Editor’s note: This one on one interview was conducted on Monday, Nov. 19, 2018 during a visit by Jill Stein to Fresno State. Stein is a former presidential candidate for the Green Party. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Are you confident in the direction that the country is going in right now? Given all the issues that we see.
“I’m very happy that the stranglehold of Trump has been broken, particularly in the House and several important governorships and in several state houses. But when you think about where did this right-wing extremism come from – it came from the fact that working people have really been thrown under the bus as well as immigrants for that matter and hardworking farmworkers … This has gone on very much under Barack Obama, under Bill Clinton, under George Bush – it’s really been a bipartisan crisis.
“That has brought us to very difficult circumstances for working people that have led some into this very destructive mindset which is where this extremism, this worsening of racism and xenophobia, it comes from this kind of sickness that is going on right now that is not uncommon. These are the conditions that produce fascism – when people feel really threatened and have a very hard time surviving, so we don’t want to go back to more of that.
“We’re seeing a lot of that right now in the Central Valley. We’re seeing a surge of progressivism and that’s really great. It’s really important, I think, that we keep the heat on and that we liberate the power of our vote. There is a key voting reform … with Rank Choice Voting, if your first choice loses, your vote is automatically assigned to your second choice, so it’s never a so-called wasted vote, it’s never a split vote and you can be sure that whoever gets elected has majority support.
“Right now, when people get into the lesser evil thing, they try to silence other points of view as if that’s a bad thing. Democracy depends on political opposition and vigorous debate and if you have more voices you’re going to have better choices. In the last presidential election, the two main candidates were the most disliked and untrusted in our history. It was a very screwed up election, no wonder it had such a screwed up result. We need elections we can bring our values into the voting booth. Instead of voting against the person you hate, you can vote for the person you like. Democracy needs a moral compass, it needs a vision forward.
“A free and open press is our first amendment for good reason. You can’t have a democracy without an informed electorate. So we need more choices and we need to liberate the press. We need more local and small press that’s not all consolidated into these big corporate behemoths that don’t allow full coverage. We also need open debates … The people who aren’t voting, that’s 100 million, we know that’s largely black and brown voters, millennial and the poor. They’re not voting because the establishment party is not serving black, brown, poor and millennial people. This is how we revive a democracy. It’s not rocket science.
What are your thoughts on the president, who attacks the free press. Recently with Jim Acosta, they revoked his press access. But what are your thoughts on Trump’s attacks on the press?
This is intolerable, but it’s part of his attacks on our basic rights and civil liberties. An attack on our press is an attack on our democracy. We need more diversity in our press, we need more than CNN and MSNBC and FOX. We have a very deep crisis within our press to start with and Trump is certainly adding to that crisis. I think we need to break up the big media monopolies. I think we need to provide public funding and support for small media, independent, and community media. We used to have lots of community newspapers, we don’t have them anymore.
We should not be allowing the consolidation of the press that’s taken place. The right of the press has been attacked in many other ways by democratic administrations too … The press is very much under attack … our other first amendment rights are also under attack. That is our rights to be free of censorship. Also our rights to demonstrate and to seek redress of grievances through public protest – that too is very much under threat.
I want to get your thoughts on the concept of ‘fake news.’ In the 2016 election we saw so many fake news stories, stuff that was made up, memes that were posted on social media like Facebook. Then there were the accusations that the Russians were involved in the meddling. What are your thoughts on 1. The reports that the Russians were meddling in the elections and 2. The spread of fake news that was rampant.
“If you look at why fake news spreads, it has to do a lot with the algorithms of Facebook. Facebook is made to promote this stuff. At the end of the day, what Congress concluded was that Russians were ‘sowing discord’ and I think even the Mueller commission in their indictments didn’t claim that the election was changed but rather that the discord was being sown. There’s so many other things that are sowing discord too. If you look at, well, what promoted Trump? The discord was on both sides. It’s not clear that Russian discord promoted Trump. So why were the Russians just promoting discord? Facebook is promoting discord. Cambridge Analytica has been found to be promoting discord through some very sophisticated tools that make Russian strategies look like kindergarten work.”
Some of these numbers were really taken out of context, including by the news media who don’t know a lot about this stuff and framed it in a really ridiculous way in order to join the bandwagon and fan the flames of warmongering and this kind of McCarthyite new phase that we are in again, which is really dangerous and kind of foolish. The so called data is not going to hold up when it really gets scrutinized in the context of how incredibly volumonus the volume of Facebook and Twitter are. What was attributed to the Russian research agency is minute in the true ocean of Facebook communications and other social media.”
So you don’t think that the Russians had anyhing to do with the meddling because Facebook is way bigger than the Russian research agency?
“It would be very naive to think that the Russians are doing no meddling. They’re certainly doing some because that’s what we do to each other … It’s the U.S. that really leads the world in meddling, and it’s not always just by propaganda. Often it’s by violence or outright military coups. We do a lot of election meddling and none of this is OK.
“We’re ramping up the war mindset here, for something that we do as well. That’s not so smart. This is a problem, election interference is a problem, whether it’s meddling with troops or meddling with social media, it shouldn’t be done, but you can’t point the finger at the other guy when you’re doing it too. We need international dialogue and treaties to end election interference and respect national sovereignty.”
Do you think we’ll get that?
“Not in the current administration. But I also don’t think we’re going to get affordable college, we’re not going to get decent jobs, we’re not going to get healthcare … That’s what elections are about, you can have systemic change but it would require real mobilization. That’s kind of what the long term work is and the short term work for that matter –- I think that we really need to unleash the power of the votes. We need something that is going to put people over profit and create a world that we can live in. We are losing that world very quickly.”
The president constantly acts in ways that appear he’s attacking the Mueller investigation. Some are saying that by removing Jeff Sessions, that’s just another example. What are your thoughts on the Mueller investigation and then also the apparent attacks by the president?
“The Mueller investigation needs to go forward. It would be outrageous if Trump tries to interfere with it and it will be dangerous if that happens and it will probably force a constitutional crisis if he does that. It’s clear that he’s going off the charts right now because Mueller and Congress are talking about looking at his tax returns. This is where the very clear cut corruption lies. It’s not clear that there’s any collusion with Russia (between Trump and Russia), there certainly isn’t any hard evidence, but is there evidence of other violations of law on the part of Trump – corruption, money laundering and so on. These are not so easy to prove but they may come up. There are questions about, was that the scope of the commission but if you look at the original letter creating the commission it was wrongdoing and illegal acts including Russian collusion but not strictly limited to that at least that’s my reading of it. I think Trump has a lot to hide and he should not be allowed to single handedly interfere with a duly-constituted commission. The commission has to go forward. I’m not confident they’re going to find collusion but a president should not be allowed to interfere with a congressional inquiry.”
Earlier you mentioned that environmental crises cause disruption in central America.
Environmental and war and death squads.
And so we’re seeing a lot of people come over.
Right, these are refugees.
Can I get your thoughts further on the caravan that’s in Tijuana right now and the hysteria that’s being caused by people who are thinking this is an invasion. Do you consider this an invasion?
“Absolutely not. These are refugees who are created by U.S. policies – whether they are economic policies that devastated these economies like NAFTA put a million farmers out of business in Mexico … and then we just have a whole history of coups, death squads, just harassment of democracies as well south of the borders, plus our drug wars and our exporting of weapons and violence … If people don’t like this immigration crisis, how about we stop causing it in the first place. That’s what we need to do. In the meantime, we have a responsibility to support the refugees. This is what international law is about and we need to welcome refugees and help restore them to wholeness here. We not only have to stop causing this crisis but we really need a Marshall Plan to help restore central and south America to its rightful security after centuries of colonialism as well as corporate invasion and coups … This is the fruit of our own planting, these are seeds we have sown and we need to turn this around and create conditions of health and justice and sustainability.”
Does that include letting the migrants into the U.S.?
“Absolutely, yes. Clearly, this migrant caravan is largely refugees coming largely from Honduras as I understand. But these are clearly refugees and the notion that his is something to be afraid of is shameful. This is nothing but blatant, the lowest form of electioneering and immigrant bashing on the part of Trump in order to rile up his base. The surge we have seen in racism and xenophobia and anti semitism and violence clearly falls on his hands, that’s blood on his hands.”
“Yea, for Donald Trump. There’s no question that there’s been a surge in racism since the Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign began. This is really dangerous and it makes it extremely important for us to not only address the plight of refugees and stop causing the refugee crisis but we also have to address the roots of fascism here in this country. It’s not only by throwing out the bombs like Donald Trump who are demagogues really trying to promote their own political careers on the basis of fear and insecurity on the part of large numbers of Americans, particularly white middle class Americans whose status has been markedly worsened under the Obama administration and a little bit before. The last couple decades have been very hard on white, working class, middle aged people who have a high school education or less. They had a huge cut in their status.”
“That’s especially where the flames of racism are being fanned. It’s really important that we provide jobs that we provide healthcare and economic security to not only to immigrants and the unemployed and the poor, but also the marginally employed right now. That’s how you sort of heal the wounds that otherwise become fascism.”
If Jill Stein would have won in 2016, where would we be right now if you were president?
“A Green New Deal would be underway, we’d have a massive emergency jobs program so people would be a work. They would have good jobs in their communities, not working for big corporations that take the money and run but where profits are being reinvested back into the community. We would be phasing out fossil fuels right now, we would have a bonanza of good jobs with good pay in clean renewable energy and sustainable agriculture and public transportation and restoring our ecosystems. And we would be decompressing our military and engaging in diplomacy as our basic foreign policy instead of what we have right now which is economic and military domination that doesn’t help us and really doesn’t help the rest of the world. And we would have medicare for all, which can be created very quickly and becomes a money saver right away. And we would be making college education free.
That’s what would be happening if you would have been president?
Do you plan to run anytime in the future, 2020 possibly?
“Well, I’m going to run for something, I’m not sure yet what makes more sense for me to run for. (I am) talking about it and seeing where’s the need and how can I best serve at this point?
I don’t mean to offend you with this question, but some people argue that the Green Party was just thrown in there to make the Democrats lose and to make Donald Trump win and then they connect it to the Russians as well. There’s a picture of you in Russia with Michael Flynn and Vladimir Putin that fans those claims. How do you respond to those thoughts or ideas?
“The Green Party is a global party and our agenda here in the U.S. is not any different from the other progressive parties around the world. We have been doing this for decades, so to say all of a sudden to try to blame us on Vladimir Putin is a joke. It’s worse than a joke. It’s just, this is sort of what the lowest form of political suppression is – to say that all my opponents are tools of a foreign power. That’s sort of what the democrats are trying to do here because they’re insecure. They had a candidate that was not well-liked and those emails got leaked or hacked, we don’t have definitive evidence yet as to how they got leaked and hacked, but it exposed election interference on the part of the democrats. Now they have to create a panic that a foreign power is interfering. ‘Don’t look at our interference,’ we just negated some 40-50 million votes for Bernie Sanders. We essentially made those votes meaningless by saying that the DNC run by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Hillary Clinton ally, got to control the primary, that it wasn’t in the hands of voters. Where’s that at? They were promoting Donald Trump among their media context. That’s a lot of election interference.
How about the election interference from the big media? Like Les Moonves, the head of CBS, who said ‘Donald Trump may be bad for America but he’s damn good for CBS,’ because he would draw in a lot of viewers through his outrageousness. That’s kinda election interference when big media is giving $6 billion dollars in free primetime air coverage to Donald Trump, $3 billion to Hillary and about half of that to Bernie Sanders and virtually none to non-corporate political parties. That’s interference. That tilts the playing field as steeply as it could be tilt. Yea, you want to talk about election interference, let’s talk about election interference, not this photograph of a dinner of a conference.
“I was at this conference, which was public, I didn’t get a dime of Russian money, so I’m not on the take from anybody. The conference was a conference on foreign policy, so it was my opportunity to say ‘Hey, bombing Syria is not a good idea and Russia, you’re following in the footsteps of U.S. foreign policy here and that’s sort of catastrophic.’ We need a cease fire and we need a weapons ban to the Middle East. How’s that being in the camp of Putin? That’s not being in the camp of Putin. I happened to be at that table, but I didn’t have an opportunity to speak to Putin. I wish I had, but there was no interpreter and the Russians were no interested in talking to anybody else.
Did you speak to Michael Flynn at all? You both speak English.
“Yea, so he introduced himself to me. But at the time, he was nobody. He wasn’t working for Trump. He had been head of military intelligence or something like that under Obama. When he was fired, he sort of became a peace advocate or something. He was just fishing around trying to find a place for himself, it was really kind of sad. RT invited him. It was a conference with RT. They had invited him because he seemed like he was not part of the anti-Russian mindset. There were a number of foreigners at the table. Not Michael Flynn, but the others of us, there was a foreign minister from the Czech Republic and a foreign minister from Germany. He was the only person from within earshot that spoke English. So I spent the evening talking to him but that’s it. Michael Flynn introduced himself and I gave him my elevator speech on why I was there and he wasn’t interested at all. The conversation ended after about one sentence and he went back to his side of the table. When Putin came in, he wasn’t there for very long. He’d came basically to make a speech. He wasn’t interested in talking to anybody so I didn’t have a chance to give him my elevator speech about why we needed a cease fire and a weapons ban.”
Did you go as Jill Stein, or did you go as Jill Stein from the Green Party?
“So, I at the time had announced an exploratory presidential campaign, but RT refused to include that. So I was just Jill Stein, former presidential candidate. They didn’t want to give me any publicity or promotion as a candidate. It’s preposterous to say that this is a product of Russian interference, in the least … If people are looking for Russian interference, they don’t have to look too far. If they try looking at my campaign, there’s absolutely none. All they have is a picture of me at a table. Well, there are lots of pictures of Hillary talking one on one, actually talking, with Vladimir Putin. So this is just a concocted smear campaign. The Democrats see the Greens as their competitors so they are trying to smear us as Russian tools. But there is zero evidence.”
Did you end up giving a speech at the conference?
“I was on the foreign policy panel. Which is why I went – to give my pitch about why we need a peace offensive in the Middle East and that bombing Syria was absolutely the wrong thing to do, which Russia had just begun doing. That was my pitch. I also talked, not in that speech, but I had the chance to talk to a member of the Russian parliament and there I also pitched a Green New Deal, why we need a global Green New Deal and why Russia should work with the U.S. to phase out fossil fuels – which is a very hard thing for Russia to do because their economy is totally dependent on it. They have very little else. In other words, this wasn’t kissing up to Russia, or promising them something, but rather laying out another way forward … Nuclear weapons was another thing, why need to get back on track and dismantle our nuclear weapons and phase them out quickly. Unfortunately, Democrats are leading the charge right now against Russia and we are losing our treaties and entering into extremely dangerous territory right now. That’s another reason why in my view it’s really important that this is an all hands on deck moment. We are kind of making a beeline toward oblivion right now and we really need a deep system change so that we can move these solutions forward.
And your presence here in front of all these students today, is that sort of a way to start building a bigger movement in the Central Valley for your party?
“Yes, absolutely. I was here with many other local activists. Some are Green, some are sort of like leaning in Green right now. I think this is a big tipping point moment. We’re at the breaking point moment and we’ve got to change that breaking point into a tipping point. It’s about fighting Big Ag and making sure that we have water supply and healthy food that doesn’t make us sick and doesn’t make farm workers sick and that doesn’t create an economy which is devastating. The Big Ag economy, like the fuel economy puts money in the hands of a few important people and everybody else is really driven down into incredible poverty. This is just not workable and people are feeling that. People are getting supercharged right now. It’s very exciting.”
Do you think there’s an opportunity right there for the Green Party to grow?
“Absolutely, huge. And we’re seeing a lot of interest. Actually, our numbers are going up in many states as well. We were completely locked out of the media and out of debates. There’s this myth out there that ‘Oh, everybody has to vote democrat because this is the most important election ever but of course the next one, things will be even worse so ‘Oh, in this election you just have to hold your nose and vote democrat.’” “Democrats are not going to solve this, they’re going to keep fanning the flames of rightwing extremism as people continue to be thrown under the bus by the neoliberal agenda. The money continues to tie the democrats to neoliberal or centrist agenda. Basically it’s a corporatist agenda. That’s not going to help students, that’s not going to help working people. Our environment is going down in flames right now. Jobs continue to trend to low wage, part time, gig economy. It’s not going to get better and the emergency is going to grow. It cannot be solved within the two-party tailspin. I think people are sort of waking up that this is a breakaway moment.
If you decide to run for something, when would you announce?
“I will be in the thick of it one way or another. Whether I run for Congress or possibly state rep or something, or president, I don’t know yet. Those discussions are just beginning. We were totally focused on the midterms. I’ve just been trying to help other candidates move up. That was another one of the myths out there. That, ‘Oh, the Green party shows up every four years and they try to run for president as a tool of Russia or whatever.’ Actually, that’s a very ignorant thing to say because we’re all about grassroots stuff and running for local office and we were really shut out in this election. Many of our candidates are getting more and more votes. So, let me turn it back on you, should I run?”
Well, that’s a question for you to answer. I’m here to ask you the questions. But I’m sure the people in this room are waiting on that announcement from you.
“Well, we’ll let you know.”