'Radical to the Root'
Q: How do you get even the first steps to electoral reform? What's the hook that gets either major party to go for you?
Fair enough. We have seen examples where winner-take-all election systems have been successfully challenged throughout the world. This is one of the things that gets me jazzed up. Every single time successful electoral reform happens it was because there was an alternative political party that refused to go away.
They said, look, what you call spoiling we call participating. We're going to exercise our democratic rights to participate. If you think our participation is spoiling, then the solution to the problem cannot be to restrict our voice or prevent voters' choice. The solution is to change the voting system. Everywhere there has been change in the voting system, it's because there was a tenacious political party--actually on the left and the right--that refused to go away.
The Libertarian Party is there and has demonstrated that. The Green Party, really for the first time in 2000, is at the level where we're being noticed. The Libertarians have been around for two and a half decades in a fairly visible way. Enter us. So I'm actually seeing the ingredients for the recipe for the first time. Now, putting them together means we have to run candidates for office.
Every time a progressive Democrat laments to me or wails or screams at me, I very calmly say, "I appreciate where you're coming from but, you know what, we're going to keep doing what we're doing and we're growing." We are getting larger and stronger and better organized with every election cycle. If you really think our growing strength is a problem, then the solution is to work together to change the voting system. Every rank-and-file Democrat that I've explained instant-runoff voting to was excited about it. What we have to do is demonstrate that there's a problem, and the solution is instant-runoff voting. I look forward to San Francisco, where they are actually using instant-runoff voting in this election cycle.
Q: The solidarity with labor and emphasis in your platform on working people's concrete, immediate stuff--are those issues a recent change or coming from you?
Well, I'm one of them, Bill, I'm proud to say. I'm the only presidential candidate in this election who grew up in a house without a flush toilet. I don't say that to get a pat on the head but to underscore that I grew up in poverty--real poverty--and my running mate [Pat LaMarche] grew up in a public housing project in Providence, Rhode Island. So when I rail against the corporate capitalist system that oppresses workers, I'm speaking from my own experience. I've seen it up close and personal. I've been a dishwasher, a construction worker, a deckhand on shrimp boats, a waiter in restaurants. I know what Barbara Ehrenreich writes about in Nickel and Dimed.
You know, the Green Party is really composed mostly of working-class people. The constant refrain is that Greens are nothing more than upper-middle-class environmentalists, but you know what, that's the Sierra Club, not the Green Party. The Green Party is actually composed of working-class people. And I'm personally proud of the fact that early in my Green Party days I helped to bring together radical environmentalists from the Earth First! movement with the steel workers who were both fighting a mutual enemy, Charles Hurwirtz of the Maxxam Corporation. I don't think I did it, but I was one small part of helping to bring those folks together and create what now is known as the Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Environment.
There are no good-paying jobs on a dead planet. Finding the kind of solidarity around issues of mutual concern is the key to real movement building. I did learn that working on Jesse Jackson's campaign, by the way. As a white person, I learned how to put myself under the leadership of persons of color. As a man, I learned to put myself under the leadership of women. Jesse in that campaign demonstrated to me the profound power of true partnership coalition, when constituencies come together and are willing to give a little to win a lot.
So I'm proud that the Green Party's platform really fuses the concerns for working people--tangible benefits right now--with the sense of ecology that the Greens have always had.