TAMPA, Fla., April 19, 2012 — Sometimes it’s his living room. Other times it’s inside his 2001 Ford Taurus.
Nathan Kleinman’s office is much like his campaign, easily accessible to his constituency and operating on a bare bones budget, as he tries to become the top candidate in the Democratic Primary for U.S. Representative in Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District.
He may be a newcomer when it comes to his own bid for office, but he’s no neophyte to politics or when it comes to hitting the streets, most recently vigorously supporting the Occupy Philadelphia movement. He’s even been affectionately dubbed by some in the media as the nation’s first “Occupy Candidate.”
While he remains a very public Occupy Philly participant, he does stress that he is an autonomous individual running on his own platform, partially because the various Occupy movements have non-partisan policies and do not endorse candidates.
“I’m not an official OWS [Occupy Wall Street] candidate since no one can be, but I’m proud of my involvement in the Occupy movement, and it is central to my candidacy,” he says.
In the same way that the various Occupy groups all preach changing the status quo, Kleinman’s overriding philosophy is that the current system has failed in many ways, especially for the poor and the middle class, and dire repairs are needed.
Kleinman Says Corporate Power Is the Root Cause of Problems
“I’m running on a platform of getting money out of politics, restraining corporate power, restoring our lost civil liberties, standing up for human rights at home and around the world, and prioritizing the general welfare, including healthcare, education, and the environment, above all,” he says.
Kleinman has distinguished his campaign by accepting no corporate donations because, as he puts it, corporate power is at the root of so many of the problems in society today. By refusing to take corporate contributions, Kleinman says he is demonstrating that he is his own boss.
“I draw a sharp contrast with my opponent and others in Congress, who take money from corporations, then do their bidding on the House floor and in backrooms, regardless of how their decisions impact real people,” he says. “Corporations are not people. They should not have all of the rights and privileges granted to human beings, and they certainly shouldn’t have more.”
Kleinman, 29, has always lived a life of service and activism, beginning with his early education in a Quaker-run school when his family hosted two Bosnian children for a year during the war in the former Yugoslavia. That experience, he recalls, was transformative. From that point on, issues like war and peace and oppression were no longer abstractions, but very real for him.
The genocide in Darfur pushed Kleinman deeper into the fight for social justice. In addition to participating in several Sudan Freedom Walks in America and Europe, he undertook a 12-day fast in front of the White House, hoping to call attention to the daily atrocities happening in the African nation. He then went on to addressing human rights violations in Latin America, taking part in a “Rapid Response Delegation” to Honduras with the group Witness For Peace following the 2009 coup d’état there.
Occupy Philadelphia Zeroed in on Income Inequality
This past November Kleinman quit his day job to focus on the Occupy Philadelphia movement.
“When the Occupy movement blossomed, I knew it was something I had to get involved with,” he says. “Here were people willing to give up everything, live out on the streets, in an effort to make this world a better place.”
While some wonder exactly what the Occupy movement stands for, Kleinman clearly elucidates the group’s goals and achievements to date, noting, for example, their success in achieving a shift in the national conversation from “deficit reduction” to “income inequality.”
“We’ve made 99% and 1% common parlance,” he observes. “But most importantly, we’ve given a voice to people who had no voice before.”
Larry Swetman, 26, one of Occupy Philadelphia’s organizers, has worked closely with Kleinman and values his brain and his unwavering dedication. Swetman believes most politicians spend their time fund-raising and entertaining lobbyists, whereas Kleinman is really all about dissecting subjects and solving problems.
“Since I have known Nate I have learned more about Philadelphia history, Lenape squash, and corporate-political-money laundering than from any one person in my life,” Swetman says. “Nate’s gift is planting seeds — literally and metaphorically.”
Of course no campaign comes without its challenges, one quite literally, when a legal complaint was filed in March, contesting the veracity of hundreds of signatures on Kleinman’s nominating petitions.
Kleinman Has Been Forced to Become A Write-in Candidate
Kleinman says the challenge originated in Allyson Schwartz’s office (Schwartz is the current Representative from District 13 and Kleinman’s opponent. Her office did not return phone calls or emails for this article). Faced with the possibility of a long protracted and expensive lawsuit, Kleinman withdrew his name and is now running as a write-in candidate.
More recently, Kleinman was arrested and charged with defiant trespassing and criminal conspiracy to commit defiant trespassing during a protest of Philadelphia’s new legislation against sharing food outdoors, regulations that were implemented to discourage the feeding of the homeless. The case was dismissed in exchange for paying $200 in court costs and doing 12 hours of community service.
The charges have not deterred Kleinman in any way and perhaps have energized him and his campaign.
“I don’t believe it will affect my chances of being nominated, except maybe in a positive way, since it shows that I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is,” he says. “Most members of Congress don’t even have the courage of their conviction to vote their conscience. I’m willing to go to jail for mine.”
Beyond the rallies and marches, Kleinman has identified a few core issues that present the greatest challenges for his constituency, including lack of jobs, healthcare, and quality education.
And he’s got a few tangible ways to fix those problems, including scrapping, or at least re-negotiating, trade deals such as NAFTA, investing in America’s infrastructure, supporting sustainable energy solutions, and education, and by closing loopholes that encourage corporations to invest more money overseas than at home.
“The work is there to be done,” he adds. “We just need to start doing it.”
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