The Hindu’s Frontline, March 30, 2016
“The power to create a new world is…in our hands”
Interview with Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for the U.S. presidency.
by Vijay Prashad
DR JILL STEIN IS RUNNING FOR THE UNITED States presidency on the Green Party ticket. This will not be her first attempt. In 2012, Jill Stein’s Green Party ticket — with Cheri Honkala, the advocate for the homeless — won half a million votes. But running on a “third party” ticket in the U.S. is not easy. The two major parties, Democratic and Republican, keep a firm hold on the political process. It is hard to get on the ballot in all 50 States of the U.S., and it is impossible to join the candidates of the two major parties at their presidential debates. In fact, when Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala tried to enter the debate venue in New York during the 2012 election, they were both arrested. But arrests are not unusual for Jill Stein. During the 2012 election, she was arrested at a Philadelphia sit-in against home foreclosures and she was arrested while offering support to environmental activists in Texas who had camped out against the Keystone XL pipeline. Activism is the measure of Jill Stein’s politics.
The 2016 election for the U.S. presidency will likely be between the Republican front runner Donald Drumpf and the Democratic presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton. Both are steeped in the culture of Wall Street, and neither would be prepared to draw down the massive U.S. military presence across the planet. Jill Stein’s message is utterly at odds with those of these two candidates and their parties. But her views are rarely heard in the U.S. largely because of the media blackout of the American Left, in particular, and all “third parties”, in general. Here, Jill Stein speaks to Frontline about this election and her hopes for the American Left.
Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution” has certainly brought questions of radicalism to the table, including, of course, of democratic socialism. You have said: “You can’t really have a revolutionary campaign inside a counter-revolutionary party.” Could you elaborate on this?
The Democratic Party and its major office holders, with few exceptions, are funded by predatory corporate interests: too-big-to-fail banks, fossil fuel giants, war profiteers, for-profit prisons, Big Pharma and the like. With corporate funding providing its lifeblood, counter-revolution is hardwired into the party.
Over the past many decades, the Democratic Party has repeatedly offered up progressive presidential candidates but consistently sabotaged those campaigns to prevent them from winning the nomination. After the anti-war advocate George McGovern won the 1972 nomination, the party created a system to block insurgent candidates. Superdelegates or conservative insiders provide a margin of safety for status quo candidates. Holding multiple simultaneous primaries on Super Tuesdays requires large sums of money. These two means safeguard against future grass-roots rebellions.
Where necessary, the party has used smear campaigns and back-stabbing to take down its reformers. The anti-war candidate Howard Dean was disabled by the “Dean Scream” ads portraying him as a madman, while Jesse Jackson was marginalised by a smear campaign painting him as anti-Semitic. Dennis Kucinich was denied admission to the debates and then redistricted out of his congressional seat. While the party marginalises its rebels, it benefits from the illusion of progressive figureheads, even as it becomes more corporatist, militarist and imperialist by the year. So these presidential campaigns that lift up the best of the party actually enable it to fake-Left but keep marching to the Right.
Prior attempts to reform the Democratic Party have been futile. Riding the groundswell of the civil rights movement, the labour and civil rights leaders Walter Reuther of the United Automobile Workers and Bayard Rustin of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom led the campaign to create a social democratic party out of the Democrats. The effort succeeded in pushing the Dixiecrats out but floundered with [President] Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War, which forced “reformers” to defend the party’s irrepressible militarism. Instead of moving the Democratic Party to the Left, the reformers were moved to the Right.
The party’s dependence on the economic elite not only shuts down radical messengers but also keeps transformative solutions that represent real threats to its corporate funders off the table. The Sanders campaign has the liberty to support free public higher education but stops short of calling for the cancellation of student debt. Sanders rightly calls for breaking up the big banks but is silent on executive action that could actually accomplish this in short order by instituting minimum capital requirements. Sanders has spoken out against disastrous U.S. foreign policies of the past but has not taken a clear campaign stance against the current catastrophic $6-trillion, 15-year “war on terror” that’s produced ever greater extremes of organised terrorism. Nor has he called for cutting the toxic, bloated military that’s made us less secure, not more secure, while devouring over 50 per cent of the U.S. discretionary budget, bankrupting us financially, morally and spiritually. And while Sanders calls for a ban on new fossil fuels on public lands and offshore, what our survival actually requires is an emergency programme to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030 — well beyond Sanders’ goal of 80 per cent by 2050 — in addition to an immediate ban on all new fossil fuel development.
Despite these limits, Sanders is far ahead of nearly all Democratic politicians, who overwhelmingly practise the economic neoliberalism and foreign policy neoconservatism that the Clintons exemplify. Thus, a President Sanders would face not only a Congress full of Republican intransigence but also Democratic resistance.
While the Sanders campaign shows that majorities supporting progressive economic reforms will come out and vote for a candidate who articulates them, the danger is that this progressive movement will get co-opted inside the Democratic Party, which is fighting with the corporate-financed power structure and losing its identity as a distinct alternative. This is the core paradox of the Sanders campaign. It has been essential for jump-starting the revolution. But inside the box of the Democratic Party, the revolution cannot grow. That is why our Green alternative is imperative; it provides a revolutionary campaign in a revolutionary party in which the movement can continue to build. As the Democratic power structure moves to shut down the Sanders campaign, we provide it a lifeline to continue the fight to November and beyond. Sanders supporters have come too far to throw in the towel now. Even if a revolutionary candidate were to win the 2016 election, this struggle would only have begun. We need a revolutionary vehicle that will not allow this hard work to be disappeared into the neoliberal/neocon Clinton campaign and the counter-revolutionary Democratic Party. This is the time to grow our new-found power like our lives depend on it because they do.
In this era of economic instability, social toxicity, wars of aggression and the perils of climate change, the Left has re-emerged in parts of Europe as an antidote to the Extreme Right. In fact, what we see is the demise of what Tariq Ali calls the Extreme Centre — the Third Way — and polarity at the Right and the Left, somewhere between the fascists and Syriza-Podemos-Corbyn. Such a shift has not occurred yet in the U.S. Sanders’ movement seems to have not so much broken with the Extreme Centre as delivered the base of the Left to what you call a “counter-revolutionary party”. Would you agree with that assessment?
The bipartisan American Centre is indeed a wasteland. Concentrated wealth degrades and disrupts virtually every vestige of democracy on the political landscape: from the stranglehold of big money over campaign finance, to industrial-scale lobbying and the corporate-government revolving door, to the assault on the right to vote, corporatised media, restricted ballot access, and deceptive debates. Bipartisan politicians of the Extreme Centre have not only lost the ability to govern. In large numbers they’ve lost the ability to think and, by most appearances, to feel. In exchange for their corporate sponsorship, they have sold their hearts and souls. Faithful to their corporate sponsors, the bipartisan extreme establishment has produced austerity at all levels of society. So it’s no surprise that half of the electorate has divorced the Democratic and Republican Parties. This new breakaway political force, surging through the Drumpf and Sanders campaigns, is bursting at the seams of the establishment parties, which are holding on for dear life. There’s no doubt the Democratic Party is counting on the Sanders base for the [Hillary] Clinton campaign. Currently, a third of Sanders supporters say they will not vote for [Hillary] Clinton if she is the nominee.
Our campaign is working hard to get the word out so all Sanders supporters know they have a plan B, and that they needn’t be intimidated into voting against what they fear, instead of voting for their deeply held beliefs. Because the politics of fear has delivered everything we were afraid of. And the lesser evil in fact paves the way for the greater evil because people quickly tire of voting for the lesser evil as shown in the 2014 midterms when the Democratic base stayed home, producing widespread Republican victories. So when Sanders steps up to the podium to pledge allegiance to Hillary Clinton, as he has promised to do, his supporters will have the courage of their convictions to reject the lesser evil and keep fighting for the greater good with our campaign.
It is now clear that the Democratic Party will nominate Hillary Clinton. Sanders will be under pressure to bring his supporters behind her. This will be abhorrent to sections of Sanders’ supporters, who would not like to get behind a Wall Street candidate. It is unlikely that Sanders will ruffle the feathers with a third party run. What kind of initiative will the Green Party take to organise the Sanders base so that it is not disillusioned and gives up on politics entirely?
Many Sanders supporters have long straddled both campaigns. As the Democratic Party moves to sideline his campaign, Sanders’ supporters themselves are getting the word out that the revolution continues here, inside our campaign. Our outreach is not targeted at Sanders supporters per se. But several of our key constituencies are no doubt well represented in the Sanders campaign. A major priority is young (and not so young) people in debt — 43 million, in fact, which happens to be a winning plurality in a three-way presidential race. Fortunately, millennials are perfectly positioned to self-organise around debt through social media as they have often done successfully on other issues, like saving the Internet, stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, and fighting the 2013 Monsanto protection Bill.
Student debt is an especially galvanising issue. Not only because its victims have the numbers to take over the election but also because the President has the power to enact a quantitative-easing bailout (like what was used for Wall Street) through the Federal Reserve without requiring an Act of Congress. The message that millennials can effectively cancel their debt by coming out in sufficient numbers and voting Green is spreading like wildfire. The explosive growth of our social media in recent weeks suggests the word is indeed getting out.
Likewise, we are getting the word out to Latinos and other groups concerned about immigrant rights. They have seen that Republicans are the party of hate and fearmongering. And Democrats are the party of deportation, detention and night raids. We are the only campaign opposing border militarisation, pointing out that the most important solution to the immigration crisis is to stop causing it — through predatory trade deals, the war on drugs and U.S. military and CIA [Central Intelligence Agency]-supported coups and regime change. U.S. immigration policy effectively criminalises millions of refugees fleeing the poverty and violence resulting from misguided U.S. policies.
Our goal is not simply to plug people into a presidential campaign but to build the Green Party as the vehicle for political empowerment for the long haul. We are working to organise campus chapters, engage front-line struggles on the ground, spread the word through social media, and push the progressive media in particular to end the blackout on our campaign. We are also working through the courts where the Green Party is part of two lawsuits to force the Commission on Presidential Debates to include the Green and Libertarian candidates who are on the ballot for the majority of voters, and that voters therefore have a right to hear about.
The two-party system suffocates politics in the U.S. The Republicans have become a proper Extreme Right party, while the Democrats capture a large space that runs from Centre Right to Centre Left. Whatever remains of the Left is fragmented and has become irrelevant to U.S. politics. Is this a fair characterisation? Michael Denning, a scholar of the U.S., said that this Left sectarianism mirrors the culture of schismatic religions in the U.S. I also think it has a great deal to do with the lack of mass fronts, where people with hard lines can work with the people on concrete issues.
Considering the long-standing war on independent politics in the U.S., it’s no surprise that the American Left has been in dire straits. Independent, non-corporate parties have been fear-campaigned and smear-campaigned as “spoilers”; restrictive ballot access laws have kept opposition parties off the ballot since the anti-war socialists were suppressed following the First World War. Media blackouts keep the public in the dark. Steep fundraising disadvantages deprive opposition parties of resources. And the “first past the post” voting system denies them the representation they would have in Europe with similar levels of support. So the playing field is steeply tilted in the U.S. against opposition politics.
But recently there have been some very encouraging developments. Greens and socialists have been collaborating in electoral campaigns, such as the joint Green-International Socialist Organisation ticket of Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones for Governor and Lieutenant Governor of New York. We’ve also worked together on front-line campaigns, including living wage campaigns, pipeline protests, and struggles against police brutality, environmental racism, coal trains and fracking towers.
For my presidential campaign, the campaign trail lives in front-line communities: in campus fights against student debt, at mobilisations against high-stakes testing and school privatisation, rallies for the $15 minimum wage, protests against police violence, immigrant detention centres, fracking wells and pipelines and the poisoning of water supplies, the theft of indigenous lands. We are working on the ground to lift up the voices of community struggle, while building political solidarity with social movements for the long haul.
As the one party of the Left with national scope, Greens regularly make our ballot line available to Left candidates outside the Green Party who are running for office. And a number of socialist groups are helping our current ballot access drive to ensure our campaign is on the ballot, providing a choice for as many voters as possible. In 2012, we were on the ballot for about 83 per cent of voters. With the help of other Left parties, we hope to provide even more voters with real choice this year. By working with community mobilisations on the ground and with other Left parties, we are laying the groundwork for a unified social movement with a political voice. This is essential for the transformational change we need to put people, planet and peace over profit, so we can survive into the next century.
You have called for a Green New Deal. Could you elaborate?
The Green New Deal is the centrepiece of our campaign agenda. It is an emergency programme to fix the two major converging crises of the modern era: the unjust, failing economy and the collapsing climate. It’s like the New Deal that got us out of the Great Depression… but with a green focus in order to fix the climate as well as the economy. It creates 20 million living-wage jobs as part of a wartime-level mobilisation to green our energy, food and transportation systems, and restore critical infrastructure, including ecosystems. It does so in the needed time frame: by achieving 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030 and by implementing an immediate moratorium on all new fossil fuel infrastructure and exploration. The result will be to revive our economy, turn the tide on climate change, and make wars for oil obsolete, which will enable us to cut the military budget to pay for the project. In addition, the Green New Deal pays for itself simply in health savings from preventing fossil fuel-related diseases: asthma, heart attacks, strokes, cancer and emphysema. So this is a win-win-win solution that propels us toward a just and sustainable future.
Finally, the range of candidates running for President continues to believe in the idea of American primacy in world affairs. Perhaps Sanders has indicated otherwise, although his foreign policy statements have been few and far between. What would U.S. foreign policy look like from a Green perspective? How would President Jill Stein tackle the formidable crisis of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)?
A [Jill] Stein administration would go back to the drawing board on foreign policy. We need a foreign policy based on international law, human rights and diplomacy, not on global military and economic domination, which has been catastrophic. This policy has cost us $6 trillion ($75,000 per American household) over the past 15 years. Over a million people have been killed in Iraq alone, which is not winning us hearts and minds in the Middle East [West Asia]. And tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers have been killed or maimed. And what do we have to show for it? Failed states, worse terrorist threats, and mass refugee migrations that are tearing the European Union and the Middle East apart.
More of the same failed war on terror is not the answer. It’s time to stop the ISIS in its tracks and end the wars for oil with a peace offensive. This includes a weapons embargo to the Middle East, where we are currently the major supplier, having sold nearly $100 billion in weapons to the Saudis over the past decade. The Saudis in turn have been distributing weapons to terrorist groups, including groups closely allied with Al Qaeda. The U.S. and its allies have been aiding and abetting the terrorists with one hand while they’ve been fighting them with the other. Consequently, we have the power to initiate a major arms embargo, which we must also work to engage the Russians in, as well as all of our allies.
The peace offensive also includes freezing of the bank accounts of countries that are funding international jihadism, including the Saudis, who funded the 9/11 attacks, according to Senator Bob Graham, head of the 9/11 Commission. The 28 redacted pages of the 9/11 report must be released, so the public can understand who the real terrorist threats are. The Saudis were also identified as the leading funder of terrorism worldwide in a State Department cable signed by Hillary Clinton in 2009, released by WikiLeaks. The peace offensive must also be accompanied by expanded peace negotiations including civil society, human rights and pro-democracy groups.
As part of this new principled foreign policy, we would also end the supply of arms and funding to governments that are massively violating human rights and international law. This includes ending support for and collaboration with the Saudi monarchy, which is committing war crimes in Yemen and horrific human rights violations of its own citizens, including mass beheadings and executions. We would also end the $8 million a day of military support for the Israeli government, which is committing war crimes and massive human rights violations, including periodic massacres, occupation, home demolitions, collective punishment and apartheid. We must also put pressure on [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan to end Turkey’s attacks on the Kurds when they have offered peace with a confederal relationship.
For a tiny fraction of our dangerously bloated military budget, we could become a superpower of peace and human rights, eliminating hunger and building hospitals, schools and homes instead of destroying them. Importantly, we can lead the way on demilitarising national budgets around the world and redirecting those resources into greening all of our economies, thus eliminating the current major driver of conflict world over: the competition for fossil fuels and routes to transport them.
A just foreign policy is essential if we are to create an America and a world that works for all of us, a world that puts people, planet and peace over profit. The power to create that new world is not just in our hopes, not just in our dreams. Here and now. It’s in our hands.