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Election 2012: An interview with Jill Stein

Spencer A. Leonard with Edward Remus

Platypus Review 51 | November 2012

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On November 3, 2012, Spencer A. Leonard interviewed 2012 Green Party candidate Jill Stein. What follows is an edited transcript of the interview.

Spencer Leonard: You have written that, “It is time for the Left to be realistic about how it is going to build the power we need to make the changes we want.”[1] In what ways has the Left been unrealistic in the past? How is your candidacy intended to break with that, in howsoever modest a way? Given that there is small likelihood of your winning the election, What do you intend to achieve by running for president this year?

Jill Stein: Given the incredible concentration of economic power in the hands of very few, given the way that concentrated economic power translates into concentrated political power, and given that the forces of the economic and political elite are so vastly entrenched in our communication, political, and economic systems, we have quite a row to hoe. When people say, “What do you realistically hope to achieve?”, it’s important to point out what we are “achieving” right now under this system. We are accelerating backwards in whatever aspect of our society you look at: in our economy we see the continuing concentration of wealth and vast economic disparity, the continuing offshoring of our jobs, the continuing undermining of wages with these expanding free trade agreements; also, the skyrocketing of student debt and continued homeowner debt and foreclosure crisis; the expansion of the war and of the attack on our civil liberties; and the incredible acceleration of the climate crisis. To my mind, these are all of a piece.

There are solutions to all of these problems and it is important that these solutions have a political voice. That is my intention and the intention of the Green Party. And we also intend to translate politically this powerful social movement that we see across this world and across this country—from the democratic revolutions in the Middle East to the Occupy movement and the student protests here in this country. There is no potential political force like a generation of indentured students. Think if the word got out and went viral that thirty six million students who are in debt could go to the polls on November 6 and actually decide vote to end debt, to make public higher education free, and to create jobs. The Chicago teachers’ strike broke with the tradition of organized labor in this country. They had the courage to fight back against a Democratic administration and against the very person who was Barack Obama’s right-hand man in the city where the administration’s oppressive education policies originated.

There is a powerful movement for democracy and justice right now in this country. We need a political voice because, looking back, what really transformed history was the combination of social movements and independent political party or parties. Look at the labor movement: When did the labor movement make progress? When there was a real movement out in the streets, in the early 1900s, alongside independent political parties—the Debsian socialists, the LaFollette progressives, the Farmer-Labor Party, etc.—that could put the labor movement’s demands into the political discourse and drive it forwards. In the words of Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” The effort to silence independent politics—ever since the Bush-Nader-Gore election there has been a campaign that tells us that we have to be quiet—is a smear campaign being waged against the very idea of independent third parties. It is political repression, an effort to silence political opposition. So, the purpose of this campaign is to revive our political voice and our political courage and to keep our demands in the political discourse. That is how we begin to make progress. While I am not holding my breath that we are going to win the office, I do not rule it out either! I certainly do not rule out twenty percent or five percent or two percent of the vote. That said, we cannot worry too much about the vote count in this rigged system; the system is rigged from head to tail in all kinds of ways. At the same time, electoral democracy is a part of how we come together, how we unify, so that we are not a set of separate movements that are easily divided and conquered. Elections are how we come together around a shared agenda for people, peace, and the planet, to use the power that we actually have. As Alice Walker says, “The biggest way people give up power is by not knowing they have it to start with.” Every one of our objectives in the agenda of this campaign is actually supported by a majority of the public in poll after poll. If democracy had anything to do with this election, we would be winning. In my view, it is a win for us to simply revive our political voice and our political courage. That is the key to actually turning around and changing direction—from accelerating backwards to finally beginning to move forwards, towards the just, peaceful, secure, and green future that is actually within our reach.

SL: What are the issues central to the Green Party platform and how do your positions differ from those of the other parties?

JS: The key focus of our campaign is what we call a Green New Deal. This is an emergency program to solve two crises. First, the jobs crisis: We have been stuck in an unemployment crisis for the past five years. There is no recovery: If you are a CEO or a large corporation, then things are going great for you, but for everyday people, there is no recovery. The jobs that are returning are largely low-wage and insecure jobs with poor benefits, including the jobs at General Motors that Barack Obama keeps pointing to as the example of the recovery that he hopes will spread. That is not a recovery for working people.

We have another emergency: the climate emergency. We saw this hit our shores with unprecedented force in the form of Superstorm Sandy, which has left hundreds of thousands of people without food, water, electricity, toilets to flush, or gasoline for transport of food and supplies. There is now a state of emergency, and it is what the future looks like. Subway systems have been flooded out. There is an incredible crisis that we are now just beginning to see. Superstorm Sandy is only a hint of what could come. This storm comes on the tail of the hottest twelve months on record and the most rapid meltdown of the arctic imaginable, far beyond what any science has predicted. We are seeing drought affect sixty percent of the United States on account of which food prices are rising substantially. This at a time when people are already hard-pressed to put food on their table and tens of millions of Americans require food assistance. The climate crisis is not just a question for the trees and the polar bears. This is above all about people. We are the most endangered species of all, because we have a very complex civilization and things like extreme weather are devastating, as we are seeing now.

Though Obama supposedly acknowledges that climate change is a human-created problem, what he has done, essentially, is to embrace the policies of “Drill, baby, drill!” Yes, Obama has some good policies around the margins, but this president has also built more pipelines than anyone else. We have all heard him brag about it. We all have heard him and Mitt Romney compete with each other over who would be a better servant of the coal industry, who would do more fracking, who would drill more oil. The use of our fossil fuels and our emissions are skyrocketing under Barack Obama, and he has promised more of the same.

The Green New Deal is an emergency solution that would work. What we need is not rocket science. We know how to create jobs and we know how to stop the climate crisis. We are calling for 25 million jobs to end unemployment and to jump-start the green economy of the future. That means jobs in clean, renewable energy. We could put millions of people to work overnight weatherizing our homes, our businesses, and our schools, dramatically reducing our carbon footprint at the same time that we get people back to work. The workers we need do not need a PhD. We can put the PhDs to work as well, doing research on solar, wind, and geothermal energy generation and on upgrading our grid. We can put everyone to work, but the ones who most need it are the ones who do not have a high school degree, let alone a college degree, but who could do the kind of work that needs to be done, such as weatherization and the installation of utility devices and solar cells. There is just a bonanza of jobs that we desperately need that could put people to work right now. In addition, we need to do the right thing for an energy-efficient, re-localized, secure, and sustainable food system is not only good for the planet; it’s also good for our health and creates the jobs we need. And, finally, we are prioritizing jobs in public transportation because we need light rail, inner-city trains, electric cars, and so on—and we need them quickly. The kinds of jobs that we will prioritize are very different from the jobs that the president and Mitt Romney talk about. They’re talking about low-wage manufacturing jobs even as they are creating the incentives to keep sending those jobs overseas. It is not at all clear how doing the same thing will lead to something different from the crisis we have now.

SL: I want to come back to this issue of jobs. But first, some say that one has to vote for the lesser of two evils, that one should support the Democrats from the Left or somehow try to push them to the left. Lay out the case against re-electing president Obama and for voting for the Green Party. Why does President Obama deserve to be defeated?

JS: To me, the question is whether this game plan is working. If you look at the last several decades, we have seen increasing concentrations of wealth in the hands of one percent. Under George Bush, sixty five percent of all economic gains went to the top one percent. Under Barack Obama, it became ninety two percent of all economic gains going to the top one percent! There is no sign that either political party has a clue that this is wrong much less a clue about how to change it. As Louis Brandeis said, “We can have either a democracy or vast concentrations of wealth.” We currently have had a vast concentration of wealth, and this trend has continued to accelerate under both Democrats and Republicans. Neither party offers any exit strategy for ending the crisis we are facing. There may be small differences around the margins between what Obama and what Romney is talking about. But these are very small compared to what they actually do—which is the same.

To look at what Obama has done, it is important to separate the talk from the walk. We have been here before. Four years ago, we heard all kinds of promises about what an equitable and just presidency this would be, but that is not what we got. What we got is this: Obama embraced most of the key policies of Bush and then went far beyond them. Even when he had two Democratic houses of Congress, and even when he had an unmistakable public mandate to be the peace president, he did not use that mandate. The first thing he did was to bring back Larry Summers—the engineer of the Wall Street crash—and Timothy Geithner, who looked the other way at the New York Federal Reserve while there was waste, fraud, and abuse. Everyday people were ripped off of forty percent of homeowner wealth and savings and retirement. There has been an incredible, devastating transfer of wealth from working and low-income people—and the poor, who have gotten much poorer—up to the hands of the very wealthy few. They are still getting away with it and nothing is being done.

Obama vastly increased the Wall Street bailout even as he failed to substantially reform Wall Street. The Dodd-Frank Bill is toothless. The banks are bigger than ever—too big to fail and too big to jail. Barack Obama has also continued to expand the so-called free-trade agreements: they’re free if you’re a corporation, but they’re deathly expensive if you’re a human being, either in this country or in the third world. These agreements offshore our jobs and undermine our wages. Obama is also negotiating a secret trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is the mother of all free trade agreements that will continue to make this loss of jobs and downward spiral of wages far worse. He brought in Jeffrey Immelt to head the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. This speaks volumes about Obama’s priorities. Immelt is the head of General Electric. As such, he has singlehandedly closed more factories, put more people out of work, and offshored more jobs than any single person in this country. This is the person who is running Obama’s jobs council and advising him on how to resurrect the economy? The same goes for the war. On day three of his administration, the President began to bomb the heck out of Pakistan and to expand these horrific drone wars, which are actually mobilizing people against us. They are extremely counter-productive in addition to being a terrible abuse of human rights, because there are such high civilian casualties. But Obama expanded those drone wars into Yemen and Somalia. He is now talking about expanding them into North Africa. This is no peace president. He was forced to withdraw from Iraq by the date George Bush had set for a withdrawal. He tried hard for months to extend that date of withdrawal so that he could keep the troops there for longer, but he was unable, and he then called himself the peace president and brought the troops home.

Perhaps most troubling is the attack on our civil liberties. The president now exercises the rights of assassination, even to kill American citizens and their children, without ever accusing them of a crime or charging them of the crime or of bringing them before a court. He has thus undermined our rights and liberty. And the list goes on and on. Obama’s immigration policies are deplorable. And I have to mention the ballooning student debt: We have thirty-six million students who are effectively indentured servants. They have been given loans specially customized for students and stripped of all decent consumer protections. Students are the only ones to have earned this devastating form of loan. So they are carrying these draconian loans at the same time that they are facing fifty percent unemployment and underemployment. What has the Obama administration been doing? The Federal Reserve is actually bailing out Wall Street again to the tune of forty billion dollars. The Green Party is calling for a bailout of the students, not the banks. The banks created this problem, let them own it. We need to bail out the students and let the banks fail. Let them break up. It will be good for our economy to get out of this trap that we are in right now with banks that are too big to fail and too big to jail. They need to be broken up. We should be bailing out the students and making public higher education free, because it pays for itself. For every dollar that we invested as taxpayers in the GI Bill seven dollars was returned to the economy in economic benefit.

We are witnesses to the extending wars, the knockdown of the climate, the continued decline of wages, the offshoring of our jobs and closure of our factories, the attack on our civil liberties, the skyrocketing student debt, the continued homeowner foreclosure crisis, etc. So what has a track record of success? Standing up with the politics of courage, fighting for what we need and what we deserve, standing up in the street like the Chicago Teachers Union which won, unlike so many of the other unions getting down on their knees. American labor buckles again and again because they have been muzzled by the politics of fear and by the predatory Democratic party which is out to silence them. It is the politics of courage that drives us forward, that always has. This is how we get back to the things that we need. Whether we win the election or simply win the day, we are getting these issues back on the agenda and driving them forward. Every vote for my campaign is a vote for the solutions we need, for the revival of the people’s political voice, and for political courage that cannot be stopped once it is out in the open once again.

SL: You’ve mentioned that the immediate demands of the Green Party are not controversial. That is, you claim that polls show that Americans favor Medicare for all, public jobs for the unemployed, ending the wars, clean energy for climate stabilization, debt relief for homeowners and students, tuition free public higher education, public campaign financing, proportional representation, the restoration of Constitutional rights, ending the drug war and mass incarceration, and taxing the rich. You also point out that none of these are even discussed by the candidates of either mainstream party. So, how do you explain the fact that millions of people will vote for one of these parties on Election Day?

JS: One out of every two eligible voters does not vote because they do not see their priorities reflected in the agendas of the Democratic and Republican parties. So, people are voting with their feet by saying “no” to both of them. In addition, the system is well armed to keep people uninformed and disempowered. That is its whole purpose. In this country we do not outlaw political parties, we simply bury them by making it impossible for them to be heard. This is why the Green Party is kept out of the debates. This is why we are kept off the ballot. We spent about 80-90% of our campaign resources just to get on the ballot. This meant we only had about four weeks to campaign after struggling to get on the ballot.

I expected this would be a difficult and bitter campaign, but actually it has been the opposite. Running on this platform is like passing out candy. People are excited, encouraged, and uplifted to hear they actually have a voice in this election. We do not have the big money. We are a politics of and by the people, we are not part of the corporate serving political system. We do not have the money the political system is based on. That is how they keep true dissidents, true alternatives off the television. So, our goal is to get the word out and to develop alternative modes of communication. I encourage you to check out my campaign site at jillstein.org where you can get linked into not only my campaign but into Green Party local and congressional races as well. Our aim is to do an end-run around the prevailing divisive and oppressive political culture so that we can harness the power that is out there.

We are getting the word out, and we are in this for the long haul, to turn the White House into a greenhouse. America will be a better place for it and so will the whole world. We will achieve our aim some day, because the sold-out political system does not have a clue or an iota of interest in fixing this. What is the missing link here? It is is the missing link of changing an oppressive political system into a truly democratic political system. We are the means of doing that. They won’t do it for us. If you think that things are going in the right direction, keep voting for Obama. Because that ius what your vote means. Even if its a reluctant, lesser evil vote, it is interpreted as a mandate for more of the same. Do not let them talk you into using your vote as a weapon against yourself. You use your vote to actually transform the future. Every vote for my campaign, every Green vote is a vote for the solutions that we need and deserve now. With that we can reclaim our political voice and our political courage and transform the breaking point we face right now into a tipping point to take back our democracy and make a green future.

SL: Why does two-party politics not work? Why doesn’t a vote for the Republicans adequately register people’s discontent with the Obama administration?

JS: The problem with the two-party system is that it is a sitting-duck. There is a lot of money out there. As I said before, we have got vast concentrations of wealth in this country, and that inevitably translates into political power. If you only have two parties, it is very easy for the economic elite to buy out both. So, it’s really simple: The economic elite controls both parties and the differences between them are around the margins. What was the debate about healthcare? It was about whether the Affordable Care Act ought to be implemented at the state level as Romneycare or at the national level as Obamacare. They have both agreed not to discuss Medicare for all, not to discuss a single-payer system which is the only way we can get to affordable and comprehensive health care. I lived with Romneycare for five years in Massachusetts. It doesn’t work. It’s a zero-sum game. It helps the very poor at the expense of the near-poor. The real winners are the pharmaceutical and insurance companies who wrote the bill. So this is the deal: The big financial players—the fossil fuel industry, the health insurance industry, and the big banks—they will allow the small differences in social policy that exist between the parties, but that’s it. So, you may think you are registering your discontent by throwing the current bum out of office, but your discontent is registered as an affirmation of the other corporate spokesperson. Voting for either corporate spokesperson gives corporate America and Wall Street the mandate it needs to keep driving us over the cliff, which is where we’re going. Two party politics has a very clear track record now. The politics of fear has a track record.

The politics of courage also has a track record and it is one of success. Once the labor movement was absorbed by the Democratic Party in the later 1930s, there were no more achievements for labor and in fact the unraveling of labor’s achievements began at that point. Soon after came Taft-Hartley. Not only did later Democratic politicians refuse to repeal those attacks on the achievements of labor, they participated in them. In the same way Barack Obama is now saying that, within the first year of his reelection, he will come to a deal to cut Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. Social Security was an achievement of the labor movement. So, the history of the labor movement is very good evidence of how getting absorbed into a sold-out corporate political party is exactly the wrong thing to do.

SL: Let me ask you one more question about long-term left strategy. You have written that “We need a big tent party on the Left where we can discuss the important questions of ideology and analysis while we unite to fight for the immediate reforms we all want. We need a broad party of progressives, not competing sects.”[2] What is the greatest obstacle to the Left’s assuming its role of politically leading the majority towards a new society? How does democracy itself point the way out of the present democratic impasse?

JS: I think as proponents of people, peace, and the planet, we are forever taking the blame on ourselves for not overcoming the vast corporate power arrayed against us. The fact is that we are a whole bunch of Davids fighting Goliath. And you do not have to look too far to figure out why we are not succeeding. It is not only that the public is propagandized 24/7. The public is told why corporate solutions will work, while the left is forever being denigrated, attacked, and vilified. There are real fear and smear campaigns against independent party politics. There are all kinds of forces arrayed against it. Yet, we saw what happened in Tunisia and Egypt recently: The forces of democracy developed new tools of communication for working together and for doing an end run around these purposefully expensive systems of coordinating and cooperating. It was people who did that, mainly young people who did that.

Fear is an enormous obstacle, and we have a very difficult challenge ahead. But political challenges we face are not nearly as difficult as what our future looks like if we allow it to continue to slide toward permanent war, empire, and the police state that we are very clearly accelerating toward. There’s a big wake-up movement going on right now. Things are moving in the right direction: The Socialist Alternative has endorsed our campaign and we are beginning to explore how we can begin to work together more. I think the goal is not one left political party but a number of them. We need multi-partisan democracy. But in order to get that we need to work together to break this chain of political repression that silences us all right now. It is not as though we all need to come to the same agenda all of a sudden. But there is a lot that we can all agree upon in order to revive our democracy. After we achieve those immediate aims, we can then have a much longer conversation about the differences between us. But the really critical thing is that we break through this political repression and politics of fear right now. Together we can do that, as soon as we decide to do it. Who would have believed that the people in Tahrir Square would topple in two weeks an Egyptian government that had been in power for decades. We have the capacity to so something on that scale right now. |P


[1]. Jill Stein, “Independent Politics for a Green New Deal” posted May 4, 2012 at New Politics, available at http://newpol.org/node/626. </a>&gt;.
[2]. Ibid.

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