Being Green: Presidential hopeful Jill Stein aims to
rebuild a broken system
By Greg Hanscom
6 Apr 2012 7:42 AM
Lost amid the carnival of embarrassments that is the
Republican presidential primary is the fact that there is
another primary race underway: the Green Party's. "What?"
you say. "Those guys are still around?" Well yes, but
they're not guys.
The front-runner in the race is Jill Stein, a Boston
physician and veteran activist and candidate with the
Massachusetts Green-Rainbow Party. (Note to the good
people of the Bay State: We get that you're trying to be
inclusive, but a name like that is NO WAY to win respect
in the world.) She is currently trouncing the second-place
runner, former sitcom star Roseanne Barr. (Note to the
good people of the Green Party: Oh, never mind ...)
Lest you think this is all rainbows and ponies, however,
Stein is not messing around. She says she became involved
in politics after witnessing firsthand the epidemics of
obesity, diabetes, learning disorders, autism -- problems
that she traces to toxic chemicals, an industrial food
system, and a society built around the automobile.
Stein's presidential platform includes universal health
care, tuition-free higher education, and forgiveness of
student debt. And at the center of it all is a Green New
Deal that she says will put millions of people to work,
tackle the climate crisis, and address our failing health
The Green Party will choose its candidate for president at
a national convention in Baltimore in July. If things
continue as they have been, Stein will win the spot
handily. (She has won 10 of 10 state primaries, plus the
District of Columbia.) I talked with her earlier this
Q. Your website today says Mitt Romney has invited you to
debate him. It's an April Fools' joke, right?
A. Well, that part of it is a joke. He did not invite us.
But the rest of it is actually true. I have debated him
[during the 2002 race for Massachusetts governor], and I
was declared winner by more than one objective source.
Q. Did someone really say you were the only adult in the
A. Yes, that was an editorial in the Boston Globe, and if
you watch the debate you'll see why.
Q. Doesn't a sense of humor automatically disqualify you
from the presidency?
A. A sense of humor and lack of corporate funding are
substantial obstacles. But I think that we're part of a
very large movement to change the way that politics works
-- so that the joke is no longer on us.
Q. Running for president under the Green Party banner,
your motivations have to be something besides actually
landing in the White House. I assume your campaign is
largely an effort to change the system.
A. That's right, and a journey begins with the first step.
That said, no one in their right mind ever expected that
young people in the streets were going to give the boot to
an entrenched dictator, either in Egypt or in Tunisia. So
remarkable things have been happening, likewise with the
Occupy movement. There is enormous public will out there
for substantive change.
The solutions that we are promoting -- we don't need to
convince people that we need a climate we can live in,
that we need health care as a human right, that we need to
be creating jobs rather than just giving more tax breaks
and giveaways to CEOs who just pocket the change -- these
are solutions that people already support. The question is
whether we can actually harness our political system and
move them forward.
Q. As disappointing as Obama has been, there's a lot at
stake in this election. Why should voters give you a vote
when we could end up with a situation like we saw with
Ralph Nader and Al Gore in 2000?
A. Progressives have been told we dare not vote for our
values and our vision because dangerous things will happen
-- witness Ralph Nader. We have 10 years of experience with
muzzling ourselves politically, and it's very clear now
that silence has not been an effective political strategy,
and that the politics of fear in fact has delivered all
those things that we were afraid of.
Obama has basically embraced most of Bush's policies,
including drill baby drill, pro-nuke, pro-coal,
undermining the Durban [climate] accords. He's celebrating
the beginnings of the Keystone pipeline. We still have
twice as many troops in Afghanistan as we had under George
Bush. The only reason Obama withdrew from Iraq was because
he was unable to negotiate immunity for the troops, so he
wound up having to accept what was George Bush's timeline
So the point here is that by being quiet, we have
essentially allowed corporations to run government whole
hog. Obama has been very responsive to his corporate
sponsors. So it's really critical that we have an
Q. In how many states are you even on the ballot?
A. We're currently on in 20 states. We expect to be on the
ballot in 46, maybe 48 states. We do have some very
difficult states -- two that are impossible barring
millions and millions of dollars.
Q. Is there any hope of getting you into a real debate?
A. Absolutely. The Commission on Presidential Debates has
a standard, which is 15 percent [of the national
electorate, as determined by public opinion polls]. If
everybody who cared about the climate got on board and
actually stood up and said that they're supporting this
campaign, that alone might be enough to get us into the
debates. If all the students out there who are up to their
eyeballs in debt stood up for this campaign, we would
easily be at 15 percent.
If I can quote Alice Walker, "The biggest way people give
up power is by not knowing they have it to start with."
And that's true, for the environmental movement, the
student movement, the antiwar movement,
health-care-as-a-human-right movement -- you put us all
together, we have the potential for a Tahrir Square type
event, and [to] turn the White House into a Green House in
Q. Is the Green Party itself something of a kiss of death
in this country right now?
A. We ran a referendum here in Massachusetts -- I'm talking
about the Green Party along with some nonprofits. The
referendum was non-binding. We basically proposed
redefining economic development to be green, sustainable,
re-localized, and healthy, and to create local small
businesses and cooperatives in the green sectors of the
economy, rather than just dishing out billions to
multinational corporations that are part of the old fossil
We didn't have money to spend on the referendum. We were
hoping maybe we could get 10 or 15 percent [of the vote].
We actually got between 85 and 95 percent in every
community -- not just the treehuggers, but also the
postindustrial, desperately poor urban communities as
well. To me, it confirmed what I find in my everyday
experience: People are into this. They get it.
Q. You're using the same model for the Green New Deal
you're pushing on the national level. Tell us about that.
A. It's an emergency solution that will put 25 million
people back to work, end unemployment, jump-start the
green economy for the 21st century, and substantively
combat climate change. It would put communities in charge
of defining what jobs they need. These jobs would be
community-based, living-wage, full-time jobs, and would
basically run the spectrum of jobs that make communities
sustainable -- clean manufacturing, local organic
agriculture, public transportation, energy-efficient as
well as active transportation, and of course clean
renewable energy, conservation, weatherization,
We would also include teachers, nurses, day care, violence
prevention, drug rehabilitation, affordable housing
construction, etc., so there would be a spectrum of jobs
that make our communities environmentally, socially, and
economically sustainable. The cost would be on the order
of the first stimulus package, but it would create a whole
lot more jobs, because the first stimulus package was
largely tax breaks and subsidies for large corporations.
Q. I think a lot of working people feel burned by the
green economy because we didn't see the jobs that people
like Van Jones were promising -- certainly not right away.
A. It's not only the green jobs that failed. Obama's
promotion of additional free trade agreements has been
devastating to working people. He has not delivered on the
Employee Free Choice Act. He has not stood up to the
so-called "right to work" states, which actually undermine
not only worker pay but also safety on the job.
Obama's first appointments were Larry Summers, who laid
the foundation for Wall Street's waste, fraud, and abuse.
He then went on to appoint Timothy Geithner to be head of
the Treasury, who had headed the New York Fed while all
that was going on. And then he brought in Jeff Immelt, the
king of layoffs and factory closures. The head of GE was
brought in to head Obama's jobs council -- the guy who had
off-shored more jobs than any single person in America was
brought in to head the Obama jobs program.
So it's no wonder that working people are very skeptical
of whatever Obama's going to propose. And I think vote for
him only out of fear. And that's where Alice Walker comes
in again, that the biggest way people give up power is by
not knowing they have it.
Q. Last question: How do you travel on the campaign trail?
Humvee? Private jet?
A. My dream is to get a veggie-oil bus. I take the train
whenever I can. When there's no choice, I fly, and when we
drive, we drive in a Prius. So we don't just talk the
talk, we walk the walk all the way.
Greg Hanscom is a senior editor at Grist. He tweets about
cities, bikes, transportation, policy, and sustainability
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