This interview was originally produced on February 17, 2015. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein tells Paul Jay that people need to prepare for a Syriza moment.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. This is Reality Asserts Itself. We’re continuing our interview series with Jill Stein, who has launched her exploratory committee for the 2016 presidential campaign. Thanks for joining us.
DR. JILL STEIN, 2016 GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Great to be here.
JAY: I find it hard saying that, exploratory committee. But you are exploring. And one of the things you have said several times in the first two segments is people are ready for this. We’ve won public opinion. We–people kind of agree with this already. And I would say that if that was true, you’d get more than 400,000 votes. In Greece, they didn’t control the media, SYRIZA. Podemos is more or less shut out of the media in Spain, as far as I understand it. So, while I obviously–if we didn’t think the media was a critical link, we wouldn’t be doing The Real News. So it’s obviously very important. But if people were really so much in agreement already, I’d think you’d get a heck of a lot more votes than you do. So I’m going to–what do you think’s holding more people back?
STEIN: Well, let me say first that most people are not aware that they have a choice. And the little story I described in our first talk about getting onto a televised debate and winning the instant online viewer poll, to me that spoke volumes about people being ready. We also see it in polls, that people want jobs, they want living wages, they want health care as a human right, etc.
JAY: Now, we know people want that, but even the Republicans are now addressing that. Like, I mean, the same Republicans that were screaming about deficit are now talking about the need for jobs and such. We know people [are] clear about what they want. They’re not clear about why this system can’t solve the problems. They’re not clear about what real alternatives would be.
STEIN: Well, they don’t need to be persuaded that the system is broken and has abandoned and betrayed them. I mean, I think they’ve taken it on the chin for long enough.
JAY: Yeah, but it gets turned into big government is the problem. And lot of people buy that.
STEIN: A lot of people. But you’ll find that still people are supporting a fundamentally progressive agenda. And Republicans might find a little marginal policy here and there, but they’re not going to fundamentally address the issue of the right to a job in health care and education and the need to demilitarize our foreign policy and deal with our environment. They’re not. The issue is all about communications and whether we can get the word out–and, I must add, the police and prison state that we live in. So people don’t have a reason to pay attention. And that’s what’s really the challenge here is whether we can get out and into the communities and get the word out.
JAY: Well, let’s take California. We’ll take California. You’ve got about, what, 57,000 votes in California last election. There’s a lot of people in California–I would expect in the millions–who follow these issues, who knew that Obama was going to win anyway. It wasn’t a swing state and it wasn’t in jeopardy. Why only 57,000 votes in a place like California?
STEIN: Yeah. Well, I think, Paul, we don’t want to define ourselves into a corner here. And there’s a lot of uncertainty in politics, and you don’t know when things are going to break. And I think it’s really important for us to push the envelope as much as we possibly can. At some point, we are going to have to get to our SYRIZA moment. And people would have told SYRIZA that was also imperceptible. They were under the radar for many years before they even came to 3 percent. And it was five years ago that they came to 3 percent, and then they rose up exponentially. We are following a trajectory of austerity ourselves, and there’s no sign on the horizon that that’s fundamentally going to change.
JAY: Yeah, I’m in no way arguing this is some Don Quixote hopeless venture. I’m just saying people aren’t so on board as you seem to have been suggesting. I mean, they need to kind of talk about why.
STEIN: I want to take you back, though, to that one debate where I actually get into the debate, where we won the debate. We went from zero to winning in the course of one debate. So my point is that people are eminently persuadable if we are able to get the word out. And in 2016, we’re in a different place than we were in 2012. We’re also looking at a–.
JAY: What’s different about it?
STEIN: I think people went through another season of a Democratic administration in D.C. and two–twice became more convincing than once through. And they really saw that we are not being served, period, Wall Street is being well served. So there’s an additional many years of experience. And we are seeing things not just sort of stay the same. We’re seeing things really unravel in many ways. Our fundamental institutions are unraveling. And there’s a growing despair out there. And look at what happened in 2014, where people just didn’t come out and vote. So those votes have already been lost now to the Democrats. There’s very broad constituencies that are looking for some hope out there, some reason, something with credibility. And people can smell a rat, and they can also smell when you’re not a rat, and they don’t have to be politically sophisticated and studied up, you know, the trappings of Wall Street and pinstripe suits and brightly shined shoes. It shows who’s on the take and who’s not.
JAY: Now, a lot of times you lose votes. I don’t think California is an example, but if you compare it to places like Florida and swing states, people are concerned that a small number of votes could make a difference between the Democrats and Republicans.
STEIN: Well, less and less. And among young people, did they don’t have the sort of historical attachment to the Democratic Party, because in their lifetimes, they’ve seen the Democrats in control, as they been swamped by debt and deprived of jobs and subject to the corporate trade agreements that are taking our jobs overseas and these massive expanding wars and the prison state. So they don’t see the Democrats as the heroes that those of us who grew up in the civil rights era did. This is a constituency that is sort of moving out into the sunset, and there are a lot of fighting-angry young people who are coming in. There was one progressive poll in 2012 that was taken, an online poll that was taken on the day of the election, where we got something like 12 percent of votes, Obama get 88 percent. But if you looked down the age spectrum, once you got below age 35, we were the plurality vote at that point. We were the largest voting contingent. So that age group is that much more effective.
JAY: One of your colleagues here–before, I said you get 20 percent of the student vote, which I’m not sure if that’s a correct number. You’re going to have to show me where that is, ’cause I find that means that not many students voted, which is–
STEIN: Which would not be surprising.
JAY: –there’s some truth to. But if you’re going to be–your campaign so far has been talking a lot about what’s been happening in Ferguson. You’re talking about the Black Lives Matter movement more than you did last time, and the issue of race seems to be more–and police violence seems to be more at the top of your agenda. Why? I mean, obviously ’cause of the events in Ferguson, but–.
STEIN: You know, this has also been the direction of the Green Party. The Green Party, I think, has expanded over the last eight years. Cynthia McKinney and that race, that was a wakeup call, I think, for a lot of Greens to understand the broader agenda. We sort of historically associated with the green movement and green energy and the environment, and there’s been sort of a progressive understanding that we will never fix the environment unless hand-in-hand we are fixing the economy and the system of racism and the civil liberties and police state and all those issues that–they cannot be separated. And it’s–we have become much closer as a community. I began working with the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign and Cheri Honkala and that whole network as of four years ago. We were just meeting in the course of that campaign. And we have very much stayed together and worked together over the past four years. So I really–it’s been quite an expansive education for many of us in the Green Party. We’ve come to have a much more bonded party and see the agenda in a much more holistic way.
JAY: How many candidates did you have last time, African-American candidates? Do you know?
STEIN: I don’t know offhand, but we hope to have some very visible high-level African-American and Latino candidates.
JAY: ‘Cause that’s, I would think, going to be the critical make-or-break of the Green Party. If you can’t make inroads into African-American urban centers, I don’t see how this party ever goes very far.
STEIN: In Massachusetts we had a Green Party member of city council for many years who actually was then the subject of an FBI sting operation, because he was very effective in doing great work and very critical of the FBI. And he got stung and hauled off to jail for three years, Chuck Turner, really got set up, as has happened to many African-American Greens, several of our electeds. So we actually do have prominent candidates and elected officials who are African Americans. We had a terrific young African-American woman running for state rep in Minneapolis. We had other city council candidates in Boston. So there in Texas, Texas ran about 50 candidates,–
JAY: Do you find at the local level–.
STEIN: –many of whom were Latino.
JAY: Do you find, at the local level, candidates are getting into debates?
STEIN: Yes. They are more often getting into the debates. If you’re a strong candidate, then they start to resist and try to shut you out. But we have been able to get into debates, and then they have to fight their way in.
JAY: And is it changing things in terms of vote count when they’re in debates?
STEIN: You know, you can look at Howie Hawkins, for example. There was a big pushback against Howie. Howie did as well as 10 percent in the polls.
JAY: Where was that?
STEIN: He was running for governor in New York.
JAY: Oh. In New York.
STEIN: Yeah. And he wound up getting something like 5 percent, but he had to fight tooth-and-nail for that, wound up getting the third ballot line, displacing the working families party as being a true independent party, not just falling in lockstep with the Cuomo campaign. So, yes, we are moving forward. But this is not just happening–what shall we say? The political landscape is not a matter of coincidence or happenstance. There are enormous resources that are being expended to silence voices of resistance. Look at what happened to the Labor Party, the New Party, even Peace and Freedom, the socialist parties. They have been incredibly beaten back, silenced, taken off the ballot. It takes a Herculean effort to stay in the mix at all. And in that sense, the Green Party, I think, has been heroic for being able to survive. We have survived and maintained a national presence and a national force at a time when everybody else who started when we did, who with much more funding and institutional support has been wiped off the map. They just don’t exist. So it’s not as simple as deciding to do it. When I ran for governor in Massachusetts in 2002 and I got into this debate where the instant online viewer poll had me coming out ahead, they brought out all the living Clintons and Kennedys to go around the state and tell people that a vote for me was a vote for Romney and to scare people. So they played scare politics and fear politics a lot. But I think we’ve gotten to a point now where that fear politics has a record, it has a track record, and we’ve seen where we’ve gotten with a Democrat the White House. Where exactly did it get us? It bought them a free ride, basically, for Wall Street to go ahead and do what they couldn’t do with George Bush. We’ve seen the policies of Bush massively expanded in the Wall Street bailouts–$14 trillion and counting, the five, six trillion dollars in tax giveaways that have been delivered. The Bush tax cuts were set to expire, and Obama renewed them permanently. You know? I mean, this has not worked out well. The politics of fear delivers everything that you’re afraid of. We have to start standing up with the politics of courage and practice the wisdom of Alice Walker. We have to stop this politics of fear and begin to exercise the power that we actually have if we only begin to assert it.
JAY: Okay. Thank you very much.
STEIN: Great talking with you.
JAY: And I’d like to say, President Obama, you would be given equal time to deal with Jill Stein. We won’t put you in a black off-site jail somewhere if you want to come to The Real News and be interviewed (and I don’t think it’s going to happen). Thanks very much for joining us 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.”