By Len Lazarick
Margaret Flowers probably got more coverage from being hauled off the stage by campus cops at the University of Baltimore last week than she did in a whole year of campaigning for U.S. Senate.
Flowers was protesting her exclusion from what was likely the one and only TV debate in the race to replace Barbara Mikulski, that demure and dainty lady from Fells Point.
The irony was that Flowers, about as unthreatening as most pediatricians, was being shut out by the League of Women Voters, founded to give women the right to vote; a public university; a publicly licensed TV station; and that “Light for All” daily newspaper, the Baltimore Sun.
The reason? She had met all the criteria for inclusion, but she wasn’t scoring at least 15% in polls.
As the Green Party nominee, she has been given equal treatment on millions of ballots printed up by the state Board of Elections. But when it comes to actually telling you anything about her quixotic quest, well, the less said the better.
It was just another example of the power of the two-party duopoly in Maryland and national politics. The Democratic and Republican parties do everything in their power to keep people like Flowers off the ballot and off the air.
The media is complicit in this power play, including MarylandReporter.com. Our news website does a daily roundup from many news sources. Most of those news sources have treated Flowers as an afterthought.
MarylandReporter.com did cover the only forum in which the three Senate hopefuls appeared together and were given equal treatment three weeks ago. But no other reporters were there at this Saturday morning event at a black Baptist church in Columbia.
What might have Flowers have said if she had been allowed to participate in Wednesday’s debate? Fortunately, voters don’t have to imagine that at all.
The Baltimore based Real News Network interviewed Flowers the next day, and asked her a few of the same questions that went to Republican Kathy Szeliga and Democrat Chris Van Hollen, who by the way, did agree to have Flowers participate, but still went on without her. The video leads off with Flowers ejection from the stage, shouting all the way; and she answers questions on health care, Syria, college debt (she favors free higher education), police brutality, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (all three oppose it) and many others sent in by viewers.
Throwing herself into it
Flowers, 54, a graduate of University of Maryland Medical School, gave up practicing medicine 10 years ago.
“Once you start getting in advocacy, you have to throw yourself into it pretty completely to be successful,” she said in an interview over coffee at the Double T diner in Catonsville on Friday.
“I’m really interested in shifting political power,” Flowers said. She got into political activism by working to promote universal health care and a single-payer system, what she prefers to call Medicare for all.
“This [current] system is not working, we’re losing doctors, people are not getting they health care they need,” Flowers said. “It really serves the wealthy interests.”
Her first act of civil disobedience came at a Senate Finance Committee hearing in 2009 when committee chairman Max Baucus (now ambassador to China) refused to schedule witnesses on the public option in the Affordable Care Act — health insurance directly from the government, like Medicare.
Flowers said she does not advocate government-controlled health care. She wants it “publicly financed, but privately delivered.”
This is “the most cost efficient way to pay for health care” and gives people more choices, because all providers would be part of the system, not the “narrow network” of doctors that insurance companies now provide.
“We have to see health care as a part of the whole economic justice movement,” Flowers said. “I can’t be a doc in this system. It is failing. We need to work to change it.”
“The wealth divide is one of our biggest health care problems” and is the cause of “the greatest disparity” in health outcomes.
Plutocracy for the wealthy
She was also part of movement pushing for net neutrality, the concept that everyone should have equal access to the Internet regardless of their usage or ability to pay.
Running for the U.S. Senate, her first stab at political office, is part of building a political movement for economic justice to counter the growing wealth divide, growing poverty and growing personal debt.
“Our political system is a plutocracy. It is for the wealthy,” Flowers said.
So she’s a Communist?
“I get that all the time,” Flowers said. “I’m for identifying what the problems are and what works.”
“I’m not advocating for communism. We need a system so that people can meet their basic needs,” Flowers said. “When someone says I’m a communist, I say I’m a realist. The system isn’t working.”
For instance, she advocates putting public funds, such as taxpayer dollars, into a public bank that serves the public, not the huge commercial banks that dominate the economy. North Dakota has had such a public bank since 1919.
Not a communist, not a socialist
So you’re not communist, but you are a socialist, right?
“No, I’m not a socialist,” Flowers said “Some of our institutions need to be public institutions when they serve the public good,” such as public libraries, public schools and fire departments.
“I’m for what actually works,” she said, and the current economy doesn’t work for everyone.
Flowers doesn’t expect to come close to winning the election. “People don’t usually win their first time,” she laughs. “This is about building a platform for issues.”
There are 13 Green Party candidates across Maryland, and she said many have run strong campaigns, such as Joshua Harris running for Baltimore mayor.
“Voting for Democrats or Republicans is not going to bring the change that we need,” Flowers said.