Going Green in Politics: An Interview with Margaret Flowers

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On November 8th, more than 100 million people will make their way to various schools, community centers, and religious buildings in order to cast their ballots. They will vote for who should lead this nation and become one the most powerful people in the world. The general consensus is that there are two options: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. When prompted “Who are you voting for?” most people respond with one of those two names. Yet there will be plenty of other names on the ballot screens next month. Margaret Flowers is one of those names. She is running to fill a Senate seat, soon to be vacated by Barbara Mikulski. Dr. Flowers, a member of the Green Party, who feels she is the best candidate to join the more selective arm of the United States Congress. The Point News was grateful to speak with Dr. Flowers earlier this semester. That conversation is transcribed here:

The Point News [TPN]– What would you like voters to know of your experience and qualifications for Senate?

Dr. Flowers [F]– I am a physician by training; I did my medical schooling here in Baltimore,  at the University of Maryland, and I did my pediatric residencies at [Johns] Hopkins, after practicing for 17 years. I left to advocate for health reform. My main area of expertise is in health policy. I have written legislation, I have testified in hearings, I have educated congressional staff and members about health policy. In my work to do that I really started to understand the connections to so many other issues that we face, so I really now have a pretty broad range of experience working on a variety of issues from reducing wealth inequality, fighting for international fair trade, (trade) that protects workers and protects the planet. I have worked on climate issues. Obviously other types of environmental health issues as well.  [I] fought for net neutrality. I feel like I have a wide range of experiences. I also know how power works. Through my work at Popular Resistance, we have actually won some campaigns that we were told were not winnable. And we have learned how to actually put our issue on the table and then fight for it, and I think that is critical in Congress.

[TPN]– You mentioned your background in health care policy, so what sort of legislation could we expect a Senator Flowers to author or co-sponsor?

[F]– So I have worked for a long time with the House [of Representatives] so H.R. 676 which is called the “Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act” I have also worked with Senator Sanders and his staff on his health [care] policy. I will introduce the Senate version of H.R. 676 and fight for that. Senator Sanders has been great at introducing his bill which is not quite [ours]. It is a state by state system. H.R. 676 is the gold standard and so that’s one of my priorities when I get in. The health care crisis is getting worse, and the ACA deal [commonly known as “Obamacare”] is not the solution. It didn’t hit the root causes of our healthcare crisis. So we really now more than ever have to fight for a solution.

[TPN]– Because you mentioned him, your effective party leader Jill Stein has had a prominent role alongside the Bernie or Bust campaign. What are your thoughts on that movement?

[F]– I think it’s really exciting. My son Jack was involved. I think it has been amazing to see so many young people become politically active for the first time. To use their skills of self-organization and social media savviness really pushed the campaign much further than anyone thought it would go. For those who have been involved in the political scene for a while, [we] knew that the Democratic Party was never going to allow him [Senator Sanders] to actually get the nomination, but he made it farther than any other insurgent Democratic candidate. The other thing that has been exciting to see is that a lot of the people who supported Senator Sanders got a real up close view of the corruption in the Democratic Party. They didn’t do what has happened in the past which is when the insurgent candidate, like Howard Dean or Jesse Jackson loses the nomination and then the [nomination] is handed to the establishment candidate. Sanders followers, a lot of the young Sanders followers didn’t go to the Hillary [Clinton] Camp it has been exciting to see that energy come to the Green Party.

[TPN]– I have to ask, because voters will be interested in hearing your thoughts, how do you feel about the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees?

[F]– I think they are both terrible. What we’re seeing is decades of what’s called “lesser evil” voting. They’re not really voting so much for what they want; they’re voting against what they don’t want. So that’s just causing a race to the bottom, and now we have the two most un-liked presidential candidates ever. While Trump is really scary, he doesn’t seem to be that stable. Who knows what he would do if he were President. The reality is that the system is set that he’s not going to be the next president. Hillary Clinton is also pretty bad. We know what she’ll do and we know that she will bring more wars, and her economic policies will favor those who are wealthy. I think this year it is really not about voting for the lesser evil, because both of them are greater evils. We have to vote for something different and build up political power by doing that.

[TPN]– How do you distinguish yourself from your opponents: Representative Van Hollen and delegate Kathy Szeliga?

[B]- Kathy is kind of your bread and butter Republican: free market, small government type of person. I certainly do not agree with that. I am the opposite of her in terms of believing in a strong social safety net. Believing in respecting  human rights, and believing in a government that actually works for the good of the people. I think that Chris Van Hollen has done a very good job leading people to believe that he is a progressive. We know that he is also a Wall Street Democrat. He has raised over $9 million so far in this campaign. He was the head of the DCCC for two terms. The DCCC, or Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is really kind of the body that goes between the Wall Street funders and the members in the House [of Representatives]. The person who is the head of that is kind of the big man that hands out money from the big finances, big industry to members of Congress. So he’s very well connected to that. And he has shown that in his time in Congress, he is: One, not willing to really push the system to what we need, and two, [he is] willing to be limited by what the Democratic establishment tells him he can do, so he’s never supported a single payer healthcare system. He did not support a real solution to the climate crisis. He is supporting a market solution that kind of gives incentives and hopes the market will solve our problems.  I support a real rapid major mobilization like an Apollo system or World War II style mobilization to really take immediate action. We really have to plan to solve the planet crisis with clearer goals of, you know, getting off of carbon fossil fuels and having a just transition for workers, and taking the other steps we need in terms of transit and changing our culture and all that. So those are some of the ways, I mean a lot of the ways that I’m different, those are some of the major ways.

[TPN]– So you spoke about the power of the Democratic Party in Congress.  I mean, I might be paraphrasing incorrectly and obviously I try not to do that, but we can both agree that the Democrats and Republicans have a stronghold on the House way more than the Green Party. How would your party work to try to break that gridlock in Congress and “break” the two party system once you’re in office?

[F]– Well I think that the Senate is a really critical place for me to be because in the Senate you are one of 100 members in the Senate. There are mechanisms by which you can actually exert that power. People may not realize that I worked with Senator Sanders back in 2009 during the Health reform process and we were able to get a single payer legislation to the floor of the Senate for the first time in the history of the United States actually. We were there for three hours on December 16th, and you can look that up if you want to get the report. That was because he was an independent member of Congress, he kind of had that little bit of wiggle room and freedom to do what he thought was right.  What I’ve seen too much in my experience looking at Congress– and I have  spent a lot of time in there–is that it’s really the leadership that determines what is going to happen before the hearings happen, before the bill gets voted on, all that’s been negotiated. It’s not a big surprise what happens on the floor. You need people that are in there that are willing to speak out, to speak the truth, and ask the hard questions in the hearings. I have attended so many hearings that are practically scripted. [We need to] open a door for people to come in–not a lobbyist–but people to come in and fight for the solutions that they need. Also the Senator has other abilities like calling for investigations and reports of things that are going on and holding town halls and other events where we can bring these issues and really hear people because there’s a lot that a Senator can do.

[TPN] So the final question I’d like to ask is, a representative of Van Hollen got 470,000 some votes in the primary and delegate Szeliga got 135,000–what steps has the Green Party taken to get your name out there and compete against these relatively well-known candidates?

[F] Can you repeat that?

[TPN]– I just mentioned that the amount of votes that Representative Van Hollen and Delegate Szeliga have gotten are pretty substantial. I am wondering in what way is the Green Party working for candidates to get their names better known?  Everyone seems to now know Jill Stein’s name, and I am just wondering what steps your party is taking in order to advertise [down ballot candidates]?

[F]– Right thanks, so the Green Party–one of the reasons that I ran is partly because I believe that to build local power we have to go outside of the mainstream parties, because when you vote with Democrats you end up giving all your power to them. They take it for granted, and so when you vote outside the party, you actually have power; they have to work for your vote. One of the big reasons why I wanted to strengthen the Green Party and run as a green party candidate. We’re building better infrastructure now than we’ve had in the past. We have a lot of candidates running in Baltimore City and statewide in Maryland. All summer long, we have lots of volunteers going out to public events, passing out literature.  We’ve also been taking advantage of social media, and that’s something I’ve learned to do as an accident because many of our issues don’t get covered in the commercial media. We’ve learned how to reach people through social mediaWe’ve also been taking advantage of social media, and that’s something I’ve learned to do because many of our issues don’t get covered in the commercial media. Also I am fortunate, because Dr. Jill Stein and I are good friends… [But] I don’t have any illusions. I know that the system is usually pretty rigged in favor of Chris Van Hollen.  It would be a pleasant surprise if I won somehow, but this is really about a long game.  It’s about building political power so we do the best that we can do this year. We build the best infrastructure that we can. You know, November 9th, we’re not going away. We’re going to keep building and keep growing and running more candidates in 2018 and 2020 and beyond, and that’s how political change occurs.  You lose a lot before you win, but you have to put in that hard work and run hard to build that power.

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