This is part 1 of an interview with Medea Benjamin. Follow this link for part 2:
Hello! This is John Robles, I’m speaking with Medea Benjamin. She is the co-founder and director of the peace group CODEPINK in the US.
Robles: Thanks for agreeing to speak with me. I’d like to speak with you about the US elections that are currently underway. My first question involves disenfranchisement of groups of voters that the parties may want to suppress. What percentage of the US population do you think has been disenfranchised during these elections?
Benjamin: Well, that’s a complicated question because there is also the question of people who were disenfranchised because it is a two party system that doesn’t give them many choices and so they don’t bother to vote and that’s about half the population. And then on top of that there are individual states that have made it very difficult for people to vote.
You know, in this country we don’t get same day voter registration, you have to be registered beforehand in almost every state. And then on top of that there are new identification requirements that certain states have that make it extremely difficult for people to vote.
I don’t know the percentages, perhaps about 5% of the population, but it is a significant percentage. And in some parts of the country it tends to be the African-American population, the student population and people who are poor in general tend to vote Democratic. Half the population that is registered to vote and then on top of that there is half of that that doesn’t bother to vote.
Robles: What problems has your group seen with these elections? I know that is also a very broad question but can you tells us some of the problems your group has seen?
Benjamin: Well, we have a much bigger concern and the problem that we see is that we don’t get enough choices in this country. When you only have two major parties and all the third party candidates have been shut out of this election, been shut out of the debates, been shut out of media attention then we don’t have the kind of choices that you have in many other democratic countries.
On top of that we feel that many of the issues that we are most concerned about haven’t even come up during the debates. There was almost no real discussion about the military budget or the wars that the US is involved in and until we had the terrible storm Sandy there was no discussion about climate issues, really no discussion about trade issues. So, many people feel that this was an election that did not really bring some of the most important issues we face as a nation into the conversation.
Robles: Would you say that there is a media blackout in regards to third party candidates? And what is your opinion on Republican Party tactics in suppressing voters?
Benjamin: Well, these are two very different questions. In terms of the Republican tactics, they put in these voter ID kinds of requirements that make it very difficult for people who live in transitory kind of housing, like students, like homeless people. They put in things like if you were ever convicted of a felony any time in your life you can never vote again which affects very much the African-American population. Those are some of the tactics that they use.
In terms of the blackout for the third party candidates – this is something that is across the board, that both the Democrats and the Republicans engage in because they decide together how the debates will work, when they will happen, what issues will be get discussed and they refuse to let third party candidates in. It’s really a shame, and there is a very wonderful group of third party candidates this time that includes Jill Stein from the Green Party, Rocky Anderson form the Justice Party, Gary Johnson from the Libertarian Party and more. And when I’ve seen them in debates I’ve been really impressed about how articulate they are. But I would say that maybe only about 1% of the population has had a chance to hear them and most people don’t know they are even running.
Robles: I see.
Robles: Would you agree with the statement that the debates are owned by corporations and that the two parties serve corporate interests?
Benjamin: There is no doubt that the debates are owned by corporate interests because they are the ones funding the debates, including a beer company, which I think is quite a sad commentary on the state of the debates.
What we have seen in this election is over a billion dollars being spent and so much of that money is part of corporate interests. Ever since the Supreme Court decided that corporations have the right to free speech and have the right to put as much money into these campaigns as they want we’ve seen an even further corruption of the electoral system.
This is the worst election we’ve ever had in terms of corporate money. And these corporations don’t just put money in out of the goodness of their heart, they want something out of it. The oil companies want subsidies, the defense industry wants more weapons and wants to keep wars going. There are all kinds of interests involved. And so I think it is a very sad state of the US elections that our Supreme Court has allowed corporate interests to become so dominant.
Robles: Would you say that corporations... Would you say they own the political system?
Benjamin: Corporations have now the unlimited ability to affect our elections. So, in that sense, they do own the system. Corporations also have tremendous lobbying power. They put many billions of dollars into lobbying our government, both at the national level and at the state-wide level. They have organizations that represent a broad base of corporate interests, like the Chamber of Commerce. And they’re able to affect the direction of this country, in terms of its economic direction, as well as foreign policy kind of issues.
It has stopped the United .tates from really taking issues like climate change seriously, because the corporate interests are to keep destroying the planet and not to care about the future. So I think the corporate interests have gained more and more of a foothold in running this country and I think the consequences will be very disastrous for both the recovery of the US financial and the health of the planet.
Robles: Who are you going to vote for?
Benjamin: I’m going to vote for Jill Stein! Very proudly! Very good!