Last week, former Green party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein visited Augusta for the Maine Greens Convention, where she thanked her supporters for "leading the charge" on progressive issues like food sovereignty, ranked choice voting, climate change, and the legalization of marijuana. She opened her speech by spurring the crowd to "keep fighting the neoliberal assault" and encouraging others to vote on values instead of fear.
Stein spoke with The Phoenix ahead of her Maine visit where she shared her thoughts on the future of the resistance, the Trump-Russia conspiracy, and liberal criticism hurled at her in recent weeks. After over 100 days of President Trump, how's the Green side looking? In Stein's words, "the battle continues." Below is an abridged version of our interview.
What was the purpose of your Maine visit?
It’s great to reconnect with Greens in Maine at a time where the Green party is really going gangbusters across the nation. So many people are throwing in the towel with the political system that has thrown everyday working people under the bus. It’s a great time to be Green. We’ve been ahead of the curve on clean energy, on nonviolent conflict resolution, on free higher education, and healthcare as a human right. The curve has caught up to us in a big way.
How do you energize people to vote for a third party?
In my experience, it’s all about just getting the word out. There is a political alternative that’s not predatory. People are so cynical of the political system right now. About 45 percent of eligible voters didn't bother to vote. Many of the other voters were voting against the candidate they hated the most.
Even (in) our so-called progressive political party, its essential core values are not what everyday people need. Getting out, talking with people, getting people a sense that when we get together we have the numbers, the vision, and the power to change our future.
Just the number of people locked into student debt alone would have been enough to win a three-way presidential race. Most people don’t see that they have a future under the current system. (They're encouraged) when they hear of a political party that isn’t funded by big banks and fossil fuel giants and war profiteers, that it’s really all about everyday people.
People are ready to stand up and take their votes back when they have nothing to vote for. But we need to give people choices.
The media fuels that binary as well, don’t you think, considering how little coverage your campaign received compared to Trump and Clinton.
In the words of the head of CBS (CEO Leslie Moonves), Donald Trump may not be good for the country but he sure is good for my bottom line.
That’s a scary quote.
It’s so true, though. The chickens have come home to roost. This president is not good for the country. He’s the toxic product of a toxic system. People have just lost faiths in the institutions that democracy depends on and we don’t fix it by demonizing the people that are standing up and saying that we have a problem. We need to get the predators out of the way.
What would you say you learned the most during your campaign? Anything useful for future Green party strategies?
I think what we learned is that if we keep our eyes on the prize, and if we build it, they will come. What we saw—especially when the Democratic party turned on Bernie Sanders—was a huge influx. The floodgates opened based on the commitments that we made to people, planet, and peace. We established the integrity, that we are not bought and paid for, we’re the one national political party that isn’t poisoned by corporate money, lobbyists, and super PACs.
We are seeing the party growing like wildfire right now.
It’s hard to keep up with all the scandals coming out of the White House nowadays. Is there a particular part of Trump and his direction that’s the most troubling to you? Do you think this whole Russia conspiracy is a dead end and ‘the resistance’ should be focusing their efforts elsewhere?
The Russia thing is a substantial distraction from the Democrats' humiliating defeat. It’s a way for them not to examine what caused them to lose the election. And the embarrassing revelations of the DNC leaks were exactly that. They rather talk about Russia than attend to what the problem was.
Had they not been engaging in sabotage and subterfuge there would be no problems. In some ways, it’s a big distraction. But it’s interesting with the apparent obstruction of justice with Donald Trump and his effort to fire Comey and interfere with the judiciary, who knows what he’s covering up. It could be collusion with Russian government or oligarchs. Trump’s done his best to pull a veil over his financial deals and history.
We need to know more about this imposter in the White House. His efforts to cover up is what is leading this forward more so than any particular smoking gun. The cover up could be worse than any crime.
This president is proving his incredible incompetence every day.
Do you think the prospect of impeachment is becoming more likely?
Impeachment is neither simple or a solution because then we have to deal with Mike Pence.
The issue here, in my view, is that democracy is under attack, and Donald Trump is a symbol of that. He’s not the cause, he’s the symptom and the disease; he makes it worse.
Our basic institutions are under attack and we should not diminish the seriousness of it. That’s what we should focus on, instead of the day-to-day melodramas.
We need to turn the tipping point into a breaking point. We can’t go back to the norm of the neoliberal democrats, which essentially is what got us into this mess, by inflicting austerity on everyday people, deregulating the financial predators, and shipping our jobs overseas.
It’s not about going back, it’s about creating a grassroots people revolution that provides us an America that works for all of us.
What’s the story behind that photo of you having dinner with Michael Flynn and Putin? Are you cozy with the Russians as the mainstream media would have people believe?
I’ve told many reporters about it, but they refuse to publish it because if any of the facts come out behind the photo it completely destroys their smear campaign. The facts undermine the mythology. That photo came at the end of a day in which I presented on a panel of diplomats, largely from the EU, in a dialogue about the nature of U.S. and Russian relations.
I went there explicitly to challenge the war-mongering going on not only by U.S. but by Russia, who had just joined in the bombing campaigns in Syria. I was there to deliver a message calling specifically for a peace offensive in the Middle East, and to tell Russia that they were following the footsteps of a catastrophic American policy. This endless war in the Middle East is making us less secure. That was my message. I thought I could deliver it personally to Putin by being at that table.
I did meet Michael Flynn. I didn’t know who he was. He introduced himself to me before we sat down. I gave him my elevator speech about the peace offensive. He was not interested, so I was not interested in talking with him. Our conversation was over in about two sentences.
I spent the dinner talking with the German former foreign minister about how we can help build collaboration for an alliance for peace. You’ve got to talk to your adversaries. I wasn’t the only peace advocate there. I was there to criticize Russia.
The media can be ruthless, that must have been frustrating.
It was actually a good sign. First, they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win. In one week I was attacked by Rachel Maddow and Kellyanne Conway, and I thought, ‘wow, we have arrived.’
It was nothing short of a lame smear campaign.
Speaking of smear campaigns, how would you respond to the comments that you stole votes away from Hilary and contributed to the rise of Trump?
The people who really put Trump in power were the people voting against Clinton. If I wasn’t there, even more people would have voted for Donald Trump. Maine has shown that the solution to a compromised democracy is not to silence political opposition. We need a system of ranked choice voting that makes us lead the way with our values.
We need to pass it in 50 states and include the presidential election. The minute we do that, suddenly they lose their fear campaign and they cannot try to silence political opposition, which is what the naysayers are doing here.
The votes that came in for my campaign would not have made a difference for Clinton, and there are very good studies on this from the exit polls. Over 60 percent of Greens simply would not have voted.
We have a solution, ranked choice voting.
How do the millions of Americans who voted for Trump factor into future Green strategies? How do you turn a Trump supporter into a Green voter?
It’s not hard. History tells us that people are subject to demagoguery and neo-fascism when they’re really desperate and thrown under the bus. That’s Trump’s demographic. There are some racist nutcakes out there, but we’ve always had them. What’s new here is the working people who have lost their jobs don’t have a college education. As their income and opportunities plummet, their desperation skyrockets. These are people who are truly depressed. Middle-aged white people who might be going through suicide, addiction, alcoholism.
That white working-class population has really been hung out to dry. What do they need? They need what the Green party has always been talking about and that is the right to a job. A guaranteed job at a living wage.
How would you put them to work?
We could transform our economy to address the climate crisis, solving two problems with one solution. There are jobs in renewable energy. We need to move into a peacetime green energy footing, and convert those industries. We could put the unemployed back to work with a living wage with union protections as well as health care under a Medicare for all system that ensures prosperity. Who doesn’t want that? We can do this by cutting the bloated and dangerous military budget.
This is a win-win. When working people and Trump supporters realize that they’ve got somebody on their side, they will stand up. This is the reason why Bernie Sanders would have beat Donald Trump. People voted for Trump out of desperation and because they didn't have a progressive alternative.
This biggest way people give up power is by not knowing they have it to start with.
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