BILL MOYERS: Senator Sanders belongs to no party – he’s truly an independent. But my next guests not only belong to a party -- the Green Party -- they are its nominees for president and vice-president. Both plunged into politics, as you will hear, from real life experiences.
Jill Stein graduated from Harvard Medical School and became an internist specializing in environmental health, especially pollutants in the air that threaten young children and aging adults.
Her running mate, Cherie Honkala, is a single mother who knows what it is to be homeless. Last year she ran for sheriff of Philadelphia on a platform of ending foreclosures and evictions. She’s also the co-founder and national coordinator of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. That’s a non-profit organization with members all across the country.
Welcome to you both.
JILL STEIN: Thank you.
CHERI HONKALA: Happy to be here.
BILL MOYERS: I first heard of you about ten years ago when the Clean Elections Law -- public funding for state elections was up in Massachusetts where you were living at the time. And the people in Massachusetts voted two to one for clean elections, for public funding of state elections. And yet sometime later the Massachusetts legislature, a Democratic legislature, on an unrecorded vote overturned that judgment. They vetoed the public will.
JILL STEIN: It was that fight that really catapulted me into the world of political battle. I had not been a member of a Party, I had never been to a political meeting before then. And you know, to see that all these groups which had joined together, and I came to it as a mother and medical doctor, very concerned about our health care system falling apart and also about an epidemic of chronic disease descending on our kids which as a mom I took really, really seriously and as a doctor was fighting it tooth and nail, saw that money was always taking over.
A number of groups got together across labor, environment, health care, you name it, and all of us said we've got a common predator here, it's money in politics. Let's get it out. We actually passed that referendum by a two to one margin.
BILL MOYERS: It's amazing actually.
JILL STEIN: Huge. And the minute we passed it the legislature began to resist it, to try not to fund it. And then finally they wound up repealing, as you said a legislature that was about 85 percent Democratic. So it could have, you know, overridden any veto and so on. It had the power to actually clean up our political system.
And that said to me the fight here is much bigger than any one issue. It's really about a political culture. If we want to fix what ails us we need to fundamentally fix the political system. At that point I was recruited to run to office and I did it as a desperation move. Everything else was failing us and I realized it was time to fundamentally transform our political system and work with a party that was actually committed to getting money out of politics.
BILL MOYERS: I remember your saying-- somewhere I read your saying that a hunger for justice was born in you the night you and your young son were evicted from your home.
CHERI HONKALA: Yes. For me it was a very personal thing. I found myself homeless in a car in the Twin Cities and could have frozen to death--
BILL MOYERS: In Minnesota?
CHERI HONKALA: In Minnesota. I knew that that was probably happening to, you know, thousands of other families across the entire country. And so yes, definitely that night there was a hunger for justice that was born. And I just felt that it was a real disgrace in a country that has more abandoned properties than homeless families that we could have that situation.
And then it was a couple years ago that I was sitting in my office and the Green Party approached me and said, "Cheri, if you're serious about this foreclosure crisis we have an idea. And if you would run for Philadelphia sheriff and refuse to throw families out their homes--" because that's what the sheriff's department does in Philadelphia.
And I immediately got on the phone, called mentors of mine and they said, "You know, you have an opportunity to talk about the devastation that the majority of the people in this country are disconnected, that they don't really see happening on a daily basis. We watch other kinds of images, we hear different things on the news, but we're not hearing about those eight million families that have lost their homes." And so-- I decided that I would run-- as the people's sheriff and refuse to throw families out of their homes.
BILL MOYERS: You once said that politics is the mother of all illnesses.
JILL STEIN: Yeah-- exactly, you know, I got into this as a medical doctor and a mother really worried about this epidemic of chronic disease, seeing in our kids obesity, diabetes, asthma, cancer, learning disabilities -- skyrocketing rates. We didn't used to have that in kids. This was new, going back about 20 years -- 20, 25 years. And I said to myself, you know, it's not in-- our genes didn't change overnight. Our genes didn't change.
Something's going on in our communities. Got to work with our communities, found that in spite of great solutions we had that our political system was obstructing those solutions whether it was cleaning up our air with renewable, clean renewable energy or recycling waste instead of burning it or implementing a single payer Medicare for all system, they're not interested because they're getting paid.
Our lawmakers are getting paid not to be interested. So it basically means if we want to implement these solutions that create the jobs that we need, that can put an end to the foreclosure crisis and all the rest, if we want to do that we have to figure fix the broken political system. It is the mother of all illnesses and we can fix it.
BILL MOYERS: Cheri, what have you learned running about our political system that you didn't know before?
CHERI HONKALA: That we really have a responsibility to get off of the sidelines and to get involved in saving our democracy in this country. We're really in trouble. The amount of corruption, the lack of participation. The number of people in this country that are just planning to sit out this next election is absolutely demoralizing.
The fact that people that are out there watching this program today don't even know a thing about the Green Party, because there's all these ways that both the Democrats and the Republicans have kept us out of the debates, have kept us out of the media, you name it, that's a serious thing. Because the last thing that we have in this country is our voice and our democracy and once that's taken away from us we're really in trouble.
BILL MOYERS: If you made it to the White House what would you do on the first day?
JILL STEIN: For starters I think we would fire Wall Street because Wall Street is all over the White House from the Treasurer's office to--
BILL MOYERS: Jill, you can't fire Wall Street.
JILL STEIN: However --
BILL MOYERS: You can't fire the people who provide the money.
JILL STEIN: If you are dependent--
BILL MOYERS: They can fire you.
JILL STEIN: If you are dependent on that money, and that is exactly the point. That is exactly why you want to be a part of a political party which is not being held hostage by its Wall Street funders. And that's why I think, you know, you don't want to go into the voting booth and give them a mandate for four more years of the same with two candidates who are fundamentally being funded by Wall Street and corporate America that is raking us over the coals.
BILL MOYERS: But America is a capitalist democracy. You have to deal with the realities and power of capital and the needs of institutions that feed capital into the system, right?
JILL STEIN: Of course, and unfortunately our current capitalist system doesn't do that. You know, it provides capital to the very tippy top that's already got plenty. You know, small businesses have been absolutely crushed by this system. And the stimulus packages that the president and Congress have provided have been entirely inadequate to the job. They've provided mostly tax breaks which as we know is an extremely expensive way to create jobs.
And I think the American people object to what's called the realities, those political realities which are essentially the backroom deals that those politicians make in order to get the campaign contributions. So they come to office owing return favors. We don't come to office owing those favors. We have nothing but public interest support.
So we owe favors actually to the public to implement the agenda that they want, a Green New Deal to create jobs, health care as a human right, forgiving student debt, bailing out our students and our homeowners and not our bankers. We do have the money to do this. We're just squandering trillions on wars, Wall Street bailouts and tax breaks for the wealthy.
BILL MOYERS: Your Green New Deal. What is that? What's the essence of it?
JILL STEIN: It is an emergency program to solve two problems: the unemployment crisis and the climate crisis. And it basically uses the model of the New Deal which got us out of the Great Depression, created a lot of jobs in the 1930s. We can do that. It directly creates jobs in our communities, and at the same time that it creates jobs it also jumpstarts the green economy that effectively spells an end to climate change and makes wars for oil obsolete.
It makes national dollars available at the local level so our communities can decide what kinds of jobs they need to become sustainable.
So it creates jobs for teachers. Let's hire back those hundreds of thousands of teachers who've been laid off, nurses, childcare after school, home care, elder care, violence prevention, drug abuse rehabilitation, affordable housing construction. It allows people to go down to an employment office and get a job in public works and public services. And it also provides funding for small businesses and startups at the community level.
BILL MOYERS: What do you say when someone says you're utopian. You want what is impractical and impossible?
CHERI HONKALA: You know, my whole life has been about dealing with reality and being as pragmatic and as practical as possible. And we have managed to feed, house and clothe thousands of people with absolutely no resources. We're experts at being resourceful but resource-less.
And we are also experts at really seeing the massive amounts of abundance and how it never gets in the hands of the actual people. And in my neighborhood or anyplace else across the country, watching families open up their refrigerator and nothing being in there, and then watching the massive amounts of food that is thrown away on a daily basis. In Philadelphia there's 40,000 abandoned properties. There's something really wrong with that picture. And it's really this whole issue about, like, who's in control and who's making the decisions and, you know, the wrong priorities. And the priority has to be the American people and not corporate greed.
BILL MOYERS: You have said, Jill, we can and must shift to an economy in which 100 percent of our electricity is generated renewably. But we're headed in the other direction toward more fossil fuel, more drilling, more fracking and even on public lands. And the majority of people seem to like the jobs that creates and the local prosperity that comes with that “drill, baby, drill.”
JILL STEIN: And people would like even more if they could have jobs and local prosperity without destroying their climate, without polluting their air and their water and without basically, you know, riding us into a devastating future and in fact a devastating now because our water and our air and our climate are unraveling around us right now.
BILL MOYERS: You've said that to achieve your platform would require quote, "A World War II-scale mobilization." Two questions. Where's the money coming from? And secondly, World War II required a lot of sacrifice from people. What sacrifice are you asking us to make? First, where's the money coming from?
JILL STEIN: So the money comes from downsizing the military. We're now spending $1 trillion a year on a bloated military industrial security complex which doesn't make us more secure. So we can cut that back. It's been doubled. Our military budget doubled over the last decade. We can cut it back by half to where it was before and be more secure on account of it and more secure for spending our dollars here at home and creating a stable and prosperous and sustainable economy.
So hundreds of billions of dollars can come from redirecting military dollars which are being squandered. They can also come from tax dollars which are not being paid now by the very rich. And we're not only talking about a millionaire's surtax which--
BILL MOYERS: Soak the rich again, there they come again, soak the rich.
JILL STEIN: Well, isn't it about time? Instead of soaking the poor how about we have some level playing field here?
BILL MOYERS: So is that the sacrifice you expect of many Americans to-- more taxes?
JILL STEIN: Those who are most equipped to contribute to a society in which they, themselves, benefit more than anyone need to start stepping up to the plate. I mean, we have an absolutely unsustainable economy and tax structure right now. Why should Wall Street be except from a sales tax?
If you put a small sales tax on Wall Street transactions you not only generate hundreds of billions of dollars a year which could fund our Green New Deal, but you also rein in this reckless speculation in gambling on Wall Street which is a good thing all around.
And one last thing where the dollars come from which I want to say as a doctor -- to go back to this point.
Right now, we are spending over $2 trillion a year on a sick care system. Seventy-five percent of those dollars are being spent on chronic diseases that are avoidable at a tiny fraction of the cost if we were doing the right thing upfront by way of pollution prevention so we don't have the air pollution aggravating the asthma, the heart disease, the strokes and all the other things that are linked to air pollution, and it goes far beyond air pollution as well.
To have a healthy local organic diet with fresh fruits and vegetables which are absolutely critical. We are essentially poisoning ourselves three times a day with our industrial diet. And an active transportation system, that is the makings of a health care system which can recoup trillions of dollars over the next decade in chronic disease and its cost being avoided.
CHERI HONKALA: If you travel around the country and are involved in this anti-poverty movement that I'm involved in and have seen the devastation in my neighborhood--
BILL MOYERS: It's in Philadelphia?
CHERI HONKALA: Yeah, in Kensington, Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. And we already live in a war zone and people are trying to figure out daily across this country how to sell their labor in order to survive.
And the drug war is absolutely out of control and so if you want to cut back on crime, if you want to prevent a social explosion it's going to happen in this country.
People are not going to continue to, in the neighborhoods that I live in, watch their kids go to bed at night with nothing to eat. It's just not going to happen, not in a country that has an abundance where they can see right out their window seven blocks away, large buildings, folks with lots of money, and then expect their three or four kids to go to bed with no food.
BILL MOYERS: You've been at Charlotte at the Democratic National Convention among the very people who are terrified that you will do to them in November what Ralph Nader did in 2000 when he helped defeat Al Gore and deliver the victory to the Republicans.
JILL STEIN: The exit polls actually show that Nader drew equally from Democrats and Republicans, but the vast majority of his votes actually came from independents who otherwise would not have been voting in that race. And we see this over and over again in our campaign.
We are hearing from Republicans who are saying that they have a reason to come out and vote and that they'll be supporting us. We actually hear that in equal quantities to Democrats. So I just want to point out that that mythology is very self-serving for a political establishment whose goal is to essentially eliminate political competition.
BILL MOYERS: But I'm sure you know that the Democrats in Charlotte are fearful that that will happen again. I mean, the mythology as it might be lives in their psyche.
CHERI HONKALA: You can't really spoil something that's already rotten.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?
CHERI HONKALA: We know that-- anybody that really knows politics understands that we're really dealing with a one party system in this country that's backed by corporations that doesn't really represent poor and working people in this country. And I think the thing that's far more scary is that the majority of the American people without programs like yours wouldn't even know that there's any other options. And so if we really live in a democracy then we should allow other independent parties to get access to the media, to have ballot access, to be able to be heard and to have the American people really decide who they want to run this country.
JILL STEIN: Because if you look at the record, you know, and there's been a politics of fear that has been touted and drummed into the voting public, fear campaigns and smear campaigns against independent politics for a long time, but especially since the Nader race over the last ten years. So--
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, both parties I have to say make it very difficult for you and any third party to be on the ballot in one state after another.
JILL STEIN: And why do they do that? They are very afraid that if people get wind of the fact that we could actually change things, that we actually have a choice that is of, by and for the people that actually restores our democracy and begins to push forward these solutions that people don't need to be convinced of, as you say people are already supporting them in substantial majorities-- if word gets out that there's a way to make it happen, you know, then all bets are off on what actually could happen.
And what we point out is that over the past decade of this politics of fear it has actually delivered everything that we're afraid of. But to look at American history, it's the politics of courage that has always moved us forward.
So we had it during abolition with the Liberty Party that helped drive that abolition agenda into the Republican Party which just happened to be a small party that won the presidential election at a time of great social transition and made that agenda a reality. During women's suffrage there was both a social movement on the ground as well as a women's party that kept driving the agenda into the political dialogue.
During the Labor Movement you had people fighting and dying on the streets for a 40-hour workweek, for safe workplaces, for child labor laws, for social security, for the rest of it. And you had independent parties, socialist, labor, progressive parties that could articulate the agenda and the vision and bring the demands into the realm--
BILL MOYERS: All right--
JILL STEIN: --of politics.
BILL MOYERS: Why don't you set out to take over the Democratic Party the way the conservatives over the last 40 years have taken over the Republican Party?
JILL STEIN: You know, been there, done that for about ten years. Wasn't that what the Obama election was all about? It was this--
BILL MOYERS: But it took the conservatives--
JILL STEIN: --incredible--
BILL MOYERS: --40 years.
JILL STEIN: Well—
BILL MOYERS: From Barry Goldwater forward, Jill.
CHERI HONKALA: We don't have that time. I think that Dr. Martin Luther King said it the best. He said that when you have an emergency sometimes you have to ignore the red lights, be the ambulance drivers and drive through the red light. And that's what time it is now in America. And we've got to stop saying that something is not possible because is it possible.
BILL MOYERS: Why is it possible, what do you mean?
CHERI HONKALA: There's always a beginning.
BILL MOYERS: Are we at some tipping point?
CHERI HONKALA: Yes, we definitely are at a tipping point. Again, speaking to the amount of children that are going hungry every day in this country, the eight million families that have lost their homes to foreclosure -- my nieces are African American and they lived in their home for 20 years, a little house on the corner of 38th and Tenth Street in Minneapolis.
Now today, you know, my nieces are living in my mother's little living room right now because they were one of the victims that lost their homes to foreclosure.
Right after Obama came into office I went with a bunch of women that were in foreclosure. We flew to Washington D.C., we decided that we were going to work with the Democrats. We were going to figure out how to keep these families in their homes. And today none of these women are in their homes. And so that's what time it is right now. People that are used to living a good standard of living, living in their homes for 20-some years are not going to adjust to just living on somebody's couch. They have had—
BILL MOYERS: What are they going to do? What really are they going to do?
CHERI HONKALA: --work ethics, they've worked their whole lives.
They're going to begin to say that this is enough, they're going to take off their glasses. They're going to realize that there really hasn't been two choices, that there's been corporate America that has been putting forward the agenda for both the Democrats and the Republicans and that it's time to build something new, it's time to build an independent political party that represents their interests.
JILL STEIN: And I have to say that there are a lot of good people who have been working for decades to do that and for whom the Obama election was really the culmination of a lifetime of work and who saw and participated in and created a mobilization like none we had ever seen before. And to see us only accelerate in the wrong direction and to see good progressives who are continually wiped out, silenced, taken off the ballot. It happens in the Democratic Party. It happens in the Republican Party, too. Money is firmly in control. These are not public interest institutions. These are Wall Street-sponsored institutions and at the end of the day if you don't toe the party line you will be silenced, you will be wiped out, you will be taken off the stage. You will not be admitted into the debates
We need to be working with a party that's very clear that its interest is the public interest and it doesn't take corporate money. That is the quality assurance that it will not be corrupted. And we need to move forward together. And as Alice Walker says the biggest way people give up power is by not knowing they have it to start with. We actually have it.
BILL MOYERS: Cheri Honkala and Jill Stein, candidates for vice president and president on the Green Party ticket. Thank you for being with me.
CHERI HONKALA: Thank you, Bill.
JILL STEIN: Great to be with you, Bill.