One rainy summer after noon in mid-August, Jill Stein took the stage in Roger Williams Memorial Park in Providence, Rhode Island. The Green Party Presidential candidate launched into indictments of the last two administrations, “We need to stop spending money wastefully like George Bush Jr. and President Barack Obama have done to support the military!” Stein thundered. Continuing with a list of fiscal priorities, “We need to spend money where it belongs. We need to spend it on our people in this country for affordable housing, education, jobs and on health care for the elderly and the young!” Stein demanded.
With a mother’s heart, she pleaded, “We don’t need to be sending our children off to fight and die in a foreign war. We need that to end.”
Having just accepted the Green Party’s nomination a few weeks earlier, Stein was not one to suffer fools lightly in her speech. She reminded the small umbrella clad crowd of the progressive history of United States.
“We don’t need to be struggling like we are; we need to enforce what our ancestors like George Washington and Frederick Douglas fought hard for.”
After her fiery speech, the very approachable candidate told me that she often bought Spare Change News and supported our work. Stein was in very pleasant mood because she had collected almost enough signatures to qualify for a line on the Rhode Island ballot. Like Romney and Obama, Stein is a Harvard graduate. She earned her undergraduate and medical degrees from the Ivy League institution.
Stein has used her elite medical education to advocate for the poor and vulnerable. In 1998, Dr. Stein began to see environmental injustice as a human rights issue. As politicians ignored the toxic environmental threats, Stein offered her medical expertise to community groups like Native Americans struggling to ward off toxic exposure. Her testimony before legislative bodies led to the passage of key environmental protections, particularly the environmental impact of Mercury on populations. Stein’s testimony has led to two key protections: The Massachusetts Fish Advisories was updated and the Massachusetts moratorium on new trash incinerator construction was upheld to better protect women and children from Mercury and Dioxin contamination, which can contribute to learning disabilities and attention deficit in children.
A scholar-activist, Dr. Stein co-authored two reports: “In Harm’s Way; Toxic Threats to Children’s Development”, (2000) and “Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging” (2009). Her research includes green local economies, sustainable agriculture, clean power and the assessment of toxic threats. Her scholarship has informed her political platform. “The only way to do that is if we take back the White House and make it the People’s House and a Green House.” She told the Roger William’s crowd. For Stein, a Green New Deal would facilitate a green people’s White House. Based on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal that ended the Great Depression, Stein argues that an economy focused on creating renewable energy jobs would address high unemployment, climate change and environmental issues all at once. “We need more Green Jobs and Technical Jobs to help fight unemployment throughout the United States,” she boldly proclaimed. A Stein administration would pay for the massive federally funded work program with a 30% reduction in the U. S. military budget, returning U. S. troops home, and increasing taxes on areas such as capital gains, offshore tax havens and multimillion dollar real estate, accordingly. She asserted, “We need to change the way we’re killing ourselves with polluted food, water and other products.” The millions of jobs created would lead to the creation of sustainable infrastructure based on clean renewable energy generation and sustainable community principles by increasing intra-city mass transit, inter-city railroads, bicycle and pedestrian- friendly streets combined with regional food systems based on sustainable organic agriculture.
As an advocate for campaign finance reform, Stein worked to help pass the Massachusetts Clean Election Law, which was repealed in 2003 during the Romney Administration. Her bid for the White House is not Stein’s first foray into electoral politics. Twice, she has been elected to the Town Meeting in Lexington Massachusetts. As a Green Party candidate, she ran for State Representative in 2004. Stein garnered 350,000 votes in the race for Secretary of State in 2006.
While Stein was pressing the flesh in Rhode Island, her formerly homeless running mate Cheri Honkala was speaking in Boston at the GreenFest held in Government Center. Cheri Honkala is a longtime anti-poverty advocate. Prominently featured in the 1997 book Myth of the Welfare Queen by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Zucchino, Honkala founded the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU). In 2011 she was the Green Rainbow Party candidate for Sheriff of Philadelphia, running on the promise of refusing to evict families from their homes. The road to the nomination as the Vice Presidential candidate was paved with both hardship and activism.
Born into poverty in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1963, Honkala grew up watching her mother suffer from domestic violence. As the tale often goes, her mother stayed and quietly endured this abuse for fear of losing her kids.
Eventually, Honkala was removed from the household and spent most of her youth incarcerated in as many as nine youth detention facilities. At 17, her 19-year-old brother Mark, who suffered from mental health issues, tragically committed suicide. Because he was uninsured, he could not afford to get the professional help he needed. At the time of her brother’s suicide, Honkala had given birth to a son, Mark, named after her brother.
Unable to pay her rent, Honkala and her young child were forced to move out and live in a white Camaro. Living out of her car with her infant son, Honkala graduated from high school. Their only abode was demolished by a drunk driver. At that time, shelters would not let her keep her son with her. So, they found themselves homeless in the dead of the Minnesota winter.
After moving to Philadelphia, the burgeoning activist took matters into her own hands and moved into an abandoned Housing and Urban Development home. Later she commented, “I chose to live and I chose to keep my son alive.” In a press conference she stated, “This is me, this is my 9 year old son and we’re not leaving until somebody can tell us where we can live and not freeze to death.”
Ever the in-your-face activist, Honkala is most widely known for her leadership in the winter of 1993, when homeless shelters were full. Honkala’s KWRU took over an abandoned Catholic Church to use as a shelter. She co-founded and serves as the national coordinator of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. This organization was direct response to the currently debated Welfare Reform Act, which Honkala and her comrades believed hurt the poor. To this end, the PEHRC was founded to unite the poor across color lines as the leadership base for a broad movement to abolish poverty. They work to accomplish the ambitious goal through advancing economic human rights according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the rights to food, housing, health, education, communication and a living wage employment.
Stein and Honkala’s belief in the human rights framework for social movements made them natural allies. On August 1, 2012, Honkala and Stein, also, shared a jail cell. Shortly after receiving the Green Party nomination, they were arrested with others during a protest against housing foreclosures by Fannie Mae. At press time their campaign is working feverishly to get on the ballot in several states and force the other major candidates to allow them to participate in the nationally televised debates.