Days of Revolt: Beyond the Vote
In this episode of teleSUR’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges and Green Party MD Senate candidate Dr. Margaret Flowers confront corporate power’s influence in the U.S. two-party electoral system, and detail the forms of resistance that can transcend it.
HEDGES: Hi, I’m Chris Hedges. Welcome to Days of Revolt.
Today we’re going to talk about how to confront an electoral system that has been gamed by both of the major parties who are beholden to corporate power. What effective forms of resistance we can make within that system given the many impediments that have been placed for anybody that steps outside of the two party organization and attempts to build third party movements. And with me to discuss that issue is Doctor Margaret Flowers, one of the co-directors of Popular Resistance and the current Senate candidate for the Green Party candidate in the state of Maryland. Dr. Flowers, thank you.
FLOWERS: Thank you.
HEDGES: So let’s begin with that. I mean you, especially with your work, you were one of the major national activists fighting for single payer. I think arrested at a Max Baucus hearing. What is he now? I think ambassador to China. But one of the corporate tools Liz Fowler I think was on his staff, a former well pointed executive who was writing the legislation. You know, you as much as anyone understands all of the mechanisms that have been put in place to make an effective challenge to this two party duopoly, extremely difficult if at all. Why mount a campaign like this?
FLOWERS: Okay. Well, you know very well that what we’re doing right now is continuing to try and build this culture of resistance that we need to have in this country, and the question I’ve been asking myself for the number of years is how do we build political power for progressive change. The fundamental struggle that we have right now that you outlined is the power of money, wealth, giant corporations versus the power of people. And the giant money, we see it in the way it works out in the rigging of the elections and obstacles to third parties. They fund the candidate, they control the media, they control the nonprofit organizations. But the people, we have a different kind of power. And our power is in being able to organize and build movements, nonviolent movements, and to use resistance strategically to put our issues on the agenda and fight for them. That’s kind of where my focus has been, building that piece, you know movement of movements.
But we also need to have people that are inside of the system that are able to work that end of it and really have a platform to speak out about the issues, about the solutions that aren’t being talked about. You know, and if by some freak of nature I actually break through the corporate stranglehold on our election system and win, and if people really are fed up with the two party system and ready for change, then that gives us a whole other avenue of pushing for the change that we need inside of the system.
But I think you outlined it. That the two parties are so much in control of the agenda. They take all of the voters for granted. They know that they can just play them off of each other. The scary Republicans or those too-liberal Democrats, right? The only way that we make those parties work for their votes is if we challenge them from the outside and they can’t take their voters for granted. So there’s a lot of reasons that I’m running, giving people a choice, speaking the truth, speaking about the solutions that need to be talked about, and not allowing those two parties to just take voters for granted.
HEDGES: Well we’ve also seen in Greece with Syriza and Podemos in Spain that movements need a political expression. But without the movements that they’re used to they’re meaningless.
FLOWERS: Yeah, they’re meaningless. I would have no power. We see it in Seattle with Kshama Sawant who won as a socialist in the city council and I was out there a number of times. I was in the city council meetings. The rooms are packed, the people are lining up to testify. They’re giving very intelligent testimony. And these corporate lobbyists for like, Boeing and Microsoft stand up and they just look like idiots. Because–.
HEDGES: They are.
FLOWERS: Yeah. They are, and they have nothing to say that is of anything meaningful because they’re wrong. So that’s the power of movements and if possible people inside that come out of the movement and are beholden to the movement. And that’s what I will be. I’m not taking any corporate money. I’m not doing this because I’m interested in being a politician. I’m doing this because we need to continue to build power.
HEDGES: And yet Bernie Sanders says he’s building a movement. He’s doing it he says within the embrace of the Democratic Party. Why is he wrong?
FLOWERS: Well because it is the, I guess if you looked back at the times of slavery, you had two pro-slavery parties, right, the Whigs and Democrats. In a pro-slavery period, would voters have actually voted for a pro-slavery party? No, they’re a part of the problem. People who believed in ending slavery formed abolition parties. It’s the same thing now, our problem’s corporate power. We have two corporate parties. You can’t challenge corporate power by putting in place more corporate parties. We have to build the alternative to that, and these are parties who are not beholden to that money.
So he’s actually, I’m concerned that he’s drawing, he’s giving the Democratic Party legitimacy by running in it. He’s drawing more people to it. He’s drawing new people that have not been involved in politics that don’t have a lot of sophistication in terms of how the political system works.
HEDGES: He gives Hillary Clinton her talking points.
FLOWERS: Yeah, she’s, you know, she’s moving to the left.
HEDGES: Anywhere that focus group tells her to move, she’ll move.
FLOWERS: Right. And he has such an opportunity. He has always run outside of the Democratic Party as an independent. He’s always talked to these issues of wealth inequality. And so he had an opportunity to continue to build up what we need, which are parties outside of that, and to use his stature to challenge the corruption of the two parties and say look, look over here, how they’re–.
HEDGES: Well he isn’t going to do that.
HEDGES: He campaigned for Clinton in ’92 and ’96.
FLOWERS: He’s taken a lot of money from her.
HEDGES: He took money from the Clintons. He was one of the very vocal opponents of Ralph Nader’s run in 2004. He has seniority. He doesn’t want to jeopardize his Senate career, which he knows would happen if he were to defy the party and call the party out and call Clinton out. And he’ll call her out for her speeches but not, he doesn’t call the party out.
FLOWERS: And that’s going to be the big question when he loses the primary. Are people going to understand that he lost the primary because of the corruption of the Democratic Party and they need to leave the Democratic Party? He’s not losing it because of his message. His message resonates with people. It started before the Occupy Movement but it really came to a head during the Occupy Movement. The corruption of money and the wealth inequality. Those are the issues that resonate with people. But it’s the corruption of the party that’s causing him to lose that nomination.
HEDGES: Let’s just talk a little bit about your own experience. They have thrown every barrier in front of you that they can throw in front of you. Talk a little bit about what they’ve done even though you don’t come out of a powerful party apparatus.
FLOWERS: Right. Yeah, it’s interesting. Well, Maryland is one of the many states that has a very rigged kind of political system so only the two major parties are allowed to have a taxpayer-funded primary. So even though in the Green Party we have a primary like every other party, because I’m not on the ballot during the primary that’s used as a reason to exclude me from candidate forums and from the media. When I do get media like the Baltimore Sun to cover me, the first thing they say is she has no chance of winning. They say that, you know–that’s completely opinion. But just to completely undermine the rest of the article about me. You know, I’ve been invited to a forum by a nonprofit organization which is required by law to invite all of the candidates, and they decided to dis-invite me. And I think it’s pretty clear. It’s a–.
HEDGES: What was the reason?
FLOWERS: Well it’s a Baltimore Jewish Council which is a, they’ve been behind some of the anti-BDS stuff in the state. Trying to get legislation to stop.
HEDGES: The Boycott Divestment Sanction movement.
FLOWERS: Against Israel, right. Which is the, you know, many Palestinian organizations working together, very powerfully and nonviolently to end the apartheid. So they are behind trying to prevent that. I’m not shy about my position on Israel and supporting the Palestinians who are fighting against that power and our power as well. So they started coming up with excuses like, well, we have too many people invited so we can’t, we have to dis-invite you.
HEDGES: How many did they have?
FLOWERS: They wouldn’t answer that.
FLOWERS: Then they said oh it’s because you’re not polling 5% and I said well have you polled the Green Party because I’ve pretty certain that I would gain, that I would have 5%. Then it was because we can’t, because you’re not in a contested primary because you’re not even on the ballot. So you know, it’s a struggle but at the same time when I do get a chance to meet people and talk to them and I’m getting out there as much as I can, they want to hear the truth, and they know the truth. And they want to hear solutions that are not being talked about by any of the other candidates. So we’ll see. I mean, we’re just going to give this everything that we have.
HEDGES: Well, we’re filming this in Baltimore. You actually have a pretty viable Green Party structure in the city which has a kind of fighting chance. Maybe you can talk about them. I think when we get down to the local level within distressed communities where you have a kind of political consciousness as cities like Chicago do. Especially after the police murder of Laquan McDonald, people went out in the streets, they didn’t ask for police permits anymore.
HEDGES: Rahm Emmanuel can’t even go to the charter schools without sort of being taunted by the students in Chicago, as he should be. One wonders whether once we get down to the local level it’s small enough that we can begin to defy these forces to make systematic political change.
FLOWERS. Right, and so that’s why Baltimore is so exciting, because Baltimore has been a one-party city since the 1940s. They’ve elected nothing but Democrats. And yet we have all of the problems of any other city with wealth inequality, disinvestment in our communities of color, environmental racism, and police abuse. The city giving millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions to corporations.
HEDGES: And tax credits.
FLOWERS: Right, to exploit our workers here. So after the uprising, which I really–there was a lot bubbling below the surface before that uprising for a number of years. I’ve lived here for 30 years, and you could see that there was something going on. People are looking for something different. So the Baltimore Green Party has really grown, and has new office space and new people are coming to every meeting. Twice now we’ve had to move our location because so many people are coming. We have a number of good candidates.
HEDGES: There is a very strong mayoral candidate.
FLOWERS: We have three candidates for mayor, which is amazing, in the Green Primary and one of them is a very impressive young man, Joshua Harris. So I think that we do have an opportunity. And it’s interesting because if you look at people like Chavez in Venezuela who came out of a movement, he won by drawing out people that had never voted before, that had never had any reason to vote. I think that when we put forth these candidates like Joshua Harris and others who come out of activism and are speaking the truth and people understand that, it will mobilize them. And so it’ll be really interesting to see what what we can do here.
HEDGES: Is that how radical political change is going to come from, in essence, not out of Manhattan. which is now the playground of hedge fund managers. But out of cities like Baltimore do you think?
FLOWERS: I hope so. I mean, if we could win in some of these cities, and I think you see what’s happening in Seattle with the changes there, it’s always a struggle and you still have, the system is pretty entrenched. If we could start to build these changes at municipal level and really create tangible change and show that there are other models that work and can lift people up and reduce wealth inequality, which would go towards a large part of reducing the violence as we see in our communities, that’s where we have probably the most power, is at that level.
HEDGES: What are you in terms of your party, in terms of your platform as senatorial candidate, what are you saying that the other two parties are not saying?
FLOWERS: Well I mean, there’s a number of areas. If you look at the climate crisis which is pretty stark right now. We see scientists saying we’re entering a new phase with the warming is starting to rise faster, that feedback loops that they started expecting are coming into play.
HEDGES: Feedback loops are the ocean.
HEDGES: Which cools the planet.
FLOWERS: We’re losing the Arctic ice at a faster rate and that prevents the reflection of a lot of the heat that normally gets reflected back into space. So it’s kind of sort of starting to accelerate the crisis.
HEDGES: In ways that they haven’t. All the new reports are saying.
FLOWERS: It’s happening a lot faster.
HEDGES: Yeah, it’s a lot faster than we predicted or thought.
FLOWERS: Yeah, their models are inadequate in real life. It’s a lot faster. So what we’re hearing is we’re going to continue oil and gas until 2040 or 2050. No, we need to stop all new carbon infrastructure right now, and I’ve been involved in an infrastructure trying to just do that. We need to immediately shift our resources towards green renewable energy and green transportation. And actually, all these issue are really interconnected because of our other issues of wealth inequality. If we move to a green energy economy that would create more jobs, safer jobs.
Also talking about how do we end poverty right now. And an idea that was completely mainstream in the 1970s of a basic guaranteed income, both Nixon and McGovern ran on it. Nobody’s talking; well, in the United States there’s not that much talk about it. Outside of the U.S. there is. In countries like Canada that are looking at putting it into place. We could end poverty right now by moving to a guaranteed basic income. I think we’d have to talk about mass incarceration and moving to a public health approach for drug use. In addition to that, holding Wall Street accountable. I was one of the first candidates to sign onto a platform put together by white collar investigators, crime investigators, the Bank Whistle Blowers United that says we could use existing law right now and hold Wall Street accountable and control the big banks. But you hear the candidates are just talking about, well, Dodd-Frank, we need to strengthen, that would do nothing. We have the laws, just enforce the laws.
So these are some of the things we are talking about in our platform. And of course single payer healthcare, because there’s still–. You know, the candidates in Maryland that are running for Mayor, one of them ran on a single payer platform and she won’t even talk about single payer now. They just, it’s like this is how the party controls them. She is so controlled by the Democratic Party that she can’t even say the words. Even when she’s asked specifically, how do you feel about it, she dodges the question. So that’s of course another big part of my campaign.
HEDGES: I think you would probably agree, from both of the experiences we’ve had, that the self-identified progressive movements often show a phenomenal naiveté about how power works.
FLOWERS: That’s been a very interesting part of this campaign, because even the organizations in the state of Maryland that consider themselves to be progressive don’t see how rigged the system is and how they actually participate in that rigging by allying with the Democratic party, by excluding the most progressive candidates like me and other Green Party candidates.
And so I think even my campaign has helped in just kind of raising awareness of that within those groups, and that whole question of how do we build political power for progressive change.
HEDGES: It’s all embodied in, you know, a particular political figure, Obama 2008, or Bernie Sanders, without understanding that, you know, even if Bernie Sanders got to the White House, without powerful grassroots movements committed to radical, systematic change, he wouldn’t have much to do.
FLOWERS: Right. And when we say radical, systematic change we mean the solutions that make the most sense.
HEDGES: Of course.
FLOWERS: And we saw that in 2009, right at the beginning with President Obama. He actually started before that in 2008, just finding a way to completely divide the progressive movement for health reform, and–.
HEDGES: Well, he got MoveOn.org and all these organizations to support, I mean–.
FLOWERS: His agenda.
HEDGES: He eradicated the public option. And I can remember that campaign, which you were very active in. It came down to, not because anybody thought the health plan was any good. As we mentioned before, it was written by corporate lobbyists. But you know, we have to do it for Obama’s presidency. That became the raison d’etre.
FLOWERS: Exactly. It wasn’t about policy at all, it was all about politics. And here he was, pushing a plan that was started by the Heritage Foundation. Very conservative, neoliberal, funneling our public dollars into the private industries.
And so this is a really important thing for people to understand and have some political sophistication about this time around. They’ve got to understand that it has to be the people right from the get-go setting the agenda and not accepting what’s on the table, because what’s on the table was created by a corrupt table. You know, it’s not what we need.
HEDGES: Right. Well, you know, how do we build that kind of political sophistication, especially given the billions of dollars–what are we going to spend, $4 billion on this election or some absurd amount like that, where people are just bombarded day and night with very effective propaganda that plays to their emotions. You know, the constant kind of polling and focus groups, so politicians like Clinton can loop back to people what they want to hear. You know, how do we reengage the public in a discussion about the actual structures of power?
FLOWERS: It’s the same thing that we always do, and it’s the responsibility of activists and people, you know, journalists, and people who do understand the power, that we have to person to person, group to group, writing, using social media to spread our message. When the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement was first negotiated it was done through a media blackout. And it was the movement using our skills of doing teach-ins, visibility actions, and social media to spread the word that we overcame that media blackout. So it’s–we can do it. It’s the way that social transformation has always happened.
HEDGES: That’s almost person by person.
FLOWERS: Right. Living room to living room.
HEDGES: Well, it looks like we’re probably going to, you know, barring some exceptional circumstances, see Trump and Clinton as the two candidates. Trump of course is a frightening figure, they’ll get to play–.
FLOWERS: So is Clinton.
HEDGES: So is Clinton. But they’ll play the least worst card, and he’s an overt racist.
FLOWERS: He is scary.
HEDGES: Clinton is racist, but its institutional racism behind the language of tolerance and inclusivity. She and her husband exploded the prison population, destroyed welfare.
FLOWERS: And brought in those free trade models that destroyed communities throughout the U.S.
HEDGES: What happens the day after election?
FLOWERS: Well, I think that’s a very important conversation that we need to be having right now throughout the United States because really the majority of our power comes from popular power. From organized people setting the agenda. Not allowing the agenda to be set for them, but saying this is what we know we need and this is what we’re going to demand that you do. So I think that one opportunity that we really have to jump start that, because from day one we need to be out there pressuring. We can’t allow them to have any, I mean, we know what they’re going to do right?
HEDGES: What does that look like? Tell me what that looks like.
FLOWERS: So, I think the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a huge opportunity.
HEDGES: And explain what that is.
FLOWERS: That’s an international agreement, a treaty that’s been negotiated for the past 5 years. It was negotiated in secret. Congress didn’t have much access to it. But hundreds of corporate lawyers were able to shape the language. So basically it gives them a lot of the changes they wanted to get through Congress but they couldn’t get through.
HEDGES: Such as, like? Give me something.
FLOWERS: So undermining food safety laws. Being able to control the patents for pharmaceuticals so that they’re extended much longer so they can keep the prices high. No labor protections. No environmental protections. Loosening, deregulating finance so it has even more ability to move about the world. They have the right–.
HEDGES: Isn’t the idea or the conventional thinking that it’ll be the lame duck Congress that may attempt to ram this through if we can’t stop it?
FLOWERS: Right. This movement of movements, because this agreement impacts so many different areas. People have come together and have been fighting it and this has been Obama. He started this in 2009 and he thought he was going to get this done, and it looks like he might not even succeed by the end of his presidency. That’s because of the strong movement of movements. Right now that has been protesting, pressuring members of Congress. So when the lame duck comes if they–we really have to be prepared right after the election to not even make it politically possible to for them to introduce it during the lame duck. So we need to be in our members of Congress’ offices in the streets organizing and saying no, we will not allow you to bring this to a vote in Congress.
Then we need to continue after that to say no more fossil fuel, we want healthcare for everyone. End the profit, for-profit prisons. We just really need to be out here demanding what we need for our communities and very visibly, and very–you know, people say politics is the art of compromise. But Ghandi said you can’t compromise on the fundamentals because it’s all give and no take, and that has got to be our position. We’re going to define the agenda that we need. We’re going to insist that you do it, whoever is in office.
HEDGES: Well politics is a game of fear. They seek to paralyze us by making us afraid and we have to paralyze them by making them afraid.
HEDGES: The example of that would be Chicago after Laquan McDonald was murdered. Something broke. I mean, day after day, and people were rising up, and they’re in many ways I would argue that they’ve begun to take back that city. But not through the normal electoral process.
FLOWERS: Right, and joining together. Its teachers coming out into the street as well. That’s what you have to have. Every issue that we talk about is connected and we can’t work on one and think that we’re going to solve the problem if we just solve that one. So this intersectionality, this understanding that connectedness and working together is fundamental.
HEDGES: It’s all the tentacles of corporate power. From our schools to our healthcare system, to the defense industry, to the mass incarceration, prison-industrial complex. To the media and everywhere else, and we’ve got to wrest it back. We’ve got to take it back in our hands. Thank you Doctor Flowers.
And thank you for watching Days of Revolt.
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