Jill Stein, the Green Party's presidential candidate from 2012 and exploratory candidate for 2016, says the Greens "are the only game in town." She affirms that Greens are fire-walled from corporate money, hold core American values, and can unite a fractured electorate around a struggle for democracy and justice.
The Greens are the most solidified third party, behind Libertarians. They have chapters in 35 state states and three 'identity caucuses' that represent LGBT, black, and women's groups.
Stein was arrested in 2012 while protesting her inability to take part in presidential debates. She is currently the third presidential candidate to sue the Commission on Presidential Debates (after Green Ralph Nader and Libertarian Gary Johnson). I talked with Stein recently in an interview for IVN. Here is what she has to say about voting, identity politics, and the Green campaign:
K.B. - What do you think is a citizen’s responsibility to vote?- If we let a political vacuum take place, that vacuum will be filled by big money, and the power houses of American society and the economy. That is currently the rule, this is the oligarchy that we currently live in. It is very important that we break that stranglehold. Now, it’s one thing to tell people to vote, it is another thing to tell people who to vote for. I share people’s cynicism about voting when you only have two choices that are both funded by Wall Street, and big corporate interests. To me that is throwing away your vote. It is very important that we not only vote, but that we actively participate in our democracy and ensure that we have choices, that we get those choices on the ballot, and make sure that others know about those choices.
K.B.- Is it worth it to vote your conscience, if the outcome might be bad for the whole country?
Dr. Stein - That point of view-- it's called the politics of fear-- which is to let your fear guide your vote, rather than your values. […] Look at what happened with Nixon, one of the most regressive, oppressive and corrupt presidents ever: Under Richard Nixon we achieved the Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act, the women’s right to choose, we began to bring the troops home from Vietnam, and we established the EPA- because we had an engaged electorate.We need courage in the voting booth, because our values have to be the driver of democracy. It doesn’t end in the voting booth-- we need action in the streets, we need action in our communities, we need action on our jobs. We need a massively engaged electorate, if we’re going to overcome the power of this very predatory and dangerous oligarchy that has hijacked our democracy. […] It is not enough to fight these battles in our communities or on our jobs or in our school. We have to fight these battles on a policy level.
K.B. - The Greens have worked hard and played by the rules to get on the ballot. What do you think about top-two primaries?- Top-two primaries are very deceptive. […] The top-two system allows the money race to start from the get go and doesn’t allow for less sold out voices to be heard. Top-two should be repealed and we should move to a system of ranked-choice voting, which completely removes the fear factor. It allows people to rank their choices, and ensures that if your first choice is eliminated your vote will be assigned to your second choice. In addition we need proportional representation, rather than a distorted system of ‘the first past the post ’ which silences all others and disappears political diversity.
K.B. - What is the value of parties?
Dr. Stein - Those of us who do not have , and that is most American people, I am not talking just about candidates -- we need to work together, and we need to build. Parties are how we work together across multiple issues, across time, and build from election to election. That is the only way we are going to change things.
K.B. - Where does Green money come from?- Individual and small donors and it mostly comes through the web from people who support what we are doing. There is actually very little going on bended knee to big donors, we don’t have big donors, we don’t have super PACs, we don’t accept money from lobbyists or corporations or their surrogates -- that is, from their attorneys and corporate officers. If you hire a lobbyist we don’t accept money from you. We don’t accept money with implicit strings attached."
K.B. - You were quoted saying, “The 1% has become unhinged.” They are our fellow citizens, where do they fit?
Dr. Stein - Yes, they are, but they have an incredible amount of power, and people don’t give up power willingly.
K.B. - You went to Harvard and you are a doctor, are you in the 1%, have you ever been?- No, I have never been in the 1%. […] But I am not here to say that there is a bright line between the one-percenters and the people below that. What I am saying is that we need to get to a world that works for all of us. Right now it is working for the top 5-15%, and I am probably in that category. I don’t see this as a war between the 15% against the 85%. Politics and the economy are under control, not so much by the 1%, but the super-billionaires who are really driving the show right now.
K.B. - What is the responsibility of the 99%? Only 15% of people try to influence public policy.
Dr. Stein - I don’t think there is one group that I can point the finger at here. The only way to get out of this is to engage and activate voters in democracy. In my experience, it is really critical to go to the people who need to be motivated and to build trust, and build an active coalition, that includes their key issues, but beyond that includes a broader agenda. That is exactly what we are doing, and we have more support and resources to do that with than ever before. It is not a simple matter to rebuild trust in a system that has so betrayed that trust, and that is very much the focus of our campaign.
K.B. - The electorate has changed much since 2008. We have 5 million new minority voters. Do you think you can represent minority voters as a white American?
Dr. Stein - My campaign has people in the driver’s seat from a diverse background-- racially, age wise, class wise, etc. I think our identities, our experiences are what we bring to the table, but at the end of the day we are members of the same society, the same humanity, which is primarily what unites us. Within my campaign, and the Green Party, that framework has really enabled us to find common cause. I don’t go to these communities alone. I go with people who are members of our campaign who are very much engaged in those struggles and are coming up out of them. I see this very much as the self-expression of a struggle of these various challenges, but we are all unified on the spectrum of justice.
K.B. - Do you think it is important for citizens to have leaders of the same identity at the table of power?- It is very important that they be empowered politically, that they have the ability to make those choices. Right now they don’t even have those abilities. At the end of the day it is not really as simple as what color is your skin and what language do you speak. You see people being betrayed all over the place, as leadership just gets bought off. So there are issues of unifying broader issues of class, and just values as well, which are critical. But that said it is really important that dis-empowered groups have power to choose leaders who represent them.
K.B. - Our country is divided right now between race, religion, left vs. right, and gender. What is our national identity?
Dr. Stein - We are a diverse people that are united in the pursuit of democracy and justice, which is what this country was founded on. It is very important to embrace our diversity, and as we do that to pursue these broader and very challenging issues. We were founded on the concept that all men are created equal. Now that is women too, and now it is also people with dark skin who used to be slaves, as we work toward a more perfect embodiment of democracy of justice. The promise (of America) has not been filled for many members of our society, so it is a big challenge, but that is where we are going. To my mind the campaign doesn’t appeal to you because you have two X chromosomes or a Y chromosome, alone -- or what your ethnic identity is alone -- that is the makings of campaigns that can be very manipulative and predatory, so buyer beware. It is important to, as MLK said, not just look at the color of a man’s skin, but the nature of their character. At the end of the day, that needs to be the bigger dimension.
K.B. - The electorate is ripe for change. Can the Green party win in 2016?- Yes. I think we can. Am I holding my breath? No. If we are going to win, we have to start moving. […] By running a strong national campaign, we build a movement, and that movement needs political expression. I think people have different identities, but at the end of the day we all converge into an interdependent world in the 21st century, which is being thrown under the bus. People feel that we are in a unifying moment. I am extremely excited. When I was out there in 2002 running for governor and I won the instant online viewer poll -- those weren’t self-identifying Greens, they were people who feel like they are getting cheated a money dominated government, and money dominated parties. This is the perfect moment. Voters have never been more disgusted with and cynical about corporate-dominated politics, and are really open now to a people powered agenda, and the way forward that we have to make together.