On Friday, October 8 at 8:32 p.m., I was arrested in St. Louis at the second of two corporate sponsored presidential debates. Though I am the presidential candidate of the Green Party, the fastest growing political party in the U.S., I was not invited to participate in the debate and even my request for a ticket to attend as an observer was ignored.
I went to St. Louis to protest the exclusion from the debates of all voices of dissent in this time of military adventurism abroad and war on free speech and civil liberties at home. The three debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates are restricted, scripted and staged events which utterly fail to perform the vital function of informing the American people about the choices they have in this election. Regardless of their rhetoric, the reality is that both of the duopoly candidates call for "more of the same" when it comes to Iraq. The Green Party and I call for supporting our troops and bringing them home and out of harm's way as soon as they can be transported. Interestingly enough, three other presidential candidates-all of whom have also been excluded from the corporate debates-share this position.
Many of the greatest struggles of our time have been achieved through non-violent civil disobedience. It is a distinguished form of protest and dissent which has been used successfully by Rosa Parks, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., among others. Right now, we are engaged in another epic struggle; a battle for the heart and soul of our democracy. These so-called 'debates' are an insult to democracy and the American people and, as a representative of the Green Party, I have an obligation to try and open them up to more voices.
Throughout my campaign for the Green Party's presidential nomination I had expressed my willingness, if necessary, to use non-violent civil disobedience to either gain entry to the restricted debates or be arrested in the process.
I joined a great crowd of hundreds of protesters in St. Louis. They were spirited, peaceful, joyous and yet insistent that the system must change to embrace democracy and more choices and more voices. The protesters weren't only Green; they came from across the political spectrum and I was proud to be a part of them. We were joined by Libertarians, Socialists and folks from the ABB crowd. Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik decided to work with us and he and I were in fact arrested together for civil disobedience for trying to enter the debate.
Though a number of people from our campaign and other Green Party members had worked diligently to ensure a "smooth arrest"-if ever such a thing exists-events did not turn out as we planned. Although my staff had consulted with the County police, it turned out that the City police, and not the County, wound up guarding the debate entrance. And when I showed up and demanded entry, they had never heard of me. I had to push my way through a line of police in riot gear to gain entry. I was promptly arrested but not before a number of police converged on me with their shields which they used as offensive weapons. Some of the police seemed to enjoy hitting me; others seemed to be mortified.
At this time, Badnarik and I were surrounded by over a dozen members of the media-cameras, photographers and reporters. Although AP and a number of papers and websites carried the news of my civil disobedience and subsequent arrest, the national media was silent. Apparently, the corporate media decides for the people what is important and the arrest of two presidential candidates trying to exercise their rights to free speech doesn't qualify as important. It is one more example of how the corporate-owned media manufactures consent.
Following my arrest I was transported to a jail and was subjected to and witnessed the typical dehumanizing treatment that detainees suffer at the hands of their jailers. I was jailed for several hours before I was released after midnight.
Though I was exhausted, I was also exhilarated. Every time I engage in non-violent civil disobedience against an oppressive government, I revel in the power that we the people actually have. If more people engaged in civil disobedience more often, we would change the oppressive power structure much more quickly.
I have been charged with trespassing on private property and the failure to obey a reasonable order by the police. But you and I know that the real crime is the corporate hijacking of our democracy. And that's what I went to St. Louis to protest.
David Cobb is the Green Party's presidential candidate. Visit the campaign website, http://www.votecobb.org for more information.