This interview was originally produced on February 16, 2015. On Reality Asserts Itself, former Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein tells Paul Jay that the Green Party will put the campaign in the service of social movements that deserve to be front-and-center in the political dialogue.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network and Reality Asserts Itself. I’m Paul Jay. We’re continuing our discussion with Jill Stein, who’s announced her exploratory commission for the 2016 presidential campaign. Thanks for joining us.
DR. JILL STEIN, 2016 GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Great to be here, Paul.
JAY: So how’s the exploring going?
STEIN: It’s really, really fun.
JAY: Okay. So why an exploratory commission? I mean, they do this because they’re trying to find out if they can raise money and so on and so on.
STEIN: Well, that’s while they do it. And they get together with their donors. I mean, that’s how Jeb Bush announced his campaign, was by founding a super PAC. For me, for the Green Party, it’s about talking with and meeting with the communities and the movements whose voices we want to be in service of. So to simply launch a campaign is to say, hey, we’re going ahead, you know, this is all about us. But as far as I’m concerned, this is not about us. This is about putting the party and the campaign in service of the social movements that deserve to be front-and-center in the political dialog, in the political combat.
JAY: Now, this is somewhat different framing than last time, ’cause last time when I interview, I’m pretty sure you told me, I’m running to win. And I didn’t think you could win, and I don’t think you thought you could win, but that’s kind of, if I’m running, I’d better say I can win. Now you’re framing it differently, which I personally actually find more interesting.
STEIN: I find the term win is very confusing. To my mind it is a win to–.
JAY: I mean get enough votes to become the president.
STEIN: Yes. Right. And in the long run you have to start somewhere. You know, Podemos is doing that really quickly. And who would have thought–. To my mind there’s enormous potential there. And I don’t want to define it up or define it down. But the real win is about bringing that voice to the social movements that are vibrant and alive and growing and which deserve to be front and center in the political dialog and need a national voice in order to lift up and strengthen–. So the political movements, the social movements that are out there struggling in our communities against police violence and racist brutality and against the prison state and low-wage jobs and wage theft and all that, those movements need to have a voice at the national level to strengthen our work at the local levels.
JAY: And why do you think they would want the Green Party to be their voice?
STEIN: Well, it just so happens that the Green Party is the one non-corporate national electoral party that has a fighting chance, because we have a base which is national, we can get on the ballot in enough states that we can contest to be in the debates, we can contest for coverage, and all that. We are sort of the one infrastructure that’s available nationally.
JAY: Well, you didn’t get into the debates last time. In fact, instead of getting into the debates, you got into jail. You might as well quickly tell us what happened.
STEIN: Into a dark site, actually.
JAY: Yeah. What is that?
STEIN: Handcuffed to a metal chair for eight hours, surrounded by 16 police and Secret Service. I mean, this is how afraid they are that word gets out that people have a choice.
JAY: Tell the story, how you got there.
STEIN: So, my running mate Cheri Honkala and I were at the debate because we were on the ballot for over 85 percent of voters. And if the League of Women Voters were still in charge of the commission on presidential debates, if it were truly a public interest institution, which the public thinks it is, but which it’s actually not–it’s now run by the Democratic and Republican parties–we would have been in the debate. And we should have been in the debate. Gary Johnson should have been in the debate as a libertarian, also on the ballot. So Cheri and I were there trying to get inside the grounds of the college and be present at the debate, and we were arrested trying to get in, and we were handcuffed and taken by police and Secret Service to a dark site. No one knew where we were. The facility itself was a secret. Now my campaign staff was able to find out within about two hours–.
JAY: What? Did they put a black hood on your head or something?
STEIN: Well, they whisked us off in their cars. We didn’t have access to cars to chase them at the moment. So they took us to a place where nobody knew, but our campaign was able to find out by asking around and asking emergency service personnel and so on. They were able to trace us to the site. And they were told in no short order that they would be arrested if they stayed on the premises. So they left. But there we were in that gigantic facility with a whole lot of cops and Secret Service, and we were the only people there. There was one other political activist who was brought in that was supposed to be reporting the next day in an important political case. But that’s all of who showed up.
JAY: What’d they say to you? I mean, what did they claim was the justification for doing this?
STEIN: That we were trying to get in, that we were trying to get in and we were not allowed, and that we had broken the law. So they were not going to uncuff us. I asked, well, you know, you’ve got 16 of you here and just two of us little grandmotherly types. You really think we need to be handcuffed to the chairs? Are we that dangerous?
JAY: And who actually arrested you? What authority did the arrest?
STEIN: I believe it was local police. It could’ve been Secret Service, but I think it was local police.
JAY: And did you ever sue or do anything afterwards about it?
STEIN: There was a question about that, which still remains something of an open question. So it’s not necessarily a done deal. But there we were.
JAY: And did they ever charge you with anything?
STEIN: No. No, actually, we did have charges, which were then dropped.
JAY: Which is a common thing they do just to get rid of you.
STEIN: Yes. But to me the lesson was how terrified they are, how terrified they are that we would be able to talk to press even on the premises. They were terrified. So that’s why I look at the vote count with more than–.
JAY: Which was about 400,000.
STEIN: That’s right. I look at that with more than a few grains of salt. That’s a very rigged vote count. It’s a vote count that reflects enormous amounts of money not only pumped into the other campaigns, but pumped into suppressing public knowledge of our campaign. So you’ve got to lay groundwork, you have to start somewhere. So to my mind that vote count was an incredible victory.
JAY: Go back to the question of if you’re going to put the campaign at the service of social movements but you can’t break through nationally in the media–and I agree. I mean, they’re doing it ’cause–they don’t want to hear this, but they do, they have the power to marginalize you. I expect they have the power to keep you out of the debates again.
STEIN: Well, we do have a legal case. The libertarians have included us in a lawsuit. Now, there’ve been lawsuits before. This one’s taking a different legal strategy at a time when people are fighting angry with this straightjacket of two corporate parties that differ around the margins. The largest bloc of voters now are self-declared independents. Sixty percent in polls say that we need a major third party. All of 25 percent, one in four people, think that the Democrats and Republicans are doing a good job of representing everyday people. So there’s enormous public hunger right now and there is the potential to push through in debates. But even aside from the debates, we just broke through on privatization of the internet thanks to a grassroots campaign. People mobilized, and there was a guerrilla media effort and a social media effort. We have the potential to work with those tools. And we have a good, long, advanced run. And this is, again, if we make the decision to run, we’ll be doing so with enough of a leadtime that we can really build momentum. In the past, we haven’t been organized enough to do that, and we’ve basically been working on ballot access for the first nine months of a campaign, and then have three months to actually campaign. This time we are building on the work that we did. And we emerged from that race as a unified movement, not just sort of the usual old greens, but a much more kind of new greens that expands and includes now the red-green alliance. It includes socialists, it includes independents. It includes, actually, progressive libertarians as well. So it’s a much broader movement, and we have a lot more infrastructure and resources to bring to this. So why hold back?
JAY: Well, I’ll give you an argument why hold back–not hold back, but change the focus, perhaps. There’s a sort of a breakthrough happening. We’re going to hopefully do a story about this more in the next couple of months. But most people know what’s happened, for example, in Richmond, California. There was a victory in Jackson, Mississippi.
STEIN: That’s right.
JAY: Chokwe Lumumba died, and they weren’t able to execute on some of the stuff they would have wanted to do. But at a local level, at a municipal level, and maybe, maybe some day sooner than later at a very small state level, there seems like some possibility for some breakthroughs that seem almost impossible, right now, at least, at a national level. So, I mean, the argument someone might make–in fact, I probably would make–that the amount of work that’s happening at the national level, that if you were to take that and focus it at a few local places, whether it’s cities or states, it would be more effective in the shorter-term, eventually leads to a national campaign. But right now I don’t know if you’re–believe in homeopathy or not, but this is, like, homeopathic amounts in the information sea that gets thrown in nationally.
STEIN: And you could’ve said the same thing to SYRIZA five years ago. You know. And I think–.
JAY: Well, I’m not sure. I think it’s a different situation in some of these places, especially places where they have proportional voting.
STEIN: Well, put it this way. We didn’t expect it. We didn’t expect to see what happened with SYRIZA. We didn’t expect to see what happened with Podemos. If you look at the U.K., the Green Party is surging in the United Kingdom as well. So, you know, who is it? Pasteur says chance favors the prepared mind. Politics favors the prepared movements. The movements were prepared to fight at a political level as well as at a social level. And I would maintain–you know, my experience as a political animal is that you really–people in their own minds do not separate national, state, and local issues.
JAY: Oh, they do here.
STEIN: Well, put it this way.
JAY: I mean, we’re in Baltimore, and boy, they sure do here.
STEIN: Well, I guess different pockets are different. But people don’t like the wars. They don’t like the expanding wars. They don’t like the attack on our civil liberties. They don’t like the militarization of our police. These are national issues in the same way that they are local issues. They don’t like what’s happening to our school system, which is inseparable from the Obama campaign and George Bush before him, the No Child Left Behind, supposedly, which has become every child left behind. People are very emotionally attached locally, but understand the connection nationally. And the final thing, the final point to make here is that it’s not like it’s one or the other. These things go together. And by raising up the national profile of a party, a movement of resistance and transformation, you really strengthen the local movements. And people feel like they have credibility, they are not sort of lone voices in the wilderness, that this is part of a national movement. And invariably, people are really strengthened and excited by the national campaign. And we run the national campaign with the intent of lifting up local candidates, bringing resources and infrastructure to them. They can’t fight it alone. And if you look at the candidates who have broken through locally, like Kshama Sawant in Seattle, she had enormous national support. And we can begin to do that, to bring national visibility and infrastructure to these candidates, who are otherwise fighting alone.
JAY: Your position in this campaign is to be in service of the movements. Where are you at with that? How are the movements responding?
STEIN: I wouldn’t be doing this, I wouldn’t be exploring this campaign and considering spending two years on it if it weren’t really making progress by leaps and bounds. So I’m very encouraged by the connections with the immigrant rights movement, by some breakaway elements of labor, by the Black Lives Matter movement. There are groups and key activists who really understand what’s going on and really understand the necessity of having a political voice and not marginalizing ourselves in a political debate. The presidential debate is going to frame people’s thinking, for better or worse. It does a lot to lower the bar for everybody. And we want to be in there fighting to raise the bar. And it may come in through the alternative media channels. It may come in through social media. But that’s how we successfully fought back privatization of the internet.
JAY: Well, I’m going to take you up on that, ’cause I don’t think you fought back privatization on the internet. What I mean by you: I’m talking about the whole movement, in the sense that there’s a big division amongst monopolies on this question. It wasn’t just a social movement issue; you know, the Googles and the Netflixes–there’s very big sections of capital.
STEIN: But it wasn’t going to happen without us. It was really important. And FCC got some 4 million, is it, 4 million letters, which were, like, 99.999 percent to preserve net neutrality. So we are not–you know, like, in the words of Alice Walker, biggest way we can give up power is by not knowing we have it. We have the numbers. What we don’t have is the conviction and the infrastructure to use that power. And what we want to do in our campaign is to flick that switch in our brains from powerlessness to powerfulness. We certainly have a plurality. We probably have a majority. If the people who aren’t voting understood that there was real hope here for jobs–.
JAY: Yeah, [incompr.] maybe 40 percent of people don’t vote.
STEIN: Exactly. So you put that in and you plug that into the 40 million students who are in debt, for whom the jobs are not coming. The jobs that the Democrats and even the Republicans are touting are low-wage, temporary, and part-time work. That’s what the recovery has been. It’s been a recovery into borderline poverty. This is not going to pay back student debt. We need to be asking not–and Obama’s proposal for two years of free college for students who can be in it full-time, etc., great. Great. Where was that six years ago, you know, when–.
JAY: You could actually pass it.
STEIN: Exactly. I mean, then he was very busy doing favors for Wall Street. And that’s what the Democratic Party was doing when they had both houses of Congress and the president. Their agenda shifts when they’re in campaign mode; then suddenly it’s populist. But when it comes back to governing, it’s same old same old, and it’s fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. So I think a lot of people are not ready to be fooled and are hungering for a fight-and-ready alternative that’s of, by, and for the people.
JAY: Okay. One more segment. We’re going to continue our series of interviews with Jill Stein on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.
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“Jill Ellen Stein is an American physician, activist, and former political candidate. She was the Green Party’s nominee for President of the United States in the 2012 and 2016 elections and the Green-Rainbow Party’s candidate for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 and 2010.”