Political Medicine - An Interview With Dr. Jill Stein

Caitlin Johnstone

I recently had the privilege of interviewing one of the brightest lights of our times, Dr. Jill Stein. Over the course of our discussion I was profoundly humbled, deeply impressed, educated and surprised, and I even picked up a few vocabulary words while transcribing this interview along the way. Here at Inquisitr I've often spoken about the way the press has treated Dr. Stein, so for our interview, I thought it would be nice to give her a chance to freely discuss the things America wants to hear about, without any interruption, badgering or gotcha journalism. So here she is, in her own words.

JS: Thank you. I've got to say, it's so exciting to see people coming out of the woodwork who are just not going to be intimidated and silenced. We're defying the usual behavior of third parties; you know usually, the numbers go down as you get closer. We're definitely not going down. Today a CBS poll said we were at four percent, and this is in a poll that systematically undercounts our base of millennials and disenfranchised voters and immigrants and so on, even independents are very much under-counted in their stock, so it suggests that we are defying the usual trend here. Which says that there's a real wake-up going on, and there's a real firm commitment here that is just not going to be scared out of what we have to do.

CJ: Well it reverses the trend of fear, doesn't it? We're seeing people actually get braver as it comes up to the election, rather than more fearful.

JS: Exactly. It's so amazing.

CJ: It really is amazing! It's blowing wide open. So, I'm really interested in your concept of "political medicine." That phrase sparked something in me when I first hear you say it, because I'm interested in word medicine. When that idea first occurred to you? Was there a particular moment or a patient of yours? What happened there?

JS: Well it's hard to say when I recognized what was going on, but a long time ago I found myself just really anguished practicing medicine in a box. Because we don't get sick in a box, we get sick out there in the real world, and I felt like I was giving people pills and pushing them back out to the things that were making them sick, so that, you know, this is just like a treadmill here. So nobody's really getting better, we're just kind of disguising symptoms for a little while.

So I got kind of identified early on in my professional life as the go-to doc, who would come out and talk to the boards of health or the legislature and help make the case for communities who were fighting their incinerators or their coal plants and their pollution of various sorts. And it felt like I had to do that, and I gradually recognized that I was working my way up the food chain of health and that just treating symptoms in the doctor's office is not a very satisfying way of treating health. So I kept finding myself moving back up to the things that were making us sick, and then I started understanding that it's the political system that keeps us locked into all of these pathological systems; our economy, our jobs, our energy, our food system etc.

And I became part of the coalitions to try and change these laws and regulations, and we would get cut off. All the time. We had some initial successes cleaning up coal plants and shutting down incinerators, but that was about it. And after a certain point, it stopped; it all just ground to a halt, and I got really disgusted with that. We were also able to change the public health advisories about fish consumption and mercury in fish, and that felt great, but then it all just got the door slammed shut. And I just realized that if we were going to fix the things that are literally killing us, we have to first fix our sick political system. As I started trying to condense that into sound bytes, I realized that I can just say I'm practicing political medicine, because it's the mother of all illnesses. We've got to fix our sick political system if we're going to fix the things that are literally killing us, from climate change to war, to poverty.

You know, these are the big things. How can we call asthma a disease, but not call extinction a threat to our health?

And I began to feel like I was documenting our demise. I was part of a campaign to get rid of Dursban, a very toxic pesticide, and we actually succeeded in getting it off the shelf, for consumer use at least. And after the end of that probably ten-year campaign involving all kinds of people in public health, I realized, "Oh great. One down, 800 toxic pesticides to go. We need a different kind of solution."

So that's how I then got recruited to run for office, which wasn't my idea, but the Green Party in my home state where it's called the Green-Rainbow Party approached me and said "How would you like to run for governor? We think we're going to have clean elections money and we really want to challenge power."

And they pitched it that you can just kind of fight all the battles that you're fighting but you'll have a bigger audience to talk to. And my thinking was that nothing else is working, might as well stoop to the dirty level of politics to try something else, because I was really feeling extremely desperate. When I started doing this political thing, which I had absolutely no idea how to do, where you go out there and you talk to all kinds of people, I discovered that I felt like a political therapist.

It felt like people were really hungry. They'd been so traumatized politically, so accustomed to abuse and just taking a beating, that it felt like it was so therapeutic just to have this conversation and for people to see that there's a different kind of politics, which is about empowering ourselves and owning and demanding this promise of democracy that has been so elusive, but has been systematically dismantled over the last several decades.

CJ: Right, well that probably answers my question about how you came up with your policies. Because they seem to be so holistic, in that they don't just attack one problem, they seem to get at the whole root of all of them, almost as if you were to go after a cancer or a virus or something. So what do you identify as the real problems we're facing today?

And, you know, I don't take this stuff lightly; I basically gave up a very comfortable career because I was just haunted by what I began to see. As someone who was studying this stuff, I really saw that unless we turn this around –and that's mostly talking at that time about toxic pollution-- I began to see that not only as incompatible with human health, but with survival. That unrestrained we were not going to survive this predatory system that is poisoning us for profit, basically. When you look at pesticides, it's not that they're trying to poison us, but we don't really count in a system which is driven by pure profiteering. So people don't count, our workers don't count, protecting our water supply and our food system doesn't count, and it's death by a thousand cuts. You don't know which system is going to give way first; biodiversity is collapsing now and we're in the sixth mass extinction, and if you think about it, you need to be smaller than a squirrel if you want to survive a great extinction event, so you know, things are not looking good for us. The World Wildlife Fund is saying we'll have lost 60 percent of species by 2020, compared to the last 70 years or so.

This is really serious, and I began to really see what was going on. I was especially shocked, as a young mother at the time, learning about the impact of this stuff through the food chain on the fetus in development, and also through breast milk, but I usually don't talk about that one because it's misinterpreted and it scares people. I usually focus on what happens in the womb because breastfeeding, all things considered, is really good for mother and for baby, far better than all other alternatives. But what really freaked me out was learning about the contamination of human breast milk. And you know it's across the board; it's especially bad in indigenous people and immigrant subsistence fishers, so it hits poor people the hardest, but everyone is in on it, especially people who eat a lot of fish. In fact, have you ever seen those little cards that different environmental groups pass out that tell you which fish are safe to eat and which aren't?

CJ: Yeah.

JS: Well we started that, in Physicians for Social Responsibility. We started cataloging everything we knew about different kinds of fish and which ones were safe to eat, considering mercury and PCBs, and others took it up and really did a great job, but that was the stuff we had started working with in Physicians for Social Responsibility. Because I was really freaked out when I first started to learn about this stuff in the late eighties, when this whole new science of toxicology was really emerging, I was totally freaked out about it. And for my own mental health, I had to start fighting it in order to just be able to get out of bed every day not feeling like it was hopeless.

I found that in fighting it, you know you're a part of this whole new world of people, and one thing led to another and I began to see that just as an environmental justice coalition alone, we would never get to critical mass in order to change stuff. And that was our experience as we tried to pass laws and so on in my home state. It was only when we started to build coalitions that we could get big things done, like we got money out of politics, we passed campaign finance reform in Massachusetts. It was then quickly repealed on a voice vote by the Democratic legislature but it was passed by we the people as a voter referendum.

And when I was being recruited by the Green party to start running for office, all of this congealed in my own mind and the process of running for governor against Mitt Romney was incredibly uplifting and really exciting. I entered the race in desperation and I came out of it with a whole lot of inspiration after seeing how ready everyday people were. And this was like in the day of the Tea Party, but long before Citizens United and stuff like that, in fact, I don't even know if it was called the Tea Party back then, this was around 2000. But there were all these conservative groups where people were actually like really receptive, because for once it was a candidate who wasn't talking like a robot and could actually have a real human conversation. It really just gave me incredible hope that if we just get rid of the predator straitjackets that were put into the political process that we could reclaim this process and it could be a very healing thing.

CJ: Well, it should be about the people, shouldn't it? A democratic process should be about the will of the people but somehow that's got skewed.

JS: (Laughs) Yeah, like, totally, like - disappeared! Missing in action. The opposite is what this political process has become.

CJ: You get ridiculed and ignored but very rarely listened to. Why do you think the media is afraid of you?

JS: I have no doubt that this kind of people's politics is an incredibly scary threat to a system which is already a house of cards that is falling down and they're extremely insecure and worried. All of this was really driven home to me when I ran for office back in 2002 when we fought our way into a televised debate by turning out huge mobs that were fighting and angry and they felt like they had to placate us and they said, "Okay we'll let you into a debate." It was a televised debate for governor along with the other independent candidates.

In that debate, I articulated our usual Green agenda – green energy, demilitarizing our budget, putting our dollars in security and home, ending high-stakes testing, teaching to the whole student for lifetime learning, healthcare as a human right – you know, just plain old common sense things like that.

They went over like lead balloons inside the TV studio which had no live audience. Between the moderator and the candidates, these things were not worthy of rebuttal. Not worthy of discussion. They were just like "Oh, she said that? Um, back to the real discussion here..."

So I'm in this debate thinking "Oh it's really sad that our agenda is so far afield, it's really too bad. But you know, I'm doing due diligence here, I feel like I have to do this."

And then we walk out of the TV studio and I get mobbed by the press for the first time. And what they say to me is that "Well, you won the debate on the instant online viewer poll."

CJ: Because you were talking to the heart of the people! This is common sense. This is what we want. This is all we want.

JS: Exactly! And suddenly the curtain went up for me and I saw what an utter ridiculous scam this political system is that tries to tell us, the public interest voices, that we are the lunatic fringe, when actually it's exactly the reverse. They create these incredibly concocted debate scenes where the audience is hand-picked. This has since been documented in other ways, but those audiences are hand-picked for all the televised debates in order to create the illusion that there's popular support for this stuff, but there's absolutely not. You know they did the same thing in their polling, they really skewed the polls.

They engineer hopelessness. That's their strategy. Engineer hopelessness because if you're hopeless, then you're powerless.

These are the two are the most disliked and distrusted candidates in our history, and people are there. So the system is more scared than ever.

And by the way, when I won that debate, I was yanked out of the debate because then it became really clear how dangerous it was for a true public interest voice to be in the debate. This regularly happens with Green party candidates. It happened to Howie Hawkins who was kept out of the governor debates for New York. This is the rule, not the exception, for true public interest candidates. It happened to Kshama Sawant running as a socialist in Seattle.

So you realize wow, we actually do have the power. Just the number of young people locked into student loan debt alone, young and not so young, is 43 million. That is a winning plurality of the vote. And that's why John Oliver went after the student loan debt [policy] because it's a stick of dynamite. It's absolutely explosive. So he had to really fuzzy it up and confuse it and make it the brunt of the attack.

CJ: Yeah well, Gary Johnson doesn't really sell himself when he speaks. You're so impressive when you speak, I think they're very wise to leave you out. We saw that in the Bernie thing too, they restricted the amount of debates they had to limit people's exposure to him, and in the second to last debate in Florida he got a standing ovation, yelling "Bernie, Bernie, Bernie." That was a hand-picked audience and he still managed to get them to their feet. People just want to hear the truth, it resonates in our bodies when people speak for us.

JS: Especially when we're feeling oppressed and hopeless. In this campaign more than any other, I feel like I am somewhere between a grief counselor and a social worker. And it feels like it's really wonderful work, but I feel like there's such an intense bond going on right now between our campaign and our supporters who are really feeling like we are the lifeline for them that makes it possible for them to go on living and to go on fighting and feel affirmed and feel like they are respected and they are uplifted, and that we are family and we are here together forever, basically. It's so intense out there, it's unbelievable. It's nothing short of a religious experience to be together with these people.

CJ: Well, there's so much grief at what we're finding out about, isn't there? It's so much worse than we ever imagined. So that's also happening at the same time as we come together.

JS: That's right. And in that context, it feels we are forming such an intense bond with each other and that we are becoming our community together and there's no going back. It's really wonderful, incredible, it's beyond words what's happening. You usually think of rallies as a place where a politician goes to charge up his base but for us it's exactly the opposite. I go in order to get transformed by the power of our base. Especially young people and their irrepressible biological drive to survive and to create a meaningful world. You can give up on that as you get older but when you're in your twenties, you don't. It's just that life force, you are the irrepressible expression of that life force. It is completely overpowering; for me it's like a religious experience.

CJ: I can imagine! You're being uplifted by the energy in the room. Because you're not a traditional leader, you're almost being pushed up by the people.

JS: Yes, exactly, yes, I have no desire for a political career or whatever, but I sort of feel like we all do what we can, and the randomness of the universe puts us in different places. For whatever reason I was running the campaigns in Massachusetts that the Green party decided to lift up. It was sort of, you know "Here, run for president, we need a candidate."

So by hook or by crook, as a mother on fire, acting out of desperation, one thing leads to another.

CJ: Right well, I think we're seeing the rise of the highest interest in the face of self-interest. Like I don't do what I do for the money, I do it because I need to, I would go nuts if I just sat back and let this happen.

JS: Yes! Exactly. And what's so amazing is to see how many of us are being called right now, you know? We're being called and we're not being given a choice, and it really is a transformative movement. And it's really powerful and it's not just the best and the brightest, it's also the most moral, and the most awake who are called to do this. And you can't walk away from it, we're just too much a part of it.

CJ: It is scary as well. I'm sure you've felt that. Like these are very powerful people that you're coming up against.

JS: You know it's funny, this time around I don't feel like they're powerful at all. I feel like they're really stupid, they're un-strategic, and they're just cowering behind their damages. They are incredibly vulnerable and all we have to do is wait. They're going to be destroyed by history, by the economy, and by the climate. We have the best public relations agents imaginable for free, and that's the shock and awe of the economy and of the climate and people are being woken up. I used to feel like when I was doing the academic stuff that I had to educate people and change their minds; now I don't feel like I have to do that at all. All I have to do is help articulate what everyone's already thinking. All I have to do is say it, and people will find it, because we are on that road right now, of desperation and of transformation. And that movement is just unleashed, and it has a life of its own and all we have to do is open our mouths and let it express itself, and it works its own magic.

CJ: You sure are, and you know I cannot tell you the joy I get from watching you obliterate people, especially with your grip on foreign policy, which is formidable. To hear you sing to that is like listening to the best music ever, and then to see them all in shock because you are presenting them with lines of thinking that they've never even come across is just such a joy.

JS: I love going on mainstream TV now because it's become so easy to just devastate them. Today we did Fox Business News with Kennedy, who's become our supporter. She used to be a Gary Johnson supporter, and I was just shocked because she started attacking Gary Johnson and talking about how our campaign was the really principled campaign, and then inviting me to come back as part of her regular panel to do ongoing political analysis. Do you believe it? From Fox?

CJ: Wow.

JS: Some parts of the progressive media won't even let us on right now because they were under lockdown to protect Hillary Clinton. Which is what they did throughout the primary as well, so I'm not surprised one bit. They refused to cover us during the primaries, said "Well, we'll cover you during the general," because they were protecting Bernie, now they're protecting Hillary. It's really pathetic, but I'm not surprised one bit. But I am a bit shocked that we wind up having a home on Fox. We also did a section with Bloomberg, which was really friendly, we did Bloomberg TV this morning. And then we did CNN, which was extremely hostile, but you know she didn't stand a chance because I just kept rebounding the truth and refusing to succumb to this question of which one is better.

The worst offender here is a political system that tries to dictate that we have to choose between a proto-fascist and a warmonger. That's no choice at all. That's a deadly political system. Period.

CJ: Well yeah, I mean it does sell itself, really, because you're just saying what everyone's thinking. So, in your capacity as the amazing debater that you are, what are the prime weak points in their argument? There's their intense assertion that you must choose between this pile of crap and that pile of crap, but what else do you hear them saying that you would just love people to push back on?

JS: Oh, well the idea that you're taking votes away. That totally concocted concept. It's like they're trying to make us forget that these are the most disliked and untrusted candidates in our history. We're not taking votes away, they haven't earned our votes. So my usual response to that is that in fact, you're mistaken. There is not a new entitlement for rich establishment politicians. They don't own our votes. They are not entitled to them, they have to earn our votes. They have not earned our votes, they are the most disliked and untrusted ever and people are clamoring for the alternative and have you to thank for denying them knowledge of this alternative.

I usually don't quite say that, but sometimes I do. Sometimes they say, "How are you going to get the word out?" To which I reply, well last I heard that was the whole purpose of the media, the First Amendment, and freedom of the press, because we need an educated electorate if we're to have a democracy. So thank you very much for having me on this show and helping me get that word out, so that voters can be the deciders in this election, not the party operatives and the political pundits who are telling us to be good little boys and girls and would we please just be quiet and take our marching orders from the political establishment. No, thank you. Most people have divorced themselves from this political establishment. You have succeeded in denying them knowledge about what their alternatives are. Seventy-two percent of voters do not know about our campaign.

CJ: Really? That's tragic.

JS: Yes. Donald Trump got over four billion dollars of free media, this was as of about three months ago, maybe four months ago, he'd gotten four billion dollars worth of free prime-time TV network coverage. Hillary Clinton has gotten over two billion, whereas Bernie Sanders had gotten about half a billion, and our campaign has basically gotten zip. Another statistic compiled by a public interest media watchdog is that Hillary Clinton has gotten 20,000 times as much prime-time media as my campaign, and Donald's gotten 35,000 times as much. But they are not doing 20,000 and 35,000 times better, they're doing maybe ten times better, that's all. Which is a real tribute to how vacuous their campaigns are and how wonderful our message is.

So it's just a question of time. This is going to catch up, and since the Bernie campaign split apart and the Berners with intelligence and integrity came into our campaign and our party, it's a whole new ballgame out there. It's totally transformed. And I feel like that alone has created an entirely different political landscape that really advantages us from here on out. We're going to be unstoppable.

JS: Yes, I agree.

CJ: Have you thought about that? That you might actually be president?

JS: It has occurred to me that instead of splitting the vote, we could flip the vote. The vote is ready to be flipped, and if people simply have reason to accept their convictions and act with the courage of their convictions, revoke the trend overnight. And if there was something that seeded that process whereby people saw that others were standing up, courage is contagious. If enough millennials got the idea in their head that we're going to stand up and make a strong showing, and if suddenly we were at ten percent, we could go from there. And that could easily happen. It's not likely to happen, but it's not far-fetched. Stranger things have happened in the course of this campaign already.

CJ: Right, so you've put yourself there. And I guess if we were to flip this thing, you'd be against a lot of these people that we're learning more and more about. But I guess if you were to rise up that would be a pretty amazing thing in itself. It might flip the whole thing, who knows?

JS: I mean I get asked that question all the time, about how would you function if you wound up in the White House. And I have no doubt that there would be a struggle, but that it would be a very valiant and triumphant struggle, because if we had someone in the White House who actually was using the bully pulpit of the White House and informing and empowering voters about the things they really care about, that, hey, there's a bill coming up next week for Medicare for all, that it's time to occupy the offices of our elected officials and instruct them about how they need to vote on this bill. That's how democracy is supposed to work. Our representatives are supposed to represent us, not the lobbyists from whom they take marching orders. And you know usually we as the public are kept in the dark and we're totally uninformed, so we don't have a clue about what's coming up, and what we should say, and where we should go say it etc.

But if in America we had an organizer-in-chief in the White House, that all becomes eminently possible.

When you think about it, there was a proposed bombing of Syria in 2013 around the time of the chemical weapons use, and it was blamed on Assad, not altogether clear if it may have been him, whatever. It was used as an excuse to start bombing Syria, and at first, it was "Resistance is futile, don't even bother, Obama's just gonna do this." And we raised a stink about it and then Obama was forced to bring it to congress, and when it was clear that it wasn't a powerful congress then suddenly they had to find another way out, and they negotiated this elimination of chemical weapons in Syria. But that was just one example of where people got mobilized and coordinated. We defeated efforts to privatize the internet twice, and that was completely done as a grassroots campaign without any help from organized non-profits or political parties or the press. So it's been proven. The Keystone Pipeline, it's been proven time and again that when we mobilize, we get s*** done.

CJ: When we've got eyes on them and then we mobilize. Because that's the thing, isn't it? Things are becoming more and more transparent, and things can't just keep hiding in secrecy. So I guess if you were right there shining a light on everything, that would make a big difference.

JS: And we would coordinate specific mobilizations for the Green New Deal, for cancelling student debt, where we go and occupy the offices of our elected officials and we make it really clear that they are not only not going to get reelected but they are going to be subject to a recall campaign by a huge and ferocious set of ground troops in their district, and they'd listen. They'd listen when it's really clear that we're there as an overwhelming force, and we would confront them with an overwhelming force. It's in the absence of that kind of public input that the lobbyists go hog wild, and they set the agenda for congress. So we would be setting the agenda for congress. It's entirely doable. It's never been done before, but we're in a completely unique historic moment right now where we are looking our mortality clearly in the face, and we've gotta find a new way of doing stuff, or it's over.

JS: Well you know we have a lot of active discussion about this right now, and there is a plan. So we are not stopping for a moment. We're just rolling right over into the continued building of this political force. So the campaign will end, but as an entity, we will continue, and our supporters are extremely bonded and wedded to this process. And they're not giving up, so we're not giving up, and we'll be focusing on a number of specific campaigns, particularly to train candidates and help support candidates who are running in down-ballot races. Those will begin as soon as the spring of 2017, so we're going to just roll right over and start building for those local races, building local chapters, working to continue supporting the social movements from Standing Rock to the Fight For 15.

We are taking a campaign to end the fake commission on presidential debates and creating a real debate commission. We've actually established a number of coalitions with Libertarian groups, so that we're going to be doing this together, to create a real debate commission, and also to promote ranked-choice voting and get rid of fear voting, because if there's ever been a real lesson in how dangerous this fear voting is, this campaign has been it. Where people have been forced to support out of desperation this queen of corruption in the form of Hillary Clinton, a warmonger and good friend of Wall Street and Walmart. So it's been a great teaching moment on ranked-choice voting, which in my view needs to be a civil disobedience campaign where we go and occupy the offices, because they're not going to pass it in their own self-interest, because they know that if we call their bluff they're in a lot of trouble.

We've got a shadow cabinet, I don't know if you know about the Green Shadow Cabinet? It's on the web at greenshadowcabinet.us. We established that after 2012. We've got great people filling the cabinet. We've never really had a budget. We intend to raise that budget this time around. The Democrats and Republicans are one big happy family right now. In Hillary Clinton's campaign, she's highly likely to win, it's not a slam dunk but it's likely. There needs to be an opposition party, whether it's Hillary Clinton or whether it's Donald Trump, there needs to be a real opposition party that is about we the people. So having a shadow cabinet enables us to watchdog and debunk them every step of the way. So we've got some really exciting stuff in store.

Nobody's going home, we're here for the long haul, and we just get stronger by the day.