Citizens frustrated with the Democratic and Republican parties are running longshot campaigns for Congress. Meet the nation’s only “99% Party” candidate.
EVERETT — Mike Lapointe wants to Occupy Congress, starting with the Second Congressional District.
Clad in a t-shirt and jeans and sporting a past-5-o’clock-shadow, Lapointe sits in the backroom of Firewheel Books and Beans on Oakes Street, looking tired, sipping coffee. He is a former labor union organizer running as a member of the 99% Party — the only such candidate in the country — against incumbent Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen.
“Are you taping this?” Lapointe asks in a thick Boston accent, noticing my recorder. “Then I better watch my cuss words. I can get really worked up about some of this stuff.”
Firewheel Books and Beans is where it all started for Lapointe. This cooperatively owned and operated coffee shop is a gathering place for activists and community members. The seeds of the Occupy Everett movement were planted here September 30, 2011, with a turnout that surprised even Lapointe.
“The day of the event we had like 30 people signed up,” he explains. “And usually when you have an event like that, if you get half you’re lucky. So I was hoping for maybe 20 people. So I get there at five minutes of, and there’s like, 15 people there. Fifteen minutes later there were a hundred people in there. It was packed, I mean literally, wall-to-wall.”
For the next three months, Lapointe camped out in front of the Snohomish County Courthouse and used as much vacation time as he could to be around during the day. In the mornings, he and his fellow Occupiers woke up freezing and headed to Firewheel for coffee. Then they would go back to camp and talk to people.
“I’d just wander up and down, you know, with my tent hair, looking like some homeless guy. I think people at first thought I was trying to bum a quarter off them or something,” he laughs.
But what he experienced there convinced him that most people, despite their political leanings, were on the same political page.
“There was an overlap that I saw developing. I talked to people that were socialist, Tea Party, and centrists, and if I didn’t ask them or they didn’t indicate to me what their political preference was I really couldn’t have told you. But we all realized that the country was going to hell, politics was out of control, and the corporations seemed to be getting everything and we’re losing everything.”
Lapointe had never run for political office. But a week before the filing deadline, Occupy Everett formed the 99% Party “because we wanted to make a point that it wasn’t the issues. We were here because the system is corrupt. The system is the issue. We don’t want to talk about the issues because the issues don’t get fixed until we fix the system.”
However, one of the challenges facing any candidate running outside of the existing party structure is figuring out how to be heard. In 2010, on average a candidate for the House of Representatives raised $574,000, according to OpenSecrets. The average for Democratic candidates was about 50 percent more: $833,000.
Larsen had raised $1 million as of July 18 for his re-election effort. The average for incumbent Democrat U.S. Representatives in 2010 was $1.7 million.
Lapointe can’t rely on media mentions of the Occupy movement to boost his candidacy. After the initial blast of national attention last fall, Occupy seems to have faded into the woodwork.
There was speculation that the movement might spawn a bone-fide political party and endorse Occupy-friendly Democratic candidates. However, an actual Occupy Party has yet to appear on the national stage.
There’s an Occupy Party website registered by someone from Australia that sells tee shirts and mugs. The Occupation Party has endorsed a Democratic candidate in Michigan’s Congressional District 8 and an Occupation Party candidate for the New York State Assembly. There is a candidate running on an Occupy platform as a member of The Green Party in California’s Congressional District 18.
But as far as Lapointe knows, he’s the first and only Occupier to run for federal office.
And Lapointe promises we haven’t seen the last of Occupy.
“Occupy will do whatever it has to do when it needs to do it. And they better be careful. And when I say they: I’m talking about the politicians and the corporations. Because if they push too far they’re going to have something that hasn’t happened in this country in a long time.”
Does he mean a revolution?
“Call it a re-instatement of democracy.”
He notes that direct democracy through a consensus-building model like the one Occupy had is difficult, but he said he’s seen it be successful. Originally from western Massachusetts, Lapointe has been a leader in labor unions for the last 30 years, starting with working on the factory floor and then leading contract negotiations as the vice president of the United Electrical Workers Local 264 in Boston.
“I’ve seen what the union people had to go through.” He says. “They had to fight for everything they got. They had to sacrifice. So that we don’t have to sacrifice anywhere near what they did. We don’t appreciate that in this country anymore.”
Lapointe said he’s not out to destroy the Democratic Party. But he does think that people should look outside party lines for solutions if they are disillusioned with their party.
“How can it be wasting your vote? In the last 30 years you’ve been wasting your vote. What’s one more time? Maybe I am a waste of your vote. But so what. Are you going to get anything worse than you had before? No, and you might get something better,” he insists.
And if Lapointe were to make it through the top-two primary Tuesday along with incumbent Larsen, he says, “it’ll be like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”
If he doesn’t make it through the primary, he’ll have plenty to keep himself busy: a waste management strike in Marysville, his work with Everett GMOP (Get Money Out of Politics), and opposing a proposed new coal train terminal in Bellingham.
“I’m still going to be that crazy, you-got-to-do-something kind of guy,” he says.