Socialists and the US elections – an interview with Kathleen Brown

img_20161018_203152292You are a US citizen, and there are going to be elections at the beginning of November. How are you going to vote?

I’m voting for Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka of the Green Party for president and vice president. I would advocate everyone who considers themselves leftists or progressives to do the same. If Stein gets 5% in the election, the party can then qualify for more federal election funding and get automatic ballot access in all 50 states. It would establish the Greens in a real way.

The German media have said little or nothing about Jill Stein. Who is she and what does she stand for?

Dr. Jill Stein is a physician from Massachusetts, and she ran for Green Party president in 2012. Her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, is a community organizer and activist. The Green Party advocates a “Green New Deal,” which means using government funds in a green energy jobs program, to invest in mass sustainable energy on the scale of the 1930s New Deal. Stein emphasizes student debt loan forgiveness, universal health care, tuition free public education through university, and demilitarizing the police.

The Greens also condemn US support for human rights abusers, like Saudi Arabia and Israel. They call for an end to extrajudicial drone assassinations. They advocate cutting military spending by 50%, closing the United States’ 700 military bases around the world, and reaching nuclear disarmament.

You can find out more here

Doesn’t a vote for Stein increase the possibility of Donald Trump winning the election?

No, I don’t think so. What increases the possibility of a Donald Trump in the White House is an unpopular democratic candidate. This was Sanders’ argument during the primaries. People don’t turn up to vote for someone they don’t like. And yet, here are the Democrats, putting forth their most unpopular democratic candidate ever. Hillary Clinton isn’t giving people a reason to vote for her, she’s just laying low and allowing Trump to implode. Her main argument is that she’s not Trump, and she’s hoping that’s enough. The media, the Democratic party, and even Bernie Sanders are hoping that no one remembers her history of serving the banks, enriching her family, making deals with human rights abusers for Clinton Foundation donations.

A vote for Stein is a vote for Stein. There’s a big assumption among liberals that one’s vote for Stein would go to Hillary Clinton instead. That’s false. We don’t owe our vote to anyone, and I think that’s an important point to defend, if we talk about the democratizing of the United States. We should be free to vote for whom we want, not be bullied by Democrats or pushed to vote our fears. Voting Democrat hasn’t stopped the decline in unionization, wages, access to abortion clinics, or the increase in the prison population, drone attacks, and military interventions. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party has these votes locked up, which means the Democrats don’t have to offer any substantial concessions to win votes.

It’s important to remember that 40% of eligible American voters stay home, and that lower-income people are less likely to vote. I think this is for a host of reasons, having to work since the elections are on a Tuesday, not feeling like either candidate represents them, a difficult voter registration processes, voter suppression, and so on. Having better voting access, making the elections a federal holiday, having more candidates who actually speak to voters could help solve this. In short, we need far more democracy than we actually have.

The media’s argument is that the Green Party is a ‘spoiler’ party that enabled George Bush to get into office. But what about the Democrats who voted for Bush instead of Gore in 2000? Or that Gore was so uninspiring, he failed to win his home state? The Democrats need to take responsibility for their candidates, especially for the 77 Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, who later voted for the war in Iraq in 2002.

Surely the only people who can win the election are Trump and Hillary Clinton. Wouldn’t Clinton be a better president than Trump?

I will be thrilled to see Trump’s misogynist ass get crushed on November 9th, but I won’t be celebrating Clinton’s election.

Having Clinton in the White House doesn’t stop Trump or Trumpism. This is because Clinton is a neoliberal, corporate war-mongerer. There’s that. She also represents the status quo. And for many people, the status quo has been disastrous. Americans are living shorter lives, sicker lives, have seen their living standard fall, and in some cases, their wealth wiped out from the 2008 crisis. Clinton and her husband slashed social spending, deregulated Wall Street, and pushed through trade agreements that have helped de-industrialize the U.S. Trump is able to position himself as the alternative to this, blaming Clinton, but also the using ugly rhetoric of blaming “Mexico” and “China.” Without a left counterweight, like Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein, he gets away with it. You’ll see liberals huddling around Clinton to defend her from the attacks, which are sure to start on Day 2 of her presidency. That’s the dangerous part of not having a left party- you see liberals defending Clinton and her legacy, which I think is poisonous. Sanders now refuses to critique Clinton on her leaked emails, which show her campaign colluding with the DNC to undermine his campaign. Or her Goldman Sachs speeches, which state that she has two very different political positions; a public one for the masses and a private one for the bankers. Sanders hammered her on this from the beginning, and now he’s refusing to take it up. So what message does that send? That it’s acceptable to have a corrupt party and candidate.

Most of the media discussion about the election doesn’t mention movements like Black Lives Matter and Occupy. What does the election mean for activists in these movements?

I think this is the key question. The contradictions that exist under Obama- like the war on terror, surveillance and wiretapping, the crazy wealth inequality that persists, unchecked police violence against people of color, the world’s largest prison population- these are not going away. Some social movements, like Black Lives Matter, have taken Clinton up on her legacy of promoting a racialized mass incarceration system, taking money from private prison corporations, using racist rhetoric, supporting the death penalty, which is really heartening. Usually there’s a closing of ranks around the Democratic candidate, and this year, because Sanders ran and because Clinton is so nakedly a corporate schill, there was more space to criticize Clinton from the left. And that needs to keep up, become stronger. Clinton is the favorite candidate of neoconservatives, Republican leaders, banks, lobbyists, the media. There’s a reason why George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Kagan are voting for her. So who is representing the people?

Social movements need to coalesce and build independent organizations with a long-term vision and infrastructure. We’re far from that. Part of the reason is that movements often collapse during the elections around the Democratic party. We have to be willing to call out whomever is in office. 

What needs to happen on the day after the election?

It’s the same that needs to happen up until the election. We need brutal honesty in calling out both Trump and Clinton on their agendas, both of which serve the wealthy and promote war. What we won’t tolerate in a Republican, we can never allow the Democrat to get away with, either. And unfortunately, within the two-party system, it’s almost always the case that because of the threat of the Republicans, the Democrats get away with terrible, terrible, policies. They’re more effective than the Republicans, because with the Republicans there’s an understanding that we have to oppose their policies. In the Democrats, that’s not the case. I mean, the Clintons halved the welfare roles, doubled the prison population, and deregulated the banks. Where was the left when this was happening? How could we have let that happen? That’s the importance of an independent political party that is unattached from the millionaire donors, that can advocate freely for our political agenda. Sanders’ gave us a positive example of a political platform: universal healthcare, $15 minimum wage, tuition-free public university, and so on. Unfortunately, the corporate party he is in will never allow it to come to fruition. So #investyourvote and vote Green. This year can be a significant departure from two terrible candidates.

Kathleen Brown is a US socialist living in Berlin who is active in the LINKE Berlin Internationals. The questions were asked by Phil Butland, and the interview will appear in German on the freiheitsliebe Website.