You wouldn’t know it from watching the mainstream media, but there is political life in the United States outside of the Democratic and Republican parties.
Dr. Jill Stein was the 2012 presidential nominee for the Green Party of the United States, and is widely expected to be the party's nominee for 2016 as well. Recently, she has cast her campaign as a potential “plan B” for supporters of Bernie Sanders, should he not win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
As Jacobin recently pointed out, the Green Party is the only independent party of the left with a national presence in the United States. Ricochet spoke with Dr. Stein last week about her campaign and the comparisons with Sanders, as well as about Canadian and U.S. politics.
How are things feeling in your campaign at the moment?
It's been amazing to see how much progress we've made and how much people have gone the distance to start breaking up with politics as usual. It's a great thing. I've just come from Illinois, where we had a really exciting field event, and it was just very exciting, especially to see young people really flocking into campaign events like we have never seen before. I think word is getting out that there is another kind of politics here that's of, by and for people, and especially of, by and for millennials.
What are you focused on lately?
We're focused now on the fight to get on the ballot — in the same way the Democrats and the Republicans are focused on their primaries. But being an independent political party, we're outside of the machine. And the machine silences political opposition. And part of that is that they make rules that make it very hard for newcomers to participate in elections. We need to fight in order to just participate in elections, so a lot of my campaign and travel is very focused on connecting with the states that are fighting the difficult ballot drive. It's a very big battle, but we've turned that battle into an opportunity to join the fight of frontline communities.
What is the level of media interest in your campaign this year compared with 2012?
I'd say we are way ahead of where we were in 2012. The corporate media, as usual, shuts us out. We've had one short piece on CNN, and we actually were covered on the website for, I believe it was ABC, but that's as much corporate coverage as we've gotten. A tiny amount, maybe three minutes?
But we are getting a lot of the more progressive media coverage and independent media coverage. And this tends to wax and wane depending on how the Sanders campaign is doing because when there's a lot of focus on the Sanders campaign, you know, the media, unfortunately, doesn't have a lot of capacity to cover more than one progressive candidate. This is the wake-up moment for the media here.
Ricochet has run a number of pieces about Bernie Sanders and his campaign. Can you outline your attitude towards his campaign?
We have a lot in common, and I applaud the Sanders campaign for what they're trying to do. I myself have had enough experience in the Democratic Party to know that it only lets you go so far. We have an enormous amount in common: calling for an economy that works for everyday people, for unions’ rights, for living wages, for health care as a human right and, in general, an economy that works for everyday people and reining in Wall Street.
But when it gets down to fine print, there are a number of details where we differ and some big issues as well. So, for example, we think that the war budget — spending 54 per cent of our discretionary dollars on a massive, bloated military budget — is unacceptable. Bernie hasn't talked about cutting the military budget, not in this race. There was a time when he did, but he hasn't for quite a while. We think it needs to be cut.
The Sanders campaign believes that the Saudis are the solution and are looking to the Saudis to fight our fight against ISIS. We're arguing for a peace offensive to stop ISIS in its tracks and end the wars for oil. And a peace offensive basically consists of a weapons embargo, because they're mostly coming from the U.S. We can begin this weapons embargo, and we can also impound the funding that is the bank account of the countries that are funding terrorism.
As well, we believe we need to hold the Netanyahu government accountable, as all governments must be held accountable. Right now we are paying $8 million a day to maintain the Israeli army, which is in flagrant violation and committing war crimes in these periodic massacres.
We can bail out the students. This is maybe another key difference. In the last campaign, I was the only candidate arguing for free public higher education. This time around, Bernie Sanders is also taking up that call, which is great. We are, however, the only campaign that is calling for cancelling student debt. We did it for the crooks on Wall Street who crashed the economy with waste, fraud and abuse, so that's the least we can do for the generation that is a victim of the economic disaster.
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I'd like to turn to some issues in common between Canada and the U.S. Have you been to Canada?
I have. It was wonderful, it's been too long. I had the great pleasure of spending a week or so out on Prince Edward Island, which was magnificent, gorgeous.
And my impression is that Canada has done a much better job than the U.S. of preserving its democracy, which is under assault everywhere. But in Canada you still have something of a grip on it, more than we do here. Certainly, what happened with the Quebec student movement is an inspiration to people who are proponents of justice and sustainability everywhere. And the Idle No More movement has also been inspiring for its holding high the incredible wisdom and power of Indigenous communities and their role in preserving, protecting and guiding our environment.
One of the most salient common issues between Canada and the U.S. is the TPP. What stands out for you as the most damaging effects?
Maybe the most damaging effect is that it sabotages democracy. It's basically an act of treason in my view. I don't understand why officials who support this are not actually questioned about treason or accused of treason. The TPP essentially puts multinational corporations on a level with government — a level higher than government. It allows corporations to sue our sovereign governments in their courts, not our courts. And to decide whether we the people are guilty of violating their sacrosanct right to future profits — since when is the right of future profit-making a sacrosanct right of corporations that trumps our right to democracy? It is utterly mind-boggling that such a bill is even being considered.
You've seen a vast expansion of the surveillance state in the U.S., and in Canada as well through Bill C-51. What do you think is behind all of this?
The war abroad tends to create a war at home. And we have militarized society here at home. I think it's inseparable from this global assault on our democracy, our economy, our ecology and our future in general. The military-industrial-security complex has enormous power to call the shots in the Democratic and Republican parties.
So in the same ways that we have these inexcusable wars that are making us less secure, not more secure, we also have this state of fear at home that has allowed the surveillance state to basically take power and to win these bills that are a disaster. We need to make peace with the world, stop being a dominator and start being a collaborator and restore and maintain our liberties here at home.
Some Canadian rifles ended up in Yemen, and it's thought that might have happened through Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Can you talk about your advocacy for an end to arms trade with Saudi Arabia?
When you look at consequences of these insane wars are, this so-called war on terror, which is really a war for oil — in many ways the war in Syria is a proxy war over who gets to put their pipeline through Syria. Is it going to be Russia, to the benefit of their ally Iran and current supporter Assad in Syria? Or will it be going to be the Saudis and the Qataris and their pipelines? That's kind of a major factor in this war, some would say the major driving factor.
Who is benefiting here? It's the weapons industry, the war manufacturers who are making out like bandits, arming all sides. Failed states, worse terrorist threats and mass refugees migrations — this is a catastrophic policy.
I believe Canada and certainly the U.S., we are violating our own laws by selling to countries that are guilty of violating human rights and committing war crimes. And certainly that is true of the Saudis, who are doing that in Yemen, where thousands of civilians have been killed in this absolutely horrific war, as well as the human rights abuses going on in Saudi Arabia itself. We have international laws here which were very hard won and it’s time to start abiding by them.
You've spoken at length about how we need to stop voting for “lesser evil” candidates. But what would you say to someone who is worried about the effects of voting for you in a very close swing state? Noam Chomsky, for example, has said that he would vote for you, given that he's in Massachusetts, but would not if he was in a swing state.
Great question and thanks for for asking it like that, because I think it's really important to address it straight on. I would say that that the predator political parties are working overtime to try and hold on. So let's take a look at what this politics of fear has done. We've been told for quite a while that they don't dare stand up and vote their values, that they'll get all these terrible things. Unfortunately, the record is very clear. We've gotten all of those terrible things anyhow. Silencing ourselves is not the solution. The lesser evil basically discourages people from coming out to vote. We have to stand up and stand tall and stand for our values and the solutions that we desperately need.
Sometimes I call this the “hail Mary” moment, because it's kind of now or never. The climate is crashing and the economy is on the verge of another crash. The Democrats didn't fix it. They're not going to fix the economy. Let's stop pretending that the lesser evil is going to be on our side. It's sponsored by the same corporate predators. It's time to reject the lesser evil and stand up and fight for the greater good like our lives depend on it because, guess what folks, they do.
Don't let them talk you out of your power. When somebody warns you “you might make Donald Trump get in,” remember this: if we actually get out all the young people who are in debt, who can go check the Green box and cancel $35,000 of debt, who in their right mind is not going to come out? I have yet to meet the person in debt who doesn't become a missionary for our campaign once they learn that that can actually be accomplished.
So don't let them intimidate you out of your power. We have the power. It's the only way forward. It's time to stand up and use it.
In 2004 presidential candidate Ralph Nader met with Democratic candidate John Kerry to explore the idea that that Kerry would highlight certain issues in his campaign. Might we ever see a meeting between yourself and the Democratic nominee?
We have tried so many times, it would just put you to sleep. We have tried communicating with all kinds of Democrats to keep those doors of communication open, and it has never worked. We've even communicated with the Sanders campaign. The Green party wrote the Sanders campaign before he had declared and urged him to run as a Green. And we have never gotten a reply. We would still love to explore collaborative solutions because at the end of the day we've got to work together here. I'm all for collaborating based on principles and open to those conversations. I've yet to find the Democrat that will have them.
On Sanders specifically, you've spoken of your candidacy as a necessary plan B for his supporters. I guess you haven't gotten a response from the campaign, but what about his supporters?
Many of his supporters are also our supporters. If you go to our Facebook page you'll see that there's joint support all over the place. So for many people we're plan B. For others who feel that the Democratic party is not going to let Sanders survive and is incapable of solving this problem, we're plan A.
There have been efforts to reform the Democrats before. Many people just don't want to keep going around this block. It's clear that we have to build something that doesn't just get reabsorbed into the Democratic party. The party over and over again does a fake left while it moves right. It becomes more corporatist, more militarist and more imperialist, and the billionaires get richer and more in control. It hasn't been working for decades.
Whereas independent politics, I think we are just rediscovering it. We see a surge around the Sanders campaign because austerity has really thrown people under the bus. This is where plan A and plan B come together and they need to come together quickly because the clock is ticking.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.