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Opinion: I once ran as a candidate in a US election - I'm from Cork

Corkman Greg Delanty, a poet, found himself running as a candidate in the US election in 2004. It was a learning experience.

Greg Delanty

As the US Elections take place and the outcome is eagerly awaited, Irishman Greg Delanty, poet, activist – and former candidate for public office in Vermont – recalls his run for office in his adopted home state and his experience voting this year:

I HAVE DECIDED today that I want to go to the polls and see my vote ballot going physically into the ballot box. So, like many others, I will wait in line in Vermont, where I live, and cast my vote for Biden and my senate and congress choices, all the way through state and local offices too. 

Every citizen in the US has been sent a ballot sheet that they could post, because of Covid-19 some people may not be able to get to the polling sites.

But I don’t trust this election – the stakes are too high. The incumbent President is capable of anything and has already said that he won’t accept the election result if he doesn’t win. Scary. The country is on tenterhooks.

There is no way that President Trump will win in Vermont. We are the state that put up Senator Bernie Sanders, who may well have won in the last election if he was allowed run instead of Hillary Clinton. All of that is water under the bridge.

That time I ran for office

But this election has me wishing (almost) for the (also murky) Bush days when I ran myself for local office in the US elections held in 2004.

Green Delanty was my moniker during canvassing. Not just because I was Irish or new to the game, but also because I was running for The Green Party. I ran for the position of High Bailiff of Vermont – a largely ceremonial and archaic position.

I saw my name on the very same ballot as the Presidential, Senatorial and House candidates. The reason I ran for such an eccentric position was that The Green Party in the US was newly formed, and this was a way to let people know there were alternative choices to the Republicans and Democrats. 

Many others in the Green Party were running for more serious positions. We wanted to establish a presence. I canvassed and joked that I had my high horse (or was it donkey?) saddled in my garage and my Cork gun was loaded. 

Some of my canvassing posters were poignantly funny, like the one that had a marooned man isolated on a tiny island with a single palm tree. The island was surrounded by an ocean of bottles, each with an unopened message. Humour is the refuge of a desperate man. 

We believed that the US back when I ran in 2004 was locked into a two-party system, with really the same capitalist criteria running both parties. But since President Trump became the Republican Commander in Chief, the gap has opened wide between the Democrats and the Republicans, with Trump inciting racism, white supremacy, and division.

He is not only denying climate change, but undoing may of the laws that keep the fossil fuel industry somewhat in check. And then there is health care, and then there is gun control, and then there is…

So how did I, a person from Cork City, end up running in the US elections? I arrived in Burlington, Vermont, in the Autumn of 1986. I had just been granted The Allen Dowling Poetry Fellowship, and all I really had to do was collect the award money and travel around the US.

I had just given up my job as a secondary school teacher at Douglas Community School, Cork, so I could write (yes, poetry) full time. The muses must have been smiling or was it smirking when they opened up this opportunity.

I took it gladly and was given a temporary visiting poet position at the University of Vermont  – before returning to the same state, one year later, to take up a full-time teaching job at St Michael’s College.

Back in the USSR

I actually got the job offer while I was in Odessa, in the old Soviet Union, I was part of an international contingent from CND Ireland with Adi Roche, Joe Noonan and others who were invited during Gorbachev’s Perestroika to come to discuss the state of the world and possible solutions.

On that trip, we were the first group of outsiders who were allowed to meet the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and where Adi Roche was moved to eventually start the mighty Chernobyl Children project.

I recall with a laugh now the time one colleague and I were nearly sent home from the Irish contingent by the Soviet Union government for unofficially visiting a Soviet dissident in the outskirts of Moscow.

We thought we had done this secretly, but we didn’t realise that the taxi driver who picked us up outside the hotel by Red Square was either a KGB informant or was actually a KGB agent.

I have boasted in recent years that I am the only person probably in Vermont who has been tailed and spied on by the KGB, and the CIA – because of all my demonstrating against US foreign policy.

I continued my activism in the US, in Vermont, which became increasingly focused on environmentalism.

IMG_8924 copy Source: Greg Delanty

This led to me joining The Green Party, which was in its infancy, and my run in the 2004 election. In the last 20 years, I have become a member of 350.org, founded by the environmentalist Bill McKibben, and I have taken part in many demonstrations and campaigns over that time. 

One of these led to me being arrested outside the White House for civil disobedience in August 2011. I also have travelled to North Dakota to stand with the Sioux Nation in their struggle to defeat the tar sands pipeline.

So it is not unsurprising that my book No More Time is entirely taken up with climate change and the natural world. The book celebrates the environment and also bemoans its treatment at the hands of humans.

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In my small way, I am addressing the centuries-old western Christian attitude that humans are apart from the environment. We are not separate and fragmented as portrayed by the great writers and artists at the beginning of the 20th century. 

As for this 2020 election? Vermont will certainly vote for Biden and Harris, but what about the Southern and Mid-Western states? Florida? These states are so different to Vermont, different countries practically, and beyond the understanding of the majority here in Burlington. 

As for my own foray into electoral politics? I was beaten out by a Democrat for High Bailiff, but I got 17,369 votes – far more people than normally buy poetry books.

I believe that Biden and Harris will win the election, that it is their time, but things may go wrong and the result may be fouled up. That they win the election and Trump is ousted is the most important issue for me and most Vermonters right now. 

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No More Time by Greg Delanty is published by LSU Press and is available from online booksellers including Books Upstairs and Kennys.

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Greg Delanty

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