Jill Stein, a doctor and activist from Massachusetts, is running for the Green Party nomination for President of the United States. Stein is the frontrunner for the party's nomination, running against comedian Roseanne Barr and veteran Green Party activists Kent Mesplay and Harley Mikkelson. Stein's campaign, headed up by Wisconsin native Ben Manski, is focusing on getting enough delegates in each state to win the party's nomination at the July 2012 Green Party convention in Baltimore and on securing November ballot lines in all 50 states.
Jill Stein is a physician, author, environmental health advocate, and mom. She has been particularly active on the issue of toxic chemicals and their effects on children and on campaign finance reform. She ran for Massachusetts' Green-Rainbow Party for Governor in 2002, for State Representative in 2004, and for Secretary of State in 2006.
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) caught up with Stein in Madison for the grand opening of her environmentally friendly, national campaign headquarters. During the interview she received news that she had won 73 percent of the vote at the Wisconsin Green nominating convention that took place earlier that day. As of March 26, Stein has won in all nine states to vote so far.
Center for Media and Democracy (CMD): Could you give us a bit of a background on who you are and how you ended up running for President?
Jill Stein (JS): I consider myself as practicing political medicine. I used to be an internist and do general medicine for adults and I discovered that we had this "sick care" system. I was pushing pills on people and sending them out to the things that were making them sick and it just did not feel very satisfying for the point of view of health. We were bankrupting people in the course of trying to deliver care, as well as bankrupting our businesses and municipalities and larger governments. So I thought: "I'm a well-intended citizen, I have some resources to bring to this, I'll work with community groups and go to our elected officials and present some life saving, life changing, planet-saving solutions and surely they will understand if mercury is coming through mother's milk and across the placenta to the fetus there are great ways we can prevent this and they're not very hard either, and let's do it. What's not to love about this?" And that was kind of my teachable moment. It took about 5-10 years to realize the game that was going on, that if you focus on these small piecemeal goals you get led around by the nose for 5 to 10 years.
For instance, we actually passed campaign finance reform in Massachusetts. It wasn't even close, we overwhelmingly passed public financing for campaigns, then the legislature turned around and repealed it. That was my next wake up call that it wasn't enough to be an activist on the issues. You also really had to throw the bums out; we needed people who are committed to a public interest government. It wasn't enough to change the rules of the game because the predators are in there, foxes guarding the chicken coop. So it really needs to be a very broad and comprehensive fight. So I sort of worked my way up the food chain of activism and starting with smaller and concrete things; mercury and fish and shutting down incinerators. So I went from that kind of activism to campaign finance reform and democracy activism and thought we'd get to the bottom of the problem and found no, elections have to be a part of this. Frederick Douglass said: "Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never did, and it never will." And that is part of the role of independent, non-corporate politics. Without it you don't have a democracy and you don't have a demand. If all your voices are corporate voices it's just a spin campaign. That does not a democracy make.
CMD: What are the main issues you are trying to highlight in your campaign?
JS: Our agenda is pretty broad and comprehensive, we sort of start with where the most acute needs are, and in the same way that problems converge, so do solutions. The big one is the Green New Deal, which is a combination of democracy and economic interventions to reclaim the promise of American democracy on an emergency basis and at the same time reclaim an economy that actually works for ordinary mortals instead of just the Wall Street CEOs. The highlight of the Green New Deal, which of course is based on the New Deal that helped get us out of the Great Depression, is a full employment program, which will put 25 million people back to work, effectively end unemployment as it ends the recession, thereby jump-starting the economy and transitioning the economy to a secure, re-localized green economy for the future. And in doing so we have also combated climate change and made wars for oil obsolete.
So the economic program is also an environmental program and also a peace program. It's also a health program because we spend about a trillion dollars as taxpayers on a sick-care system, not a health-care system. To change the sick-care system to a health-care system, you want to have an infrastructure for health in your community, you also want of course a Medicare for all healthcare system, but even before getting there there's so much you can do to prevent illness to start with. Of the trillion dollars we spend every year, 75 percent of that is spent on chronic diseases that are preventable for half the cost. So I would just add as ancillaries to that; forgiving student debt and making public higher education free is a key part of this, and of course downsizing the military and bringing the troops home as well.
CMD: Why did you decide to run for President in this election specifically?
JS: My breaking point was the manufactured debt-ceiling crisis that didn't have to happen to begin with. Halfway through it [President Obama] announced that he was offering up Medicare and Social Security as sacrificial lambs, and I was one of the people who just went ballistic at that point, and I felt it was important that not go unchallenged. I got involved with helping find someone in the Green Party that would be willing to run because it is the one non-corporate funded political vehicle that can support a national campaign. And I don't mean financially, we are people powered, and the only one out there who can get a candidate on the ballot in enough states. It's a national party and it has survived this period of political oppression. And a lot of people talk about the Green Party as being weak, and small, but the response to that is, compared to what? All the other non-corporate political parties that have been wiped off the face of the planet as national electoral parties? There are residues of Peace & Freedom and Socialist Alternative, and they're doing important work, but it's very hard to have a national electoral organization. To its credit the Green Party has survived the fear campaigns and the smear campaigns and the infiltration of the FBI and the likes.
That's why we need this party, this election, at this time. We are at a breaking point on the economy, on jobs, on wages, on the right to organize, on student debt, on public institutions, even on private ones that have become increasingly out of reach to ordinary mortals. The price that students pay for the debt, which is the norm and not the exception, is staggering and shameful. It provides an image of a society that's devouring its youth. In our campaign we talk about generational justice because it's young people that are bearing the burden of a very unjust education system, an unjust economy and the climate crisis as well as the debt we've inflicted on students. This didn't happen by accident, it's because students are another defenseless constituency in a political establishment that serves its corporate funders who employ lobbyists. They are on the receiving end of a system of exploitation, an economy and a political establishment that is all about exploitation of the many on behalf of the few.
CMD: What is your message to voters in Wisconsin in the context of Scott Walker being the Governor and his recent moves on workers, voting rights, etc.?
JS: Wisconsin is the living, breathing example of the politics of courage and how it is transformative. Wisconsin is the example we need to be emulating at the national level, that's why our campaign headquarters is here and that's why we'll be having our grand opening tonight, we're here to support this uprising of democracy and justice here. And we're here not only to support it but to continue propagating it all across the nation and in terms of the struggle against Walker, you know, this is very exciting and very encouraging that Wisconsin has taken this on. That you managed to collect the million signatures, that you are fighting back, that you are not being deterred by $700,000 of promotional campaigns by the Chamber of Commerce, that you know the power of a people's politics and to quote another sage that inspires me on a daily basis: Alice Walker, who said the biggest way that people give up power is by not knowing that they have it in the first place. In Wisconsin, you have it, and you know it.
CMD: What is the strategy behind running on the Green Party line?
JS: I think that what happened in Wisconsin is really instructive. People reached the breaking point. And they took it in their own hands to turn the breaking point to a tipping point and that's where we are. And the tools that people used, first the setting for it, you know, is very similar. We have a whole generation that's coming of age politically as they've been on the receiving end of an exploitive political establishment. It provides the same kind of wound up spring that you have going on in the Arab spring. Same conditions here. In the same way that the Middle Eastern democracy revolution's depended on social media, we do too and those tools have come of age here as well. So the strategy derives from those realities that you've got; a generation which is fighting angry, which sees no way forward, and sees themselves quite trapped by high unemployment and big debt. And a climate again that is melting down on them. So they have a completely transformative perspective and understand that inaction is not an option. And when you look at the older generation a lot of people understand, but they sort of get stage of life inertia, not so for young people. They have an inclination to act so it's a really exciting setting, you've got polls saying 49 percent of people, I think it was the Washington Post like two weeks ago, 49 percent of people were saying they thought America needed a third party, an independent politics. A lot of people think this is a perfect storm and so the strategy is to get the message out as strong and loud and clear as we can, largely through alternative media and through social media and the Internet.
We reach out to constituencies like students, like Latinos who have been so badly slammed by the Democrats. When we held one of our first meetings in Chicago the host came up to me afterwards and said, "Now tell me again what's your name? Because my people," and she was referring to the Mexican community, "aren't going to vote Democrat anymore and we don't want to vote Republican and so I'm going to tell everybody about the Green Party and your campaign!" and so it's like giving out candy at Christmas because people are looking for another party. And another part of the strategy is to tell people that the Green Party has been at work for 20 years developing the plan and there are a whole series of plans that are very much in the public domain and are very much what public interest advocates are talking about, they're just not accustomed to having a political party that supports them rather than tries to silence them. So the plan is to engage those constituencies, engage the broader public. And the grander part of the strategy is building the party as we go. And the campaign is all about action on the ground and working with locals with the party chapters, starting new parties where they've gone dormant, to help revive them and we're actually doing that now in places like Utah. Utah has a new Green Party.
CMD: You are fighting against the two dominant political parties, whose campaign funding largely comes from major corporations, what keeps you going?
JS: I sort of feel like the two political parties provide comic relief, but they are not the real show. They are not the real election so I tune out and sort of laugh at what's going on there, the buffoons that they are making of themselves and the very shameless hypocrisy that is coming out of the Democratic Party and its effort to kind of cover its tracks and to persuade people that "well, we may have fooled you once, twice, a hundred times, you might be waking up to that but we're going to help you not wake up to that." Their pretense of being a populist campaign is so shallow and ludicrous; it provides a kind of comic relief.
But the real show is the incredible genius going on in the grassroots right now. The people have broken through and I'm endlessly inspired by the real communities that are struggling right now. And that would be the community of color and their fight back and their ability to see the new way forward, that doesn't mean everybody but an awful lot of people and especially young people. I find young people really are the trailblazers right now. Because they are seeing this in a way that my generation can't begin to understand, what it's like to be carrying around the debt of owning a mortgage without having a house and not having a job to pay for it. I would be absolutely bonkers if I found myself in that position.
One of the images we're using in talking with the climate community is that we always talk about tipping points in climate -- we gotta do something before we're past a tipping point -- it's like well we got to get the political system to that tipping point as well. It's that that keeps me going -- it's the inspired fight that's taking place here in Wisconsin and on college campuses and in eviction blockades and in occupy protests there's such a flood of inspired and courageous work that's happening and I feel that it's a real honor to be a part of that.
The Center for Media and Democracy does not endorse or oppose any candidate for office. Since 1993, CMD has been reporting on corporate spin and government propaganda, exposing public relations tactics, and debunking PR campaigns.