Students from around the area gathered Thursday night to rally outside the Committee on Presidential Debates building on New Hampshire Avenue, urging the inclusion of Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader and other third-party candidates in October’s presidential debates.
About 120 students formed a picket line and marched in a circle demanding, Where is the choice?
Students from GW, the University of Maryland and other area universities joined the rally, which lasted about an hour and a half.
They should take a look to see what students have to say, said freshman Katharin Bloeser, referring to the commission. Last time I checked, democracy doesn’t start, because you have a lot of money.
Protesters came dressed in costumes and masks of presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore, while others held up banners and signs with slogans like Competition promotes excellence, demand open debates.
While the rally was not intended to support a particular candidate, many of the protesters said they supported Nader. Fewer supporters came out for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan and Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin.
Nader is on the ballot in 43 states, including D.C., according to the candidate’s campaign Web site.
The Commission, which was created in 1987, is responsible for setting up the current schedule of presidential debates. The debates between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush are scheduled for Oct. 3 at the University of Massachusetts, Oct. 11 at Wake Forest University and Oct. 17 at Washington University in St. Louis.
Independent candidate Ross Perot participated in the 1992 debates, which included Democratic candidate Bill Clinton and Republican incumbent George H. Bush. The 1988 and 1996 debates included only major-party candidates.
Speakers, who stood in a circle and read information and opinions about Nader, expressed their support for including third-party candidates in the debates.
The mood inside the building was calm while the group outside chanted, Open the debates!
Earlier in the day, at about 8:30 a.m., eight protesters were arrested and charged with unlawful entry during a blockade of the building.
Protesters at the rally said closing the debates to third-party candidates mocks democracy.
I think democracy in America is a sham, said George Ripley, a 52-year-old non student who joined the protest. Until we get big money out of democracy, we have a puppet show.
GW freshman Danny Tobias said the rallying students demand change.
After picketing, the students presented the committee a petition with 80,000 signatures urging Nader’s inclusion in the debates.
What the debates are right now – they are strictly for Gore and Bush, sophomore Jeremy Butler said.
The group clustered around the entrance of the committee building chanted for people inside to open the door. Guards and D.C. police forced the crowd back, but did not stop the rally.
Eventually, the petition was recognized and officials said it could be brought back during business hours. Organizers returned Friday to deliver the petition.
After learning their petition would be accepted, participants addressed the crowd and encouraged activists to speak out for Nader.
I think a lot of people are fed up with a whole bunch of nothing they get from politics, GW freshman Sam Reggio said.
The rally ended with students shouting, We’ll be back, and we’ll be heard!