get its name back on the California ballot.
That's 325 people per day and, clearly, you-know-who and his push for you-know-what is to thank for that. Miriam Clark, the San Diego spokesperson for the party, acknowledged the war as the reason for the jump in new Peace and Freedom Party registrants. "I think we're the answer to what people are looking for," she said, nodding to the two dominant parties' current political impotence. "No one, none of the other political parties is really talking about what's going on."
The 13,000 votes brought P&F's total voter registration statewide to 79,462, a safe nudge over the 77,310 needed to get back on the ballot. The party was removed in 1998, when former Secretary of State Bill Jones "purged" (P&F's term) voter-registration rolls.
Jones implemented a policy that stated that if an individual didn't show up to the polls in two consecutive elections, that person would be sent a postcard. No reply to the postcard means that person is designated an "inactive" voter (Jones' policy is still in place). Problems with mail delivery-apartment numbers were often left off the postcards-and alleged mistakes by voter-registration clerks trimmed the party's 100,000 registrants by two-thirds. And Jones kicked it off the ballot.
Clark said the party cobbled together funds to pay people to hit the streets and recruit new members. While the majority of the party's members, new and old, reside in Northern California, Clark said that the party has found new registrants even in conservative cities like San Diego.
The Peace and Freedom Party first got on the ballot in 1968 in response to the Vietnam War. None of its candidates has ever won a major election, though Clark pointed out that a few party members have been elected to school boards throughout the state. The party, rather, seeks to influence in other ways. In 1968, it was largely responsible for a campaign to lower the voting age in California to 18, and in the early '70s it managed to get the Supreme Court to abolish filing fees for indigent candidates in 29 states.
The P&F platform is appealing enough-it's committed to democracy, ecology, feminism and racial equality. The party claims to be a voice for working class folks, the unemployed, the undocumented, people on welfare, the homeless, the armed forces and people of all ethnicities, religions, cultures and sexual orientations. "Those without capital in a capitalist society" is the party mantra.
And, as previously mentioned, the party embraces socialism, which wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for people like Stalin and Hitler, who gave socialism a really, really bad name. And then there's the U.S. government's demonizing of socialist systems that, actually, were working quite nicely, such as Nicaragua's Sandinistan government, which almost revitalized that country until the United States decided to mine its harbors.
Clark said people should realize what socialism really stands for. "It means an organization of a society for the people who make it up, and that the resources of the country should be used to benefit all the people.
"It's so silly to think that things that everybody needs should be run on a for-profit basis," she added. "Medicine is one of the best examples-we're the only major industrial country in the world that doesn't have socialized medicine."
To enact change, leaders of the P&F realize they need to reach a position of influence, something not easily done with less than 100,000 registered voters.
Casey Peters, a long-time Peace and Freedom Party activist who lives in L.A., said the party is currently working with Californians for Electoral Reform to push for what's called "proportional representation." What this means, said Peters, is that "if P&F gets 5 percent of the votes for state assembly, we get 5 percent of the seats for state assembly." It's a type of democracy that's found in other countries, Peters noted, just not in the United States. "Without a system that translates votes cast into seats won, [small political parties]... would be a protest vote that is soon forgotten or that is blamed for helping the Republicans beat the Democrats."
Lack of proportional representation, said Peters, remains the Peace and Freedom Party's greatest obstacle, "in a system that is not only anti-socialist, but anti-democratic."