Dimitri Cherny says it’s unlikely he will ever raise his hand and be sworn into Congress to represent South Carolina’s 1st District. That may be, but his run as an independent candidate is certainly worth the effort.
That's why he is working day and night to collect 10,000 signatures by July 15 to get on the ballot and face Republican incumbent Mark Sanford in November. If he succeeds, he is convinced that the voters of the 1st District will be the winners — not because they will elect him to Congress, but because they will hear ideas and proposals that no congressional candidate has ever uttered in this district.
"If I can get Mark Sanford and his investors to spend a million dollars to stop me, that's fine," Cherny said recently between sips of a Pluff Mud Porter at a local restaurant. "And I will have a chance to talk about things politicians don't talk about in South Carolina."
The thing Cherny most likes to talk about is permaculture, a system of living with the ecosystem in a sustainable, self-perpetuating manner. The three principles of permaculture are caring for the Earth, caring for the people, and returning the surplus, both capital and organic, in order to fulfill the first two principles. In a state obsessed with gay marriage and abortion, these are subjects that rarely reach the level of public discussion. Cherny wants to change that.
Dimitri Cherny declared his independent candidacy for Congress during an Earth Day service at the Unitarian Church last month. The folks in the pews, expecting the usual be-nice-to-the-Earth homily, got an earful as Cherny presented a statement which one member of the congregation quickly dubbed "Dimitri's Manifesto."
Cherny declared, "Enough evidence has piled up over the past few years to show that global climate change, resource depletion, ocean acidification, fisheries collapse, drought, flooding, mass extinctions, and increasing toxins in the environment are bringing our current society, indeed all of our civilization, to a point of no-return — if we haven't already passed it."
He cited a recent University of Maryland study, which used a computer model to analyze a number of past societies to determine those critical factors that lead to societal collapse.
"Interestingly," he said, "those factors can pretty much be summarized as the same three ethics of permaculture — care for the people, care for the planet, and share the surplus. Societies that have not done those three things have collapsed."
Cherny has been on both sides of the wealth gap. As a high-tech engineer, he was living the good life, with an income that put him in the top two percent of earners, he says. Then came the Great Recession. He lost everything — his job, his income, his home. He was living for a while in his car until he trained as a truck driver, a job he holds today.
"But that shift in my financial situation has made all the difference in who I've become," he says.
Cherny has put together a platform based on the ethics of permaculture. Among other things, he calls for:
• Creating a federal job guarantee program and paying a living wage
• Setting a national earning target of $1,000 a week; no person earning less than that would have to pay federal income tax.
• Implementing a 100-to-1 take-home pay limit; no American working full-time would take home less than one percent of the earnings of any other American.
• Creating Main Street mutual funds, allowing people to invest in local businesses and entrepreneurs, supporting local communities instead of Wall Street.
No matter the outcome of Cherny's long-shot campaign, his very presence in this race is evidence of the utter bankruptcy of the two-party system in South Carolina. As governor, Mark Sanford famously abandoned his office without notice and left the country to be with his mistress, telling no one of his whereabouts for days. He betrayed his wife and his children, to say nothing of the voters, to whom he had presented himself for years as the model of family-values respectability. He racked up more than $90,000 in ethics fines for misuse of a state airplane and other violations.
Anyone in the private sector would have been fired and perhaps prosecuted for such deceit and dereliction. Anyone in the military might have been court-martialed. But in this state, we send that person to Congress.
The white people of South Carolina are powerless to break out of their lock step with the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party is powerless to even put a candidate up against fools and frauds such as Mark Sanford.
The good news is that it gives citizens like Dimitri Cherny an opening to speak. The bad news is that it gives the rest of us the worst government in the nation.