Third-Party Politics: A Conversation with Green Party Candidate Jill Stein
Michael Lerner: So you’re running for president. Could you tell me a little bit about who you are and how you came to run on the Green Party platform?
Jill Stein: It’s a wonderful place to begin. I’m a mother and a doctor—a general internist. When people ask what kind of medicine I’m practicing, I now say political medicine because it’s the mother of all illnesses. We’ve got to fix this one in order to fix all the other things that ail us!
I became alarmed about twenty years ago about the new epidemics of chronic disease— skyrocketing rates of asthma, learning disabilities, autism, cancer, obesity, diabetes, etc.—that appeared in our communities, especially among kids. I became passionately interested in the links between our health and our communities—that is, in the environment broadly defined: our air, water, food, chemicals, transportation, and pollution, as well as our social environment and poverty. All of this impacts our health. I started working with communities to fix the causes of these sicknesses. I tried to close down polluting incinerators, clean up coal plants, and get toxic pesticides off the shelf, and instead create jobs in recycling, conservation, and community organic farms. So that’s how I became an activist for communities, for public health, and for the environment.
I was first approached by the Green Party and recruited to run for office in 2002, when I ran against Mitt Romney for governor of Massachusetts. I was not a political person and had not previously been a member of a political party. I entered that campaign in desperation and came out of it with inspiration, having seen how eager the public was for solutions that were truly “of, by, and for the people” and that were not co-opted by corporate money. It was very exciting to see that there was this wealth of public will and community spirit, a world apart from the political establishment. In the absence of a political party that unites us, ordinary citizens are rendered powerless in a game of divide and conquer. It was a wake-up moment for me to realize that the whole point of a political party is to bring advocacy groups together so we can actually form a critical mass and make real progress.
I was active at the state and local levels because the grassroots is where people’s politics must start. But last year, when the president put Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security on the chopping block as part of the solution to the debt-ceiling crisis—a concocted crisis to start with—I suddenly saw reason for national as well as local advocacy. It gave me great appreciation for the national structure of the Green Party as the only national force that allows us to challenge the determination of both Republicans and Democrats to destroy our essential social infrastructure in order to preserve tax breaks for the wealthy, wars for oil and bloated military budgets, and Wall Street bailouts. I set out to help the Green Party find someone who would be willing to run for president. In the process, I was strongly urged to run by the very people I had sought to recruit, so I stepped up to the plate.
The fear-mongering over the past decade—the idea that we have to vote our fears and not our values—has scared many progressives into political silence. But the reality is that silence has not been an effective political strategy! And the politics of fear has brought us everything that we were afraid of: the massive Wall Street bailouts, the expanding wars, the off-shoring of jobs, obstruction of unions and workers’ rights, declining wages, attacks on civil liberties and immigrant rights, skyrocketing student debt, the unmitigated foreclosure crisis, meltdown of the climate, etc. My campaign is addressing the politics of fear up front, because people are clamoring for the solutions that only our campaign is providing. People want jobs, health care and education as human rights, housing, a stable environment, a climate future. They want what the Green agenda offers, but they’ve been manipulated into the politics of fear.
Lerner, Michael. 2012. Third-Party Politics: A Conversation with Green Party Candidate Jill Stein. Tikkun 27(4): 51.