Green Party candidate speaks to policy, two-party system

What do a United Postal Service night worker from Syracuse and an elementary public school teacher working in Harlem have in common? While the answer may appear to be “very little,” in reality, this is the Green Party’s ticket for the upcoming gubernatorial elections. On September 13, the campaign came to Vassar with International Socialist Organization member Tim Koch, Alex Garcia ’18 and candidate for Lieutenant Governor Brian Jones attempting to rally listeners around the Green Party platform. In the November election, the men face incumbent Democrats Andrew Cuomo and Kathy Hochul and Republican challengers Robert Astorino and Chris Moss.

Although not in attendance on Saturday evening, this will be Howie Hawkins’ second bid for the governorship; however, he is not an inexperienced candidate. Since first entering politics as a candidate in 1993, Hawkins has run for positions such as member of Syracuse Common Council, Mayor of Syracuse, New York State Comptroller, member of the House of Representatives and Senator. Meanwhile, this will be Jones’ first electoral bid, as he has spent much of his adult life working in public education and is also a founding member of the Movement for Rank and File Educators, which serves as the Social Justices Caucus of the New York City Teacher’s Union.

Currently, the Hawkins-Jones ticket has garnered approximately seven percent of statewide votes, according to a recent poll by Siena College. According to Koch, if these statistics hold through Election Day, the pair will win the largest portion of voters for a third-party ticket in the state of New York in 100 years.

During the event, the Green Party candidate and his supporters explained their desire to split from the two-party system and associate with the Green Party. The event began with Garcia contrasting the pledges made by the President during his first inaugural address—environmentally, militarily and economically–with the last six years of governmental actions.

Garcia asked, “What would be the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats? It’s not very much. They are both heavily influenced by corporate money. They both supported mass surveillance through the Patriot Act, which has arguably gotten worse under Obama. They both supported wars; again, drone violence has gotten worse under Obama as well.”

She continued, “So, are they better than the Republicans? Sure. But I also think that the Democrats have also made it harder for us to start social movements.”

Garcia blamed what she perceives to a stunting factor for social movement on the two-party system, which leaves voters afraid to abandon traditional parties for fear a better-funded candidate with which they more fundamentally disagree will win. All three speakers also argued that the Democratic and Republican parties have both failed to enact any progressive changes, thus necessitating the action of alternative politics.

Jones also explained the discrepancy in funding between traditional parties and third-party candidates. Jones said, “We had, by July, roughly the same number of human beings giving us money as were donating to Cuomo. The same number of people, just under 1,000 at that moment…A teamster and a teacher got the same number of people to donate as the sitting governor of the state of New York.”

He continued, “The other fun fact that the filing revealed was that his average contributor gave about $7,000. That was the average. Our average contributor gave about $75.”

Jones then argued that this difference significantly impacts the results of elections. He noted, “It’s completely rigged against third party candidates who are not endorsed by millionaires.”

After explaining his and Hawkins’ motivations for and challenges with running on a third-party ticket, Jones explained some of the central aspects of the Green Party’s gubernatorial platform, the Green New Deal. According to their official platform, the Green New Deal combines socialist principles, government programming and alternative economic regulations. The candidates support increasing the state minimum wage to $15 per hour, a single-payer and publicly-funded healthcare program, divestment from Israel and a temporary ban on house foreclosures. Their website also states that the candidates advocate for “a state-funded and locally-planned full employment program.”

Another central aspect of Jones’ speech at Vassar, and his election campaign in general, was education reform. The Green Party candidates support free tuition to state-run institutions of higher education. Jones said, “I feel like the generation that’s coming up now is coming up into a circumstance where your working life puts you very prone to the employers. You graduate from college; you do everything you are supposed to do. You stayed in school…And then where are you going to be? Then you are going to be, many of you, tens of thousands of dollars in debt.”

Jones argues this makes recent graduates entirely subordinate to employers in order to pay off their debt. In order to prevent the high levels of student debt. Jones also argued that providing free higher education for public institutions would force other private institutions–Vassar included–to reconsider, and potentially lower, their tuition fees in order to compete.

Criminal justice and the prison industrial complex also serve as an obvious location of difference between the Green Party and the traditional political parties. Aside from promoting the legalization of marijuana, the pair would seek to pay reparations for those previously incarcerated for owning or distributing the drug. Reparations, Jones explained, would prevent further racial segregation because people of color have been disproportionately incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses, but white business owners will likely be the largest producers of newly-legalized marijuana.

The candidates’ attitudes towards issues of fracking and climate change also served as a significant talking point at the event. Koch explained, “What we now know, thanks to science, is that we are basically walking head-long into an ecological catastrophe. Like I said, this isn’t much up for to debate. But what some of the forecasts are saying is that if radical change does not occur, if we do not change our behavior on a global basis, we are going to see dramatic destabilization to our ecosystems.”

Koch noted that in 2012, the United Nations published a report stating that each year, approximately 300,000 people die directly due to climate change, and that another global report estimates 30 million people were displaced due to climate change that year.

Koch said, “On climate change, Republicans are like lunatic deniers who say that there is no problem. Well, the Democrats aren’t quite that crazy, at least not most of them. They said ‘Well, no, climate change is real. We need to address it.’ The problem is…the same companies who fund the Republicans fund the Democrats. So they may say a good game, like Barack Obama did in 2008 when he talked about climate change, when in reality their purse strings are controlled.”

He continued, “The only candidate [standing] who wants to ban fracking permanently is Howie Hawkins, and Brian Jones.” The Green Party candidates not only support a permanent ban on fracking, but also a total state-wide divestment from fossil fuels by 2030.

Despite receiving support from the speakers and the audience, the discussion also turned to casting doubt on the electoral viability of Hawkins and Jones. As third-party candidates, Jones and his colleagues acknowledged that their campaign will almost certainly lose.

As Garcia noted, “Voting is not unimportant, but the idea that we will simply vote ourselves out of this crisis is naive. It’s naïve if you believe that voting for the Green Party will be successful as well.” However, Garcia used her intended Green Party vote to explain the virtue of anyone voting for probable electoral losers. She said that her vote would show both Republicans and Democrats that she has alternative ideas about what politics in America should look like, and that, when combined with the many other Green Party voters, elected officials may begin to understand and respond to the shifting values of their constituents.

Jones told the audience, “This whole campaign is just one thing to do on the way to what I hope will be real liberation, real freedom for all of us. It’s just a way to get chink in their armor, mud in their eye, a dent in their system, and hopefully be some kind of strength for us, a kind of platform for us to say all the things that we are saying but to say them louder and to say them on television…We are not running in this to become a new elite. We are running this to raise up our movements, of whatever size.”

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