“The Spoiler” Speaks

Jill Stein

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein on her campaign and building an alternative to the two corporate parties.

Interview by
Bhaskar Sunkara

Jill Stein escaped 2012 without drawing quite the same ire from liberals as Ralph Nader in 2000 and 2004. If nothing else, that was a sign of the Green Party’s sagging fortunes and how comfortable Democrats felt about their monopoly over left-of-center voters in the Obama era.

This year things are different. With Bernie Sanders’s social-democratic platform exciting a young base of Democratic primary voters, there appears to be real force in US politics emerging to the left of liberalism.

Sanders, along with most of his supporters, is offering support to Hillary Clinton, but many remain who are either planning on staying at home in November or looking to register their discontent by backing Jill Stein.

The response from liberals isn’t entirely surprising: inflating the faint chances of a Donald Trump presidency, excessively focusing on small pockets of “Bernie or Busters,” and launching a campaign of ridicule and dismissal against Stein.

Still, it remains to be seen what a vote for the Green Party actually signifies and how it will translate into more sustained political commitment after the election. I met with Stein last Friday to talk about what success would mean for her campaign and how she’s responding to some of the controversies stemming from it.

Bhaskar Sunkara

Hi Jill, thanks for agreeing to speak with me. I have aspirations of being the next Oprah, so I’ll start with a personal interest question.

Jill Stein

I think you’re already the left-wing Oprah.

Bhaskar Sunkara

That’s high praise as far as I’m concerned! So how are you? I saw you a little bit during the campaign in 2012, but it seems like this one has a lot more energy around it, and I imagine your schedule is more strenuous this time around.

How does the reception compare to what you were seeing in 2012?

Jill Stein

It’s a world of difference. It felt like in 2012 our campaign was a little bit ahead of the curve, and it feels like the curve has caught up to us with a vengeance right now.

There is a voter revolt going on in the same way that there is a revolt against the rigged, corporate capitalist economy and the devastation that that’s bringing to working people, to students, to immigrants, to communities of color, that we’ve reached a breaking point and people are not only ready to listen to alternatives, but are ready to mobilize and to work to create real structural change.

The pace of things is just incredible. Literally, it’s been, I think, twenty-hour days for all of us working on this. The level of scrutiny and resistance that’s out there is also absolutely unprecedented. The knives are out right now against us.

Bhaskar Sunkara

You mentioned this voter revolt within this wider climate. How much of this do you attribute to the Bernie Sanders campaign? Do you consider his campaign a success despite how it ended?

Jill Stein

Yeah, definitely. In my view it’s an incredible success because it mobilized a movement that lives way beyond the constraints of Bernie Sanders’s politics, which, unfortunately, are still married to the Democratic Party.

It was a lesson in real time for his supporters, showing that you cannot have a revolutionary campaign inside of a counterrevolutionary party.

It didn’t create the revolution, but it helped make it visible, and because Bernie Sanders had access to the tools of the Democratic Party, especially the debates and the media coverage, it unveiled the political resistance that’s out there. He certainly didn’t create it, but he did make it visible.

The campaign was also successful in that it demonstrated the contradictions of the Democratic Party — that it won’t go there. They can climb the mountain, but they won’t go to the Promised Land, and they counter-attacked against Bernie.

There was a grassroots campaign bias built into the system from the start — the superdelegates, the “Super Tuesdays,” the bias of the media.

That was all compounded by the treachery behind the scenes that was unveiled, and the email leak showed the collusion between the Democratic National Committee and Hillary’s campaign and also the corporate media.

It wasn’t just idle talk. They actually did things to poison the water against Bernie, like planting articles anonymously.

Bhaskar Sunkara

Do you think the Sanders campaign could have achieved the same level of success and profile if it had been an independent one?

Jill Stein

Absolutely not. In a way this was the perfect storm — and not only because Bernie started in the Democratic Party and then the Democratic Party destroyed his campaign.

It wasn’t just in the campaign, you could also see it at the DNC in the way that his supporters were silenced.

They were locked out of some meetings. The spokespeople like Nina Turner were kept off the stage. Bernie was relegated to a Monday night, not a high-profile Wednesday.

Hillary appointed Tim Kaine, who’s as much of a pro-bank centrist as anyone. Now Hillary has picked Ken Salazar, one of the Darth Vaders of the Democratic Party — the lobbyist of lobbyists, who’s very close to the fossil-fuel industry.

The fact that he’s in charge of the transition team at the same time as Hillary is appealing to Republicans in an organized fashion now and is visibly moving to the right in a very structural way — well, that really clarifies what’s going on here.

Bhaskar Sunkara

Obviously, you’re getting a lot of pushback from the mainstream media, particularly from liberal media. Just speaking anecdotally, I’ve noticed a combination of dismissal or blackout from MSNBC, whereas at least you got some air time on CNN and whatnot.

I guess among liberals a lot of this pushback is because of this fear that you could possibly play the spoiler. This type of fear was brought up in 2000, then again in 2004.

What would you say to a Bernie Sanders Democrat in a swing state that likes your politics and maybe is willing to keep in touch with what the Green Party is doing after November, but is planning to vote in November for Hillary Clinton?

Jill Stein

Donald Trump doesn’t stand alone. He’s part of a right-wing extremist movement that is getting traction now all around the world.

This isn’t happening by accident. This is because of neoliberal policies — globalization, financialization, the trade agreements that empower unaccountable, abusive multinational corporations and throw working people under the bus.

These are the policies of the Clintons and the centrist Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton, like Bill, supported the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Now the Clintons are pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Don’t believe Hillary’s flip-flop on this given her appointment of Ken Salazar — they’ve been promoting the trade agreements that enable this globalization and this financialization of our economies for years.

Hillary has always been in bed with the banks. She’s received enormous amounts of funding personally, for her campaigns, and in her super PACS from the banking industry. She supported the Wall Street deregulations that lead to the financial meltdown and the economic misery that gives rise to demagogues like Donald Trump.

Just understanding history, which your readers tend to do, I would remind them that the only solution to right-wing extremism is a unified left that truly supports radical progressive policies — and that will not come from the Clintons or the neoliberal Democratic Party, so we really need to build our support.

Bhaskar Sunkara

Gary Johnson’s support among Bernie supporters, especially young Bernie supporters, has been surprising. CNN has a poll that says that only about 69 percent of Sanders supporters are going to back Clinton, so probably much less than they expected going in — 13 percent for you, 10 percent for Johnson, and then 3 percent say they’ll support Trump.

Are you surprised by the resonance that the Libertarian campaign has had among this progressive demographic?

Jill Stein

I think those numbers, that polling, is based on voter misinformation and a lack of information about us.

Most voters, whether they’re in the Sanders campaign or more generally, don’t know about us as an option. There’s been much more publicity around Gary Johnson. He has much more funding because he takes corporate money and the media is happy to cover him.

They are not happy to cover us because we truly are a threat, while Johnson is not. He’s more of the same.

Of course, some people are more informed about him. For example, if you look at what was going on at the DNC,  where the super-informed members of the Sanders camp were, you can see that they knew about their choices. You didn’t hear any chants of “Gary, not Hill.” The chants were “Jill not Hill.”

There’s enormous enthusiasm for our campaign. If voters had a chance to actually understand who their choices are — if we can get into their debates — we’ll see these numbers transform dramatically.

Bhaskar Sunkara

Will you also be countering Johnson? Are you basically going to say, “We’re going to take on the two big candidates and we’re going to put forward our positive agenda and ignore Johnson,” or do you also take on why the Libertarian party is a seemingly decent choice on the surface on a couple of issues but on the whole is essentially —

Jill Stein

It’s the “Leave me alone” party, “Leave me alone to my privileges.”

Bhaskar Sunkara

As the campaign goes on are you going to make this criticism more explicit?

Jill Stein

Yes, absolutely. We debated Gary in 2012 in independent debates, and Gary does not like to appear with our campaign because we beat him in front of his own constituency on the third-party debates.

In fact, in debates that were organized by Libertarians with all the independent candidates, our campaign was voted the winner by a largely Libertarian audience.

Bhaskar Sunkara

Would you collaborate with the Libertarian Party as it relates to just debate appearances and media access?

Jill Stein

Only as it relates to two court cases that we filed. That was more a collaboration between the parties.

Bhaskar Sunkara

The legal teams and things like that — not the campaigns.

Jill Stein

That’s right.

Bhaskar Sunkara

One thing that I think was really disingenuous, even by the standards of the attacks that you’ll probably continue to get in November, was this attack by liberals on the vaccination issue.

Jill Stein


Bhaskar Sunkara

I saw the headlines. And thought, “That doesn’t sound familiar, that doesn’t sound like Stein’s position.”

Jill Stein

Yes, of course.

Bhaskar Sunkara

But it is true, there are currents within both the Green Party, but also broader American society that are — to say the least — skeptical of vaccinations. What would you say to them, both as a doctor and a political figure?

Jill Stein

I have a whole book on toxic threats to child development.

It’s called In Harm’s Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development, that I wrote with other health experts at Physicians for Social Responsibility when I was doing this stuff. This was published in, I believe it was 2000, by Physicians.

It’s available on the web for free as a public interest research tool — actually as an organizing tool, in fact, for communities to help defend themselves against true toxic threats to child development.

We did not even list vaccines as an issue. That’s the reality, that there is not solid evidence that points to vaccinations.

On the other hand, there is a lot of solid evidence that points to toxic exposures to things — like pesticides and PCBs and lead and mercury — that are real threats, and are well understood.

Basically, the stuff that’s being thrown against me as being anti-science, are just talking points in the industry that I have seen for decades. This is how they attack people that they are threatened by.

I’m actually flattered that I’m perceived as such a big threat and that they are running such a ludicrous attack campaign that doesn’t really have any legs.

To speak to this more, there are two issues here.

One is whether or not vaccines are a threat. They’re not, not by any evidence that we have.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA), on the other hand, is perfectly capable of being corrupted, and there are examples of poor regulation by the FDA. This is certainly underscoring public distrust.

We’re saying, “Well, the way to shore up faith in vaccines is to clean up the FDA and our other regulatory agencies.” We know that in two years alone between, I think, 2011 and 2013, if I have the dates correct, Big Pharma spent $700 million on lobbying. We know that the revolving door just is spinning madly.

One of the issues I used to work on was reducing mercury exposure. That was an issue at one point in vaccines. That’s been rectified.

There are issues about mercury in the fish supply that many low-income people and immigrant communities rely on, and in indigenous communities especially. This is a huge issue and the FDA has refused for decades to regulate and to warn people.

Bhaskar Sunkara

Right. They’re pro-science except as it relates to anything that they’re selling at that particular moment.

Jill Stein

Exactly. That’s right.

The other point that’s really important here is that people are really alarmed about developmental disabilities. There is compelling public health evidence that these are growing trends.

Some say, “Oh, we’re just recognizing them.” The weight of evidence seems to suggest that, in fact, we’re not just imagining this. There is a whole lot more in our schools and our communities and our families.

People deserve to have good science about this, and we don’t have it.

For decades the public health community has been clamoring for a truly definitive long-term study. The kinds of studies that they cite to supposedly establish safety are very short-term, very limited.

I don’t know if your public health knowledge goes back to the Framingham Study — this was a big study in the 1950s that helped establish what’s really driving the epidemic of heart disease.

It took studying tens of thousands of people in the community of Framingham. This is called a prospective study. It’s the gold standard for how you understand trends in public health.

You have to study a whole community and you have to study people before they develop disease. You’re tracking what are they eating, what medications are they taking, how much social stress are they under, what chemicals are they exposed to, etc. Do they smoke, do they exercise? You track all that. It’s called a prospective epidemiological study.

The Nurses’ Health Study is another example, tens of thousands of nurses that have been followed for decades. This how we truly get good evidence.

We don’t have this. This needs to be done on children to understand what are the real threats to children’s environmental health. What are the antecedents of asthma? We know it’s pollution, etc., but there are many other questions here.

This kind of study needs to be done about developmental disabilities. There have been efforts to get this up and running, and it’s just not happened for decades.

Bhaskar Sunkara

That, of course, would take a massive investment in public health. It would take a lot of federal government involvement, which is in your platform.

One thing though, and I only bring it up because it is a contentious issue within segments of the Green Party — is whether that health-care vision includes homeopathy and alternative medicines. As a physician do you have strong feelings on that issue?

Jill Stein

Put it this way, I’m a very strong advocate of nutrition. You could call nutrition an alternative medicine.

In my view, homeopathy is its own bag of worms because it’s particularly unreliable. That’s been taken out of the Green Party platform.

On the other hand, in my view, all medicine should be subject to testing. We need to see what’s safe and what’s not safe, or what has side effects and what doesn’t.

We don’t have a clue what’s going on with nutrition. We don’t study it because you can’t put a patent on it.

I think a health-care system that limits itself to pharmaceutical interventions and procedures, that’s a corporate health care system that’s intended to generate profit rather than health.

I think we need to study all potential interventions, and that includes lifestyle interventions. I think you would be really be contrary to science to say that other things besides traditional pharmaceutical based medication is the only legitimate health care.

Bhaskar Sunkara

Turning to your vice presidential choice, Ajamu Baraka, what was behind that decision?

Jill Stein

Having worked with him through the Green Shadow Cabinet for years, I’ve been very impressed by his vision, his passion and his power to persuade.

That’s him personally, but we’re also in a political moment right now when we need to lift up the point of view of an oppressed community that Ajamu represents. He’s an advocate for human rights, social and racial justice, but he’s also coming out of a tradition of black radicalism that needs to be heard.

Bhaskar Sunkara

One point where he’s received some criticism, and you’ve received some criticism, is on the issue of foreign policy. How could we on the Left articulate a foreign policy that’s strongly anti-intervention and strongly pushing for “getting the US out of everywhere,” which is one of my favorite slogans, but that’s also critical of the human rights violations of Putin, of Assad, of people like that?

Do you think that your campaign has been able to articulate both of those?

Jill Stein

Absolutely. This propaganda campaign that I’m kissing up to Putin is a total joke.

I went there to, basically, call for a peace initiative and an end to the bombing. People who said I went to cozy up to Putin, that’s Hillary’s trolls. When Bill Clinton went to talk to Putin —

Bhaskar Sunkara

He was being a statesman.

Jill Stein

He was a statesman. Plus, he went to talk to Putin as the Clinton Foundation was receiving lots of money — including from Uranium One, which is owned by Russian government interests — just as Uranium One was being approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department to buy 20 percent of the US uranium reserves.

There are real, serious questions about influence peddling in the secretary of state’s department that really should be the focus.

The Green Party has been a relentless critic of human rights violations and a proponent of LGBT rights. We actually made an effort to contact Pussy Riot. We were only there for two days, went to a conference, so it’s not like we had time to do other stuff. We actually did make an effort to contact Pussy Riot and also Edward Snowden while we were there. But we were not successful.

Bhaskar Sunkara

I know that like every other candidate you’re, to use a cliché, in it to win it, but what would success look like for you and for the Green Party short of that? Do you have a vote total in mind?

Jill Stein

Yes. In my view, the struggle is a win in itself to be standing up and refusing to be silenced in the face of a predatory corporate, capitalist political system which is destroying us.

The differences between the two parties are not enough to save your job, your life, or the planet, and that’s clear. We need another base from which we can truly organize.

In the words of Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” We need to build a political party that can build power and build demand.

As far as I’m concerned we’ve already won in that there are thousands of new people pouring in who are hard workers. Our challenge now is to grow our organization as a political party.

We have established many new chapters, and we have tens of thousands more volunteers and donors. We now have a funding base.

And we now have the commitment of, I think, the most activist layer of the Bernie Sanders campaign. They really understand that we need a politics of resistance, and they see the Green Party as the umbrella that can help build those politics.

Building our organization for the long haul, to me, is a win. We’ve already made significant strides in that direction.

If we get to 5 percent we then have funding. We have, I believe, $20 million worth of funding between now and the next election, which is quite a game-changer. Already I think we have a funding base so that we can continue the work.

We have made enormous inroads with the social movements, and that includes some of the indigenous movements.

I don’t know if you saw Democracy Now! yesterday. Winona LaDuke was on with the indigenous movement in North Dakota resisting the Bakken Pipeline there, and expressed support. I’ve been invited to come and support them, which I’m going to try to do in time for a particular hearing that’s going to happen there.

Many of the Black Lives Matter constituencies, like in the Twin Cities where I just went, were extremely supportive — they haven’t formally endorsed, but many of the organizers are now moving over into our campaign.

But I think just as it’s important to join forces with social movements, it’s also important for social movements to understand that it’s not enough to simply build the movement — we also have to fight for collective political power.

In the same way that Syriza represented a new joining of forces politically, or Podemos or Jeremy Corbyn really represent the emergence of a much more principled and radical political force, that’s happening in this country.

The Green Party is providing the foundation to work with other small and independent parties of the left through Left Elect. I think things are underway right now, which are extremely exciting, and which are not going to stop.

Bhaskar Sunkara

The mark is 5 percent, which would make a tremendous difference to the Green Party institutionally, I’d imagine.

Jill Stein

Huge, yes.

Bhaskar Sunkara

How do you envision your role after November, not only within the Green Party but also within a wider base of people who were Bernie Sanders supporters, many of whom are supporting you, but of course others who are supporting Clinton in swing states and so on?

Do you want to keep playing this prominent, very outspoken role, or do you see yourself taking a little bit of a backseat view?

Jill Stein

I have not managed to take a backseat for fifteen years. Even before I became overtly electoral I was up to my eyeballs in the social movements. You could say I am a mother on fire.

Once I learned about what’s actually happening to the health of our younger generation, it just become intolerable for me not to spend my every waking moment fighting it, so that’s what I do. I spend my every waking moment fighting it. I wish I could forget about it but I don’t seem to manage to do that. I have to say as time goes by it’s not like there’s less to be concerned about.

I feel like I’m a mother on fire because I know it’s not going to work for my kids unless it’s basically working for all kids, and right now that’s not looking so good.

On the other hand, our movement is stronger than it’s ever been, it’s more unified than it’s ever been, and it’s more political than it’s ever been. To me there is enormous power and hope in these developments.

I’m not sure I’m going to get time off before I leave the planet. I think this just seems to be my particular destiny. I don’t care whether I’m running for office or whether I am working to build the social movements. I think we can be very powerful whatever we’re doing.