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irregular times logoA Conversation With Kat Swift
Green Party Presidential Candidate

At the beginning of 2008, Irregular Times had a conversation with Green Party presidential candidate Kat Swift. Swift discussed challenges in the process of campaigning for people running for office outside of the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as the complexity of conducting grassroots activism in a rootless society.

Questions from Irregular Times are in bold type, and Kat Swift's responses are in normal type.

A lot of our readers are independent, and I'm a former Democrat myself. I decided to leave the Democratic Party behind, but I haven't gone to the Greens yet, either, though I consider myself progressive. I'm wondering what you have to say to Democrats, or to progressive independents about why we ought to consider getting involved with the Green Party and with your presidential campaign in particular.

I this conversation, actually, with a staunch Democrat just last night. It comes down to this: The Democratic Party leadership is basically flipping its finger off at the Democratic grassroots membership, and has been for the last eight years, when they say, as when Gore didn't contest George W. Bush's environmental stance in Texas, he was horrible in the debates, they didn't challenge the results in Florida, and then in 2004, the blatant violations in Ohio.

The Green Party and the Libertarian Party were the only ones who filed a recount in Ohio. The Democratic Party conceded immediately.

If your party isn't going to stand up for your right to vote, then why are you even bothering?

What about on the issues? What would you say is the most important issue that has been neglected by the Democrats and Republicans that you can address as a Green Party presidential candidate?

The big one would be corporate control over the government, over the political process. Ron Paul does talk about this, but Ron Paul is shut out of the Republican Party. Kucinich does talk about it a little bit, but he is shut out of the Democratic Party. So, basically, the two parties are shutting out people who are bringing up issues like corporate control of the political process and how money is the root of all control and power, and who has power and who is able to get elected.

It's interesting to see how the Democratic Party now is speaking greenspeak on the issues that Greens have been speaking about for a long time. They're talking about environmental degradation. They're talking about health care issues, wages, and workers rights, and it's interesting to see how the Democratic Party kind of greenwashes what they say, but if you look at their policy decisions, they're not really making decisions that support workers' rights or protecting the environment or doing sustainable growth. They're just saying it because they can see that the Green Party is talking about these issues, and they better jump on board these things, because it's in the Reader's Digest. It's in the mainstream media about these issues and concerns.

That's how we got the forty-hour work week to begin with, was third party movements, and the major parties appropriating third party issues because they are so important to the majority of citizens and residents of the United States.

Here's the question I have about that, though, and it's something that I don't have an answer for. I'm curious to see what your thoughts are. You take a candidate like Kucinich, and he seems to make a lot of sense on a lot of issues, and then you just don't see a lot of voters supporting him. So, on the one hand there's this idea that the Democratic Party shut him out, and then there's this other nagging thought I have that there's something else going on with the American people that causes them not to go to more progressive candidates like Kucinich. What do you think the mood of the American people is, and why are they not showing more support for Kucinich, or for the Green Party, for that matter?

Most Americans don't vote or participate in the political process because they don't think that it matters, because they've been disenfranchised completely. Especially over the last eight years, when I've been out on the street, have said that they used to vote, but they don't any more, because after 2000, what's the point?

The other part of it is that, if you go to the Washington Post, they used to list, three years ago and up until the last year, the Washington Post was listing all political party candidates. I was on there. Now you go there and all that they have are the Republican candidates that they want to list and the Democratic candidates that they want to list. Kucinich isn't even on there.

So, you've got a media set up. As well, people tend to go for the charismatic, good looking candidates. Kucinich has a lot going against him as far as that goes, as far as being charismatic. He does have a lot of good things to say, but when the mainstream media is not covering what he's saying, and shut him out of a debate.

You've got this issue that people don't even know what Kucinich is saying, unless you're involved in the political process, and it's the same thing with the Green Party. Unless you're involved, and you know what's going on, and you're paying attention, then you can't know which are the candidates that really speak to you.

The mainstream media, which is corporate-controlled and using our public airwaves, does not provide equal access to all qualified and active political party candidates. Corporate-controlled media is not covering all the candidates fairly. Some candidates they're not covering at all. They're not covering the Green Party candidates.

So, unless you're plugged into the process, you're not going to know about Kucinich, and you're not going to know about Green Party candidates. The media is not giving you the information that they should be giving you. The whole point of having a fair and independent media is that they provide equal access for all issues on all sides and all candidates. That's not what we have any more. We don't have that independent media.

Every time I've gone somewhere traveling on this campaign, everyone I've ever sat down and started talking with, when I start talking to them about running for President, and they start talking about issues, we have no disagreements. I have not run into anyone yet that we've had a disagreement on a subject matter that we've been talking about. Most people want to know what's going on.

It's kind of complicated, because until we get the media to cover the candidates, and most people in the United States still don't have Internet access, so you can't expect it because the Internet Revolution hasn't really happened yet, and now corporations are trying to shut down access to the Internet, it makes it complicated for the average person to know that there are people out there who are really concerned about doing something about issues that are important to their daily lives, instead of just talking about it.

What's your vision about how to overcome that, about how, through your campaign, and through other activism too, to take the ideas that you care about and the Green Party beyond the marginal place that it's able to occupy because of all the dynamics that you've described?

People from my generation and younger are starting to become teachers. They're starting to become more involved in the media, and what I'm seeing from them, and hoping this will take off, is a revolution of the youth saying that this is crazy. We're supposed to have this information. We're supposed to have free access to our airwaves, and that includes Internet, television and radio. You're seeing people become more aware that the information they're receiving is not all there is.

I'm really seeing it in the younger generation. There are exceptions in the older generations, but when you've been fed this stuff for your whole life and trained by your educational system to play worker bee, and you don't have time because you're working three jobs to pay your bills and raise your kids, you're not going to go out seeking things.

So, I'm hoping that the younger generation, with the media, can stand up to the plate and say "Enough is enough. We're not going to play this game anymore. We're going to make our own rules," so that we can go back to having a fair and just media, and go back to having workers' rights be more important than corporate profits.

I am seeing a lot more activism as far as media goes. Indymedia is pretty strong across the globe. We've got Texas Media Empowerment Project working here, and you're seeing much more of that.

The unions, that's something else, and I'm not sure how we're going to change the unions to actually stand up for workers' rights. That would be my second fantasy, that the unions go back to supporting candidates who are actually going to support their issues, rather than supporting the candidates who have the most money.

You talked about playing by the rules and changing the rules, and about going out and campaigning. I think everyone has seen a lot about how the Republicans and Democrats do their presidential campaigning. What can you tell me about how the Green Party way of campaigning for President is different from that, both institutionally, but also from your personal perspective?

I don't know that there is a Green Party way of campaigning yet. A lot of us are new to the process. I was an apathetic voter. I voted once when I was 18 because I could, and after I thought, "This isn't going to do any good, so why bother?" I got involved in the anarchist movement and things like that.

So, I'm really coming into this as I don't have, and the Green Party doesn't have a way of campaigning. It's really all a free for all, and we're all doing it different ways, and saying, "Okay, these are the rules that I have to play by, because if I don't, I'm breaking the law. Now, what can I do that's creative, that falls within these rules?"

Cynthia McKinney is doing her own thing. Jared Ball has got his, well he's no longer a candidate, but had the Capital Resistance Tour and was going around with hip hop artists and creating a buzz that way. I've been trying to do a lot more on the Internet and going out and speaking with youth and doing class projects with students around the country.

As far as the Green Party internally, that process is still being established. It's an ongoing process to establish how do we effectively run a presidential campaign, given the environment we have to work in? In Texas, we may not even have ballot access, and in a lot of states there isn't ballot access for third party candidates.

The main two parties don't have to worry about that stuff, so they're not campaigning to get on the ballot. They're campaigning to get delegates to the national convention. Greens are doing both. We're campaigning to get on the ballot and to get delegates to the national convention. It adds a burden to the process.

You're seeing more that the Green Party candidates are finding more creative ways to engage the public because we don't have the same sort of access that the main parties have. So, this is going to be a real growth year in terms of how to run a national campaign for the Green Party. By 2012, there will be a more set way of doing it.

I've found that when I go to state meetings, people who are former Democrats or former Republicans, who have been part of the process, when they experience Green candidates coming in, it's a different experience. We're more willing to sit there and we don't have bodyguards all around us, and have people ushering us out. It's much more personal. There's not a go-between. We're right there, sitting there, talking to people one-on-one for as long as we possibly can, as long as people want to keep talking. We're not rushing around to go to other places and cutting conversations short.

In terms of the issues, do you see yourself as different from the Green Party candidates? Are there disagreements that you have or different areas of emphasis that people should know about?

There's definitely different areas of emphasis. We all have our pet issues that we have more experience talking about or are higher up on our priority list. With the debate in California, that's my only experience with all of us being there and answering the same questions, and for the most part we're all in agreement. We might disagree about what issues are more important than the other, however we all are in line with the values of the Green Party.

We're all competent. We're all capable. We all just have different areas of expertise, and so I can talk about gay and lesbian issues. I was told that I'm the only one that has that on my web site. That may be something that people are going to latch on to that are key issues.

I try to hit all of them as much as possible, but there are just so many issues that are important on the ground. There are so many issues that are not being talked about in the two parties. I mean, they're not talking about the prison industrial complex. They're not talking about how legalizing all drugs and putting cocaine and opiates and heroin in a medical category is a more successful way of dealing with the drug problems that exist in the United States.

On your blog, you wrote about Texas, and how people considering moving to Texas ought to have second thoughts. But, I see that you've also spent time in Rochester, New York, a place that I know. How would you compare, as you have campaigned nationally, the issues of these different regions of the United States?

I think that this is becoming a universal issue in the United States. What I was talking about on my blog is that, in San Antonio, we have one water supply, and it's a natural water supply, and it's got a recharge zone. There's only one other aquifer like it, and it's in New Jersey. The one in New Jersey is so polluted that they'll never be able to use it again.

The aquifer in San Antonio can only sustain a certain number of people, but California has become too expensive, too crowded. So, they're in a flight from California to Colorado, and now there's a flight from California to Texas, because the cost of living here is significantly lower.

I meet so many people from California who are moving here. Because of the cost of living, they can buy a house and live here for years without working again, just off the profit of selling their house in California.

So you've got flight to a place where we don't have sustainable growth. We are building a new coal-fired power plant. We have two already. We're about to build a new nuclear plant, the first one in thirty years.

They're doing this because they want to grow San Antonio to look like Houston. They want to compete. They want to move up on the largest city in the United States list. So, you end up with this situation where you only have so many natural resources that you can use to sustain the population. Once you use those resources, the quality of life for everyone is degraded.

The people who have wealth and means are able to pick up and move to another state. First it was Colorado, and then it was Texas, and now it's going to be some other state that's got clean water supplies and enough energy to support a suburban community. What I'm seeing is that this is just continuing, so you're going to continue to ruin communities throughout the United States as people do this, moving from one state to another, using natural resources, overgrowing the population, then those who can move on and do the same thing to another city or state.

You end up with these huge developments that are used for awhile, and then after some time there's a blight. San Antonio is in that now. We're going to boom and grow and bring in all these people, and we're going to get bigger and better and it's going to be good for everybody.

If you look at that we don't have the water supply to support this kind of growth that you're talking about, what are you going to do about that? Oh, they say, we'll just run a pipeline from the Gulf of Mexico up to San Antonio. This is a three hour drive we're talking about, and you have to desalinate it. There are no desalinization plants. They're not talking about building desalinization plants.

What are you going to do with the waste from the nuclear plant? What are you going to do about the air pollution quality, which is going to be even worse now because we'll have three plant running instead of two?

Texas is the most polluted state in terms of air quality in terms of carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. I also just found out that there's uranium in all the coal that we're burning, so there's all this radiation. It just amazes me.

I don't know what's going on in Upstate New York, but I don't remember there being a growth spurt. I remember people moving away because the jobs were gone.

What sense do you have about what it does to Americans' sense of place, that there's this pattern you're talking about, of moving from place to place when things don't work out?

I think you end up with two things. There are people who have lived, in San Antonio especially, have lived there since before the invasion of the Conquistadores. They're not moving, but the quality of their life is going to be degraded by the people who move here. So, you've got these two classes of people.

One group of people is rooted. They're grounded in the land. This is where they're from. They have a sense of community, and groundedness. Then, you've got this other class of people who don't have that sense, and they can pick up and move wherever they want.

From my experience, the people who can pick up and move wherever they want tend to be white. So, you end up with this sort of racial disparity where you've got the established indigenous communities of whatever ethnicity. Here it would be Latino, and in Mississippi it would be African-American. But then you've got the higher socioeconomic class which is predominantly white that can afford to move around from place to place and seek out the best schools and the best water supplies and the cleanest air, and live there until they don't like it.

My sense is that it's destroying people's communities that have existed for a really long time. The people who are doing it have no idea because they've never really had that sense of community.

Myself, I'm a perfect example. I was never grounded anywhere. I moved around so much that I don't have roots, and I'm barely starting to get them, and so I can see how people who have lived like me wouldn't think twice about it, and would be like, "Oh, well, I can afford to move, so I'm going to move." I can see how my thought processes, at a younger age, I would have thought that way. In fact, I didn't think twice about moving to Seattle or moving to Massachusetts or moving to wherever else I've lived since I've been an adult.

I'm also learning that I've been deprived from that whole sense of being rooted and having a family and having roots and being grounded and having a place that you feel like home, that you feel safe in.

How do you think that's affecting the ability to politically organize, for your campaign or for other issues, the feeling people have that they can just pick up and move?

I don't know that that's affecting my ability to organize. What I see, though, is that the people who need to be mobilized do have that grounded, established community. Given that I didn't come from that, there's a barrier to communicating with those communities.

I'm an outsider, but really, I don't want to be an outsider. How do I prove and gain your trust that I'm not just some white person spouting stuff that sounds good? I really mean what I'm saying, and I'm concerned about the same issues that you're concerned about, at a core level.

It seems to take longer. That's where there may be a difference between Cynthia McKinney's campaign and my campaign. She is from a community that would have that established, grounded communal sense, whereas I don't. She can easily walk in to a group of people and be respected and heard, whereas I sometimes have difficulty walking into a community of people of color, being a white person, and feeling like I have the right to talk about what I'm talking about.

I'm figuring out that I need to learn more about the language of the communities that I'm trying to communicate with. Those are also the communities that do not have the time to spend to find out about all the candidates and to be engaged in the civic process, because they're working so many jobs and trying to maintain a quality of life against all odds, with the corporate structure that is raping and pillaging the natural resources of their communities and controlling the resources of the communities. There's this huge struggle going on, and they do not have the time to be doing the things they need to be doing in order to take that power back from the politicians and put it back into their communities.

That's a big struggle for San Antonio because you get a lot of Latinos who run for office, and they have the Latino last name, but are they really going to serve the interests of the average, working class or poor Latino person? You get people like Henry Cisneros, who ran San Antonio for a long time. There are people out there who will tell you that he was the brown face for the eighteen white men who run San Antonio. It's hard to feel empowered when your own people are voting against your best interests.

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