Homeless people running for office is commendable

Posted Sept. 14, 2010, at 7:14 p.m.

The National Weather Service precipitation reports — using information gathered at Los Angeles International Aiport — state that there has been no rainfall in Los Angeles since May. Still, the gutters in LA’s Skid Row had measurable amounts of liquid in them Monday, and long before I looked up the weather history, the stench told me that it wasn’t rain.

I came to sunny Southern California to speak at the Green Party State Convention. It was a good time to be here because the Greens got some national exposure last week, and that doesn’t happen very often.

Arizona Republican Steve May decided to run street people for office on Arizona’s Green Party ticket. And all the major news services covered it. I first read about it in The New York Times, but when searching the Web for updates, I found countless stories about the “one-armed pregnant woman” and the “tarot card reader” that are among the many new Green candidates Mr. May and two other Arizona Republicans lured onto the Arizona ballot.

Now, having run for U.S. vice president myself a few years back — and living in homeless shelters while I did it to raise awareness about poverty — I can tell you that neither the Green Party nor street people ever get this kind of attention.

And they aren’t getting the attention this time either.

Dirty trickster Arizona Republicans are getting it. And the folks crying foul in this whole mess aren’t the allegedly exploited homeless, they’re the bent-out-of-shape Arizona Democrats. Sadly, I’ve even heard a few Green Party members complain that these candidates aren’t legitimate and that certain Republicans are up to no good.

Personally, nothing would make me happier than to see the millions of homeless folks living in this country actually get represented in our government. In fact, it would be good for all of us. There’s no one more resourceful than a mom with two children living in their car when that mom has to get up and go to work each day. And if a homeless dad can keep his kids in school, maybe his serving on a school board he could assure that everyone else’s kids got a decent education too.

Don’t even get me started thinking about what a homeless veteran could contribute to the debate about VA benefits and housing.

But this all brings me back to what I was doing on Skid Row. I went to play chess with former California gubernatorial candidate S. Deacon Alexander. The 64-year-old homeless advocate lost the California Green primary this past June, but he hasn’t given up on politics.

Alexander is still registering folks to vote during his Monday afternoon chess club sessions. While he might have done better in his own campaign if he’d had a few corrupt Arizona Republicans helping him, he still has managed to register approximately 250 of the roughly 1,000 men and women the Los Angeles Times estimates live in Skid Row.

Alexander, who started his chess club three years ago, explains: “Playing chess is a shortcut to dialog” about a host of issues that plague the people living in this “savage environment.” And he’s right; even without the urine in the streets, Skid Row is a savage place.

The chess games also inspire trust between Alexander and the people he has struggled 40 years to help. I asked him if people on the street thought he was uppity or outside himself when he announced that he would run for governor and register street people to put his name on the primary ballot. He replied, “Some of them thought I was kidding, but most of them thought it was great.”

Thinking of the ridicule heaped on the Arizona street people now on the ballot, I asked him again if folks didn’t think he had nerve running for governor. He said, “The only folks who thought that were outside Skid Row.”

And that made perfect sense. The only people who laugh at the desperately poor for believing in themselves or each other are the folks who don’t live with them or know their strengths. And that ignorance is what made Arizona’s street candidates a news story.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@ hotmail.com.

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