Green Party Nominee Jill Stein & Running Mate, Activist Cheri Honkala: “We Represent the 99 Percent”
Dr. Jill Stein’s Green Party vice-presidential running mate, Cheri Honkala, is a single mother who has firsthand experience with homelessness. In 2011, she ran as the Green Party candidate for sheriff of Philadelphia on a platform of ending foreclosures and halting evictions. "Large sections of the population are just sitting out. ... It’s not just because they’re not interested in what’s happening in this country. They just don’t see that their vote actually matters," Honkala says. "But our campaign gives an opportunity for people to see themselves, because we represent the 99 percent." Her Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign is one of the country’s largest movements led by the poor and homeless. We speak with Honkala and Dr. Stein about their campaign for the White House and the challenges they face as a third party in a two-party political system. If elected, Stein says she would work to repeal the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. "There are so many strategies that a president could bring into play to help draw public attention to not only the problem, but how we can solve it with a constitutional amendment to make clear that corporations are not persons and money is not speech."
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Baltimore, Maryland, where the Green Party’s national convention is underway. I’m joined by Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party 2012 presumptive presidential nominee, and by Cheri Honkala, Green Party’s vice-presidential nominee, national coordinator of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.
Dr. Jill Stein, talk about the decision you made in choosing Cheri Honkala. Who was on your short list?
DR. JILL STEIN: We had a wonderful short list. I’m not sure that I’m at liberty to disclose who exactly was on it.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you choose Cheri Honkala?
DR. JILL STEIN: Well, Cheri stands out as the leading advocate for poor people, for justice, for the fight against predatory banks, for the fight against mortgage foreclosures, fighting on behalf of children most at risk, fighting for justice and for a fair economy. And Cheri is an incredibly inspired human being and mother, who was a homeless single mother and who began to take over empty buildings, saying, "There are buildings that are—there are homes that are empty there, and there are people like me who are sleeping out on the street. What’s wrong with this picture? I’m going to go sleep in that empty home." And, you know, Cheri’s—Cheri is unstoppable and, I think, exemplifies the fighting spirit that is alive and well across America that we hope to give voice to in this campaign, that is what this is about.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the P word is certainly one that’s not really very much talked about—
DR. JILL STEIN: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: —by the presidential candidates: "poverty." Cheri Honkala, we’re used to seeing you ahead of marching at the presidential conventions, marching for poor people’s rights in this country, now being chosen as a vice-presidential candidate. Your feelings today?
CHERI HONKALA: It’s very exciting. I think I’m prepared to take on this challenge. I was absolutely shocked when I was chosen, but I think it’s a real statement of the Stein campaign. And it meant so much to people across the entire country. Once the announcement was made, I literally received hundreds of letters, not just from people in this country but from folks around the entire world.
AMY GOODMAN: Was it a hard decision to decide to do this?
CHERI HONKALA: It was definitely the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life, because I have a family out there. And I—you know, I have two sons, and they’re used to their mother bringing attention to them in the various different choices that I make. And I asked my 10-year-old, Guillermo, and he immediately did the happy dance in the living room, so I knew it was a go.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what do you plan to represent? You ran for sheriff of Philadelphia on a platform of no evictions, no foreclosures. I want to ask you about an announcement President Obama made in February. Bank of America and four other large banks had signed on to a $25 billion mortgage settlement to resolve claims over faulty foreclosures and the mishandling of requests for loan modifications. President Obama described it as a landmark settlement.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Under the terms of this settlement, America’s biggest banks, banks that were rescued by taxpayer dollars, will be required to right these wrongs. That means more than just paying a fee. These banks will put billions of dollars towards relief for families across the nation. They’ll provide refinancing for borrowers that are stuck in high-interest rate mortgages. They’ll reduce loans for families who owe more on their homes than they’re worth. And they will deliver some measure of justice for families that have already been victims of abusive practices.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama. Our headline today, Wells Fargo Bank has agreed to pay a settlement of at least $175 million for discriminating against black and Latino borrowers. Talk about what Obama said.
CHERI HONKALA: It sounds good, but in reality it never happened. The families in America, the six million families that have lost their homes to foreclosure, none of them received any kind of bailout. My sister, herself, was a victim of Wells Fargo. She has African-American children, and they are now homeless in my mother’s living room. They had a home for 20 years. Both her and her husband, full-time workers, worked around the clock, were victims of predatory lending. And the money that was supposed to bail out the American people, a great deal of that was written off, and there was no regulations around what they should do with that money.
And, actually, the week before, you know, finding out that I was chosen as the vice-presidential candidate, I spent last week facing the sheriff’s department with Rhonda Lancaster and Fran Scarborough. Fran Scarborough had owned her home for 25 years and then was illegally thrown out by Chase Bank. And then, Rhonda Lancaster now has had her home taken from her by Fannie Mae, and we were able to stop that foreclosure.
AMY GOODMAN: What other issues are you going to take on as vice-presidential candidate traveling across this country?
CHERI HONKALA: I think the issues that I’m going to focus on are the section of the population that has totally been forgotten about. Neither Obama or Mitt Romney have raised any of these issues. When you talk about the P word, poverty, they haven’t talked about the mortgage foreclosure crisis, they haven’t talked about the school-to-prison pipeline, they haven’t talked about the disabled. In Philadelphia, there was 125 disabled individuals that lost their jobs, and this is at a time when people are losing their jobs all across the entire country. Well, there’s a high chance that they’re never going to see employment ever again—that is, until Jill and I are elected, and we take the unemployment centers and turn them into employment centers.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year, Michael Shure, co-host of The Young Turkstalk show, interviewed Roseanne Barr and asked her why she’s making a bid to be the Green Party’s presidential nominee.
ROSEANNE BARR: Anyway, the party that I founded myself that I was running was the Green Tea Party, because, you know, as I spoke today about a synthesis between capital and social, which I think is the future in what needs to happen — I call it "peoplism" — I feel that that represents fully all the American people, the true 99 percent who knows that—who know that this is just a scam from top to bottom. But I chose the Green Party because of ballot access, because I like the 10 key values of the Green Party. They’re very good, they’re very basic. I think everyone would agree—if they’d read them, everyone agrees with them.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Roseanne Barr. And we spent a good deal of time talking to Roseanne Barr, as well. Dr. Jill Stein, the actual vote—you were running against her for the nomination—is tomorrow here in Baltimore at the Green Party convention. Your main differences?
DR. JILL STEIN: With Roseanne? You know, we have a lot of similar policies and positions. We had a debate in San Francisco a couple months back, where, you know, it was hard for people to find the differences. I think the differences between us really are historic, in what we do. I’ve been an organizer and sort of a grassroots, you know, advocate on a whole spectrum of issues. And Roseanne has been a spokesperson in her own right, not actually building the networks and doing the on-the-ground advocacy, but from her own position as an artist and an actress. And would that more celebrities followed in her footsteps, this would be a wonderful thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about third-party politics for a minute. In 2004, as George W. Bush and John Kerry wrapped up their campaigns, Democracy Now!spoke to the late legendary history Howard Zinn. He explained why he, along with Noam Chomsky and others, signed a petition calling for people to vote for Kerry in swing states.
HOWARD ZINN: People should vote for Kerry in the swing states, and I think the reason is this. And I don’t know if I’m speaking for all the other signers of the petition, but probably, I would guess that this is their thinking. Certainly it’s my thinking. And that is, you know, that—admire Nader enormously. I mean, Nader stands, you know, miles high above these other candidates in terms of his morality, in terms of his contribution to the country. But this election is the wrong place for him to put his great energy and talent. And it’s a waste of his stature to put his—all of his work that he has done into counting the votes in an election which you can’t win anyway. And the Bush administration is so dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Howard Zinn talking about why people should vote for Kerry over Nader in 2004. Dr. Jill Stein?
DR. JILL STEIN: That was then, and this is now. And let me say I think the last four years have been quite instructive to people—really the last 10 years. There has been this campaign of fear that we need to silence ourselves politically, that we dare not stand up for what we believe and for the solutions that we desperately need. And a lot of progressives bought into that over the past decade, and we saw third-party politics really shrink, quite significantly.
But now we have 10 years of experience. And looking back, I think people are quite clear now—or, shall we say, this is a big wake-up moment, that silence, political silence, has not been an effective strategy. We haven’t moved forward. In fact, the politics of fear has actually delivered all those things we were afraid of: the expanding war, the attack on our civil liberties, the expanding so-called "free trade" agreements that offshore our jobs and undermine wages here at home, the meltdown of the climate, the massive Wall Street bailouts. All these things we were supposed to be quiet in order to avoid, we’ve gotten in spades, all the more so because we have silenced ourselves. We’re saying it’s time to replace the politics of fear with the politics of courage. This is how we move ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: You already debated Romney in 2002—
DR. JILL STEIN: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: —for governor in Massachusetts? You were Green Party-Rainbow candidate?
DR. JILL STEIN: That is right, a Green-Rainbow candidate.
AMY GOODMAN: So how did you end up debating a major-party candidate? Because, as we know, in the presidential race, rarely do you have third-party candidates included.
DR. JILL STEIN: Exactly. We managed to get into the debates by insisting on it, you know. And to some extent, that’s a model for our campaign. We need real changes here. Our lives are at risk—our jobs, our economy, our climate. We really need to take our future into our own hands and insist that we move forward in this election. And in previous races, we’ve entered into them with that—that sense of empowerment. As Alice Walker says, the biggest way people give up power is by not knowing they have it, to start with. Well, we know it, and there are a lot of people out there who know it. And we’re not going to sit back and watch our future continue to unravel the way that it has been over the past decade—actually, over the past many decades—under both Democrats and Republicans. We are standing up to say that we need a politics of, by and for the people. There are good solutions. We’re going to drive them forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Cheri Honkala, can you talk about the growth of the Green Party? Also, qualifying for matching funds, the significance of this for both of you?
CHERI HONKALA: I think it’s incredibly exciting that people across this entire country have been holding house parties and doing whatever they possibly can to raise the money for the matching funds. And I definitely think that this is historic. I think that, you know, we’re just really excited to be able to involve the majority of the people that are in this country. And in Kensington, where I live, people didn’t know anything about—what is the Greens? What is the Green Party? And now all it takes is a major voter education registration drive, which people are doing across this country. It takes about two seconds to switch people from Republican or Democrat to a Green.
DR. JILL STEIN: And I would just add to that, you know, that what happened with matching funds is unprecedented. In our minds, that’s another sign that we are at this historic moment where the American people have hit the breaking point. And our campaign is how we turn that breaking point into a tipping point to start taking back our democracy and the peaceful, just, green future we deserve, and pushing these solutions forward. The fact that we got to matching funds happened, you know, because of a grassroots engagement and a sense of—you know, Rosa Clemente in the last election said the Green Party is no longer the alternative, it’s the imperative. And I think, increasingly, people are realizing that, yes, we do need to do this, and we can do it ourselves.
AMY GOODMAN: So let’s talk about money in politics. I want to ask you about the 2010 Citizens United ruling that allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in federal elections. Let’s turn to a clip of Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig commenting on Citizens United.
LAWRENCE LESSIG: It’s not as if on January 20th, 2010, the day before Citizens United was decided, democracy in America was humming along perfectly well and then was broken by the Supreme Court. Democracy was already broken in the United States in 2010. And it’s broken because the tiniest slice of Americans, 0.26 percent, fund—give more than $200 in a congressional campaign. 0.05 percent max out in a congressional campaign. The tiniest slice of the top 1 percent of America funds elections in America. And that reality will always, whether corporations are persons or not, corrupt the system in Washington. And the only solution to that problem is not just limiting the ability of corporations or private individuals to spend unlimited amounts in political expenditures, it’s also to begin to talk openly and honestly about the need to fund publicly public elections.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig. On Citizens United, Dr. Jill Stein, what are you going to do about it? It’s a Supreme Court decision.
DR. JILL STEIN: Yeah. I mean, absolutely I agree with the professor that it’s not that Citizens United made all the difference. We had big problems with money in politics going back for decades—really, forever—but the problem became really serious beginning in the 1970s when the Democrats made a decision to adopt the fundraising strategies of the Republicans. And at that point, you began to see both parties under similar pressure to adopt similar policies.
So, yes, you know, we do need a constitutional amendment, and I think there’s a lot that the president can do. The president needn’t be simply the commander-in-chief, the president can also be the organizer-in-chief, if she so choose to do so. The president could be on prime-time TV and making public service announcements and conducting email information campaigns, like a move to amend—I’m sorry, like MoveOn.org, that moved on from the Democratic Party and actually had a broader agenda. There are so many strategies that a president could bring into play to help draw public attention to not only the problem, but how we can solve it with a constitutional amendment to make clear that corporations are not persons and money is not speech.
AMY GOODMAN: So you’re supporting a constitutional amendment.
DR. JILL STEIN: Absolutely, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me turn to Fareed Zakaria of CNN for a minute, who responded to a viewer who asked, quote, "Why there aren’t more serious third-party candidates in the United States?" This is part of what Fareed Zakaria responded.
FAREED ZAKARIA: America just does not have a very broad ideological spectrum. If you look at America’s two parties, they’re actually very close together in terms of their ideological differences. Both American parties would be—would fit comfortably as kind of center-right parties in Europe—the Democrats and the Republicans. You have no real social democratic party. You have no real hyper-nationalist parties. If you look at the kind of width of the European political spectrum, the United States occupies a kind of narrow position on it. So it makes sense that we don’t have 10 parties.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Fareed Zakaria. Your response, Cheri Honkala? I mean, Fareed Zakaria talking about how the American parties, Democrats and Republicans, would fit comfortably into—well, as center-right parties in Europe.
CHERI HONKALA: Well, I think that the American people are not happy with the one-party system in this country, and I think that they’ve shown that by not voting. You know, large sections of the population are just sitting out. And I think that they’re sitting out elections because it’s like a protest vote. It’s not just because they’re not interested in what’s happening in this country. They just don’t see that their vote actually matters. But our campaign gives an opportunity for people to see themselves, because we represent the 99 percent. We don’t represent corporate America, and our campaign is not going to be directed by corporate America.
AMY GOODMAN: What are your plans? How are you going to run this presidential race? And are you making a concerted effort to get into the debates? Who do you appeal to? And also, where are you traveling?
CHERI HONKALA: I think the first thing is really all about participation. And that’s the exciting thing. When I talked about the hundreds—and it’s soon going to turn into the thousands—of people, you know, going door knocking, you know, there’s many ways that we can change things in this country, and it doesn’t just come from money. We can look all around the world and be inspired. You know, history doesn’t just go in a flat line. There’s leaps that take place. And I think we’re going to see a leap with this election.
AMY GOODMAN: What is your strategy, Dr. Jill Stein?
DR. JILL STEIN: You know, the name of the game, as Cheri is saying, is really to engage the people who are currently locked out, large constituencies who feel they don’t have a voice in this election—students, for example. There are about 36 million students and recent graduates who are basically indentured servants. And there is no difference, essentially, between the Obama and the Romney plans, which is essentially to stay the course, you know, in this devastating student debt. So we’re reaching out to students. We’re reaching out to the unemployed, the underemployed, people who need real healthcare, the Medicare-for-all constituency, the climate community—
AMY GOODMAN: Traveling around the country?
DR. JILL STEIN: Traveling and also doing outreach, because if you look at what happened in Tunisia and in Tahrir Square, you know, this was—it completely came out of left field. It did not have the backing of organized media or the organized political parties.
AMY GOODMAN: Will you be outside protesting at the Republican and Democratic conventions? I saw you there last time, Cheri Honkala?
CHERI HONKALA: Absolutely, wouldn’t miss it for the world. And there’s actually a Romneyille that’s already been set up in Tampa, Florida. I’m hoping that you’ll be safe this time, and you won’t be arrested like you were the last time. But absolutely. I mean, we have a responsibility to raise all the horrible things that are happening. We talked to some steelworkers yesterday. They’re about ready to close down their plant here in Baltimore with 2,500 workers. And if we have to, we’ll support workers in occupying their plants to hold onto their jobs.
AMY GOODMAN: And for a question you’re often asked, Jill Stein, if you have a toss-up race, if a swing state like Ohio, very close, the comment of someone like Howard Zinn, how someone should vote for Green Party, Democratic Party or Republican Party?
DR. JILL STEIN: Yeah, you know, I think we need the politics of courage in this day and age. That’s actually how we’ve always moved forward: with a social movement on the ground and an independent political party that can articulate the agenda and the solutions that can move us forward. We’re in this for the long haul. We are building. One of these days, we will turn the White House into a greenhouse. And that will be a really good thing for the people of this nation and the world.
AMY GOODMAN: What would you do in Syria right now?
DR. JILL STEIN: Well, you know, for starters, we would certainly uphold the international treaty which is being negotiated right now, which you covered, I believe, last week. Navi Pillay, the human rights coordinator with the United Nations, made the point that armaments, which are being sold to both sides of this conflict, have absolutely blown it up.
AMY GOODMAN: You would be out front on the arms trade treaty that they’re negotiating?
DR. JILL STEIN: We sure would, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to leave it there. Thank you very much, both of you, for joining us. We’re going to look at the Green Party internationally next. We’ve been speaking with Jill Stein, who’s the Green Party’s 2012 presumptive presidential nominee. The vote will take place tomorrow here in Baltimore, where the Green Party convention is underway. We’ve also been joined by Cheri Honkala, perhaps the country’s leading anti-poverty activist. Cheri Honkala herself was homeless for a time, national coordinator of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, now the vice-presidential presumptive nominee of the Green Party.
When we come back, others who have come to the convention to talk about Green Party politics worldwide. Stay with us.