Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein spent Wednesday night in a Philadelphia jail after being arrested at an Occupy protest against Fannie Mae, something not entirely surprising for a politician that throws around words like "imperialism" and "economic violence" while celebrating "the battle that has already come to our streets."
The traditional nervousness around voting for a third-party candidate - with Ralph Nader's alleged vote-taking in 2000 still blamed for ushering in the George Bush presidency - is magnified when the Republican candidate comes out in favor of firing people and forcing immigrants to "self-deport."
Meanwhile, whether Obama will win the needed support of progressive voters during a time of continued unemployment and rising drone attacks is still an open question.
Enter Stein, whose key platform is the Green New Deal, a jobs program which she says will both build on the success of the New Deal in the 1930s and also help move the United States toward a sustainable, green economy. She also campaigns on drastically reducing military spending, in favor of abortion rights and against corporate personhood.
Truthout first interviewed Stein in January 2012. Now, with the election only months away, we caught up with Stein to check on her positions on police murders, the surveillance state and how her plans to get on the ballot around the country are going. We spoke late Tuesday evening, the day before she was arrested.
Yana Kunichoff: It sounds like you had a busy day. Where were you?
Jill Stein: Today was getting Pennsylvania on the ballot, and today was working with some of the volunteers as well as our Vice Presidential candidate Cheri Honkala, who resides here, collecting up petitions and delivering them to the Secretary of State's office in Harrisburg and meeting up with various supporters and volunteers and turning in the signatures. We were doing a small press conference there and then driving back from Harrisburg and getting caught in traffic.
YK: Where are you now?
JS: In Philadelphia. We flew out here to finish up the signature drive which is no simple proposition anywhere, especially in Pennsylvania, where there has been such a history of locking out opposition voices. It took a lot of strategy to try to overcome that and reach the very high hurdle to be assured that they are not going to try and throw us off the ballot. We also need to prepare for an occupy event at Fannie Mae with families being thrown out of their homes.
YK: You have been running your campaign both at the grassroots level and the electoral level. Tell me about bringing those two together.
JS: It's about bringing the fight that's going on at the grassroots level, for our homes, for jobs, for affordable healthcare, to have tuitions that a student can afford. These fights are actively going on in our communities, but they are not currently represented in electoral politics. They are not on the horizon of two major parties, they are busy talking about Mitt Romney's tax forms or latest gaffes, anything but the real problems that Americans are struggling with and how we are going to fix them. Bringing the grassroots struggle into electoral politics and challenging the hijack of our electoral system and Wall Street gives me the liberty to talk about what we need and how we are going to fix these things. We need a green economy if we are going to survive. The public is aware that we need to bring the troops home now. It's so exciting to me that there is a kind of real focusing now of the public voice, and the public mindset, and to my mind it's very exciting to be able to provide a political vehicle for that consensus that has begun to really come into focus.
YK: The assumption that both the Republicans and Democrats work on is that Americans lean to the right, and therefore the national debate must constantly be moved rightward to engage the most people possible. But your experience seems to show a different consensus.
JS: I think it's pretty clear from polls across the country that there is a rapidly declining interest in the Democrats. The approval of Congress is in the single digits. It's no secret that people are not happy with what the two political parties are proposing. We launched our campaign at a middle of the road university in Illinois [Western Illinois University]. I was asked to come by a woman who was my campaign manager on campus and asked me to come on election night. So I thought it over and called her back and said ‘Sure,' because young people are what our campaign is all about, the only campaign that is actually addressing the crisis that young people are facing. Of course we are going to come, we are going to kick off our campaign at your college. I had six minutes to explain to a group that had never voted green or lefty or independent.
YK: Why was the debate so important?
JS: It's held every four years in a small independent university, and supposedly the press pays attention because it tends to predict the outcome of the election. It's where east meets west urban meets rural. The results of the election were really quite stunning. We were running 3 percent in the poll (the greens), but after 6 minutes of explaining our agenda to these young people we went from 3 percent to 27 percent, and in a 3 way race 27 percent is getting very darn close to a tie. Oh my god, the ground has shifted under our feet politically. This election is a whole new ball game. I've run for office several times and have always heard the complaints about "Oh third parties how dare you." I expected it to be really intense and bitter but it's been the opposite. This race has been really like giving out candy at Hanukah or Christmas or Kwanza, like at Western Illinois University, the students were just overjoyed not to have to vote for a candidate that said they don't count. Both Obama and Romney promised to stay the course on student debt. Students are not in a survival position, there are 36 million students that are basically in indentured servitude so that our state governments can give handouts to corporations.
On top of that students have a climate catastrophe to look forward to, and the President has regrettably has embraced "drill, baby drill," undermined the next set of climate accords and promised that we won't do anything about this until 2020. They are in a similar position in many ways to that of young people in Egypt and Tunisia. What if those students get wind that they actually have a choice? We are experiencing this on college after college where young people in particular are getting on Facebook and leading the expanding [Stein presidential] campaign. It's not just young people, we hear from dissidents in the labor movement who also are growing weary with the complicity of organized labor. You see breakaway labor movements like in Chicago where the Teachers Union is not going to let their democratic mayor just slash their wages and their benefits, even in election season. And then there is the issue of our civil liberties where President Obama took the violations of George Bush, codified them, and then went even further to legalize the violations of our civil liberties.
YK: If you became president, you'd inherit a massive national security state complete with widespread surveillance mechanisms and a secretive immigration bureaucracy. How would you deal with this?
JS: It's clear that the current congress doesn't work and Washington is in gridlock. There is nowhere to go but up. They could agree on HR347 and a few terrible things like that, but in terms of fixing what ails us, they don't work. They are in a state of dysfunction. So a lot of things would change. First of all, if I were to get elected, I would have a mandate for a real agenda, so that puts us in a great position of advantage relative to what Democrats and Republicans are doing now: talking about nothing and trying to win the race based on being the anti. They are not going to get elected, they have no public mandate on moving forward.
How would we work? I want to mention what happened around the SOPA [Stop Online Piracy Act] bill and the PIPA [Protect IP Act] bill, which was considered a slam dunk. It was common knowledge it was going to pass, the press wasn't talking about it. But the public got wind about something that really mattered, so it got out there on the internet and people stopped it on a dime. That should be the rule and not the exception. The President would have considerable power if they chose to be the organizer in chief, they could have friends in the White House. The President could ensure that people know about critical bills that are coming up and what are the talking points to call their elected officials and instruct them how to represent them, and engage them to be the real engine of our democracy. What if democracy actually worked? Right now, we don't have a functioning democracy.
YK: A cornerstone of your campaign is the Green New Deal. What is it?
JS: The Green New Deal is an emergency plan based on the New Deal that has a track record. It substantially got us out of the depression and this plan is modeled on that. It would create 25 million jobs, community jobs and living wage jobs at the same time that it jumpstarts the green economy that can make wars for oil obsolete because it meets our energy needs here at home. It would not be a Washington driven cookie cutter program, but a bottom up program that puts communities in charge of finding what jobs they need to be sustainable.
On the social side we would see communities also hiring back their teachers, the 300,000 teachers that were laid off, as well as positions in childcare and violence prevention. It would include jobs in the public sector so people could go down to an employment office instead of an unemployment office and collect a check for working a job that helps your community. It would also include jump starting small businesses and worker cooperatives, particularly helping innovators in both of those departments. The small business enterprises that truly are the job creators, unlike the multinational so-called creators, have suffered enormously from the monopolies held by multinationals.
The cost of these programs have been estimated, there are various models. The main program we look at was a model created by Philip Harvey at Rutgers Law School. His plan calls for the program that costs a little bit less than the President's first stimulus package, directly creates jobs where as President Obama's calls for tax cuts for corporations. The Green New Deal contains financial reform to ensure that financing is available. It would break up the big banks that had only gotten bigger and bigger, we would reform the bank, we would implement a Wall Street transaction gas, tax Wall Street gains as income, as well as the money coming in with the downsizing of the military.
We are underdogs here, but the American voter is an underdog voter and an underdog citizen and worker and student. We are all getting devoured here by a system that has nothing to do with democracy, if it partially prevails, we will partially win, and people are realizing that if they go into the voting booth if they cast a vote by a Wall Street-sponsored candidate, it will be used as a mandate for more of the same. It's a deadly trajectory, literally.
YK: One issue that both Romney and Obama have been conspicuously silent on is the recent police violence in Anaheim and police shootings more generally.
JS: It's unconscionable, and the police violence has its mirror in civilian violence as well, including the sort of paramilitary violence. I'm thinking here of Trayvon Martin as well as Kenneth Chamberlain, who is really a staggering poster child of violence. There is a thread here that weaves between racist violence, random crazy person violence and police violence, there are just a whole spectrum of violence here where racism plays a very strong role. It's clear that we need to rein in police violence, we need to hold police forces accountable, the stop and frisk program in New York City which is all about racial profiling too, we need to put an end to racial profiling, they do not make us safer and are inherently violent and degrading. In addition, we need to insure that we are addressing economic violence that plays out racially in its fullest extreme to whereas African-American families had 10 cents on the dollars to the Caucasians 10 years ago, they now have 5 cents on the dollar. It's really important for people to acknowledge the institutional racism that is built into the functioning of our society. We need to talk about this so we can understand how tilted of a playing field we are on. We are not in a post racial era, these problems are alive and well and they are only getting worse. We have go to fix them, and part of this is having an honest conversation and addressing the economic need, particularly in communities of color.
YK: As we get closer and closer to the election, the pressure for progressives to vote for Obama is going to increase. What would you like to say to potential voters?
JS: It's really important to see where this politics of fear has gotten us. George Bush bailed out Wall Street, Barack Obama bailed our Wall Street. That didn't get better. George Bush deported a lot of immigrants, Obama deported a whole lot more immigrants. Because we were quiet our civil liberties have been trashed even more. It's really important to say that under the democrats the ship won't go down quite as fast, but a sinking ship is still a sinking ship. Your objective is not to get onto another ship which is going down a little bit less quickly, this doesn't get us out of there alive. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are offering strategies for the crisis we are in, none of them have an exit strategy and yet Democrats are asking us won't we please use our votes as weapons against ourselves? Our successes historically have always come from a social movement on the ground. It's time to stand with the politics of courage, not fear, and take our political life back from our political abusers.
It happened in Egypt and Tunisia, and they had a much bigger hill to climb. I think we have already won the hard battle, which is for the hearts and minds of the American public - they have checked out from establishment politics. It doesn't end in November. By launching a new voice, by political courage, there is no going home. It's about engaging the battle that has already come to our streets.