Long-time activist Howie Hawkins is the presumptive Green Party presidential nominee for the 2020 general election. Hawkins, now a retired member of the Teamsters union from Syracuse, N.Y., has run three times for New York governor and once for the Senate on a Green Party ticket and co-founded the party 1984. Angela Walker, a truck driver and labor activist who previously ran for Milwaukee County Sheriff as an Independent Socialist in 2014, is running for vice president on Hawkins’ ticket.
The first U.S. Green Party was started in Maine in 1984 to advocate for environmental protection and social justice. Today, the party is a national organization and has four pillars that guide its policy platform: ecological wisdom, social justice, grassroots democracy and nonviolence.
The Daily sat down virtually with Hawkins and Walker to discuss the upcoming election, policy issues and the current administration.
Walker said the Green Party’s goals of solving climate change appeal to young people and college students because young people are those set to bear the brunt of these trends.
“When I think of young people, I think of the demands that young folks like Greta Thunberg and young indigenous activists, young African-American activists, who are concerned about climate change,” Walker said. “Those are the people that I’m thinking about (when we make) demands that we reverse climate change because we have stolen from our future … Part of the reason that I’m running is because I have five grandchildren and I want a world for them to grow up in that has clean water, that has clean soil, that has polar bears and penguins and trees. I don’t want this dystopian wasteland that we are on track for.”
In the same vein, Walker said curbing rising wealth inequality appeals to college students because they’re the ones that are becoming adults and entering a new phase of their lives.
“Also just thinking about ways of making a living that pay a living wage, where you’re not worrying about healthcare, those are things that resonated in my experience talking with college-age people very much and listening to young people, who are afraid to ‘Am I ever going to be able to start a family with the way we’ve been going? Can I have a life? What kind of a world am I inheriting?’” Walker said. “The Democrats give a lot of lip service to, ‘Oh we should do things for the, you know, work on the ecology things like that,’ but at the end of the day they are beholden to the corporations that are doing the polluting and I think young people know that.”
Hawkins said it’s important for youth to be involved in the Green Party because they aren’t as resigned to defeat as much as the older guard.
“I mean a lot of the older folks — and it’s not just the Greens, it’s the whole progressive side of politics — they’re so used to losing,” Hawkins said. “They don’t think they can win, so their expectations are low. Their energy is low. Young people have got to fight for their futures, and we need ‘em, so all I can do is say ‘Welcome and step up and if anybody gets in your way, I’ll help them get out of your way.’”
While most voters know little about the party, it has ––at times–– achieved outsized fame. For example, the Green New Deal, a proposal for a wide-ranging set of policies to fight poverty and climate change first introduced to Congress by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass, was inspired by a proposal by the Green Party in 2006.
Though the Democratic Party has adopted the name and some of the policies of the original Green Party GND, Hawkins argues that the Democratic proposal is not the same as the Green Party’s current version of the GND, now called the ecosocialist GND.
“Democrats took (the GNDl) and they took the brand and diluted the content,” Hawkins said. “We call for deep cuts in military spending to help fund the Green New Deal. They didn’t touch that. We want to phase out nuclear power. They didn’t deal with that. And then they extended the deadline for zero to negative greenhouse gas emissions from 2030 to 2050, which is too late for rich countries like the United States according to the carbon budgets that the climate scientists have produced.”
Walker also discussed how the Green Party’s ecosocialist GND differs from the Democrats’ GND in that it calls for all new infrastructure and programs created under the GND to be publicly owned and administered.
“Unlike the Democratic Party, the ecosocialist GND takes these reforms out of the hands of corporations and businesses and things like that and puts it in the hands of the public,” Walker said. “The public ownership piece is the difference between their platform and ours.”
The name “Ecosocialist Green New Deal” is no accident. While the Green Party has always been on the progressive end of politics, in 2016 it decided to formally adopt the descriptor “ecosocialist,” referring to a decentralized form of socialism that also seeks to create harmony with the natural world.
Hawkins said the Green Party decided to adopt an explicitly anti-capitalist framework for dealing with climate change because capitalism’s demand for continuous, unlimited growth cannot be reconciled with the needs of the planet.
“I think Greens realize that we’re not gonna have an ecologically sustainable society with a capitalist economy that’s premised on competition for growth and profits, which means the whole system flows without any sense of balance or reciprocity with the natural world,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins told The Daily that democracy is a large part of ecosocialism and that ecosocialism differs greatly from mid-century notions of socialism in that it seeks to use cooperation to produce the right amount of goods in a way that is sustainable for the planet, not just to produce more goods purely to satisfy human needs.
“So what we’re talking about is extending democracy into the economy. We want a socialist economic democracy, which means we can have a say in the economic decisions that affect our lives,” Hawkins said. “We call it ecological socialism because we are committed to producing the basic needs for everybody within ecological limits. So this is not the old socialism in the 20th century that was about expanding the forces of production to overcome scarcity. You know, we’re plenty productive now. Now the problem is to produce the right amount and find balance with nature, so that’s why we call it ecological socialism.”
However, the Green Party has garnered attention through its alleged role in impacting the outcome of the presidential election in both 2000 and 2016 due to the United States’ two-party system.. In the 2000 election, the state of Florida proved to be decisive for George W. Bush’s electoral victory and was won by a margin of only about 500 votes. Ralph Nader, the Green Party nominee, earned 97,488 votes, prompting anger from Democrats who felt that Nader cost Democratic nominee Al Gore the election.
This dynamic played out again in 2016. In an election with a relatively close electoral college victory (Donald Trump’s 304 to Hillary Clinton’s 227) and close margins within many key states, pundits were quick to point out that Jill Stein’s vote totals in three key states were higher than Trump’s margin of victory. In Michigan, Stein received 51,463 votes compared to a Trump victory margin of 10,704, in Pennsylvania 49,678 compared to 46,765 and in Wisconsin, 31,006 compared to 22,177. Combined, these states controlled 46 electoral votes and, had they gone for Clinton, it would have been enough for her to win.
Hawkins added the Green Party likely helped and will continue to help Democrats in down ballot races by bringing in new voters to the polls.
“The fact is that we bring new voters to the polls, voters that would have otherwise stayed home,” Hawkins said. “You know, and the damn Democrats (should) realize we’re helping them because we don’t have candidates down ballot in these Senate races, (and) a lot of these House races, and we’re bringing people that after they vote for the Greens for president are probably gonna vote for the Democrat for Senate or House.”
LSA junior Ryan Fisher, College Republicans Chair, said that while he’s happy the Green Party may have helped Trump to victory in 2016, he disagrees with the spoiler narrative.
“I mean, certainly I like that Jill Stein may have contributed to Trump’s victory,” Fisher said. “I do push back on that narrative personally, just because it doesn’t seem like everyone who voted for Jill Stein was a Clinton supporter, especially since many Green Party supporters tend to be more along the Bernie train than the Clinton train, and we saw that a lot of Bernie voters ended up going for Trump, mainly those working class type of Americans.”
Overall, however, despite any electoral advantage the Green Party may give the Republican Party, Fisher is ultimately very critical of the Green Party’s platform.
“I read up on Howie Hawkins’ platform and … I have to say it’s one of the worst platforms I’ve ever seen,” Fisher said. “I mean it’s pretty brutal. I don’t want to go through like bullet point by bullet point but among things is cutting the military budget by 75 percent, raising the minimum wage to 20 dollars an hour everywhere. I just think a lot of these policies are pretty bad and a lot of Republicans pushed back on the Green New Deal while somehow he came up with something even worse being the ecosocialist Green New Deal which has to be something out of a Republican nightmare.”
Public Policy senior Grace Hermann, College Democrats Chair, said the Green Party was not the reason Clinton lost in 2016 and argued that the Democrats lost instead due to overconfidence, particularly here in Michigan.
“(I) hesitate to place blame on the Green Party for Hillary’s loss in 2016,” Hermann wrote. “There were many reasons that Hillary lost in 2016, and overall I think that a lot of Michigan voters likely felt frustrated, unseen, and unimportant. Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic Party were overconfident about Michigan and as a result, there were missed opportunities to connect with voters in a critical battleground state.”
Hermann also emphasized that, as a progressive Democrat, she appreciates the Green Party’s commitment to its policies but doubts their efficacy in bringing about progressive change, arguing that the people truly bringing effecting change are those working within the Democratic Party.
“This may not be a popular opinion, but at the moment I really do not believe that the Green Party is contributing to political discourse, and if they are, I would say they are contributing very little to it,” Hermann said. “A large part of this is due to the structural nature of the two-party system, which makes it difficult for the Green Party to be an active participant on the national stage of politics. I would argue that the real people who are improving the quality and content of the political discourse are the people who are pushing within the Democratic Party and challenging some of the more traditional/establishment values that our Party has held for a long time. So many people know politicians like AOC and Bernie Sanders, who have made waves in the Democratic Party.”
Ultimately, regardless of the Green Party’s electoral chances, Hawkins argued that in our current circumstances with a global pandemic and ensuing recession, voters who do support the Green Party should not feel pressured to vote for somebody they are less than enthusiastic about.
“I think in this election Trump is toast,” Hawkins said. “I mean he has exposed himself for being a raving idiot on the health issues around coronavirus and he’s clueless about economics and by the time the election comes around we’re gonna be in a long depression, high unemployment, and people will still be getting sick and dying from the coronavirus. I mean if Biden can’t beat Trump in that situation, he and the Democrats can’t do anything.”
The Michigan Daily