As Bernie Sanders voters begin facing the question of whether or not to support Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton if she becomes the party’s nominee, many of his supporters have pledged never to support her. In fact, voters in both major parties are seeking alternatives in this year’s presidential election — and third-party candidates are seeing an explosion in social media interest in their campaigns.
Jill Stein is the presumptive nominee of the Green Party in 2016. The main planks of her presidential platform include a “Green New Deal,” ending mass incarceration and police brutality, ending wars and drone attacks, a $15 per hour federal minimum wage, a single-payer health care system, universal public education and the abolition of student debt, breaking up big banks and nationalizing the Federal Reserve, initiating a global treaty to reverse climate change and ending extreme forms of extraction.
Truthout spoke with Stein before she headed out to Seattle as part of her ongoing “listening tour” of frontline communities struggling for justice. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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Candice Bernd: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have all but clinched the major party’s nominations, even though they are generally unpopular among voters. While Sanders still has a narrow path to the Democratic nomination, the media and political establishment are beginning to pivot toward a Trump vs. Clinton general election match. Why is the Green Party a “Plan B” for Sanders supporters, and what do you have to say to those supporters at this juncture in the presidential race?
Jill Stein: So, I think the Green Party and my campaign are “Plan B” for Bernie supporters because the Democratic Party is the opposite of everything they’ve been working for and building for the last eight months or so, and to simply be dumped into Hillary’s campaign right now is kind of unthinkable.
The sabotage of Bernie’s campaign by the Democratic Party really makes the point about why we need an independent party, because it has shown that it is very hard to have a revolutionary campaign inside of a counterrevolutionary party. What’s happening to Bernie is similar to what happens to other candidates, not only Dennis Kucinich, who never got the momentum that Bernie did, but you can go back to Jesse Jackson, who certainly did have it, or even to Henry Wallace, who was vice president and had a huge amount of momentum. The Democratic Party basically shut off the microphone and adjourned the convention in order to block his nomination in 1944.
So this is what the party does, and it has only become more corporatist, militarist and imperialist even while it has allowed very inspiring, progressive campaigns like Bernie’s to be seen and heard for awhile. After George McGovern was nominated in 1972, the party changed the rules of the game over the course of the next decade so that that kind of a grassroots campaign could never happen again. So Bernie had to fight on a very steep playing field, and it’s just that the machine is powerful. Over the decades, as the Democratic Party continues to fake left, it continues to move right. I think that is the take-home lesson here — that we are not creating a more progressive, more grassroots party; it is only becoming more of a corporate instrument.
What’s really interesting right now is that Clinton and Trump in many ways are kind of converging around corporatism. Clinton is going after Republican donors and Republican voters. It’s hard to tell who’s the greater hawk on foreign policy. Trump, at this point, is all talk, but Clinton is a first-class war hawk by action and has really led the charge, from Iraq to Libya to Syria. Bernie supporters, I think, only need to be informed that they have another place to go where they can continue building the revolution in a way that it will not be dismantled by the party infrastructure.
You offered a public letter to Sanders to discuss a potential third-party run with him, even though he’s indicated that he would endorse Clinton and seek to unify the Democratic Party if she becomes the nominee. Why would it be strategic for Sanders to run on a third-party ticket?
He didn’t expect, from everything that I’ve seen and read, to see the surge of interest around his campaign. He did not expect to build the momentum that he has. I think he’s a little bit taken off guard here, and maybe he didn’t expect to be so badly beat up by the Democratic Party either. So maybe these two things will come together and in his own mind, and he’ll see a way forward.
Bernie has been quite clear that he considers third parties a big liability, but I think that’s kind of old-school thinking here that looks to the Democrats of the New Deal, which we don’t have anymore. I’m hoping Bernie is still a living, thinking person who can actually learn with experience and maybe his thinking will change here, but it’s clear where his revolution will go inside the Democratic Party, and that is to a graveyard. The party does not tolerate reform, and there have been many efforts to do so.
The Democratic Party is funded by predatory banks, fossil fuel giants and war profiteers, and a few other usual suspects. At the end of the day, that’s who calls the shots. So if Bernie would like to see his hard work live on, I think it really benefits him to get outside the box and do right by himself, and his supporters. Instead of letting that just become gobbled up by the predatory Democratic Party, head in a new direction. If there’s one thing I can say to Bernie Sanders, it’s to recognize the power of this movement. If he were freed of the constraints of the party, he could, for example, join my call, the Green Party’s call, to cancel student debt that has a 43 million-person demographic that has no other place to hang its hat.
So, for all those reasons I think it’s really important for Bernie and his base to stand up and do the right thing, and if Bernie is too much a creature of the Democratic Party to do that, I think his base has every reason to stand up on their own behalf and take charge of their future.
That leads me into my next question, which is that some Sanders supporters may feel hesitant to “stand up for the right thing,” in your words, by voting for your platform in the general election because they fear a Trump victory. How do you respond to those fears?
I think the clear loser, with either Trump or Clinton, is the American public and especially millennials, who are really carrying this collapse around on their shoulders. We don’t have solutions here either from Clinton or from Trump, so this is a very liberating moment.
When you add into that the student debt issue, you’re talking about 43 million people, which is a winning plurality of the usual turnout for a presidential race. I think this is how you really bring out the overwhelming force into the election — that by joining our campaign, voting for our campaign and helping to get the word out, that this is the pathway forward for millennials…. That’s how we truly mobilize, and millennials are the demographic best positioned to self-mobilize. I think debt here is ironically the secret weapon of transformational change because the same people who are carrying the burden around on debt are also carrying the injustice burden on everything else.
What I should add is that the president has virtual control over canceling student debt. That’s why the appointment of the chair of the Federal Reserve, which the president picks, can then basically create quantitative easing to cancel student debt. We bailed out the crooks on Wall Street to the tune of about $4 trillion in quantitative easing, so if we saw fit — as far as our misleaders in Washington, D.C., saw fit — to bail out the crooks on Wall Street, it’s about time we bail out the young people who are carrying around the burden of predatory student debt in an economy which lacks the jobs to pay back that debt.
Doing this kind of quantitative easing is not just a favor for young people; it is the stimulus package of our dreams for the economy. Unlike the Wall Street bailout, this is a productive bailout that unleashes enormous productivity on the part of young people to do what they love to do and do what they were trained to do, instead of working a low-wage, part-time job — or two or three of them — in order to make ends meet. That’s the opportunity of this election.
Don’t let the self-serving propaganda of the political establishment intimidate you out of casting a vote that is powerful because it has the numbers behind it, and powerful because it is the moral high road.
Both the dominant parties are undergoing internal crises as they respond to the angry grassroots voters at their base. In your view, what is happening to the major parties, and do these internal crises leave an opening for third parties to disrupt the two-party system in the U.S.?
What’s going on right now, I think, is a hostile takeover in the Republican Party and the attempt at a takeover in the Democratic Party. It’s interesting that the Democratic Party turns out to have more repressive control than the Republican Party does. The hostile takeover has succeeded inside the Republican Party. It has not inside the Democratic Party, and unfortunately it doesn’t look likely to because of the vice grip, the stranglehold that the Democratic Party leadership has on the party apparatus and machinery.
The Democratic Party has sort of maintained the lip service of the base. It’s had a progressive agenda, although that’s been increasingly dismantled and hard to find. It hardly gets the lip service anymore…. There are remnants of it that I think the Sanders campaign represents, but that progressive agenda has been really stripped of power by the Democratic Party.
The Republican Party has its own language that has more to do with hate, fear, racism and xenophobia. Meanwhile, you have the elite that control the party, with its own corporatist agenda as well as some racist policies — not nearly as flagrant as Donald Trump and what the base seems to be getting behind right now.
So there’s just this total divergence within both parties of what the base wants as opposed to what the elite in control of the parties is committed to. The house of cards is falling down, as it should. For every bad policy of the Republicans, you can find another bad policy of the Democrats. While the Democrats’ lip service has been much more progressive, the actual track record is pretty darn dangerous.
Interest in the Green Party has jumped recently, with a more than 11.3 percent growth on social media as voters begin seeking alternatives to the possibility of a Trump vs. Clinton general election match. What is the Green Party’s strategy to increase this momentum moving forward?
I think as the Democrats continue to sideline Bernie there will be continued awakening. Word is spreading among Bernie supporters that there is another place to go, and that writing Bernie’s name in amounts to basically staying home because those votes will not be counted. They will not even be reported.
We are setting up college chapters on college campuses across the country. We’ve only, within the last week or so, gotten federal funding and have only begun now a review process so we can hire to begin our organizing. We hope to have some hands on deck very soon so that we can start organizing the enormous interest that’s out there.
We intend to take action to open the debates. We have two cases in court. I take it as a good sign that they haven’t been dismissed yet. We will be undertaking actions. In 2012, Green Party vice presidential candidate Cheri Honkala and I were arrested trying to get in to watch a debate that we should have participated in. We were arrested for just trying to get onto the grounds of the campus, because, as you know, they carefully control the audience of these things. It’s a rigged debate like it’s a rigged election, with a rigged audience to create the impression that there’s public support for the outrageous things that these candidates are talking about. So we intend to begin actions about this soon that may include, for example, an economic boycott of sponsors of this sham called the Commission on Presidential Debates, and other direct actions.
How is the Green Party working to get on the ballot in all 50 states, and what do you think the impact of voting barriers in this year’s election cycle has been? To what extent do you think voting barriers will impact the integrity of the general election moving forward?
We are fighting to get on the ballot. We are currently on the ballot for a majority of voters, but we want to be on the ballot for 100 percent or as close to that as we can get. We’ve been challenging ballot-access laws in court and we’ve been winning many of these cases so we’re very optimistic moving forward. We were able to bring down, for example, in Georgia, the toughest ballot requirement in the country.
We are currently on the ballot for all the big states. There are two difficult states, which are large, that are in process: Illinois and Pennsylvania. Those are going full tilt now. Twenty-two states are over and done, and there are about 22 ballot drives that are under way, with a few more to come down the road. All of our dollars go into these ballot drives and that’s why these rules were designed that way, to give us some very high hurdles. There’s a lot of energy out there now to get over those hurdles, so we’re very optimistic.
As far as voting barriers go, it’s very disturbing that these voting barriers continue, whether you’re talking ballot access or voter ID laws, the shutting down of polling places that happened in New York. We’re seeing the Democrats do this as well as the Republicans. The question is can we overcome this with overwhelming force by having a super-powered turnout. Can we overcome those barriers? I don’t know, but I think we have to give them as hard a time as we can to assert our democratic rights.
I would add to those voting barriers the fear campaign that discourages people from voting outside the corporate box because we could solve that fear problem with the stroke of a pen and that’s through rank-choice voting, which enables voters to rank their choices instead of just voting for one and rolling the dice. Instead you can rank your choices, knowing that if your first choice loses, your vote is automatically reassigned to your second choice. It’s a voting system that’s already used in many major cities around the country. Maine will have a referendum on it this election — to create rank-choice voting as a statewide voting system. There are countries around the world that use it. So there’s every reason to use it.
In your view, how can social movements like the Black Lives Matter movement and the Fight for $15 best influence the presidential debate in the general election?
I think what they are doing is really critical because at the end of the day it’s the social movement that is the real driver of transformational change. It’s always the social movements. So, they need to keep doing what they’re doing. What I would add to that is also using their power in the political realm as well. So not to step back one baby step from a full-powered social movement but to also give that social movement political voice, and don’t be talked out of their agenda. Don’t compromise for candidates that aren’t really serving the cause.
In our campaign, our goal from the start was to lift up the voices of the frontline communities and bring them into the front lines of the presidential election. It’s crazy that the presidential election should represent anything other than the struggle of frontline communities because that’s who America is now. America is these battles to end police violence, to create a decent living wage, to get people out of poverty, to end student debt, to stop the climate crisis.
Bernie Sanders has compared his democratic socialist platform to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. You are calling for a Green New Deal to answer many of the nation’s economic and social crises. What’s the difference between them, and what would you say is the most important difference between yours and Sanders’s platforms?
The difference between the Green New Deal that I’m talking about and the New Deal-type programs that Bernie is offering is one of scale, scope and timeframe. So, my campaign is declaring an emergency of our economy and an emergency of our climate. We’re calling for a plan of action that is as big as the crisis that is barreling down on us. We are calling for 20 million jobs. I think Bernie is calling for about 9 million last time I saw. It started out less than that, but it’s been getting bigger. We’re calling for 20 million jobs, which is enough jobs to put everyone to work in a full-time job, and those jobs are focused on creating a just and sustainable economy, with a just transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy, to a healthy and sustainable food system, to public energy efficiency, renewably powered transportation and to include restoring infrastructure, including ecosystems. So there is a green component here that is not addressed in Bernie’s plan.
The timeframe of our plan is, like, now — meaning, start now on an emergency basis, so that by 2030 we have achieved clean, renewable energy and fossil fuels and nuclear power are shut down by 2030. The reason for that is that is what science demands if we are going to get out of here alive.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, when the U.S. actually entered the Second World War, we basically declared an emergency, and it took six months to go from 0 to 25 percent of the U.S. economy being put into wartime production. So certainly in 15 years, we can move 100 percent into clean, renewable energy, food, transportation and ecosystem restoration.
The other piece of this is that we would declare an immediate ban on all new fossil fuel and nuclear infrastructure. I know Bernie talks about phaseout; I haven’t heard about an immediate ban. So, I think those are the differences. Ours is really a survival plan. It is an emergency program with emergency implementation.
Our platform shares most domestic policies with Bernie, but we differ on foreign policy in that we call for foreign policy based on international law, human rights and diplomacy — not on the current paradigm, which is economic and military domination — which Bernie is beginning to move away from, but he hasn’t quite done it that clearly. There’s still a little foot-dragging I think, but there’s only so far you can go within the Democratic Party.
We call for ending subsidies as well as weapons sales to countries that are violating international law and human rights. So that means we stop funding the Saudis, and selling weapons to them and collaborating with them on this. At this point, Bernie is still kind of pointing to the Saudis as the solution where reality and history tell us that the Saudis are the problem, not the solution.
We look to global demilitarizations. We look to the U.S. to lead the way, not only on nuclear disarmament but also on demilitarizing our budget. China, Russia, we are all facing devastating consequences of climate change right now, and all of our economies are in very difficult straights. All of us benefit from redirecting our resources out of military concentrations and into rapid green transformation, which is great because it makes obsolete the causes of our military conflicts to start with — which are largely about securing energy sources and routes of transportation.
But I think as Bernie has gotten stronger in his campaign, he has been much bolder about departing from the constraints of the Democratic Party, and my hope is that if he is able to step away, that he would share our agenda, entirely. I think we’ll continue pushing. I don’t think the movement should wait for him, but I hope he will join the movement.