At 67, Howie Hawkins needed all the youthful energy he could generate to deal with the 47 primaries he had to contest to capture the Green Party’s nomination in the 2020 presidential election.
A major element of his campaign is the Green New Deal, which he detailed in The Stand last year. Hawkins, a South Sider, is a retired Teamster who has been an organizer in the movements for civil rights, peace, unions and the environment since the 1960s. He co-founded the Green Party in 1984.
Local journalist Walt Shepperd met with Hawkins earlier this month to discuss current issues the Green Party is working to address and how the main political parties compare.
Q: I interviewed you in 2019 for The Stand. What has changed in the Green Party?
A: It’s a year later … the issues are still there.
Q: Then I said, well what are the big issues, and you said, will people vote for it. I believe it was for the Green New Deal? So the question is, did anyone vote for it?
A: Well, people are voting right now, but in the last debate, if anyone wasn’t paying attention, Joe Biden is against the Green New Deal, like Donald Trump is. And I am for the Green New Deal. I’m the original Green New Dealer. I was the first one to run on it in 2010. And the climate is still collapsing. We need a response, and that’s why people need to vote for the Green Party. Particularly in New York state where our ballot line is on the line. We need at least 2 percent, which is between 200,000 to 250,000 votes to maintain a ballot line.
Q: We all hope for the best, but we know history has shown parties, like the Green Party, have not elected a president or succeeded to that level. Should the Green Party switch its focus and become an agency that advocates, rather than in an electoral way?
A: If we do that, then the Democrats are going to take progressives for granted and basically answer to their donors, you know, their corporate interests. When I got 5 percent of the vote for governor in 2014 (against) Andrew Cuomo … after that election, he adopted policies that he had never supported, like a ban on fracking, a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave. (These were issues) we were campaigning for. That’s where our leverage is: if we exit the electoral stage, the corporate democrats will run without any competition. While they do respond to their donors, they do need voters. If we are getting votes, then they have to listen.
Q: I don’t feel I hear enough about the Green Party in local media.
A: I completely agree, and it’s not just local. It’s national. I had no coverage from the networks, from the cable news networks, except for MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week. (I was given) 3 minutes, where they set me up to say I’m a spoiler and made that argument after they took me off camera. So it’s a very difficult environment. The ballot access is very difficult. Getting covered in the debates or campaign narrative is even harder.
Q: Where does this all end though?
A: Well I think that (Joe) Biden is going to win. Trump is toast as long as the ballots are actually counted. The honeymoon is going to be over pretty quickly for progressives because Biden is serving conservative politicians. It’s time for the Green Party to step up — you know, our issues: the Green New Deal, the economic bill of rights, the peace initiative. To get out of this crazy new nuclear arms race and these endless wars … (The Green Party) will be in a good position after the election.
Q: When you talked to me about your positions for the paper, 12 years was the number you focused on … is it different now?
A: I’m not sure what the 12 year reference was, but it probably had something to do with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (This report stated) we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 or we are really over the zone into dangerous climate change. And we’re in an emergency, the problem is that Trump calls climate change a hoax, and Biden and Democrats act as if it’s a hoax. If you look at their policies, it’s pro fossil fuels, pro nuclear power. Where they do say anything about retrofitting buildings, they’ll say they’ll retrofit 5 million buildings in four years. Well, there are 120 million buildings in the country, and at that rate it will take 150 years. They do not have a serious climate program.
Q: What happens if you don’t capture Americans’ interest?
A: Well it’s more heat waves and stronger storms. It’s mass species extinction, ecosystem collapse, agricultural collapse, and we won’t be able to feed the people. We’re facing a crisis.
Q: How do you take the power away from big oil?
A: We should do what we did in World War II, where in that time of emergency the federal government took over a quarter of a million in manufacturing capacity in order to turn industry on a dime into the arsenal of democracy. To align the allies against the fascist powers. We need to do nothing less through the public sector to make this energy and economic transition. Which means the energy companies should be publicly owned. Public planning. It’s the only way we can do it in the time frame that we need to do it.
Q: And how do we do that? How do we do it in the appropriate time frame?
A: It’s going to require public planning and enterprise in the energy sectors, the transportation sectors and the manufacturing sectors. We not only have to transform the production of electric power, but also how we produce things, like cement. Cement is 5 percent of the worlds carbon footprint because calcium carbonate is added in to harden it. The carbonate evaporates into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. And we have to go through every technology like that (to see to it that it’s) not emitting greenhouse gases. So, it requires transforming not just energy production but manufacturing, transportation, agricultural and the buildings.
Q: I admire all the work you’ve done. Sounds like a dream to get all this changed …
A: Well, I’ve been a vilified minority in a lot of movements. Starting with the anti-Vietnam movement in the 1960s, and public opinion came around. And I can name many other movements, beginning with the ban on fracking in New York state. We were on the front lines against Wall Street, the Saudi’s, the Chinese. We had the whole world against us, and we won that demand. And we need it. (For) the young people — it’s their future. You don’t fight fascists to win. You fight fascists because they’re fascists. We have to fight climate change. We can’t promise we will win, but we will fight; we have no choice.
Q: What can each individual reading this article do?
A: Well, they should use their vote as their voice. If they want a Green New Deal, if they want an economic bill of rights with Medicaid for all, job guarantees and so forth. If they also want to get out of this nuclear arms race, the doomsday clock is closer than it has ever been to midnight, then make the politicians hear you. Make the public hear you. Vote for the Green Party. Vote for these policies and then keep fighting after the election. If you vote for Biden only because you want Trump out of there, you are basically telling Biden to take you for granted. In New York state, the polls have Biden ahead by nearly 30 points. So if you are a progressive, the question is how are you going to vote against Trump. The Green Party ticket is the strongest anti-Trump vote.