Howie Hawkins is a socialist running in the US presidential election on the ticket of the Green Party. On 12 October he talked with Stephen Wood from Solidarity. Workers’ Liberty backs Hawkins in the election.
The invective of Trump is what is worse than previous incumbents. Egging on the vigilante militias. Calling the election as being fraudulent before it is even run.
People get scared and they think Hitler is on the horizon. But it is quite different. These rag tag militias aren’t going to be able to change the government. I don’t think Trump is more right-wing than some previous Republicans. His invective is certainly more inflammatory, towards women, immigrants and minorities. But it is not like an army of hundreds of thousands ready to go out and smash a strong workers’ movement. Trump is so offensive to the senses that people can get a little bit hysterical.
The polls show that, since Biden became the nominee, he is solidly ahead. He started out 4 points ahead, and by the time we got to the debate he was 7 or 8 points ahead. This is nationally and also in the so-called battleground states in 2016. He has double-digit leads in those states now.
Biden is ahead in states that used to be solidly republican like Georgia and Arizona and Texas. The whole field has shifted and now Biden is double digits ahead, nationally. The only way he can lose an election is if the Republicans stop the election, and they refuse the count of the mail-in ballots. The Democrats have a whole team of lawyers ready.
Angela Walker, my running mate, was out there on the streets demonstrating for the count in 2000, but Gore and Lieberman called people to get off the streets. This time round, it looks again like the Democrats will be focused on their legal challenge, But we will call people onto the streets. Lots of Democratic voters will want to be on the streets, especially if there is a refusal to count the mail-in ballots.
Do you think Trump will try and hold onto the Presidency whether it is close or not? Will the Democrats call people onto the streets?
Republicans have said in a state like Pennsylvania, they’ve got control of the legislature. So even if Biden wins Pennsylvania, they’re going to send electors who are pro Trump! I think legally I’m hopeful that kind of nonsense will be stopped. But we’re telling people, be prepared to go out and demonstrate, even have a general strike, to get those votes counted.
One of our arguments is you can’t count on the Democrats to fight for our rights. Their policy is to accommodate. Bill Clinton called it triangulation. Joe Biden calls it working across the aisle. And right now they’re rolling over for this nomination for Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. They could slow that down. They could impeach Trump and Attorney General Barr for undermining the election. They have chosen not to.
An impeachment proceeding would take precedence over any other proceeding in the Congress. But they don’t seem to be willing to fight back hard. The Republicans certainly are. The Democrats are not even fighting on the procedure.
The US is a real anomaly. The Organisation for Security and Economic Cooperation in Europe is contacting our campaign as part of their observation of the election. It goes back to the Helsinki Accords, which in its early years was focussed on violation of democratic norms by the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. A two-party state like the US is not much better than a one party state on some of these questions. It’s a cleverer and more stable setup, and you have the illusion of real choice. But the power structure is still set up to favour the governing parties.
How visible has your campaign managed to be while the debate is so polarised between Trump and Biden?
Ballot access is a huge problem. That’s why our ballot lines are so important. It’s thousands or tens of thousands of signatures to run in each state. The Green Party is not all we want it to be, it’s a vehicle, but at the same time people are standing on the sideline and saying, well, you’re not good enough. Trump is such a danger. We’re going to vote for this very conservative Democrat.
Biden is more conservative than Hillary Clinton, and he’s not promising anything. I thought one of the most telling things in the debate was when they were asked why should people vote for you? And Trump spouted a bunch of lies like he always does about things he had accomplished that he hadn’t. And then Biden talked about what was wrong with Trump. He never said, why vote for Joe Biden?
Millions of people will stay at home. The non-voters are the biggest bloc in the US we could mobilise. A hundred million people didn’t vote in 2016. And right now, from what people might see in the major media, you know, there’s nothing in it for them. Working-class life expectancies are in decline in this country. And Trump says he cares when he doesn’t. Most people see through that. And Biden isn’t really offering much. So it’s a pretty depressing situation.
In states like New York, we are a stronger vote against Trump. To give your vote to Biden is to strengthen him and affirm his positions, against a Green New Deal, against Medicare for all. Against scaling back our bloated military budget. You tell Biden to take it for granted. We don’t see why any self respecting progressive would vote for Biden, particularly in those states. So we are wondering where’s the left solidarity at the moment?
Has there been an increase in Green membership? Or have groups been set up that are backing your campaign, aren’t part of the Greens, but want to do something after the election?
What we found out in the course of the campaign is which people in different states really want to organise. We have a network we can build upon and go forward. And that’s going to involve ballot access, petitioning, running local candidates and helping people become better organisers.
Most Greens and most of the left, both the independent and Democratic Party orientated left, are very focussed on mobilising people for episodic demonstrations or petition drives or other campaigns, but not about going out and listening and building relationships and building real grassroots organisation.
The issue in the US is that the main parties are not membership parties. You tell the state which party you’re in. And that tells them which ballot to give you in the primary elections. And, other than that, if you’ve got an issue in your neighbourhood or your town, you don’t go to the local branch of the Democratic or Republican Party, because they don’t exist.
What we’re trying to do is organise the first membership party, which is an invention of the left like in the UK. Tories and the Whigs were built from the top down, you know, rich folks would sponsor them to mobilise the people who could vote. They weren’t a membership party.
It was the left who said you could agree to some principles, pay your dues and have your say. Support the party like you would your union. Most politics now is what you see on TV or you occasionally get a flyer in the mail, an election comes around. But other than that, people are divorced from politics.
For years now “Vote Blue, No Matter Who” has been a common refrain. It is promised that a future time is the opportunity for a third party candidate. How do you persuade the left that now is the time for an independent initiative? And how do you make sure it relates to the people who supported Sanders or who think they can see some shift in the Democrats?
Hal Draper in 1968 was right that the question itself is the disaster. What will really persuade people is if we start electing thousands of Greens to local office, and that’s a foundation for running credible state legislative and congressional campaigns, credible because people say, the Greens and the city council run the school board and they’ve done a good job.
We know what they stand for. We’ve won a few of those over the years, but we could be doing a lot more. And I think the fact that we do it undermines the lesser evil argument better than the best essay.
I’ve been pointing out that Bernie Sanders is a case in point. He was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont, as an Independent. Several times to Congress, and then a couple more times for the Senate, running as an independent. And when he tried to run as a Democrat for President, the corporate establishment Democratic Party closed ranks against him.
Hawkins was invited to share a platform with an antisemitic black nationalist organisation. Thankfully the invitation to appear on a platform with “Black Hammer” was withdrawn after a number of Hawkins supporters raised the alarm. The Ohio Green Party who had agreed to the event subsequently apologised and accepted they should have done more research before agreeing to the event.
Part 2 of this interview will appear in the next issue of Solidarity.