When the president put Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block last year, I suddenly got religion about national politics. I've always been active on the state and local level, but suddenly I understood and felt like so many others that it was unthinkable that these threats would go unchallenged in the national debate. So I became involved with the Greens.
The nation is in crisis. People are losing jobs, losing their homes, the climate is in meltdown, the rich are getting richer, and the political establishment is making things worse by imposing austerity on the American people while they squander trillions on wars, Wall Street bailouts, and tax breaks for the wealthy.
Q: What role do you believe third parties serve in American politics?
A: Any time that a big national party has moved forward, it's been a third party that drove it there.
The abolition of slavery initially had the Liberty Party as the counterpart of the abolitionists' social movement. The Liberty Party drove the agenda into another small party, which called itself the Republican Party.
It was an independent party called the Women's Party that drove the issue of women's right to vote into the mainstream.
If you like child-labor laws, Social Security, and collective bargaining, they were all pushed by small independent parties, including the socialists, the communists, and others.
Historically, there is a lot of evidence that you can win the day even if you don't win the office.
As Frederick Douglass said: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
Q: What is the "Green New Deal" and why do you call it that?
A: The Green New Deal is an emergency plan that follows two crises: the jobs crisis and the climate crisis.
It's called the Green New Deal because it's based on the New Deal that brought us out of the Great Depression. It's a similar concept of directly creating jobs, unlike the stimulus package that was, in majority, tax breaks for large corporations.
The Green New Deal not only jump-starts the economy, but creates a different economy. Rather than propping up a fake economy of high finance, it creates a localized green economy, with jobs that can be filled by people in the community who most need them - low-income people with low education rates.
We talk about making communities sustainable and putting the community in charge of creating sustainable jobs, but not only in clean energy and transportation. We need to hire back the 300,000 teachers, after-school teachers, drug-abuse counselors, and home-rehabilitation people all who were laid off or have had their jobs eliminated.
The Green New Deal not only solves the employment emergency and the climate emergency by transitioning to the green economy, it also creates a new infrastructure for health. We don't have a health-care system; we have a sick-care system. We spend $2.2 trillion a year that includes the cost of private insurance, premiums, co-pays, out-of-pocket and other expenses. When you add that up, it's over twice that of our military expenditures.
A windfall benefit of a green economy is that we stop making ourselves sick. One of the incredible windfalls is that green energy makes wars for oil obsolete. And that's another trillion dollars a year that could be cut. We're not more secure now after spending trillions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can still see the violence and the civil wars that rage. We have not received the bang for the buck.
Our campaign also advocates making education free. Education pays for itself. We know that from the GI Bill. Higher education after World War II was documented to have a $7 return for every dollar that was invested.
Q: How do you pay for all that?
A: Much of it pays for itself. Health care is a human right, and Medicare for all is a piece of the Green New Deal. Some of the savings come from eliminating the massive health-care bureaucracy and stabilizing medical inflation.
Other sources of revenue come from downsizing the military and bringing the troops home, ending the drone wars, and stopping the expansion of new bases in Southeast Asia.
A third major source of funding to draw on is fair taxation. I'm asking the rich to start paying their fair share and would impose a Wall Street transaction tax that could generate $150 billion a year.
Q: What is your relationship with the Occupy movement?
A: We have supported Occupy across the country and when Occupy had its encampments, I made a point to visit at every opportunity. Occupy is very much in step with the causes of the Green Party . . . and the causes of [Green Party vice-presidential candidate Cheri Honkala's] Poor People's Economic Rights Campaign. Our campaign is an opportunity to bring these movements together.
We've been very careful not to trample on Occupy's independence, and when I visit, I'm very clear that I'm not there to ask for their support. I'm there to support them. I think Occupy is critically important and they're not going away. They're an expression of the unraveling of our economy.
Q: Is a vote for a leftist third-party candidate a vote for Mitt Romney or a wasted vote?
A: I think for a person to vote for either Wall Street candidate, that is a wasted vote. And that's worse than a wasted vote because it gives them a mandate for what's destroying us. They've both been a disaster for us. It's really important that we stand up and say it's time to change course, time to change trajectory, to speak up for our own survival.
Talking to people who think it's a wasted vote is like talking to someone in an abusive relationship who keeps making excuses for the abuser.
Contact Sam Wood at 215-854-2796, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @inqwriter.
Read the entire interview at Philly.com/jillstein.