It was never Howie Hawkins’ dream to become president of the United States. Nonetheless, his name will be on the ballot come Election Day.
Hawkins, a retired UPS employee who currently lives in Syracuse, is the Green Party’s nominee for president. … When the Green Party, which he co-founded, needed a candidate, Hawkins agreed to run because he was one of the few candidates in his party with the experience to run a large-scale campaign, he said.
“I see my role more as an organizer,” Hawkins said. “My first reaction when people organized this draft campaign was, ‘Well, let’s see who else we can get.’ A lot of people I respect asked me to run, and it was hard to say no to them.”
Hawkins’s presidential run comes after 24 campaigns for public office — all of which he has lost — and a life centered around activism. Green Party members asked him to run for president in 2012, but he declined because of work obligations. Now, he has accepted the invitation because he’s retired and has the time to campaign.
The Green Party has never secured more than 3% of the popular vote in a presidential election. More than winning the presidency, the main goal of Hawkins’ campaign is to encourage more Green Party candidates to run for local office and to put issues on the public agenda that Democratic and Republican candidates usually ignore.
“I’m definitely trying to help and support our local candidates,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins advocates for a federal plan to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat economic inequality. He campaigned on such a platform during his 2010 run for governor of New York, a race he lost to then-state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
Hawkins also supports an economic Bill of Rights, which would guarantee rights to employment, health care, affordable housing and a stable income. He also calls for a 75% cut in defense spending.
“There are issues that need real solutions, and the Green Party offers them,” he said. “It’s important to build a party and a movement around those issues and those policies.”
His running mate is Angela Walker, a truck driver and activist living in South Carolina whom he picked because of her longtime activism. Walker, who was the Socialist Party’s 2016 vice presidential nominee, agreed to run with Hawkins because she was impressed by the Green Party’s commitment to resolving environmental issues.
Hawkins would be an excellent president because of his diplomacy skills and his respect for different cultures and opinions, she said.
“He’s an encyclopedia of knowledge about ecological issues, foreign policy, economics and so many other things,” Walker said. “He brings a thoroughness and open mindedness to his work that would be welcome assets in the Oval Office.”
Growing up in San Francisco, California, Hawkins became passionate about the environment after witnessing pollution in Silicon Valley.
In the 1960s, Hawkins participated in the civil rights movement and protested the Vietnam War. He later co-founded the Clamshell Alliance, an organization that opposed nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
As part of his work with the Clamshell Alliance, Hawkins organized a large occupation of the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant construction site in New Hampshire, hoping to gain media attention and spark a larger anti-nuclear movement.
“Pretty soon, people were pushing me forward to speak and what not,” Hawkins said. “So I began to see myself more as an activist, not just a participant.”
Paul Gunter, a co-founder of the Clamshell Alliance who has worked with Hawkins for almost two decades, said Hawkins’ work with the alliance has prepared him to be president.
“The Clamshell Alliance built itself on the principles of democracy, which included sharing responsibilities and a leader that actively engages with the constituent,” Gunter said. “Those are all qualities Howie had early training in.”
Hawkins became further involved in politics in the 1980s, and in 1984, he was invited to a Green Party organizing meeting.
His first campaign with the party was for a seat on the Syracuse Common Council in 1993. He also ran for mayor of Syracuse in 2017, a race he lost to independent candidate Ben Walsh.
Mark Dunlea, a longtime member of the Green Party and one of the party’s co-founders in New York, said Hawkins is one of the most educated and understanding people he knows.
“He just identifies with the average person,” Dunlea said. “I just always really felt that most people really did not have any understanding of the challenges that low-income and moderate-income Americans face. And Howie, he understands, and I think that’s important.”
In addition to economic and environmental plans, Hawkins has also developed a series of police reform measures as part of his presidential platform.
The plans include steering funds away from police departments and toward social services and establishing independent police commissions in cities across the country that could hire and fire police chiefs and independently investigate officer misconduct.
Hawkins also supports increased contact tracing, rapid testing and quarantining to combat the coronavirus. He would champion financial relief for people from marginalized communities whom the virus has disproportionately affected.
As the election approaches, Hawkins has come to grips with the unlikelihood of him winning the presidency this year. He plans to write manuals after the election for other Green Party candidates who run for office, with the goal of expanding the party and getting thousands of Green Party candidates elected into local offices.
“I’m as committed as ever,” Hawkins said. “I’m fighting mad, given that we don’t have real solutions to these life or death issues. And whatever happens on November 3, we just gotta keep going.”
The Daily Orange