Grassroots Party high on ideas, growth

by Alan Bjerga

While Republican candidate Rudy Boschwitz and Democratic candidate Paul Wellstone campaign across the state to win Tuesday’s U.S. Senate election, Minnesota Grassroots Party candidate Tim Davis works at Sandoz Nutrition, selling health food and alternative care products. His speaking engagements are limited by his work schedule.
With little name recognition, a minuscule budget and a party whose most prominent issue — drug legalization — is dismissed by many voters as a sideshow at best and dangerous at worst, the Davis campaign would seem doomed to defeat by any conventional measure.
But Davis is not a conventional candidate and does not have conventional campaign goals. The Minnesota Grassroots Party, which Davis chairs, isn’t trying to win elections this November — it’s attempting to broaden discussion in political campaigns and build bridges toward a viable left-wing third-party movement in the 21st century. At this point, discussion is more important to the Grassroots Party than vote totals.
When Davis arrived at the St. Louis Park Perkins Family Restaurant for an interview with the Daily, the waitress asked whether he wanted a smoking or nonsmoking table. “Hemp section, please,” Davis said.
The waitress seemed startled. “Pardon me?” she said.
Davis laughed. The waitress recovered quickly, and the marijuana advocate accepted a nonsmoking table. He didn’t get the section he wanted. But he did get a reaction. For Davis, that’s victory.

Daily: It’s pretty safe to say you’re not going to defeat Wellstone and Boschwitz in this election. What makes you run?
Davis: Third parties in this nation don’t win. They get ideas out there the two major parties don’t talk about.
All the third parties out there have issues they’re passionate about, and people are interested in what they have to say. Look at the (presidential) debates. Even if they don’t agree with (Libertarian candidate) Harry Browne, they still want to hear him. They want the chance to hear ideas and issues that the two parties don’t talk about.
There is a growing movement, especially among young people, toward third parties — libertarians, greens, whatever. I think that in the next 20 years, hopefully we can get a good third-party movement, we can make a difference.
Daily: +The Grassroots Party has been around for 10 years. Any progress in the movement?
Davis: We almost qualified for major-party status in the 94 elections.
There’s a split in our party right now. Some people don’t want to broaden our focus. We wanted more issues, trying to be a voice for progressives. Some people don’t do drugs, but we still want to represent them.
When people hear Grassroots Party, they think drug legalization. What are your other issues?
Obviously we’re not so single-minded as to not realize there are other issues out there Americans care about — children, the environment … I think we have to address other issues and I think that’s where in the split, the people who want to just concentrate on the drugs are overlooking other people’s issues.
If the Grassroots Party really wants to go somewhere, you need to speak on many issues — if not you’re just sticking your one issue out with the others — you’re really not doing much for a better democracy … There are a lot of progressive parties. Hopefully in the next few years we can build coalitions.
Daily:You’re not the only drug legalization party out there — the Libertarians support it too, and they’ve been around longer. Why not vote for them?
Davis: Their social philosophy may be like ours, but we think there is a need for government regulation. The Libertarians want government out of everything.
Daily: Why Grassroots? Why aren’t you a crusading Democrat, trying to reform the party from within?
Davis: There have been too many crusading Democrats, and they don’t go anywhere. The political machine is set up to serve the status quo.
Daily: The Grassroots Party home page says that “the most logical first step toward a safer society is to repeal drug prohibition.” Why is this the first step?
Davis: If you can’t deal with drugs you can’t deal with anything else. It’s the biggest problem to deal with. It clogs up the prisons, clogs up the courts — if you can’t deal with drugs, how can you deal with any other problem? No one even talks about drugs.
Daily: Bob Dole talks about drugs.
Davis: Yeah, but Bob Dole’s on drugs. You can’t be 73 years old and do what he does without being on drugs. It’s just the difference between legal and illegal drugs.
People say we have enough problems with cigarettes and alcohol — why put another item on the plate? The problem is that it’s already on the plate, and we don’t do anything about it. We’ve got to face reality.
Daily: Studies on drug use show reality’s been changing. There’s been a tremendous increase in drug use — especially teenage pot use — in the past four years.
Davis: That’s the result of continued lies and the continued failure of drug prohibition. Plus, the teenagers are smart, they know it’s not as harmful as people say it is.
Daily: But there does seem to be a correlation between funding for drug-prevention programs and drug use. Use was way down in the 1980s.
Davis: I don’t think there was a decline in use; there was an increase in fear. People wouldn’t admit doing an illegal activity. If you look at arrest records, the number of arrests didn’t go down, so it would be unusual if the number of users declined.
Daily: That could be attributed to tougher law enforcement.
Davis: Perhaps.
Daily: Let’s say you were making the laws. Would you regulate drug use at all?
Davis: Oh yeah. I’d regulate marijuana like alcohol. You could grow plants in your home, but you’d have to get a license. You wouldn’t have access until you’re 21. I wouldn’t want any sort of advertising allowed. I’d want a campaign to tell the real benefits or non-benefits of drugs. And ultimately I’d want people to take responsibility for what they’d do.
Daily: About the legal age — why the 21 age limit if the high school kids are smart?
Davis: Kids are going to get it underage, just like alcohol. But when it’s legal at 21 at least you have stores. I don’t see kids buying beer on street corners.
When I go to schools I don’t tell kids to go out and get stoned, but I do tell them they’re criminals. At the rate things are going, half our population is going to end up in prison on drug charges. I know that’s not going to happen, so at some point there has to be a revolution. The problem isn’t the people, it’s the law.
Daily: One law on the ballot this year is Proposition 215 in California, the legalization of medicinal marijuana. Opponents say it’s just a way to get the foot in the door for broader legalization. What’s behind Prop 215?
Davis: Prop 215 is about helping sick people — plain and simple. People who say it’s a foot in the door, well that’s fine. If I want to be sarcastic I’d say everyone I know who smokes pot smokes for medical reasons. People use medicine to feel good. People feel good when they smoke pot. If you have sick people who want to use it, let them use it. They just want to feel better.
Daily: So if somehow you did win the election, what would you do?
Davis: Pot in every chicken (laughs). I’d work to keep the third-party movement growing. I think there are people in third parties who can serve the country in the best way possible, people who follow the Bill of Rights and our founding fathers.
Daily: The Grassroots Party compares itself to the founding fathers on its Web page.
Davis: The founding fathers were radicals. They believed in freedom, which is still a radical concept.
Daily: They also owned slaves.
Davis: Well, they also owned slaves, but that was a product of the times. They were really rabble-rousers. They had the Boston Tea Party. I can’t say we’re that radical, but let’s remember that our country was formed by a revolution.
That’s what we’re trying to do. But we don’t want a violent revolution, so the way to accomplish things peacefully is through the ballot box. If you don’t like the status quo, vote a third party. If you don’t like me, vote Libertarian, vote for (Reform Party candidate) Dean Barkley. At least show your opposition.
Daily: And you concentrate on younger audiences.
Davis: Youth events are the only ones I get invited to.
Daily: Why?
Davis: Adults don’t take us too seriously. The media and politicians have such a fear that if we ever did really start entering the debate and articulately criticize some of these issues, we could ruin some of these programs. I try to be wherever we’re invited, but we only get invited to high school forums and things like that.
There are eight people running for senate. But in the Star Tribune you only see three.
Daily: What do you say to students?
Davis: I answer their questions. It’s easier for me. Students ask me what the issues are and I say you’re too used to a 30-second sound bite.’ I ask them what their views are, because I can’t read minds. I’ll be honest, but you’ve got to ask me.
It’s amazing. I spoke at the University during Homecoming, and you hear some candidates give positions and they’re oblivious to their audience. People are there to have fun and listen to rock’n’roll, so that’s how you give your message … people see these suits and they think it doesn’t mean anything to their lives.
I find it sometimes amazing that we get so much attention from younger audiences. We get mobbed by high school kids. It’s not like we’re. …
Daily: You’re not the Black Crowes or anything like that.
Davis: No, but we’re just speaking honestly, which is something major party candidates like Wellstone and Boschwitz can’t do because they’re so strapped to funding and the status quo. I get into heated discussions with kids who are more right-wing than I am, but it’s great that we can talk. A lot of times in America we forget that basic freedom to talk about issues.
Daily: What about student issues?
Davis: Tuition needs to be kept under control. I think colleges are screwing students over.
Daily: Would you raise taxes to keep tuition down?
Davis: I don’t know. I suppose I could be sarcastic and say if we took money out of the drug war we could give everyone free tuition. I don’t know. I don’t know if we need to raise taxes anymore or be more considerate of what we want to do much more.
But we’re heading to economic stratification if access to higher education is cut off. It’s not a right-or-left debate. It’s an up-down class debate.
Daily: So it’s not two-party at all.
Davis: Right. It’s about giving people power over themselves.
We need education. Jocelyn Elders said that three things bring power. Knowledge, money and violence. If you have people who don’t have money or knowledge, they’ll find other means to get power, and that means we’ll have a violent society. If you don’t start to place the money into education programs that allow people to get the money to work, that’s where we’ll head. I don’t know if we’ll have the means. But we have to get involved.