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Thursday, March 30, 2017

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Exclusive: Green Party’s Jill Stein on her long shot for presidency


Stein edit edit

Jill Stein visited the University of Houston’s Student Center Theatre on Aug. 6 as the Green Party declared her as their nomination for president. | Greg Fails/The Cougar

Third parties get a bad name sometimes in U.S. politics.

The leader of one such party, Jill Stein, visited UH early August as the Green Party again nominated her for president. On Wednesday, Stein and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, will be featured on CNN at 8 p.m. for a town hall session.

While Stein was in town for the Green Party Nominating Convention, The Cougar spoke with her about millennials’ struggles and why we should consider voting third party.

The Cougar: During your speech today you talked about student debt as a gateway issue. Can you talk more about that?

Jill Stein: It’s really critical for young people to end that debt. It’s critical that we have free, public higher education going forward. But there is a huge burden for people who are in school now. Until we come to power, there will be no free public higher education. We are going to be accumulating student debt until Greens come to power. It’s a life-changing issue for young people who are locked in debt because you cannot move forward in the current economy. The jobs aren’t there that enable that debt to be paid off. People just live with that debt for decades, really for the rest of their productive lives. It is crippling.

We are seeing a generation that doesn’t have jobs, that doesn’t have a place to live, that doesn’t have healthcare, that does not have a future to look forward to, that does not have a family. The birth rate is plummeting. This is a sign of a generation in distress, of a human rights crisis which is generational. It’s like the elephant in the room here. How does any side survive by devouring its young? That’s effectively what is happening.

TC: You also talk a lot about a “Green New Deal.” Can you explain in layman’s terms what that means?

JS: It would create jobs, which would be nationally funded but locally controlled. Jobs that would revive our economy…renewable energy by 2030 in time to solve the climate crisis. It jump-starts the economy, it puts a halt to climate change and it makes wars for oil obsolete. That’s part of how we pay for it: You don’t need this gigantic military when you’re not fighting these wars for oil anymore.

It’s self-funded by cuts in the military, but also because we get so much healthier when we end fossil fuel pollution, we get so much healthier that we have an enormous savings in our healthcare system, enough to pay the cost of the energy transition. So, we call specifically for jobs in clean, renewable energy, in healthy-sustainable food production, in public transportation, and in restoring our ecosystems.

Greens

Hundreds of Green Party delegates and political candidates from Texas and beyond came to UH for the convention. | Greg Fails/The Cougar

TC: Third parties in this country have had a hard time playing more than an influencing role on the two major parties. Why should people vote Green in this election?

JS: Because we see where politics as usual, the way the game is played, has led us. So, we have lousy jobs. Average workers’ wages are barely above poverty. The jobs that we have are part time and low wage. A generation is trapped in debt. Black lives are on the firing line. Half of our budget is going to these wars for oil.

We have a system that’s in meltdown. The climate is in meltdown as well. Houston is going to be underwater before too long. This isn’t working. This is our time. This our window to turn it around. This is about our standing up. People have already rejected politics as usual. The disapproval and dislike of the major party candidates is off the charts. People don’t have to be persuaded to rebel. They have already rebelled.

TC: Something that is on every progressive and every liberal’s mind is the prospect of a Trump presidency. They fear a situation where, if they vote for the Green ticket, it will ensure a victory on the part of Donald Trump. What are your thoughts on that?

JS: Well, the race is still very much a work-in-progress. We are in a very different situation than we’ve ever been in before where the majority of voters don’t like the two major candidates. And actually, we’re seeing a huge lead open up as the Donald Trump campaign unravels. So, I don’t think we should be foreclosing other possibilities when people are not happy with either candidate. They are the most disliked and untrusted. The focus is on Donald Trump and his outrageous, selfish, racist demagoguery, but Hillary Clinton has her own set of issues.

Why should we be telling voters that they cannot seek other options when that is exactly what they want and those options are just beginning to be discovered? We are pushing right now to open up the debates so that both Gary Johnson’s campaign and my campaign can participate and voters can actually be empowered to know what their full set of choices are. The politics of fear that tells you, you have to vote against the person you dislike the most rather than for what you believe in, that politics of fear has brought us everything we were afraid of. It’s really important to look at the track record here.

TC: In your party’s last two presidential races your campaign only won 0.36 and 0.12 percent of the popular vote. Do you expect to do better now? What does success look like for you in this election?

JS: So, we’re well above that now. We recently have been at 4,5,6, even 7 percent in the polls. What’s remarkable is that we’ve come up in the polls from essentially invisible about two months ago to 5, 6, and 7 without really any significant media coverage. This is as opposed to Donald Trump who had over $2 billion worth of free media. Hillary Clinton had about $1 billion, Sanders had about half as much as that. And we’ve basically had none, yet we’ve come up doubling, and even tripling our initial standing in the poles.

There is clearly an enormous interest in our campaign, that we could have come up to these numbers without any visibility in major media. As we are now beginning to break through into major media, we expect to see that change, and if we are able to fight our way into the debates, we will see that change in a big way.

When you say success, I think success should not be measured for a candidate. Success should be measured for the American people. If we don’t win jobs, if we don’t win a solution for the climate, if we don’t win an end to these catastrophic wars that are only creating worse terrorist threats, failed states, mass refugee migration, if we don’t win an end to this predatory Wall Street economy that is bankrupting working people and throwing them under the bus, we don’t have much of a future. So, to my mind, it’s not an academic question. This is something we must do. We will fight with every fiber in our body until we win, because this is that day of reckoning. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, it’s a choice between chaos and the common good.

Bakara edit

Stein’s running mate, human rights activist Ajamu Baraka, was also nominated at the convention earlier in August. | Greg Fails/The Cougar

TC: Since Sanders endorsed Clinton, what has the response been from his supporters and how has the response been from the general public?

JS: Overnight when Sanders endorsed Clinton, the floodgates opened into our campaign. Sanders supporters were pouring in through every portal possible. Our campaign contributions went up by about 1,000 percent. Our Facebook skyrocketed, same for our Twitter account. Volunteers coming into the campaign massively increased. That continues to roll forward, and word continues to get out. I find it very true across the political spectrum. It’s surprising that people are coming in who are Republican. Some of the recent polls show this, that we are drawing equally from Democrats and Republicans.

TC: During your press conference immediately following your nomination for the Green Ticket, your running mate, Ajamu Baraka, talked about a Southern electoral strategy. He mentioned that the Democratic Party wrote off much of the South. What is that Southern strategy? Is that a part of why you chose to have your convention at UH?

JS: Yes, actually. I think Texas is a good example of where the Democratic Party has kind of thrown in the towel and doesn’t put up much of a fight, not much of a principled fight, that sets them apart from the Republicans. Texas is a trend nationwide that when the Democrats become a lesser-evil party, people stop coming out to vote for them. This has been true for quite some time in the South. There are very substantial constituencies that are not being served and that are responsive to a progressive message that the Democrats are not pretending to compete with.

I would maintain that the Democrats are not a progressive party. They have a progressive party line, but their talk is very different from their walk. In the Southern states you don’t even really see the presence of the progressive party line. That’s essentially the Southern strategy, is that people are really hurting for a progressive voice and for a vehicle to fight for jobs, to fight for healthcare, to fight for affordable higher education and to cancel student debt, and the rights of immigrants, to end police violence. These fights are very much alive, but don’t have representation.

That is very much why we wound up in Houston, where we had a vibrant Texas Green party that we wanted to support and help lift their voices.

TC: You’ve mentioned the Libertarian Party and their candidate Gary Johnson, which is obviously a right wing ticket. What is your attitude toward their electoral attempts, their politics, their presidential candidate? Is there a possibility of alliance or common work between your two parties?

JS: Yes, there is definitely the possibility. We’re both sort of victims of a system that is working to suppress opposition. We have two official political parties in this country, and the unofficial political parties are silenced through very restricted rules for getting on the ballot, through restricted press coverage, through elimination from the debate. The main thing we have in common is the effort to open up the debates. We have some policies in common, but we differ on the role of money in politics. Greens believe that politics should be about people, not about money. That is kind of a fundamental difference between us. We don’t accept corporate money. We don’t have a Super PAC. The Libertarians do.

As you may know, the Koch brothers were some of the founding members of the Libertarian Party, and their agenda reflects that a little bit, at least their national agenda. So there are definitely some philosophical differences. They seem to be on a go-it-alone strategy right now, which is sort of a Libertarian point of view. It’s kind of a go-it-alone political philosophy. I think our philosophy is we are on one small boat here, called planet Earth. We need to learn to work together.

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