The Providence Journal has invited independent candidates to participate
For me, the newsroom remains a romantic sanctuary, like a ship to a captain, a baseball field to a pitcher, and a cathedral to a monsignor. They speak of an honored past and the promise of things that could be.
There are nights when I wander the halls of the Providence Journal house on Fountain Street as the sunlight recedes from the desks, chairs and computer stations, much like a tide returning to the sea. Often , in the background there is only the hum of the cleaning crew’s vacuum cleaner.
Hanging on the walls in a hallway is an illustration with a quote and although I’ve seen it a hundred times, there are times when I stop in front of it and take it all in like it’s the first time .
“If freedom of speech is taken away from us, then dumb and silent we may be driven, like sheep to the slaughterhouse.”
These words were spoken by George Washington in his Newburgh address in 1783 as he sought to quell a threat by his army officers, angry at lack of pay, to mutiny against an incipient republic.
It is widely reported that after Washington’s speech, his brothers in arms stood down the day after launching an angry march against Congress. Not a penny was added to their pockets that cold day in upstate New York, but at least they had been heard.
The value of their recognized voices meant more than cold hard currency.
Recently, The Providence Journal decided, with The Public’s Radio, to organize a forum for candidates for the office of governor, then a second for candidates for office in the 2nd congressional district. The first would be at Rhode Island College and the second at the University of Rhode Island.
A debate ensued on whether to invite the independent candidates. At first, I was against it. I was concerned about the logistics of having five candidates in the governor’s forum and three in the congressional race.
And I weighed whether being on the ballot was reason enough to be on stage, or whether a candidate needed a reasonable chance of winning in order to enact policy changes.
Luckily for me, wiser minds prevailed. If Rhode Island deemed you worthy enough to be on the ballot, you would be on stage.
And the Rhode Islanders agreed.
On a dreary, rainy night on October 13, at a time normally reserved for going home and having dinner, the public filled Sapinsley Hall at Rhode Island College to watch Gov. Dan McKee take on GOP rival Ashley Kalus for an hour. Then another 30 minutes were added to the independent candidates – Zachary Hurwitz, Paul Rianna Jr. and Libertarian Elijah Gizzarelli – to have their moment in the political spotlight.
Less than a week later, again on a rainy night, we held a forum in URI’s Edwards Auditorium on the Kingston campus for CD2 applicants: Democrat Seth Magaziner, Allan Fung of the GOP and independent William Gilbert.
We were even able to broadcast the governors’ forum in Spanish.
To be honest, the formats weren’t perfect. But neither is democracy.
The audience thinned out after McKee and Kalus appeared. Some complained that having the three independents relegated to their own time block was akin to second-class status. In the congressional forum, Gilbert had to find an opening to talk as Magaziner and Fung traded barbs.
But independent candidates, like Don Quixote hounding the windmills of the political establishment, thanked The Providence Journal for including them in the democratic process. At the end of the day, they knew that Rhode Islanders took the time and made the effort to hear their voices in these times of mutiny, and that is perhaps democracy’s best motto.
David Ng is editor of the Providence Journal. Contact him at [email protected]