Dr. Jill Stein: A Ballot Challenge to the Crimes of Empire

US Politics


Jill Stein campaign photo

Dr. Jill Stein stepped up to compete for the Green Party presidential nomination after Dr. Cornel West decided to run as an independent. Ann Garrison spoke to her for Pacifica Radio’s “Capitalism, Race, and Democracy” and Black Agenda Report.  

ANN GARRISON: Dr. Jill Stein, thank you for speaking to Pacifica’s “Capitalism, Race, and Democracy” and Black Agenda Report.

JILL STEIN: Well, it's an honor. So glad to be here.

AG: I want to start by saying that when you were running in 2016, I spoke to Professor Edward S. Herman, the co-author of Manufacturing Consent, and he told me that he disagreed with his co-author Noam Chomsky, who always says that it's important to vote for Democrats, because they're the lesser of two evils. He said he planned to vote for you because, for one, he was guided by the philosopher Immanuel Kant's moral imperative, “Do what you would have generalized.” He would have liked to see most Americans vote for you, so he planned to vote for you. 

Second, he said that Greens can't afford to run candidates in state and local races all over the country, but it's important that you run a presidential candidate to articulate an alternative foreign policy. Why do you think that's important?

JS: Oh, boy, for so many reasons. I mean, we're seeing the consequences of our foreign policy crash and burn all around us and all around the world. We are spending half of our discretionary budget on this foreign policy. We are spending more than the next nine biggest spenders combined. We're creating basically failed states and mass refugee migrations and continuing terrorist threats. 

The consequences of our foreign policy are absolutely disastrous. They are impoverishing us at home, and they are endangering us and everybody else abroad. Witness that there are no fewer than three battlefronts right now that could easily tip into a nuclear war. And we're in a day and age where we can't think of conflict anymore, as over there. Conflict now entails us all, because if we go nuclear, in so many words, nuclear winter is not a local thing. One nuclear submarine, which is sitting off the coast of Gaza right now, one nuclear submarine has firepower equivalent to some 4000 Hiroshima bombs, which is enough to cause nuclear winter, that would wipe out 1/3 of the population on Earth. 

So we now all own these conflicts. We've been a monopolar power, but now we're an empire living in an age of multipolar powers. So this no longer works. We have a policy called Full Spectrum Dominance, which says that we shall dominate all areas of the world, all regions, and all potential battle spaces. And this mindset, that we will basically be the bully in the schoolyard and coerce our way to domination across the world, is an utter, unmitigated disaster. 

This is what a dying empire looks like. And this policy is driving us in that direction very quickly. So it's got to change. And fortunately, the American people support that change and are not supporting the wars that we're involved in right now, which, as I said, are impoverishing and endangering us all. We need to change, and we can change.

AG: Something else I used to talk to Professor Herman about was the politics of genocide. He wrote a book by that name, and another titled Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later.  

We talked about Central Africa and particularly Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is an obscure, remote, complicated subject to most Americans, and the US hand in it has been largely covert. We don't see 2000-pound US-manufactured bombs dropping on innocents or nuclear submarines off the coast, as we do in Gaza. But the one thing more and more people understand is that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is preyed upon and ravaged because it's blessed with the world's greatest resource wealth, especially mineral resource wealth. And this mineral resource wealth is required to power the transition from fossil fuels to “clean energy.”

Congo has oil, but it has more cobalt, copper, rare earth minerals, lithium, and other minerals required to manufacture renewables than any nation on Earth. Yet its people may be the most wretched. They slave away in artisanal mines, preyed upon by armies and militias who steal what they mine for sale to large corporations. And they're often murdered or displaced by militias fighting to control mineral-rich territory. 

Millions have died of conflict and displacement since 1996. And there are six million Congolese in internally displaced person camps. That doesn't even count the refugees. 

The US and China compete to some degree, but most all the industrial powers and corporations are getting their share of Congo's mineral wealth one way or another, so no one’s rocking the boat. 

What can we do to help the Congolese people and others in the Global South benefit from the transition to renewables instead of suffering the same way they've suffered to power the fossil fuel economy?

JS: Great, that's such an important issue. And it really speaks volumes about our economic and military system and our global domination of that system. And this is nothing new. What's happening right now in the DRC, the Congo, is the logical extension of what's been happening there for centuries, beginning in the 1500s with the slave trade, then the rule of King Leopold, under whose watch, my understanding is, something like one out of every two Congolese were killed either from disease or abuse, or overwork, and so on. Something like 10 million people. You went on to have a period of colonial rule, then you had dictators that were supported by the United States and Western powers. And notably, in 1961, you had the assassination of the first democratically elected leader, Patrice Lumumba, whom Malcolm X described in utterly superlative terms. I don't have the exact quote, but it was something like the wisest and most honorable African who ever walked the continent. And we, our government, killed him. Why? Because he wanted to nationalize the resources of the Congo on behalf of the Congolese people. 

So this is what Martin Luther King described as the triple evils of capitalism, militarism, and racism that all converge. And as you describe, the fact that it all occurs behind this curtain allows the absolute worst excesses of the system to be carried out there. It has been genocidal, and it continues to be genocidal. And there are so many additional arguments that this system is completely immoral. It's outrageous. It's unjust, it’s genocidal, and it's unsustainable. It can't last, and it has to be changed. It has to be transformed in a big way. 

It's outrageous that the so-called renewable energy revolution is taking place at the expense of human lives that are being just severely and brutally sacrificed for this transition for the wealthy Western world. And it should be solved by a holistic renewal of the economy, not only of Congo, but of Africa. We need to get out of the way above all, and we need to stop militarizing. We train and fund some of the neighbors like Rwanda, and I believe Uganda as well, who are in the DRC fighting for resources. These resources are effectively controlled by foreign corporations. 

There has been some degree of nationalization, but we've also ensured that there's a corrupt political process within as well. So this is like Exhibit A for why our system is unjust and unsustainable. We and the Western world owe reparations for the past many centuries worth of brutality and exploitation to the DRC. 

But we also need rules of trade. We need trade rules that do not allow for child labor exploitation, nor for the environmental devastation, which is part of the way mining is carried out in the DRC. 

This is not rocket science. It just requires a very comprehensive, broad and holistic, transformative economic solution. 

And the abuses of this predatory economy are also coming home to roost in our economy in the US. It's not as brutal but it's not sustainable or livable either. Sixty percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck with incredible insecurity. So, you know, we're at this horrible moment right now of existential threats: crushing inequality, which is global and local, climate collapse, and endless war. And these existential crises really create an unprecedented necessity and an unprecedented opportunity for really transformative change. 

AG: Israel, of course, started bombing Gaza again. What do you want to say about that?

JS: This is absolutely unconscionable. And especially with our tax dollars, and the approval, the encouragement, the political cover from our government, and the two political parties that never have any trouble agreeing about which shiny new war we're going to be supporting today. 

There was a ceasefire for five or six days, prisoners and hostages were exchanged. All this went well, even though people were still being killed, right and left, by the IDF. But it wasn't, whatever it's been—like 1000 people a week almost—it just wasn't horrific for five or six days. There was relatively little violence, and it's just heartbreaking that it’s started again. 

Babies are Hamas? Hospitals are Hamas? Schools, the press? It's completely disgusting, heartbreaking. And so important, I think, to emphasize that the conflict did not begin on October 7. The events of October 7 were awful. I personally do not condone violence against civilians, period. But that itself was a response to decades of violence and ethnic cleansing. And 750,000 people who were driven out of their homes at the founding of Israel. 

We need to go back to the drawing boards here. The objective is not only a ceasefire but peace with justice and justice and security for all parties. 

And this makes me really grateful that I'm able to run this race, and be very confident that we will be on the ballot, most likely in all 50 states. And we will ensure that voters will have a way to express their outrage and their condemnation of this just disastrous foreign policy and this moral abomination that's taking place right now. We are likely to be the only campaign widely on the ballot that is pro worker, anti-war, and addressing the climate emergency. So I'm really grateful. 

We had made the decision to run even before the war broke out, but the war broke out before we had announced and then we were so motivated, and our team, basically a volunteer team, ensured we could mobilize quickly and fill the gap that was left when Dr. West decided to run independent. We didn't want to see all that ballot access go to waste—ballot access to challenge empire and oligarchy.

AG: A lot of people don't understand ballot access, which means having your candidate’s name, and the party’s, actually appear on the ballot as a choice, so maybe we could end with a few notes about that. In 2016, you qualified to be on the ballot in 44 states. Is that right?

JS: It was actually 47 if you also include the District of Columbia, and a state in which we were on the ballot as a write-in, but altogether, it was 47 ballot lines that we had access to.

AG: A lot of people don't understand the amount of labor that has to go into securing ballot access. And as you said, you were an official write-in candidate in one state—I believe that was in Georgia because my friend the late Bruce Dixon worked to secure it. Even to have your write-in votes counted, you had to collect some number of signatures. I think it was 7000 in Georgia. But the important thing to understand is that if someone writes in a candidate, that vote isn't even going to be counted unless the candidate has qualified to have their write-in votes counted. If they have qualified, their name won’t appear on the ballot but write-in votes for them will be counted.  

And to have a Green Party candidate appear on the ballot, Green Party activists have to jump through quite a few hoops in every state. And in every single state, they're different. 

JS: Yes, and they change from year to year. 

AG: California is one of the most restrictive, but fortunately Green Party ballot access here is secure. In Mississippi, I believe you can more or less sign up for a nominal fee. Oklahoma has long been among the most restrictive, but they've now made it possible to get on the ballot there for $45,000. Whereas there used to be only a huge signature gathering requirement, which can be as expensive, especially if you have to pay petition gatherers. 

But in any case, ballot access rules are different in every state. So Green Parties in each state have to figure out what has to be done, then gather their forces to make sure that the Green Party is on the ballot. And that's why, when Dr. West decided to leave, someone had to step in to save the ballot access that Greens have earned over decades.

JS: Exactly, and you earn that ballot access by petitioning and by running for office. And also by knowing how to do it so that if you slip under a threshold, you can get right back on by collecting your signatures or whatever. It requires a whole culture of political empowerment, and you really have to fight for your political voice. If you don't fight for it, and you don't use it, you are going to lose it because that’s how the system was designed. 

This was starting in the early 1900s, with the rise of the socialist parties, which were doing things like creating public education systems and libraries, and really useful things at the city level, and some were even being elected to Congress. So there were third parties that were part of a thriving political system that was far more empowering. And that gave voters a lot more voice and a lot more choice. So of course, as wealth and power have concentrated over the years, they don't like political competition, and they want parties that they can control. And that's about it. So then they designed ballot access rules to keep everybody else out, so it was only big established parties that would automatically have their ballot access renewed from election to election. 

If you wanted to come in as a newcomer, or as a small party with ideas whose time has come, you would be run through all kinds of circles and prevented from getting on the ballot. There is a reason that this system is so crazy, so outrageous. It would be very simple to reform it and have simple and straightforward ballot access requirements. Some states have that but all should, because voters want choices, especially now; voters are really demanding choices.

AG: It would be simpler and more democratic if at least the requirements in each state were the same. That there's such a patchwork quilt means that Green Party activists in every single state have to figure out what the requirements are. In some cases, you have to run a candidate, and the candidate has to win some particular percentage of the vote in a state or federal election or whatever. They're different in every state.

JS: And some states have requirements like you can only carry a clipboard with petitions if you live there. In some states, you can only collect signatures from members of the party. In some states, you can only collect signatures from independents or the party. In some states it’s anybody. In some states every petition has to be notarized by a notary public. It's a minefield of bureaucratic, meaningless red tape requirements that are just intended to keep challengers off the ballot. Right.

AG: But the Green Party has done that labor, making its way through that minefield for years, so the Green Party's candidate is the one that is most certain to be on the ballot, to be a candidate you can actually vote for and have your vote counted in every state. 

JS: We are currently on the ballot in 18. And we just turned in signatures for another difficult state. That's for Arizona. We expect that to be 19 because we have almost double the number required.

The other part is that the Democrats will play dirty tricks, and they will try to get you thrown off even when you've qualified. But we are way over the requirement in Arizona. We're about to turn in for Utah. So right now we have about 80% of the battle done. It's not 80% of the states, but it's about 80% of the people. And it's 80% of the cost and the labor to getting ballot status. So we're just really closing the loop right now. Most of the work is done, but there is more to do. In fact, we still have to raise a million dollars, but we have four million worth of ballot lines. We have to raise another million, but that's doable. 

AG: And a lot of greens go out and volunteer to stand on the street and collect signatures—very hard work, but they do it. They've done it for two decades. I just learned that in Missouri, they have collected 10,000 of the 20,000 signatures that will be needed by June 29th next year.

JS: Oh, that's really great to hear. More power to Missouri. That's awesome.

AG: Okay, Jill, thank you for speaking to Pacifica’s Capitalism Race and Democracy and Black Agenda Report. 

JS: Great talking with you. 

AG: We'll talk again. 

Ann Garrison is a Black Agenda Report Contributing Editor based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at ann@anngarrison.com.

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