At the moment, the United States appears to be in a state of turmoil. Following the killing of George Floyd by a policeman on May 25th, supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement took to the streets in the hundreds of thousands. How would you, as the anticipated presidential candidate of the Green Party, describe the situation that your country is finding itself in, about four months before the elections on November 3rd?
After the lynching of George Floyd, the whole country could see we have been suffering from a pandemic of racism for centuries. What’s hopeful about the movement in the streets is the fact that it’s multiracial. All ethnic groups are out on the streets, calling for an end of police brutality and racism. So, we’re getting some response from the government. But what I’m mostly concerned with are not not single actions that have to be taken, like outlawing chokeholds or having a federal registry of police, so that we know about a respective officer’s misconduct is and so that he or she cannot be hired by another police department. The problem we have is that the police police themselves. What we need is community control over the police: An elected commission that can hire and fire police chiefs, investigate and discipline officers, negotiate contracts. The police have to answer to the community.
Meanwhile, over 110.000 people have died related to the coronavirus.
I think that lots of people have noticed that the two governing parties are presiding over a failed state. From New Zealand to South Korea, other countries have a test, trace and quarantine programs. This country, on the other hand, has left it to the federal states. They’re scrambling to get tests, there’s no money to hire tracers. And now they’re reopening the economy, and people who are going back to work are lacking protective equipment. For many, the incompetence of Donald Trump is evident.
Do you think that the president will be swept away in November?
I think that Trump is toast. A lot of people voted for him because they didn’t like Hillary Clinton more. They didn’t know who he was, but he was different. They wanted some kind of change, and now they’re seeing what they got, and they don’t like it. If Trump can’t be beat, if things just continue the way they are, there’s a danger of hundreds of thousands of people dying from corona. Due to the projections now, we will hit our 200.000 in September. And when it comes to the economic depression caused by the virus: Both major parties have this dogmatic faith that private enterprise alone is going to pull us out of this hole.
The economic counter program you are proposing is called “Ecosocialist Green New Deal”. What’s at the heart of this idea?
We’re calling for a 27,5 trillion Dollar program to rebuild all our productive systems for zero to negative greenhouse gas emissions in ten years. It’s not just about transforming the energy sector. It’s all sectors: manufacturing, agriculture, buildings and transportation. The rebuilding of our productive systems would create 38 million new jobs. This would also help to fight the current steep rise of the unemployment rate.
The Democratic Party is also campaigning for a Green New Deal, albeit theirs is not a socialist one. What are the major differences between the two concepts?
The Democrats took the brand and diluted the content. They extended the deadline to zero carbon emissions from 2030 to 2050. Which, if you look at the calculations of climate science, is too late for a rich country like the United States to stop the worst impacts of climate change. They also deleted the ban of fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure. The USA became the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas because we’re fracking the hell out of the country. Joe Biden is also committed to continuing fracking. What we, the Green party, are also saying is: A drastic reduction of 75% of our military budget is needed to enable the necessary investments into the Green New Deal.
Should this climate-friendly restructuring of the economy be conducted mainly by the private sector?
No, that’s another difference: It has to be done principally through the public sector. It’s too late to put in a carbon tax and have some regulations and mandates, which the industries, by means of their political influence and their lobbies, will gum up and delay. We have to take over the whole energy sector, the transportation sector, and manufacturing to defeat climate change. I am convinced that public ownership and planning is essential to making this transition on a rapid base, in ten years.
Since the 2000 elections, political commentators in the USA have been warning against voting Green, since doing so could supposedly lead to a victory for the Republicans. In 2000, the Green candidate, Ralph Nader, had received nearly three million votes. However, George W. Bush became president. What would you tell a person who says: I agree with the Green Party’s program, but I’m afraid of Donald Trump winning a second term?
I would say that it was the Democrats who enabled the reactionary Trump-ism. That’s because their whole policy has always been based on pandering to corporate interests. Even more so since the 1970s, when they stopped being “New Deal Democrats” (somehow oriented towards social democracy) and became corporate “New Democrats” – a term coined by Bill Clinton. They were social liberals in a sense that they said they wanted to remove discriminating barriers. But they did not attack the inequalities that have been growing since that time – with the Democrats in charge over a lot of it. We call it Neoliberalism. And that created a resentment among a lot of white middle class and working class people, which racists were able to mobilize. They scapegoated minorities: Immigrants, muslims, people of color…
But isn’t Joe Biden the better, less dangerous choice when compared to Donald Trump?
If you’re on the left, you should vote for what you want, and make the politicians come to you. If you vote for what you don’t want, you’re enabling the aforementioned dynamic that keeps moving this country to the right. We need a fundamental shift, and we can’t wait four more years. That’s because concerning the climate crisis, or the life-threatening nuclear arms race, we’re running out of time. For people facing inequality, that is also a life-or-death issue now. They have to choose between paying the rent or going to the doctor. See, there’s a guy who lived downstairs from me. He died in April last year. He was on Medicaid, a low-wage worker, sixty years old. He had a kidney problem, but he had medicine that would maintain it. And it got to the end of winter, the utility bills were high, and he decided to pay his utility bills instead of getting his kidney medicine. By mid-April, his kidneys failed and he was dead. You know, when Ronald Reagan revamped the tax structure in the mid 80s, the Democratic congress voted for it. I can give you example after example where they are as responsible as the Republicans for the situation where people have to choose between going to the doctor or paying their electricity bill.
Still, once again this year the question of Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden is treated as a fateful question. In the online edition of The Nation (April 28th), political scientist and collge professor Peter Dreier sharply criticised the Greens and their voters. Meanwhile, quite a few activists on the left are still putting their hopes in changing the Democrats from within. Couldn’t such a strategy be successful?
Well, we’ve just had two cases of Bernie Sanders attempting to do that, and getting defeated by the Democratic Party establishment. If you look at the poll numbers and the primary votes, about a third of the Democrats’ base are progressives or even socialists. But they always lose. I like to say: The Democratic Party lets the progressives make speeches, but the corporate establishment makes the decisions. And that’s the power structure. College professors like Peter Dreier can afford to live with the Democrats, because they are comfortable. But for working class people, the Democrats are a disaster, just like the Republicans are. With Joe Biden, there would be some changes here and there, on the margins, but it wouldn’t change the fundamental problems.
You are making the case for ecosocialism. When people talk about socialism, whether in the USA or in Europe, they are often referring to all kinds of different things. What does socialism mean to you?
First of all, it’s a democratic socialism. We’re not just talking about state ownership, which can be authoritarian. “Ecological” means that, unlike a lot of the socialist efforts in the 20th century, where the problem was to increase the force of production to deal with scarcity, we’re plenty productive now. So the question is: How do we have a system that produces enough for everybody’s basic needs within ecological limits, on an ecologically sustainable basis.
Do you think that, in the long run, big banks and big corporations should be socialised?
Yes, big banks and big businesses should be public utilities. The model I like is one that the New Left developed here in the 1970s, originally with respect to healthcare and a public energy system. It is a decentralised, federalist model of coordination. That means that you don’t just have a national board. Instead, you have locally elected boards that then elect the state and national boards. So you have the detailed planning and administration under the control of local communities, and measures at a higher level would be coordinated by the respective elected boards. It is a system of planning and administration that works from the bottom to the top, not from the top to the bottom.
In Germany, hearing such statements from the Green Party candidate would leave you puzzled. In our country, the Greens are a party for the upper middle class. They would never use terms like “working class,” let alone “socialism.”
This is certainly also about different party systems and electoral systems. In Germany, you have an established Labor Party, the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany). To the left of it, you also have “Die Linke” (The Left). We don’t have that. That’s why in the USA, it is all the more important for everything from radical ecology to anti-imperialism to economic class issues to come together in an independent left. And unlike in Germany, we don’t have proportional representation. That’s one of the reasons why the Greens are the most viable option for an independent party to the left. They have attracted not just middle class environmentalists, peace activists and feminists, but also people that are mainly concerned with economic class issues. So, I think we’re filling a lot of spaces that, in Germany, other parties may have already been filling.
You are also pointing out that the Greens are opponents of imperialist policies. In this context, what is your position on the Trump administration’s policy towards Venezuela and Cuba, and the support for the military coup in Bolivia?
Our position is – and this is diametrically opposed to the Republicans and almost all the Democrats: Hands off Venezuela and other Latin American countries! Stop picking their leaders, stop getting involved in coups. Haiti, Honduras, now Bolivia, and the ongoing attempts in Venezuela… As far as Cuba is concerned, we want to end the blockade and to normalise relations. It’s up to the Cubans and the Venezuelans to decide what kind of government, what kind of leadership they want. I can criticise those countries from the left, but that’s just talk. As far as policy goes, it’s up to the people in those countries to decide themselves.
It remains unlikely that the next president of the United States will be a Green Party candidate. What would have to happen so that the campaign you and your running mate, socialist activist and truck driver Angela Walker are waging can be called a success?
We want to get our Green solutions debated, and also get them into the mainstream media: Medicare for all, college for all, cutting the military budget and putting that into human needs and environmental protection. The other thing is: We’re building a movement, and a party. So, if we come out of it stronger that we went in, that’s a victory. And it doesn’t end in November. Of course, the more votes we get, the more leverage we have in the political process. When I ran for governor in New York against Andrew Cuomo in 2014, we got over 184.000 votes, nearly five percent. Cuomo had to adopt three of our demands that he had never supported before: A ban on fracking in New York State, 15 Dollar minimum wage, and paid family leave. That shows you that you don’t have to win office to get some results. That’s what I tell people: Vote for what you want,and make the politicians come to you! Don’t waste your vote by giving it away for something you don’t support.