Seeds is a photography column that seeks to explore and promote just causes by highlighting individuals‘ efforts. These individuals are seeds of justice and resistance, and seeds for social movements and social changes.
BEFORE I START talking about James Lane, I’d like to apologize to the readers (most, I assume, are in the Sinosphere) if any of the references seem esoteric. In my attempt to keep this article short, instead of talking about historical figures and local events at length, I have linked short videos to these subjects. This article is also an attempt to relate the US experience in third party politics to the emerging “Third Force” in Taiwan. My hope is that a patient reader will look into these references and learn from the US third party experience.
I know Mr. Lane as a fellow documenter of social movements. With a warm smile and gentle spirit, his charisma emanates even from behind the camera. It is not surprising that Mr. Lane participates in social movements and works on many social justice issues going beyond documentation.
Mr. Lane is a political activist who has run for elections, so the title of “political activist” is a distinction he makes a point of emphasizing because he does not believe in “politicians.” I asked Mr. Lane what activism is, and he answered candidly, “Being an activist usually means planning protests and actions and hoping to get on TV. You finish one protest and then move on to the next one.”
Mr. Lane finds this narrowly defined activism limiting and would like see more activists to take activism to a different battlefield – the ballot box. Mr. Lane understands why many activists stay away from electoral politics, as the election process has generally speaking, yielded very poor candidates and politicians who beg for votes during election and do not do anything for the community once elected. However, Mr. Lane questions the refusal to engage in the electoral process, as voting is the most concrete and direct way to effect policy changes in the system of representative democracy. To Mr. Lane, activism in electoral politics has a very strong tradition, as he cited examples of Eugene Debs, Harvey Milk, Ralph Nader, and Kshama Sawant.
Mr. Lane has been a Green Party political activist for 15 years, and has worked behind the scenes as well as run as a candidate twice, in 2013 and 2015. Green Party organizers understand that their platform is more important than an actual victory. While winning elections is important, Mr. Lane believes as long as the agenda he cares about gets attention and the platform gets pushed forward because of a campaign, so that the effort is worthwhile even in losing.
One of Mr. Lane’s platforms for running for Public Advocate Office in 2013 was adoptee rights. Being adopted himself, he has first hand experience of indignities adoptees have to face in order to find their birth parents due to the state bureaucracy, as adoptees have no right to their birth certificates. It took Mr. Lane many years of searching, a detective, and attending numerous adoptee support groups before he found his birth parent. “I felt complete,” James said of his having finally met his birth family. He wanted to, as a candidate, to advocate for adoptees in hopes of helping other fellow adoptees. He did not win the election but is proud to have played a role in advancing adoptee rights by way of running a campaign. Since 2013, adoptee rights have advanced, and it has become easier in many states for adoptees to find their parents.
Mr. Lane ran as a Black Lives Matter candidate against the prosecutor on the Daniel Pantaleo/Eric Garner case, Republican District Attorney Daniel Donovan—someone who is widely seen by activists as having manipulated the Grand Jury procedure so that Officer Pantaleo would not be indicted. Donovan ultimately won the election, and Mr. Lane received 1.3% of the vote. The voter turnout was at a dismal 10%. Mr. Lane is not discouraged by the turnout, nor has he stopped working with the Staten Island community.
It is well known that being a third party candidate is very difficult, and Mr. Lane has talked about a few hurdles as a third party candidate. For examples, the Election Board tends to not do its job well, and the candidates need do its work to inform constituents when the election is, what the election is about, the location of the polls, and etc. In 2013, Lane’s name was not even on the pamphlet the Election Board issued—in fact, it had listed a candidate who was not running for the office. It is also exceedingly difficult for third party candidates to enter debates, “There was not a poll, but I was just not allowed to debate with the other two candidates,” Mr. Lane commented on the 2015 campaign. Money is also an issue, as there is not a public fund to even the playing field, so the finances is always a great challenge for third party candidates. The difficulties of being a third party candidate, and the fact that the population has largely disengaged from electoral politics, makes it very difficult to run campaigns outside of the bipartisan system.
“Do you ever feel pessimistic?,” I asked Mr. Lane.
“I have to be positive for my son”, he answered with a big smile.