Running On Empty
Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I dont know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too
Running on – running on empty
Running on – running blind
Running on – running into the sun
But Im running behind
– from “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne
Screaming in the Rain
I was on my way home from doing a radio interview in Reading, Pennsylvania. It was very cold, windy and pouring rain. As I got closer to home, I found myself driving down a road where many of my campaign lawn signs had been planted. I noticed that one had blown over and was lying in the street. I pulled my car over the side of the road, jumped out of the car and began screaming at the sign as I picked it up, straighten it out and re-planted it. “You’re not going to lay there on the road, in the rain and get hit by a truck. You’re going right back where you were and do your job”.
That was the first of three stops I made. When I jumped back in the car after yelling at the third lawn sign, it just dawned on me that I had ruined a very good pair of shoes and perhaps a very good blazer while saving around five dollars worth of lawn signs. But it took me until I got home to realize what had happened. It wasn’t about the price of the lawn signs and it wasn’t about wrecking my shoes and blazer.
Why would a 62-year-old man with a couple of university degrees jump out of his car on a cold, windy day in the pouring rain and start yelling at lawn signs insisting to them that he wasn’t going to let them lay in the rain drenched street and get hit by a truck? It wasn’t until later in the afternoon that what had happened began to coalesce in my consciousness.
This is what it’s like to run for Congress as an independent. This was a metaphor I could’ve never constructed consciously. I never gave a thought about wrecking a pair of shoes and a blazer in order to save five dollars worth of lawn signs. It was what I simply had to do. This is what I’ve been doing every day for the last nine months.
Why did this happen today? Have I finally snapped? In a week the election will be over. I have no money. Worse; I am around six thousand dollars in debt. I raised ten thousand dollars but I had to spend seven thousand of those dollars just to get on the ballot. That is how much it costs to collect the five thousand signatures required in Pennsylvania this year to appear on the ballot. So I had only three thousand dollars to conduct my campaign compared to the five hundred thousand dollars raised by my Republican opponent.
Raising money is not rocket science. There are only a couple of things you have to do. First of all you have to ask. That is the main reason why people contribute. But you do have to explain to people the value they will derive from their donation. If they don’t believe they will receive any value from such a donation, there will be no contribution.
So after hundreds of telephone calls, hundreds of letters and e-mail messages to thousands of people over nine months I have only raised ten thousand dollars. I know a lot of people. If each one that I asked had contributed just two hundred dollars I would’ve raised four hundred thousand dollars. That would actually be enough for an electoral victory. But out of the thousands of people I contacted only three dozen contributed a total of ten thousand dollars. What value did those three dozen people see that the thousands of others did not?
If someone were to ask me if I would like to have a seven series BMW, I would give them an emphatic ‘yes’. On the other hand, if they then said all I had to do was hand over seventy thousand dollars, I would have to say that I didn’t want one quite that much. Give it to me at no cost and I’d love to have one. I might even come up with twenty thousand dollars. But I would never spend seventy thousand dollars for an automobile. It is simply a luxury that I cannot afford.
Everyday I get e-mail messages and telephone calls telling me what a great job I’m doing and how much we need to have candidates like me. But as soon as I finish thanking the person for their complement and ask for a donation the message becomes very clear. “John, you’re doing a great thing but you can’t really ask me to throw away money on a candidate who cannot win. Maybe I can let you have twenty-five dollars”.
That’s when I go in to my explanation that, although I cannot get elected, there are many things that I can win. I usually explain how I was only permitted to participate in one debate two years ago but this year I have appeared in all three. I explain about all of the radio stations and newspapers which have interviewed me; all the organizations which have invited me to speak this year while none of that happened two years ago. But in the final analysis, I am perceived as a luxury candidate that people cannot afford. Progressives want me in very much the same way I want a seven series BMW. Give it to them with little or no cost and you have a deal. But I am just not worth two hundred dollars let alone two thousand.
JOHNNY I HARDLY KNEW YA
You hadn’t an arm, you hadn’t a leg,
You hadn’t an arm, you hadn’t a leg,
You hadn’t an arm, you hadn’t a leg
You’ll Have to be put with the bowl to beg
Oh my darling dear you look so queer
Johnny I hardly knew ya
– From “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya”
Last Sunday night I went to the AMVETS to make a little campaign speech with the other candidates. After the presentation a big husky women veteran grabbed me by the arm and said, “Honey, you was the best one up there”. I thanked her very much and asked her if she would tell her friends about me and ask them to vote for me too. She said “oh honey, I ain’t going to vote for you; I hardly know you. I ain’t never seen you before tonight. I ain’t never seen you on the television and I ain’t got none of them postcards from you. None of the other ladies never heard of you neither. I think you ought to get a job on the radio because you sound very good like that Rush Limbaugh”.
Of course she has never seen me on television or received a post card from me and I only appeared in each of the newspapers that serve my congressional district one or two times as part of an article about the incumbent. It costs a lot of money to do those kinds of things. It would cost one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to send a postcard to each of the voters in my congressional district! The Republican and Democrat Parties send out postcards for their candidates. That way the candidates do not even have to use any of the funds they raised on postcards. They will spend their money on television advertising.
Even at this late date I could flood the local radio stations with advertisements for only about six thousand dollars. I could place an ad in the “Community Courier” for two thousand dollars and get into one hundred and ten thousand households. I could get out powerful progressive message and raise the consciousness of tens of thousands of people but this effort is of such little value that only a very few see it worth a contribution over two hundred dollars.
Buddy Can You Spare a Dime
They used to tell me I was building a dream
and so I followed the mob
when there was earth to plow or guns to bear
I was over there
right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream.
With peace and glory ahead –
why should I be
standing in line,
waiting for bread?
– From “Buddy Can You Spare a Dime”
The author of that depression era song tells us that the narrator is not bitter; he is bewildered. He is a man who had faith and hope in this country. Then came the crash. Now he can not accept the fact that the bubble has burst. He still believes. He still has faith. He just doesn’t understand what could have happened to make everything go so wrong.
Our nation is now closer to fascism than it has ever been. The two corporate parties have led us into two illegal wars, stripped us of our civil liberties, plunged us into a ten trillion dollar National Debt and have made corporations our masters instead of our servants. We have troops not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but in one hundred twenty-seven nations around the world. In the last few weeks we have bombed Pakistan and invaded Syria. For the first time since the Civil War we have a combat brigade on duty in the United States “to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities”. So much for the Posse Comitatus Act.
The two major presidential candidates have both confessed they plan to continue a foreign policy of war and aggression with the concomitant slaughter of potentially another million innocent men, women and children. Both have committed themselves to a failed economic system which sacrifices the well-being of ninety-nine percent of the people on the altar of the superrich ruling elite which finances their political campaigns.
The Republican and Democrat parties lack any clear vision for America. They have no real leadership and they inspire no hope for the future. They have given us a view of the world that is clouded by war, poverty, ignorance, fear and violence. I have a different vision for America. I see an America that leads the world in spreading peace instead of war; hope instead of fear; sustainability instead of disaster; freedom instead of occupation. I see an America in which every person, regardless of their race, creed, color, age, gender or sexual orientation is valued and lives in dignity, and every person is free to reach his or her full potential.
Before the night is over I will get a dozen “at-a-boys” in e-mail messages or from people on the phone and maybe if I’m lucky someone will contribute twenty-five dollars. Yesterday someone contributed five dollars. Running a congressional campaign on thirty dollars a day and a dozen “at-a-boys” pretty much explains why I went “screaming in the rain.” But it no longer makes me feel like I am “building a dream”.