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GREEN PARTY Q and A-01-10292016234229

David Schwab

David Schwab is relatively new to town, but he he’s found Madison a good fit.

Drawn to Madison in 2012 for a stint with Jill Stein’s Green Party presidential campaign, the Albany, New York, native decided to stay and immerse himself in Green politics. He’s served as co-chair of the state Green Party and now serves as the Stein campaign’s communications director.

Schwab, 30, isn’t under the illusion that Stein, who’s polling at about 2 percent nationally, is going to be sworn in as the country’s 45th president in January. But he’s optimistic that her candidacy will further efforts to break the two-party lock on American politics by coalescing social justice movements across the country under one umbrella.

And Madison is a good place to start.

At a Stein rally Thursday at UW’s Memorial Union Theater, there was one notable absence: Stein, who was recovering from a bout with pneumonia. But the rally still drew more than 100 enthusiastic supporters who responded to speakers’ scathing criticisms of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump with resounding applause.

You came to Madison four years ago to work on Stein’s campaign. What made you decide to stay?

There are a number of reasons, but in particular I was attracted to a place where there’s actually a progressive political movement and a feeling like you can actually make a difference in a community.

In this election cycle, Democrats are warning that a third-party vote is basically a vote for Trump. Why should voters choose Stein?

That’s the exact same argument that we hear every single election. It’s the lesser-evil strategy, and it’s a failed strategy. She’s exactly the sort of person who you want in politics, because she’s in it for the right reasons. She actually cares about people. She listens to people and the problems that people are experiencing, and it’s just applying her incredible intellect and compassion to how we can solve problems. There’s no ulterior agenda. It’s all about people and planet.

There are still a lot of people who feel that Green candidate Ralph Nader’s 2000 showing in Florida got us eight years of George W. Bush. Do you still get a lot of flak about that?

All the time. That’s the propaganda campaign. It’s been researched and debunked by many people, including Al From, who was chair of the Democratic Leadership Council. Actually if you look at the polls in Florida, without Nader in the race Bush did better. The truth is that there was voter suppression and tens of thousands of voters, mostly African-American voters, who were illegally purged from the roles by Jeb Bush, the brother of the man who was selected by the Supreme Court.

A recent ABC News poll shows Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson with about 5 percent support, compared with 2 percent for Stein. Why do you think the Libertarians are doing better?

There are a number of factors. In comparison with the Green Party, the Libertarian Party has a lot more money. The Green Party refuses to accept corporate money or Super PAC money or lobbyist money. The Libertarian Party has no restrictions. Also, the Libertarian Party is not a threat to the corporate establishment. It’s more a safety valve for them. If you’re not happy with the two establishment party candidates, then vote for this other corporate-funded candidate.

I think a common perception of a Green Party supporter is that they’re either a white college kid or an aging white hippie. Is there an effort to get away from that?

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I would say there is some basis to that. It was a party started largely by environmental activists. But actually there’s an interesting history that very few people know. Here in Wisconsin, one of the oldest state Green parties in the country, some of the founders were Native American. And it came out of struggles they had with encroachment on their rights and their land for mining projects and similar things to what they’re fighting in North Dakota today. And if you look at the history of the presidential candidates, we had a Native American woman on the ticket with Ralph Nader. In 2008 we had two women of color on our presidential ticket.

How do you see the Green Party evolving?

We definitely see the Green Party growing and becoming much more reflective of what America is. There are many more young people. People of color are joining. And there’s more geographic diversity as well. It’s people all around the country — a lot of working-class people. If you look at how the polls break down, the whole myth of the typical Green Party voter falls apart, because it turns out that the most likely person to vote Green is a young person of color who’s making less than $50,000 a year.

I thought it was interesting that Brandi Grayson, who’s become the face of the local Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, was the first speaker at Thursday’s rally. Is the Green Party making an effort to incorporate that movement?

I would say yes. Not in the sense that we’re trying to co-opt the movement, but more that this is where the Green Party’s always been. It’s always been about social justice and human rights, but now we’re being very intentional about making sure that message gets out to people. We don’t have the major media megaphone like some people do, but I think they understand that it’s authentic. The Democrats will parade people on stage at their convention, but then the secret memo comes out that says, “When you meet with a Black Lives Matter activist, don’t support them on their policy demands.” That’s how they co-opt movements. What we want to do is empower the movements. I think people are starting to get that.

What’s the tipping point where you get enough support to be a viable force in American politics?

What we’re shooting for is 5 percent nationally of the popular vote, which actually has some tangible benefits. That means federal recognition as a party and it qualifies you for up to $10 million or more in public matching funds for the 2020 election. And the laws vary from state to state, but you can get a continued ballot status in a lot of states by getting anywhere from 1 to 5 percent of the vote. That’s important because a lot of the Green Party’s resources in various states go into gathering huge numbers of signatures so you can get on the ballot. Obviously we’d like to use our resources to run campaigns. But the long and the short of it is, if we get 5 percent of the vote nationally, then we’ll certainly be in a stronger position to build.

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.