US Green Party presidential candidate offers socialist solutions

US Greens Party 2020 Presidential candidate Howie Hawkins. Photo: US Green Party.

The 2020 national convention of the Green Party of the United States, held online, ratified the nomination of Howie Hawkins as its candidate for President, winning 205 out of 357 total votes cast in state primaries. Angela Walker is his running mate for Vice President. Barry Sheppard interviewed Hawkins last month for Green Left.

Sheppard: Tell me about yourself.

Hawkins: I am a 67-year-old retired Teamster living in Syracuse, New York. I became active in the 1960s as a teenager in the San Francisco Bay Area in movements for civil rights, peace, unions, and the environment.

After watching the Republicans and Democrats oppose or delay civil rights in 1964 and then jointly support the escalation of the Vietnam war in 1965, I committed to independent working-class politics for a democratic, socialist and ecological society.

Since participating in its first national organising meeting in August 1984, I have been active in the Green Party. I was the first US candidate to campaign for a Green New Deal in 2010, while running for New York governor as the Green Party’s candidate. I ran again in 2014 and 2018 for governor. Each time, we received enough votes to qualify the Green Party for the New York ballot for the next four years.

How is the Green Party challenging the power of fossil fuel interests? How does your ecosocialist Green New Deal differ from that being proposed by left Democrats such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC)?

We want to socialise the whole energy sector, including the coal, oil and gas companies, in order to reinvest the earnings from fossil fuels used during the transition to clean energy in clean renewable, instead of more coal, oil and gas.

Our ecosocialist Green New Deal emphasises public enterprise and planning in the energy, transportation and manufacturing sectors in order to implement a rapid transition to zero-to-negative carbon emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030.

The Green New Deal was the Green Party’s signature issue in the 2010s. The Democrats took the slogan at the end of 2018, but diluted its content. The non-binding resolution for a Green New Deal introduced into Congress by AOC eliminated key policies in the Green Party’s Green New Deal, including a ban on fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure, a phase out of nuclear power, and deep cuts in military spending to help fund the Green New Deal. The Democrats’ Green New Deal extended the goal for zero emissions from 2030 to 2050.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has never let the House vote in the non-binding resolution, while in the Senate, all the Democrats voted “present” instead of for it, except the four Democrats who voted “no” with the Republicans. The Democrats will not enact a Green New Deal, as Biden’s pro-fossil fuels energy policies and the 2020 Democratic platform make clear.

What is the significance of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) upsurge? Are we on the cusp of a new radical movement?

The significance of the BLM upsurge is that for the first time in US history, a majority of white people support a Black-led movement against systemic racism, according to public opinion polls. We may be on the cusp of a new radical movement because so many young white people are active in BLM street demonstrations in solidarity with people of color.

Whether that movement becomes a radical movement that changes the structures of power, or a reform movement that limits itself to asking the existing power structure to change some policies, remains to be seen.

What is the attitude of the Green Party to the growing calls to defund and/or abolish the police?

We support the defund and abolition demands, but we also call for community control of the police as an indispensable demand.

The policing system we have is what the politicians – at the behest of the real estate industry of landlords, developers, lawyers and bankers that fund their political careers – designed to keep downscale people, particularly Black people, down and out of upscale communities. They police the school districts and municipal lines of the New Jim Crow of growing race and class segregation and mass incarceration. Because the police internally police themselves, they are able to get away with murders, assaults and other crimes, notably the civil asset forfeiture racket.

Community control of the police means police commissions that are publicly elected or selected from the community by lot, like juries. The police commissions would have the power to hire and fire police chiefs, set polices and budgets, and investigate and discipline police misconduct. If the BLM movement settles for reforms to policing practices, like banning chokeholds and other use of force reforms, without changing who governs the police and who they work for, police brutality and racism will continue.

We support the defund demand of divesting from police budgets and investing in community needs. We go further because there is not enough money in police department budgets to house the homeless instead of charging them with criminal offences, to provide medical treatment for the addicted instead of criminal drug charges, or to provide decent schools and health care in poor communities.

We call for defunding the military as well and investing those funds in the jobs, community-owned businesses, housing, schools and healthcare that are needed in racially-oppressed communities that have been segregated, discriminated against and exploited for generations, from slavery times right up to the present day.

Racially-oppressed communities are not only protesting police brutality and constant harassment stemming from over-policing for low-level offences and non-criminal behaviour. They are also protesting the failure of the police to solve violent and serious property crimes in their communities.

Violent crimes such as homicide, rape and assault are only 5% of arrests. Serious property crimes like burglary, larceny and car theft account for another 12%. The police only make arrests in 25% of such crimes. 60% of the victims of such crimes do not report them, often because they fear the police will charge them because they were at the scene of the crime. These communities complain that the police are always around to harass them and never around when they need them to get dangerous criminals off the street.

Abolition of policing as we know it means reimagining a public safety system that will serve and protect racially-oppressed communities instead of the existing power structure. Community control of the police is how we can do that.

What is your position on immigration?

The first act is to free the detained immigrants, let the migrants on the Mexican side of the border in, unite separated children with their parents, and help these people find housing, jobs and the services they need.

We support open borders, similar to the policy within the European Union. People should be free to go back and forth across borders for work, shopping, vacations and residence. People would check in at border crossings and unless there is a court-ordered warrant for their arrest, they would be free to go about their business.

Healthcare?

Our Medicare for All proposal is to institute a national health insurance program for all the first year, which would pay for all medically-necessary services through progressive taxes on wealth and income with no co-pays, deductibles, or other out-of-pocket expenditure at the point of service delivery.

Over the next decade, we would expand that program into a community-controlled national health service. Hospitals and clinics would be publicly-owned. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers would be salaried public employees. The whole system would be governed by publicly-elected local health boards that will federate at the state and national level for larger-scale planning and coordination.

What would you do, if you were President, about the coronavirus pandemic?

I would use the Defense Production Act to implement a federal program to test, contact trace and quarantine those infected or who have had recent contact with infected people in order to suppress community spread of COVID-19.

With the virus suppressed, we would safely re-open the economy and schools with public health measures, including masks, other personal protective equipment and social distancing.

During the emergency, I would have Congress authorise expenditures to support people’s jobs, business overheads, homes, healthcare and incomes until the emergency is over.

To pull the economy out of the COVID-19 depression, the ecosocialist Green New Deal is now needed for economic recovery as well as climate recovery.

The failure to suppress the virus in the US shows that the two governing parties are presiding over a failed state. With 4% of the world’s population, the US has over 25% of the world’s COVID-19 deaths. Trump just gave up. COVID won.

Trump is a loser. But where is Joe Biden? He lives within commuter distance of the White House press corp. As the presumptive Democratic nominee, he could command their attention at news conferences where he could mobilise public and congressional support for the test, trace and quarantine program that the country immediately needs. Instead of providing leadership and direction, he seems to be hiding in his basement.

We have repeatedly demanded a science-based and urgent response to the COVID-19 crisis in statements since March: “Redlines for Covid and Economic Recovery” (July 30), “The Moment of Truth if Now for COVID and Economic Relief” (July 20), “COVID-19 Crisis: Time For The Green Party To Step Into The Political Vacuum” (May 21), “Hawkins/Walker Calls On Congress to Enact the Green New Deal in Response to COVID-19” (May 15), “Hawkins and Walker Support Science-Based Public Health Measures in Response to Covid-19 Pandemic” (May 12), “The Fifth Coronavirus Relief Package We Need” (April 26), “Listen, Biden! Covid-19 and Medicare for All” (March 18) and “Coronavirus Crisis Demands Immediate Crash Program and Long-Term Structural Reform of the US Healthcare System” (March 3).

The Green Party describes itself as “explicitly anti-capitalist”. Are you a socialist?

I am a socialist. I support a democratic and ecological socialism. The platform of the Green Party calls for an economic alternative to both capitalism and undemocratic state-socialism. It calls that alternative “ecological socialism”, “communalism” and the “cooperative commonwealth”.

What are the Green Party’s proposals to move toward the organisation of forces for radical change, including the working class?

More than 100 million people, 42% of the electorate, did not vote in the 2016 presidential election. These people are disproportionately working class, people of colour, and young. They vote in low numbers because they are alienated from the two-party corporate state. They are the future of the Green Party if it is to become a major party and force in American politics.

Our campaign is helping our local and state affiliates to learn how to be organisers and not just activists. Greens are reliable activists. We show up. We go out and preach for the cause and mobilise those already with us.

Now we need to expand our base by working with these alienated communities the way good union and community organisers do. They don’t preach, they listen. They try to be responsive and helpful on issues of concern to these communities. They build relationships, friendships and trust.

With that approach, we can build Green Party locals in these communities that are active on the issues between elections as well as during them.

We are currently in a deep recession. What do you propose to help the working class and the oppressed?

We are campaigning for an Economic Bill of Rights that includes a job guarantee, a guaranteed income above poverty, affordable housing, Medicare for All, tuition-free public education from child care through college, and a secure retirement by doubling Social Security benefits. The Economic Bill of Rights is part of our ecosocialist Green New Deal.

The other part is the Green Economy Reconstruction Program to rebuild all of our productive sectors, including energy, transportation, manufacturing, agriculture and buildings, for zero-to-negative carbon emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030.

Our budget for that program is US$27.5 trillion over ten years and it creates over 30 million jobs primarily in construction and manufacturing. That is the public investment we need to rebuild the economy into an ecologically sustainable prosperity.

Many leftists, including people who identify as socialists, argue that Biden must be supported to defeat Trump. How do you answer them? What is your analysis of the Democratic and Republican parties?

Trump is defeating himself. COVID-19 handed him the opportunity to just follow the advice of public health experts, suppress the virus, re-open the economy safely, and be the hero of the crisis. Instead, he is so ignorant, incompetent and self-centered — even many of his supporters now see that he is a dangerous compulsive liar. He’s collapsing in the polls. He faces re-election as hundreds of thousands die from COVID-19 and millions are unemployed, are losing their employer-connected health insurance, and face eviction from or foreclosure on their homes. If the Democrats can’t beat Trump in a landslide, they can’t do anything.

The question for socialists is: are they going to vote for a socialist program or Biden’s neoliberal capitalism? Socialists who vote for Biden commit political suicide as socialists. They disappear themselves. They silence their voice. They surrender their very identity as a socialist alternative. Nobody knows a socialists’ vote for Biden was from a socialist. It’s a vote for a neoliberal warhawk. The socialism gets lost in the sauce.

Socialists can’t rely on the Democratic Party to effectively fight the right.

Democrats accommodate the Republicans. Bill Clinton called it “triangulation” and implemented Republican proposals, including the end of the federal welfare guarantee, corporate-managed trade deals, balanced-budget fiscal austerity, increased military spending, and crime bills for mass incarceration.

Joe Biden was the legislative architect of many of these policies as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. As vice president, he supported Barack Obama’s implementation of the Republican healthcare reform of public subsidies for private health insurance. As chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Biden rallied Democratic support for the Iraq War.

As vice president, he was part of the Obama administration’s policy of not prosecuting the corporate criminals who stole half of Black America’s wealth through predatory lending, foreclosures and robo-signing fraud that stole millions of homes.

Because the Obama administration did not prosecute these corporate criminals, two of the worst are now in Trump’s cabinet, Wilbur Ross at [the Department of] Commerce and Steve Mnuchin at [the department of] Treasury. Obama/Biden refused to prosecute those responsible for the policy of secret detention and torture of captured enemy combatants and alleged terrorists. Now many of those war criminals are back with the Trump administration.

Trump could have been impeached and convicted by mobilised public opinion for his mile-long rap sheet if the Democratic House was willing to show how Trump’s lawlessness, self-enrichment, contempt of Congress and abuse of power were harming workers, consumers and the environment. But Speaker Pelosi resisted a wide-ranging impeachment in order to protect her conservative Democratic members from Republican challengers.

The American left has been disappearing into the thoroughly capitalist Democratic Party since the Communist’s Popular Front in 1936 and the Socialist Party’s realignment policy in the 1950s and 1960s. They went in and never came out as a distinctive left alternative. In the absence of a broad independent left party competing for votes, the Democrats have moved steadily to the right in search of swing voters.

The Republican Party now represents a revanchist white racism that has always been a force in American politics, but is now declining as it ages out and the country moves toward a majority of people of colour. The GOP is over-represented in the states due to gerrymandered legislative districts, and the undemocratic Electoral College.

The Democrats represent the corporate and professional-managerial mainstream as a party that would sit comfortably on the centre-right of the European political spectrum. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party is allowed to make speeches, but the corporate wing makes the decisions. The mass base of both parties is the middle and upper-middle classes. The working class votes in low numbers.

The Democrats have no solutions to the life-or-death issues we face with the climate, inequality, and the new nuclear arms race. The Democrats have resisted climate action since the Clinton/Gore administration negotiated to weaken the Kyoto Protocols and then never pushed the Senate for ratification.

Forty-five years of stagnant wages and growing inequality has led to declining life expectancy in the American working class. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved its Doomsday Clock the closest it has ever been to midnight. None of the major party candidates have addressed the new nuclear arms race as the last bilateral nuclear arms treaty between the US and Russia expires next February.

The Greens offer real solutions to these problems. Real solutions can’t wait.

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