When Eugene Debs ran for the country’s highest office in 1912 as a Socialist Party candidate, he considered the election to be of the “profoundest interest to the working class and the country” but lamented the fact that in the campaign there were “but two parties and but one issue.”
“There is no longer even the pretense of difference between the so-called Republican and Democratic parties. They are substantially one in what they stand for,” Debs declared. “They are opposed to each other on no question of principle but purely in a contest for the spoils of office.”
The words and wisdom of Debs could not be more appropriate, when assessing the 2012 Election. There are often surreal moments in the election where President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney argue over how they are different from one another or argue over whether they have similar policies or views. It conveniently allows the candidates to not discuss substantive issues that, despite the delusions promoted by mass media, boy wonder Romney’s veep Paul Ryan is not going to raise. In fact, CBS reports Americans are not likely to hear any “bold pronouncements” at the parties’ upcoming lavish political conventions.
Firedoglake has been spotlighting third party politics over the past couple days and will continue to do so because the two major parties have proven themselves to be complicit enablers of systemic corruption. The lack of a multi-party system contributes to this corruption by giving Democratic or Republican administrations the cover to erode the rule of law, violate civil liberties, look the other way when massive fraud is committed on Wall Street, abuse secrecy powers by punishing whistleblowers as it simultaneously releases its most endearing national security secrets of the day, advance construction of an unpopular pipeline project behind the scenes despite risks to the environment or stand idly by as climate change becomes more dangerous to the planet, etc.
There are other candidates besides the two major party candidates, who are running, and they deserve more attention, especially for the bold challenge to the rigged system of electoral politics that they have mounted.
Part 1 of an interview with Jill Stein, Green Party presidential candidate, was published yesterday. Now, here is Part 2 of that interview. We discuss what has been most striking about the erosion of civil liberties in this period of history and what her relationship to grassroots activism would be if she were to be elected president.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA, The Dissenter: You’ve been part of it as an activist and probably been subjected to it, but what would you say has struck you about the erosion, assault or the forced sacrifice of civil liberties that has gone on in the past decade?
JILL STEIN, Green Party Presidential Candidate: Anyone who’s not concerned and up in hiding, I think doesn’t understand and hasn’t seen what’s going on. There’s reasons for all of us to be standing up and fighting to restore our civil liberties, now fighting for all they’re worth, because they continue to be stolen out from under us in a way which is extremely dangerous and does not bode well for the future. It is very important that we use the remaining civil liberties while we have them to oppose—I wouldn’t say drift toward a police state—I’d say a surge toward a police state.
It’s really critical that we stand up now to take back our civil liberties, including just across the board our right to First Amendment, to free speech, to protest, to petition government for redress of grievances. What we’ve seen happening to the Occupy movements over the course of the past year is a case in point where actually the White House appears to be orchestrating Homeland Security and the FBI together with local, militarized police forces, who show up in riot gear with even helicopters overhead, and have brutally attacked one Occupy site after another, all with the same playbook, the same talking point. This is clearly a coordinated effort, which makes it all the scarier, and was a flagrant attack on our civil liberties to where peaceful protesters were not only denied their right to peaceful protest but were also viciously attacked for it and beat up and put into jail and threatened with jail sentences. In terms of First Amendment, this is an endangerment.
Add to that the HR 347, the criminalization of protest, which basically gives the federal government to declare any site of protest a national special security event and make it a felony to be there. If you were protesting in a completely legal and peaceful manner, you’re still suddenly at risk for felony charges and a ten-year prison sentence, even if you’re not aware that the status of the ground you stand on has been changed.
Add to that the president has claimed and codified the rights of indefinite detention for him and the country’s executive and this gives him the right to lock any of us and throw away the key, if he so desires, or send us off on rendition if he so desires without having to accuse us of a crime or bring us before a jury. It’s absolutely staggering. And due process guarantees—from eight hundred years ago, the Magna Carta—has been essentially thrown out. The president now has codified his right even to assassinate his enemies. This is someone who went into office saying he was going to close Guantanamo. Well, it appears to avoid the controversies of Guantanamo he has simply adopted a take no prisoners policy and is simply doing away with them out in the field and far beyond those who might be truly justified as enemies of the state. This is president has a policy of murder first and asking questions and establishing identity later, maybe.
This is not a policy that is consistent with American liberty and it’s certainly not consistent with a foreign policy that can win the hearts and minds being courted by our sworn enemies. This is our wonderful recruiting policy for them. It makes clear that our civil liberties are in great jeopardy.
GOSZTOLA: Something that this blog has given great attention to is the curbing of free speech rights for government employees, those that want to blow the whistle on fraud, malfeasance or corruption. What do you have to say about the Obama administration’s policy toward whistleblowers?
STEIN: This is just another red flag that the White House and corporate politics is not serving our needs when members of the government are precluded from informing the American people on critical matters of national and foreign policy, matters we deserve to know about. It’s just reprehensible. It’s not consistent with democracy, that they are silenced. And, in fact, Obama has not only silenced them. He’s viciously gone after them and has persecuted more whistleblowers in his couple of years than certainly in the past decades and perhaps even longer.
Furthermore, this policy seems to be directed especially toward his political critics, those he’s not happy with. Whereas other leaks from his administration about his foreign policy stances that make him look macho, those are not pursued with any apparent vigor. It appears to be a selective process of going after his critics. And it’s a shame and the hunting down of Bradley Manning and the effort to go after Julian Assange is extremely contrary to the interests of the American people, who have been enormously informed by the content of WikiLeaks.
The shame is that we have a president and a foreign policy, in particular, that operates with such incredible secrecy and duplicity that they really have their hackles up about the transparency that these whistleblowers have tried to bring to the functioning of our government and our foreign policy. We desperately need that greater transparency and accountability to the American people of which we have none.
GOSZTOLA: I think you would agree that social movements create the change in this country, that typically the politicians haven’t created the change unless there was a movement that was pushing them. And, you have these ties to social movements, which I think makes you unique in the field, but if we look back to four years, Obama had connections to social movements but once elected he did everything he could to cut himself off and make sure he wasn’t being influenced or that these movement had no power to do anything while he was president.
What would you do differently to encourage openness and participation? And then, how would you tap into these movements to create and revitalize democracy in this country?
STEIN: Great question
Obama came to office owing millions in return favors to the financial services industry, Goldman Sachs, health insurance, nuclear, the war industry, weapons—You name it. He owed them favors in return. It was clear even before he was inaugurated when he began to make his appointments: Larry Summers, the architect of the Wall Street waste, fraud and abuse; Timothy Geithner, who looked the other way while the New York fed enacted that waste, fraud and abuse; Jeffrey Immelt, head of his jobs council, the king of off-shoring and shipping jobs overseas. As Obama began to create his Cabinet, it was clear where he was going.
On Day 3 of his office, he began to intensify the bombing of Pakistan and then spread it into Somalia and Yemen and surge the troops in Afghanistan and withdrew in Iraq only because of Bush’s withdrawal date and he was unable to extend that withdrawal date and allow us to perhaps still be in Iraq. It became really clear what his agenda was if you hadn’t picked up on it early on and that agenda was entirely in line with who got him into office and who gave him the hundreds of millions of dollars to create that incredible public relations campaign that swept him into office and created the persona that really took hold of the American imagination.
What’s really different about our campaign and my history of ten years of activism is that we don’t have those relationships with the guys who are screwing us from Wall Street to the fossil fuel plants and nuclear plants, etc. We have a history of fighting them, not cutting deals with them and not taking bribes from them. Unlike the president, we would not come into office owing favors. In fact, we would be greatly indebted to the ground troops of democracy, who would be responsible for getting us into office.
Our entire mode of operating depends on public engagement and broad widespread engagement, unlike President Obama who basically put his ground troops on the shelf. He had an enormous capacity to organize and maintain public momentum. He made a clear and conscious choice that it was not what he was about. He brought Wall Street into the White House with more members of Goldman Sachs than had been there under George W. Bush or ever before. Unlike his decision to embrace lobbyists, we would very much continue to work with a broad network of activists and would rely on that network to actually move us forward.
Functioning as an independent president without substantial numbers in Congress, we would very much depend on public engagement in order to move legislation. Instead of being simply the commander-in-chief, the president as a Green would be an organizer-in-chief, very much, above all.
Much like with what happened with the PIPA or SOPA bill, which was considered a slam dunk. There was no way it was going to be stopped until the public found out about the betrayal going on in Congress and self-mobilized, no thanks to the corporate media or our political representatives. This was a grassroots effort that went like a wildfire across the Internet and really made clear to our elected officials that they needed to stop that bill and vote on our behalf if they wanted a political future.
And that needs to be the rule and not the exception in how we operate going forward and my role as organizer-in-chief, if I were called to serve, would be to make that happen, to ensure that the public knows the bill is coming up in two weeks, for example, for healthcare as a human right and to expand Medicare for all to achieve that right. And to provide people with the key talking points about how this makes comprehensive health care available to everyone, puts you back in charge, not some profiteering CEO. You decide your healthcare decisions and choose your provider and that this will save us trillions of dollars over the coming decade.
So, by informing and empowering everyday citizens to be the driver of our democracy, we actually create that democracy. Without informing and empowering citizens, we don’t have a democracy. We continue to have the oligarchy that we have run the economic elite and the political elite that they hijack, that they collaborate with, which is just about everyone in Congress.
There are in addition to that general philosophy operation specific reforms in the Green New Deal that really help institutionalize democracy. It is great to have a president that is an organizer in chief, but we need to restore democracy beyond the chief executive and what the president can do to get the word out. And there are all kinds of ways that a president can get the word out, including Internet organizing, sort of a MoveOn.org gone ballistic that actually moves on from the Democratic Party in a really fundamental way; public service announcements; going on primetime TV, etc, that really creates a public discussion and engages the public and gives people reason and an efficient mechanism for weighing in. Representatives are supposed to represent us, not the lobbyists. So it is very important that they know we know what’s going on and that essentially the president would function as a whistleblower on Congress to clarify what’s going on and enable people to hold their elected officials accountable, not only when it comes to re-election but potentially for recalls for people who are not serving the public interest and the public. And everyday people need to be put back in charge of the public agenda.
We’re the last ones to know what that public agenda is. Our congressmen or women don’t have time to read bills, which are written by lobbyists for the most part and are written in a way that is not intelligible to ordinary mortals. The president can play a huge role in re-engaging the wheels of democracy.
But, in addition, there are several reforms that need to be passed and these would be critical to my agenda and to pass them early on so that the whole system can operate more democratically. That includes getting money out of politics through campaign finance reform and public funding. It includes limiting the power of lobbyists, for example, to convey political donations. It includes restoring the rights of personhood to people and abolishing corporate personhood. It was never intended by the writers of our Constitution, and it’s not only been Citizens United but really the drift of the Supreme Court over the past one hundred and fifty years that has essentially stolen our rights of personhood and given them to multinational corporations; so passing a constitutional amendment.
There are many of them out there. One particular good one is the Move to Amend’s, which would clarify that money is not speech and corporations are not persons. The president obviously doesn’t amend the Constitution but can, again, be organizer-in-chief and ensure that the public is informed about this critical problem and how we can fix it.
We need to secure our right to vote and protect it against the voter disenfranchisement, the voter ID bills. We need a constitutional amendment to ensure the right to vote and that it cannot be abridged. We need hand-marked paper ballots so that our votes cannot be electronically stolen. We need to ensure that voting is accessible, that we have same-day registration, and that the rights of ethnic and linguistic minorities are protected and they’re not at all. They are being increasingly violated.
We need to reclaim the public airwaves for public use. Right now, they are claimed by the highest bidder and we pay the consequence so we would fire the FCC and bring on public interest representatives to change the political playing field. If we restore the use of public airwaves by right for public interest candidates and public interest candidates, including elections, this would basically take the money out of politics. Most of the money gets used right now for TV advertising. If the playing field to television was leveled for equal and guaranteed access for a political candidate that met some certain basic threshold of legitimacy, then suddenly it doesn’t matter so much if you cut backroom deals with nuclear power plants or the fracking corporations or Wall Street. It doesn’t give you the political advantage because you can still get the word out if you had a set of public airwaves in service of the public
So, those are some of the key reforms in the democratic process that would ensure we get our democracy back on track. That in turn would open up the whole reform agenda the American people are clamoring for.