HOWIE HAWKINS, the veteran activist and Green Party leader from New York, is running for the U.S. Senate as an alternative to pro-war Democrat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Opinion polls show that among independent voters, Hawkins has nearly as much support as Clinton’s Republican opponent John Spencer. But the political and media establishments are shutting out the Hawkins campaign. On October 22, Hawkins and his supporters will gather outside the WABC Studios in Manhattan to protest Hawkins’ exclusion from that morning’s Senate candidates’ "debate."
Hawkins talked to Socialist Worker’s DANNY KATCH about what he hopes to accomplish in his campaign.
WHY ARE you running against Hillary Clinton?
TO GIVE a voice to the antiwar majority in New York. Clinton has voted for all of Bush’s requests for war powers and funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The majority of New Yorkers want out of Iraq, and that’s what I want. I want to give voice to that majority of New Yorkers.
Secondly, I want to call for a national health insurance plan so everybody’s covered. That’s something that Clinton stopped in 1993 when she was put in charge of the White House health care task force, and she took it off the table and went with what I call compulsory private health care, mandating subsidies to private health insurance. This is what was called "Hillary Care," and it’s now the Massachusetts plan, which she endorsed.
It’s inefficient, and it gives more money to the inefficient private health care industry. I’m for an efficient public health care system. I want to introduce companion legislation to HR 676, which is the "Expanded and Improved Medicare for All" bill.
Finally, I’m calling for renewable energy for jobs, peace and the environment. I want to take $300 billion from the military budget and put it into rebuilding the world’s infrastructure around renewable energy. That would create millions of jobs around the world, including hundreds of thousands here in New York.
It would do more for world peace and national security than all the arms in the world, because right now, we’re occupying other countries to get their resources, particularly oil, and creating resentment. What we should do is disarm our enemies with generosity. We should spread goodwill instead of resentment, and make friends instead of enemies. This program would do that.
Finally, it would deal with the crisis of global warming and the potential peaking of oil production, which will have dire consequences for our economy as well as the environment.
YOU’RE RUNNING on a platform of immediate withdrawal from Iraq. There are many people who opposed the invasion of Iraq, but say that the U.S. can’t withdraw immediately. How do you respond?
ONE OF the people who made that argument was John Kerry. He should have gone back and listened to his testimony when he was in Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He said, "Who wants to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
If the conclusion is that we shouldn’t be there because it’s wrong to colonize countries for military bases and resources, then we should get out.
The reality is that U.S. troops can’t play a constructive role under any circumstances in Iraq. Iraqis are angry at us for occupying their country, for torturing their people in places like Abu Ghraib, for the incidents of murder and rape that are widely publicized among Iraqis. They don’t see us as liberators. They see us as occupiers, and we’re the targets of the majority of the violence taking place in Iraq.
So we can’t play a constructive role there in any way. What we can do is, once we leave, provide funds for reconstruction through any international channels that the Iraqis ask for. We owe Iraq reparations.
We stepped in when the British couldn’t maintain colonial domination, supporting people like Saddam Hussein, who attacked the left and later attacked Iran on our behalf. Later, we bombed the hell out of Iraq in the first Gulf War, bombed the hell out of them again under Clinton in Operation Desert Fox in 1998, and then fully occupied the country in an even bigger unleashing of violence in 2003.
My answer is that you can’t expect the soldiers to stand around being targets for a mission we’re abandoning–a mission that was wrong in the first place. It wasn’t about weapons of mass destruction, it wasn’t about terrorism, it wasn’t about democracy.
We have to realize that the demand for getting the troops out is something a majority of Americans agree with; that 72 percent of the troops agree with, according to the Zogby poll last spring; and that the majority of Iraqis agree with, according to polls taken in June by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.
So it’s time to get out, and get out now.
THERE’S A saying that criticism of Israel is the third rail of American politics. You’ve not only spoken out against the war on Lebanon, but have called for an end of U.S. funding for Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Why have you taken this stand?
BECAUSE IF you’re going to have peace, you’ve got to have justice, and the Palestinians haven’t had any justice since 1948.
I remember as a little kid seeing pictures of refugee camps and thinking, "Jeez, that’s been going on for 10 years, since the 1950s." And here we are, generations later, and it’s still happening.
My position is that the U.S. should withdraw military and economic aid from Israel until it agrees to the UN resolutions under which they would withdraw to their 1967 borders–UN resolutions 338 and 442.
In the meantime, we should recognize the elected government of the Palestinian territories, which includes Hamas, whose politics I don’t agree with, but that’s who was elected. If you believe in democracy, you’ve got to deal with who the people elected.
We should be a neutral broker, not a one-sided supporter of Israel in any negotiations we help set up. And when they come to an agreement, which will probably be a two-state solution, we should get all the international community on board.
What has undercut the possibility for a settlement has been the extreme right on both sides. Those are minorities. If you survey both Israelis and Palestinians, the majority still wants a peaceful settlement and recognition of the other side.
Personally, I think a two-state solution may not be viable in the long run because of the limited territory for economic viability for the Palestinian side, the fact that they’ve given up so much, and the fact that Israel has discrimination built into their laws. On the other hand, I’m willing to accept progress and not perfection.
So if the Palestinians and Israelis are willing to accept a two-state solution, I think we should back that. They need a cooling-out period, because what’s been going on has been so tragic and made people so bitter.
Those are some of the things I think we could do. But what’s alarming is our willingness to back Israel on whatever it does. The U.S. policy has been "we support Israel right or wrong," and that’s wrong.
YOU’RE A Teamster and a worker at UPS. Has your campaign been able to attract any labor support?
THE SUPPORT I’m getting is strictly rank and file. I showed up at a labor picnic in Rochester that the Teamsters up there put on. The officials told me I had a lot of guts showing up at their event.
But out of that, I met another guy who’s in Teamsters for a Democratic Union. He’s now working on my campaign up in Rochester. I marched in the Labor Day parade at the state fair, and the central labor council president had to acknowledge my presence as a candidate, even though none of them are officially supporting me.
The fact that I’m a Teamster caught the eye of people, like the guy up in Rochester. He took my flyer and called me up right away, before I even got home, and said, "I didn’t know you were in TDU. Call me back."
WHY RUN against Hillary Clinton as a Green? Why didn’t you challenge her in the Democratic primary?
DEMOCRATS ARE a dead end for any kind of progressive social change in this country. When people try to reform the Democratic Party, they get caught in internal fights with the corporate wing, which is out of public view for the most part.
You end up debating whether you can get time on the state convention platform, for example–as Jonathan Tasini tried and failed to do in New York. Most people don’t even know that fight went on. They don’t know that Clinton excluded him.
People get treated badly inside the Democratic Party, and they keep coming back for more punishment. On the outside, the majority of people are with us on issues like getting out of Iraq, national health care, a serious energy policy.
We’ll do better organizing independently around the issues they already support than we will trying to take them into the Democratic Party, and fighting with the corporate Democrats–which means ending up in behind-the-scenes fights that the public never sees.
So there’s no point going into the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is addicted to corporate campaign cash, and expecting them to get us out of Iraq is like expecting crack addicts to turn in their dealers. The corporations want to the U.S. military to be a global occupation force to protect their access to markets, cheap labor and resources like oil. That’s not in the interest in the American people.
We need a people’s party that won’t take corporate money. The Greens are trying to be that, so that’s why I’m taking that route.
WHAT DO you say to those who argue that there’s no point in running against Clinton because it’s such a long shot for you to beat her?
WE HAVE to have dissent, even if we can’t win. We have to build for the future even if we can’t win now.
There’s a lot of potential in this race. A Zogby poll that showed that 32 percent of people would vote for an unnamed antiwar candidate versus only 38 percent for Clinton–21 percent said they were unsure, and 10 percent said someone else, which means the Republican. In a 5 million-vote election, 32 percent translates into 1.5 million votes.
So there’s enormous potential, and we have to do what we can to reach those people. If we get them to vote for us, that will build our presence in the future.
YOU JUST edited a book called Independent Politics, about the Green Party and the 2004 election. What’s the relevance of a book about a debate that took place mostly within the Green Party two years ago?
I COVER the debate in the Green Party, but also some of the other documents in the peace movement and the left generally. It’s an old debate on the American left. Since the labor movement and the Communists basically turned to the Democratic Party beginning in 1936, the idea of an independent politics or labor party, which went back to Reconstruction and the Populist Party and the Socialist Party of Debs, has been sidelined. At that time, it was an open question whether the left should go independent or inside the lesser evil. At the time, they weren’t sure which the lesser evil was–more likely the Republicans, you had progressive Republicans like Lafollette. That whole discussion was open until 1936.
Until the Green Party, we haven’t had an opening outside the Democrats since. There were early efforts like the Peace and Freedom Party in 1968, the People’s Party in the early 1970s, and then the Greens starting in 1984. I see them as an expression in the political arena of the social movements that came out of the 1960s. It’s a New Left type of formation. So I think this isn’t a debate that just happened in the Green Party in 2004–it’s a perennial debate in American politics. It’s a debate we’ll return to in 2008, and we’re hearing about in 2006. There are a lot of people on the left saying, "If we could only a elect a Democratic Congress, everything will change." Of course, not much will change. It will be a little different, but not fundamentally. The issues we’re talking about: ending the Iraq war, national health care, a serious energy policy–those issues won’t be on the agenda just because the Democrats win Congress.