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I don’t have much faith in elec­toral pol­itics anymore.

The con­stant chau­vinism tires me, and the estab­lishment bias of our two-party system leaves little room for mean­ingful change. That said, former Sen. Mike Gravel’s, D‑Alaska, pres­i­dential cam­paign revived a dream that a pres­i­dential cam­paign could change some­thing.

Within a week of announcing Gravel’s can­didacy, Henry Williams and David Oks, the two teenagers running his cam­paign, released a Google Doc with his pro­posed platform along with a straight­forward request for feedback and edits from the pro­gressive or socialist com­munity that might support him.

It was crude, unpro­fes­sional, rudi­mentary, and ama­teurish. And, I fell in love.

The cam­paign was unabashedly com­munity — and grass­roots-ori­ented. So, I fell back into hope­fulness and even sug­gested my own edits to his platform.

Gravel’s story is one of bravery and agi­tation.

His most important accom­plishment is reading a part of the Pen­tagon Papers, out loud, in com­mittee. To top off his leg­endary achievement, once Gravel was too exhausted to con­tinue, he added 4,100 pages of the Pen­tagon Papers to the con­gres­sional record, instantly revealing and forever pre­serving the evils of the Vietnam War ⏤ at the time, it was unclear whether news­papers would ever be able to publish the leaked papers because of several injunc­tions from the Department of Justice which halted pub­li­cation.

Gravel knew when he ran for pres­ident in 2020, nearly five decades later, that he wouldn’t win. But his cam­paign was explicit about its goals from the start: to inject healthy debate into the primary about the U.S.’s mur­derous foreign policy and to push other can­di­dates leftward on other issues like healthcare and elec­toral reform.

In the beginning, I didn’t expect much from the cam­paign. Gravel’s admit­tedly over­am­bi­tious plan was to qualify for a debate or two, make some bold state­ments about foreign policy, and then drop out of the race.

The Demo­c­ratic National Com­mittee created strict, exclu­sionary rules for qual­i­fying: 65,000 unique donors or 1% in at least three DNC-approved polls. With nearly 25 major can­di­dates running, these were espe­cially stringent.

As expected, Gravel missed the first debate by a long shot. But as the qual­i­fi­cation deadline for the second debate approached, Gravel’s pop­u­larity and dona­tions grew expo­nen­tially. The days before the deadline were a roller­coaster. I refreshed Gravel’s donor count dozens of times until he hit 65,000.

Gravel offi­cially qual­ified for the debate. A major anti-war critic on the Demo­c­ratic debate stage could illu­minate the death and destruction of our foreign policy.

The DNC allowed a maximum of 20 can­di­dates on the debate stage. Gravel was one of the last ones to qualify and the July stage was set ⏤ until, a few days before qual­i­fi­cation closed, Rep. Tim Ryan passed the polling threshold.

The DNC decided Ryan deserved the spot more than Gravel because it values the polling qual­i­fi­cation over grass­roots dona­tions. Six can­di­dates in the July debate did not reach 65,000 donors, including Ryan. Half of these can­di­dates had less than 10,000 donors but were allowed to spit their nearly iden­tical talking points while Gravel’s insights were forced to the sideline.

One can only spec­ulate about why the DNC chose to pri­or­itize polling rather than donors, which are a more stable and pre­dictable indi­cator of actual support.

Gravel had little chance of qual­i­fying because his name wasn’t included in most approved polls, despite having tens of thou­sands more donors than other can­di­dates whose names were included.

But the issues don’t stop with Gravel.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, another can­didate critical of America’s foreign policy con­sensus, won’t be on stage Sept. 12 because she didn’t reach the threshold in four DNC-approved polls. She did, however, reach at least 2% in dozens of credible polls that the DNC decided not to count for debate qual­i­fi­cation.

The DNC’s policy is clearly and pur­pose­fully restrictive.

Were some polls specif­i­cally excluded to push Gabbard out of the Sep­tember debate? Though we don’t know for certain, it wouldn’t be out of char­acter for the DNC.

The Demo­c­ratic party’s estab­lishment bias is well-doc­u­mented, espe­cially after it was revealed that the 2016 Clinton cam­paign essen­tially picked the DNC’s per­sonnel in its research and com­mu­ni­ca­tions depart­ments. Sim­i­larly, we’re only six months out from the Demo­c­ratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mittee ⏤ the orga­ni­zation tasked with orga­nizing fair con­gres­sional pri­maries ⏤ announcing it would blacklist any vendor working for a primary cam­paign that chal­lenges a Demo­c­ratic incumbent.

Gabbard summed up her thoughts in a recent interview.

“The whole process lacks trans­parency,” she said. “If they’re not trans­parent with their process … it creates a lack of trust in Demo­c­ratic voters that the DNC is actually working for their interest and cre­ating a very fair and trans­parent process. When you’ve got a lack of trust, you’ve got people who wonder whether or not they should be involved at all.”

I only par­tially dis­agree with Gabbard here: The DNC has been trans­par­ently estab­lishment-ori­ented and unwilling to chal­lenge its rightward lurch that occurred between the Reagan and Obama years.

With dis­ap­pointment after dis­ap­pointment, it really does leave me won­dering whether I should be involved at all.