South Seattle Emerald’s Anne Althauser engaged Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein on topics of “lesser-evilism”, the importance of a “Green New Deal”, being an ally in the Black Lives Matter movement and why all politicians should spend a little time in jail on June 5th while she was in Seattle for the “Building an Alternative to Corporate Politics” Rally to support Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s reelection campaign.
A note from the interviewer:
When I was offered the opportunity to interview 2012 Green Party Presidential Candidate Dr. Jill Stein, my first thought was, “not even my liberal-Seattle-pro-choice-anti-war-power-to-the-people self is hippy enough for the Green Party.” There’s always been that stigma around Leftist politics, but my naïveté – nay, the money and power of our two-party political system – kept me from exploring progressive parties.
Since I’ve been of the age to vote, and probably even before then, I’ve considered myself a Democrat. Okay, so maybe I did not self-identify as a Democrat, but I always voted Democrat – the lesser of two evils of the options we feel like we have as Americans. But when it comes to feeling like anyone in politics truly represents my voice – a voice that believes we shouldn’t have to have money and a corporate backing to be able to influence decision-making, or that we’re ignoring our children and families as a nation when we do not invest in education and paid maternity leave – this voice has never existed. Or at least, it’s never existed within my political earshot.
I approached this interview with Dr. Stein as a questioning Democrat. While people have described me as being disgustingly optimistic, I cannot help but think of third party politics as self-deprecating and even too hopeful for my blood. So entering this interview with an open mind, I wanted to know: “why leftist politics?”. What’s the difference between third-party politics and Left-leaning Democrats? What’s the point of trying to run for President of the United States when the Green Party is not likely going to be in the White House in 2016?
Dr. Stein answered all of these questions and more as we sat and chatted in the beautiful community garden space of the Hillman City Collaboratory. Running an hour late due to Friday afternoon traffic, she got a feel for true Seattleite life and the transportation problems we’re faced with in this city. It was an honor and privilege to chat with Dr. Stein, and in the name of having our own power in own decision-making, I encourage you to read the following interview with an open and critical mind.
South Seattle Emerald: I’ve been raised, like many people in the area, associating myself with one of the two major parties. So I’m coming in as a skeptical Democrat, so my first question to you is: Why are you running for President of the United States?
Dr. Jill Stein: We’ve got some serious problems and the political parties who got us into this mess are not getting us out. In fact, the things they manage to agree on just keep us dug in deeper, from this Trans-Pacific Partnership which is sort of the major economic push right now, which will just offshore more millions of jobs and continue to exert downward pressure on wages and undermine public health, and environmental protection and workers rights, and above all national sovereignty. I could go on and on about this major push by Democrats and Republicans which really speaks volumes about who the system is serving and we’ve been stuck in a really terrible place. The wars are expanding, the attack on our civil liberties. The banks are bigger than ever. The too big to fail thing is bigger than ever. In short, it’s not getting fixed. The ship is going down and no one is more at risk here than Millennials, who are inheriting this mess of an economy, low wage jobs – seventy-five percent of jobs coming on line now are low wage, temporary, part-time insecure jobs. You then have the issue of student debt. How are you ever going to pay back that debt with the kind of economy we’ve inherited. Add to that, the climate crisis. We don’t have time to continue making the same mistakes over and over. It’s time to stand up with courage and not be browbeaten into this politics of fear that tells us we don’t dare stand up for what we want and what we need, and we should just take it and go for the lesser evil when we’ve seen this god awful demonstration for the last six years of what the lesser evil does, which is worse than the greater evil that preceded it. We’re saying enough of the lesser evils. It’s time for the greater good. No one can build that greater good except us. We’ve got to stand up and do it. That’s why I’m running for President.
“We have these two public relations agents on our side. One is called the economy, the other is called the environment, and they are conducting a campaign of shock and awe so that anybody who doesn’t get it is quickly starting to get it.”
Emerald: So why is the solution a third party and what does it mean to be “Leftist” or “progressive” in that way?
Stein: We’ve seen really clearly, starting with the Jesse Jackson campaign and then with Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich and others along the way exactly how far you can get with a revolt inside the Democratic Party. We’ve seen with Barack Obama how far a so-called progressive can get inside the Democratic Party, which is basically to only move backwards in a very dangerous way. So, we’ve kind of ruled out working within that system. That system is not going to provide reforms. We will go to our graves, and rather quickly, if we’re waiting for a solution to come from within the system. It is really an exciting time to be in a third party. In Europe and in Greece, in Spain, and also in the UK, we’re we’ve seen third parties go from being invisible to being predominant parties because they’re countries are on the trajectory of austerity which is the exact same trajectory we’re on. I used to really be handwringing and worried about how we were going to convince people and then suddenly I woke up and there was Occupy, and a lot of stuff since then, including all these social movements that are exploding all around us. I sort of realized that we don’t have to convince people. History has convinced people. We have these two public relations agents on our side. One is called the economy, the other is called the environment, and they are conducting a campaign of shock and awe so that anybody who doesn’t get it is quickly starting to get it. One out of two Americans, according to the Census Bureau, is in poverty or are low income or heading towards poverty. That’s 50 percent. Forty million young people are in debt with no prospect of getting out, basically indentured servants, an entire generation. If 40 millions young people decided to stand up and fight back, peacefully, by simply going to the polls and checking off the “Green” box in November of 2016 – you know what 40 million people could do? They could win the election, singlehandedly, just young people who decide to put an end to debt and make public higher education free. Along with that, there are a few other perks that we would work on. One would be to create jobs and an emergency Green New Deal to transform the economy. There’s a blueprint here that makes for a very good future. To me that’s what third parties are about. It’s about all of us coming together now with the politics of integrity under the banner of the Green Party because we are the one national party not poisoned by corporate money. There are other smaller parties but they don’t have a national scope. We come together under the concept of “People, Planet and Peace over Profit”.
Emerald: The Green Party is already on 85% of ballots in the U.S. What’s it going to take to get on the other 15%?
Stein: On the last race we were on the ballot for about 85% of the country, but the way this system works, it’s designed to silence voices who are not part of the status quo, so we also got removed from the ballot, just with the passage of time from many states. We are now ahead of where we were four years ago. We’re aiming to be on 100% of the ballots by the next election cycle and we’re going to do our best to do that. That means starting early and conducting a 50 state ballot drive. That means every day people getting out and standing up and fighting for ballot access in your state if your ballot doesn’t have it.
“The Democrats are not capable of standing up for everyday people, so it’s up to us to fill that vacuum.”
Emerald: There is a lot of corporate money and muscle behind Republicans and Democrats – so how can the Green Party be sustained in that climate, and possibly measure up to the other parties?
Stein: Here’s the hidden reality. The hidden elephant in the room. Most people actually want and independent third party. It’s about 58% to 60%. It’s a lot of people who say that Democrats and Republicans are not adequately representing the American people. So most people are clamoring for what we’ve got. If you look at the numbers for people who identify as Democrats or Republicans it’s tiny. It’s 25% of voters who consider themselves Republicans and 31% as Democrats. I should add that outright majorities actively dislike those parties. It’s not just that people aren’t excited. They actually don’t like them. It’s 51% who don’t like Democrats and 55% who don’t like Republicans. So, what’s wrong with this picture? There’s a political vacuum and we saw it in 2014 because people did not turn out, especially the progressive Democratic constituency – young people, labor, immigrants, women. The “usuals” did not come out because the Democrats have been on the same corporate payroll as Republicans. They take positions that are just a little bit “Left” of the Right than Republicans. That’s how much they distinguish themselves and they’re completely spineless. They can’t stand up and conduct a fight. We’ve seen Democrat after Democrat drop the ball. We saw it in Wisconsin after their uprising [the recall against Governor Scott Walker, who is now also running for President] where there were hundreds of thousands of people in the streets and they occupied the state house for weeks, and when they decided to run a candidate, Tom Barrett, who would not even take a position on an anti-labor bill that had inspired the whole uprising to start with. The Democrats are not capable of standing up for everyday people, so it’s up to us to fill that vacuum, and if we don’t feel it, it’s a very dangerous moment because that’s what gives rise to fascism, to parties of the Right, when people are really hurting, and there’s nothing coming forward and people basically fall victim to these fear mongering schemes, so it’s really important that we’re out there.
Emerald: You made a point about having representatives we can actually identify with as constituents, Bernie Sanders claims to do just that. How are you different from him, as he’s viewed as a person of the Left?
Stein: One way that I’m very different and Greens are very different from Bernie Sanders, is that we are not a war party. We don’t support militarism and big military budgets. We also take a view of Israel and Palestine that really puts human rights and international law first, as opposed to supporting the massacre of Gaza and the attacks on the human rights of Palestinians, and on occupation, and really horrible things being conducted with U.S. blessing, and with U.S. arms and U.S. money. We think that’s a terrible crisis, not just there, but more generally we don’t support big weapons systems like what Bernie Sanders is supporting [replacing F-16s with the controversially costly F-35s] because it’s that war economy for Vermont. We think a war economy is a very dangerous thing, and in the same way we created the war economy very quickly in an emergency after the bombing of Pearl Harbor we feel we have a wonderful opportunity to abandon the war economy and transition to a new Green economy. That’s a big difference between us and Bernie. I think we take a much more vigorous stand on single-payer health care. Bernie’s supporting a bill that allows states to experiment. My feeling is that we don’t need these experiments, under which the cost of health care is just skyrocketing continuously. We’ve had the Affordable Care Act [ACA] in Massachusetts for many years. We call it “Romneycare”. Bernie has been generally supportive of the ACA. In our view that’s been a real betrayal of our trust. The biggest difference is that Bernie is working inside off a corporate, Wall Street-sponsored party, where he is following in the footsteps of Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich and it’s a feel good moment, but what it does is corral the forces of the Democratic Party that could actually be working for real change, and corrals them inside the party and allows the party to continuing lurching to the Right because there is no challenge from outside the party to the Left.
“People have less and less to lose and more and more to gain just by standing up with courage for that future we deserve.”
Emerald: So how do you get people to participate? Not to sound critical, but it’s a really long shot for the Green Party to win the Presidency in 2016. How do you keep from being discouraged and how much of you running is about creating a movement?
Stein: There’s no better way to create a movement than to… Let’s put it this way, that movement is being created right now in the Black Lives Matter movement, with young people standing up to end police brutality, such as what’s going on here locally in South Seattle with E.P.I.C. [Ending the Prison Industrial Complex] and the militarization of the police and the prison state. There are solutions to that that these various movements are lifting up and pushing forward. The same thing with the “Dreamers” and the immigrant’s rights movement, along with the students who are standing up against high-stakes testing and trying to end the school-to-prison pipeline. Here in Seattle especially where there was so much integrity and courage from parents, students and teachers who said “no” to that testing, basically moving that ball down the court to make it optional. These movements are happening right now, so basically the Green Party doesn’t have to build the movement, all we have to do is start unleashing that movement in the political arena, and it’s anyone’s guess when the flood gates will open. No one knew in Greece when Syriza would take off, but it got to the point that people had had enough of austerity. I think people have had enough of austerity in this country and this movement is beginning to take off. We see it in all kinds of signs, but it’s clear there is a political vacuum begging to be filled and it’s our job to fill it. There’s a saying by Louis Pasteur: “Chance favors the prepared mind”. Well, in a way, history favors the prepared political movement. We don’t exactly know when the conditions are going to be fertile, but they are going to be as we’re getting closer and closer to that point of no return, where people have less and less to lose and more and more to gain just by standing up with courage for that future we deserve. We refuse to be terrified into this “lesser evilism”.
Emerald: You’re fond of mentioning that it just takes 3.5% to create a movement, so what has changed in your strategy to try and get to that 3.5%?
Stein: Well, I can tell you that the conditions on the ground have changed, because this time four years ago we were knocking on doors and twisting all kind of arms to be heard. This is a totally different bag of worms and we have all kinds of people coming to us, from the Democratic Party in particular, saying they’re not going to take it anymore. They’re not going to participate in this evil imperialist, Wall Street-sponsored One Percent ball game anymore. Very wonderful people with all kinds of tools and ideas are coming into the campaign to create a very exciting team that we’re going to roll forward in a very big way. We’re still eighteen months out, but we’re far more powered, up and running and ready to go. I should add that we have two court cases that we’ve been invited into to force the Commission on Presidential Debates to be a real debate enterprise, not just a tool for silencing political opposition, so we’re very excited to embark on these two cases that could be game changers.
Emerald: Could you expand on what those cases are?
Stein: I can say that the cases are close to being filed. They involve a spectrum of players and they each represent slightly different legal strategies which is good as we’re going to have two slightly different strategies, and they involve extremely terrific first-class legal representation. One of them involves Rocky Anderson, former mayor of Salt Lake City, and Bruce Fein who is a former member of the Reagan cabinet and an assistant attorney general. The case involves the Libertarians and the Greens and it would essentially tell the Commission on Presidential Debates that they would have to cease and desist and clarify that the current practice of the Commission is not fair, nor non-partisan. The League of Women Voters actually signed off of this commission, which they used to run, saying it had become a fraud perpetrated on the American people. Mainly because it is run by the two major parties to preclude political opposition from being heard. It was taken over after Ross Perot demonstrated that the American people are actually quite interested in hearing what other people have to say.
Emerald: You often talk about the importance of independent media, especially at the local level, in protecting our democracy. How do you see community-driven media surviving in this day and age?
Stein: I think this is a very important question along all sectors of society. How do you manage not to sell out and keep our communities together? I think we’re having to learn all strategies here. Not only fundraising, which is a big part of it. We need to be in a new era where everyone realizes that we all need to chip in to things we need. It’s up to all of us to help fund critical, community-based media.
Emerald: You’ve been arrested multiple times for protesting. You’ve said you’d recommend that all politicians engage in civil disobedience and see the inside of our jail systems.
Stein: It should be a prerequisite for running for public office, similar to prerequisites you have to take in school. Given that our prison system is such an all-pervasive element of contemporary life – eating up a huge portion of our budget, often times more than what we spend on higher education – it’s really important for people who call themselves representatives to know what it’s like inside of America’s jails. I’ve had the fortune to be inside three of them in Philadelphia, New York and in Texas. It’s a rather staggering and life- changing experience to spend time in a jail. It’s like entering into a time-warp or a worm hole because you are not part of society and communications, and electronics, and human conversations. Things really change. My jail-time experiences were really incredible.
Emerald: So how can Federal government incentivize states to cut down on their over-reliance on incarceration?
Stein: This is why I think political people and elected representatives need to have spent time there because the jail system is not working. The rate of recidivism is extremely high. What is the jail system doing? It’s a certain kind of exercise in revenge – an eye for an eye. That’s what it is. It’s not about rehabilitation. It’s not about social improvement. There’s a whole new concept in prison systems and prison justice, called restorative justice, where the emphasis is on: “let’s preempt these problems before they come to the point of violence and conflict”. There is so much we can do. It’s staggering what we don’t do. You can see that in the area of public health, but certainly in the area of community violence, which ought to be viewed as a public health problem. It’s amenable to reason, not only to justice. There are things that we can do to understand poverty, and homelessness are major drivers of crimes, desperation and drug addiction, which is also part of being desperate and hopeless.
Emerald: Here in King County they approved a $210 million dollar youth jail. Organizers are trying to look at alternative models to detention and there is currently a campaign here but what are your thoughts on how to bring about a restorative justice model to municipalities?
Stein: We need to put muscle behind it. We need to be out there in large numbers. This is the age of social engagement. We need to vote, but we also need to vote with our feet. We need to be a physical presence. If you look at how Seattle moved the living wage campaign, there were a lot of people in the street demonstrating and they had the power of the vote, and then having an elected official who could further build that movement, this should be a model we build on. Given that the Black Lives Matter movement right now, is one of the leading social forces, and compelling social movements of our time, youth criminal justice is huge and to be building schools instead of jails is exactly what we should be doing.
“The purpose of our political campaign is to lift up the struggles of the front lines of communities from being the peripheral of political discussion.”
Emerald: So with the Black Lives Matter movement, which is a movement led by all people of color, how do you see yourself – as a white woman – playing a role in that?
Stein: By supporting it. I have found the Black Lives Matter movement extremely welcoming. I was invited to go to Washington D.C. by the mothers of murdered victims of police violence, who were meeting there on Mother’s Day to tell their stories and to go to the Department of Justice to demand justice. I spoke with those women and heard their stories and was honored to be able to support what they were doing. The purpose of our political campaign is to lift up the struggles of the front lines of communities from being the peripheral of political discussion. We need to take them from the margins, we’re they’re ignored to being at the center of presidential debate. This is exactly what presidential discourse should be about. It shouldn’t be the footnote that doesn’t even get a mention. It should be the core of it. That’s what I see as the role for our campaign. It’s about building up these movements that are thriving.
Emerald: If President Obama can barely touch race, though he seems to be discussing it more, how can you discuss race? What’s your angle?
Stein: That’s his choice. When he has decided to speak out, such as after Trayvon Martin’s murder – on the occasions that he does touch it, it tends to move people. To my mind that’s exactly what needs to be done here. The office needs to be used on behalf of everyday people, not for being safe to protect yourself from political criticism. The office holder in the White House should be in the business of taking risks and standing up to help galvanize the conversations that happen if we want to move forward. Silence is not going to do it.
Emerald: When I think about political parties I often times think of religion. People are really driven by beliefs, i.e. they make decisions on whether their god would approve of which party. So how do you get around the religious aspect of things?
Stein: It’s very interesting. I have found over the course of running for President that people can smell a rat, and often what they’re responding to isn’t the issue, but the sense they’ll be betrayed and can’t trust them, and suddenly the issues become very divisive, and people have every reason not to trust Democratic and Republican candidates because they lie through their teeth, don’t do what they say they’re going to do and they have a different master. They’re really just puppets in the game. People know when you’re manipulating them. I’ve had success with attracting religious groups to my campaign. I’ve had pro-life groups who get that we’re pro-life in the bigger sense of the word. We can agree to disagree about abortions and agree that everyone should have reproductive health care, and not come to the point of having to have abortions to start with, but when people need those abortions they should have them. People are so grateful to have a political representative who isn’t scamming them, that they can get over the other stuff.
Emerald: Who has been a leader who has inspired you?
Stein: Mohandas Gandhi. Martin Luther King, Jr. who actually founded the Rainbow Coalition before Jesse Jackson adopted it. Chuck Turner who was a Green member of city council in Boston. Edward Snowden. Honestly, I could go on forever.
“We’re spending [$3 trillion] to be the sickest industrial nation. We need to insure people are employed, that we green the economy, that we have a healthy food system and healthy public transportation that dovetails with active transportation to get rid of the pollution. This is a Green New Deal.”
Emerald: Coming from medical background and a public health background I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about health. We spend more on health care in this county than any other county, yet we’re dying sooner than any other “first-world” nation. How do we start to address that problem?
Stein: We have a “sick care” system, not a health care system. We pour lots of money into it. It goes into the hands of pharmaceutical companies and medical devices and insurance companies. It’s not a health care system. Here’s what we know. When Cuba lost its oil pipeline they had to convert overnight to an organic, wholesome, fresh-food-based system, they had to walk and bike to get to where they were going. They couldn’t rely on passenger transportation because they didn’t have fuel for it, and they weren’t breathing in pollutants. So what happens to their health? Their economy’s crashing, everybody’s stressed out, but guess what? Their death rate from diabetes goes down fifty percent. Their obesity rate goes down fifty percent and their death rate from heart disease and strokes goes down twenty-five to thirty-five percent. It cost them zero dollars! We are spending three trillion dollars a year. That’s three times as much as we’re spending on the Military-Industrial Complex. We’re spending that much to be the sickest industrial nation. That tells you what we need to do. We need to insure people are employed, that we green the economy, that we have a healthy food system and healthy public transportation that dovetails with active transportation to get rid of the pollution. This is a Green New Deal. This is our basic proposal that we address the economic emergency, the health emergency and the climate emergency all in one fell swoop.
Feature Photo Credit: Alex Garland