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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 2, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 44
SGN exclusive interview: Stephen Durham, openly Gay presidential candidate
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SGN exclusive interview: Stephen Durham, openly Gay presidential candidate

by James Whitely - SGN Staff Writer

Stephen Durham of the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) says he's the only openly Gay candidate in the 2012 presidential election. This is the first time FSP has run a presidential campaign, but the organization has been around since the 1960s and started right here in Seattle. SGN caught up with Durham on the campaign trail in Burlington, Vermont.

Barack Obama is the first sitting president to voice his support for same-sex marriage. So why, we asked Durham, should an LGBT voter support anyone else?

'I see it as a ploy to get him elected. It doesn't cost him much politically. I don't think it justifies everything else Obama has done,' Durham replied.

Ploy or no, there's a lot of difference in the reasons the two support same-sex marriage.

'I support Gay marriage as an openly Gay man, as an activist since 1969. I came out after Stonewall,' Durham told SGN.

A VETERAN ACTIVIST
Radicalized in his college days at the University of California at Berkeley, Durham has been an activist for a long time - and not just for LGBT causes. While he was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, he decided to work with foster kids, coincidentally in Vermont. He attended the first national Lesbian and Gay conference in 1969.

'I turned 65 in August. Got my first Social Security check. I'm very happy because through my activism in the last few decades, I am living true to my youth,' said Durham. 'The '60s were a real upheaval. You got the sense of real change. In my lifetime many changes have happened, but not as many as I would like.'

Durham reminisced on his teen years, when he was still in the closet and living in Los Angeles. He vividly remembers the 1965 Watts riots. He was reading James Baldwin and came across his first Gay character in literature. He's learned a lot since then, but the passion and values that he developed early on have been a constant driving force.

'When I see drones and I see the murder of a million Iraqis, when I see the horror of war that has gone on in the name of profit in my lifetime - it hasn't worn me down. It's made me more passionate,' Durham told SGN. 'An openly socialist, openly Gay voice is needed in the election.'

THE LESSER EVIL?
'Obama in office has really demobilized a huge number of people. People thought he could make change - he hasn't. I think we should use our vote to protest,' said Durham. 'By voting for us, I hope people will make a statement.'

Durham said that the 'fundamental problem' in the country is that we don't have a party that represents the majority. 'Vote for the greater good instead of the lesser evil' is their signature campaign slogan.

'If Romney gets elected, it won't be because people voted for me,' said Durham. 'It will be because Obama's constituency didn't turn out to vote for him.'

'In my candidacy I'm showing political leadership by Lesbians and Gays. I'm willing to take on the two-party system. Being Gay is what fuels my fight against injustice. I know discrimination first-hand as a Gay activist since Stonewall.'

Durham thinks one of the things that separate him from other third-party candidates is that the issues of racism and sexism are at the center of his politics.

'Women of color stand at the bottom of the social hierarchy,' said Durham. 'We live in a very sophisticated divide-and-conquer culture. We've got to talk about racism and sexism.'

AN AMBITIOUS PLATFORM
Durham and his running mate, Christina López, a Chicana activist from Seattle, are running on a platform that includes 'disarm[ing] the U.S. war machine' and using that money to create a massive, publicly funded training and jobs program; repealing 'union-busting' laws; reducing the workweek to 30 hours with no cut in pay; lowering the retirement age to 55; nationalizing banks and key industries under the management of workers' committees; raising the minimum wage to $20 per hour; offering free universal health care (including abortion); and restoring the top marginal income tax rate to its pre-Reagan level of 70%.

The pair also advocate sweeping 'liberation, not discrimination' social reforms such as full support for the sovereignty, human rights, and cultural inheritance of indigenous peoples and their nations; dismantling Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and opening the borders; extending free, multilingual public education from kindergarten to grad school; and canceling all outstanding student debt.

The full platform can be found online at www.votesocialism.com.

SAYS OBAMA NOT AN ALLY
'Coming back here now and campaigning, many of the same things exist. There's a lot of poverty in Vermont,' said Durham. 'It's time to break with the Democrats and the Republicans. [Obama] said he supported Lesbian and Gay marriage, but he's not supporting ending DOMA. It's verbal support he's given. He's saying it's a state issue. It's very reactionary - it's what maintained the Jim Crow south. In April of this year, he refused to come out against discrimination [by] federal contactors through not supporting ENDA.'

Durham and López's names won't appear on most ballots, so they're running a write-in campaign. On their website, they also feature voting recommendations for Washington state and local elections.

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