While polls show Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are among the least popular major-party candidates to ever run for the White House, it appears no third-party candidates will be invited to take part in the first presidential debate next month. The debates are organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which is controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties. Under the commission’s rules, candidates will only be invited if they are polling at 15 percent in five national surveys. Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein have both witnessed recent surges in support, but neither have crossed the 15 percent threshold. More than 12,000 people have signed a petition organized by RootsAction calling for a four-way presidential debate. We speak to Green Party presidential nominee Dr. Jill Stein. Four years ago she was arrested outside a presidential debate protesting her exclusion from the event.
AMY GOODMAN: Preparations have begun for the first presidential debate. It’ll be held September 26 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. While polls show Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are among the least popular major-party candidates to ever run for the White House, it appears no third-party candidates will be invited to take part in the debates. Debates are organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which is controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties. Under the commission’s rules, candidates will only be invited if they’re polling at 15 percent in five national surveys. Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and the Greens’ Dr. Jill Stein have both witnessed recent surges in support, but neither have crossed the 15 percent threshold. Johnson has polled as high as 12 percent nationwide, while Stein has peaked at 6 percent in recent national polls. But in some demographics, they’re both beating Donald Trump. McClatchy recently polled voters under the age of 30 and found 41 percent back Hillary Clinton, 23 percent support Johnson, 16 percent back Jill Stein, while only 9 percent back Donald Trump. Among African Americans, polls also show Trump behind all three other candidates, polling at either zero, 1 or 2 percent. More than 12,000 people have signed a petition organized by RootsAction calling for a four-way presidential debate.
In a moment, we’ll be joined by the Green Party’s Jill Stein and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, but first I want to turn to George Farah, the founder and executive director of Open Debates. He spoke on Democracy Now! a few years ago about how the Democrats and Republicans took control of the debate process.
GEORGE FARAH: The League of Women Voters ran the presidential debate process from 1976 until 1984, and they were a very courageous and genuinely independent, nonpartisan sponsor. And whenever the candidates attempted to manipulate the presidential debates behind closed doors, either to exclude a viable independent candidate or to sanitize the formats, the League had the courage to challenge the Republican and Democratic nominees and, if necessary, go public.
In 1980, independent candidate John B. Anderson was polling about 12 percent in the polls. The League insisted that Anderson be allowed to participate, because the vast majority of the American people wanted to see him, but Jimmy Carter, President Jimmy Carter, refused to debate him. The League went forward anyway and held a presidential debate with an empty chair, showing that Jimmy Carter wasn’t going to show up.
Four years later, when the Republican and Democratic nominees tried to get rid of difficult questions by vetoing 80 of the moderators that they had proposed to host the debates, the League said, "This is unacceptable." They held a press conference and attacked the campaigns for trying to get rid of difficult questions.
And lastly, in 1988, was the first attempt by the Republican and Democratic campaigns to negotiate a detailed contract. It was tame by comparison, a mere 12 pages. It talked about who could be in the audience and how the format would be structured, but the League found that kind of lack of transparency and that kind of candidate control to be fundamentally outrageous and antithetical to our democratic process. They released the contract and stated they refuse to be an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American people and refuse to implement it.
And today, what do we have? We have a private corporation that was created by the Republican and Democratic parties called the Commission on Presidential Debates. It seized control of the presidential debates precisely because the League was independent, precisely because this women’s organization had the guts to stand up to the candidates that the major-party candidates had nominated.
AMY GOODMAN: That was George Farah, founder and executive director of Open Debates, speaking on Democracy Now! in 2012. He’s the author of No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates.
Well, joining us now is Green Party presidential nominee Dr. Jill Stein, along with her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, a longtime human rights activist. Baraka is the founding executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network and coordinator of the U.S.-based Black Left Unity Network’s Committee on International Affairs.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! So, September 26, that’s the first presidential debate. What are your plans, Dr. Jill Stein?
DR. JILL STEIN: Our plans are to be in that debate, because it’s not just about whether our party will be included, it’s whether the American people will have a voice, whether we will have a real discussion of the crisis of jobs, of the climate, of race, of war. These—and the crisis of a generation, an entire generation that’s basically been hung out to dry, that cannot get out of predatory student loan debt, that doesn’t have the jobs they need, and doesn’t have a climate future to look forward to. So, these are really the critical issues that people want to discuss.
We saw an incredible surge of a response last night, when we had our first prime-time TV. And I want to note that while we’ve come up to 6 and even 7 percent in the polls, this has happened without any media coverage, really, whatsoever on—you know, in the mainstream media. So, it’s absolutely remarkable that we’ve not only doubled and tripled, even more than that, because we were invisible as of about two months ago in the polls, suddenly we’re up there. So there’s an enormous interest in what we’re talking about.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go back to 2012. The debate then was at Hofstra, as it will be on September 26. You and your running mate then, Cheri Honkala, were arrested as you attempted to enter the site of the presidential debate at Hofstra. Democracy Now! was there at the time of your arrest.
DR. JILL STEIN: Well, we’re here to stand our ground. We’re here to stand ground for the American people, who have been systematically locked out of these debates for decades by the Commission on Presidential Debates. We think that this commission is entirely illegitimate; that if—if democracy truly prevailed, there would be no such commission, that the debates would still be run by the League of Women Voters, that the debates would be open with the criteria that the League of Women Voters had always used, which was that if you have done the work to get on the ballot, if you are on the ballot and could actually win the Electoral College by being on the ballot in enough states, that you deserve to be in the election and you deserve to be heard; and that the American people actually deserve to hear choices which are not bought and paid for by multinational corporations and Wall Street.
POLICE OFFICER 1: Ladies and gentlemen, you are obstructing the vehicle of pedestrians and traffic. If you refuse to move, you are subject to arrest.
Remove them. Bring them back to arrest them, please.
POLICE OFFICER 2: Come on, ma’am.
POLICE OFFICER 3: Would you step up, please? Stand up, please?
POLICE OFFICER 2: We’ll help you. Come on. Thank you, ma’am.
POLICE OFFICER 3: Thank you, ladies.
POLICE OFFICER 2: Watch the flag.
POLICE OFFICER 1: Thank you, ladies.
POLICE OFFICER 2: Thank you.
POLICE OFFICER 3: Come with us.
POLICE OFFICER 2: Just come with us.
POLICE OFFICER 3: Thank you. You guys have to stay here. All right, everybody, we’re going to ask you to please move back.
DR. JILL STEIN: Well, I’d say this is what democracy looks like in the 21st century. I’m afraid it’s going to take some—some politics and courage here to get our democracy back. So, more to come.
AMY GOODMAN: "More to come," you said. So, you’re taken away, Dr. Jill Stein, from the Hofstra campus. Where did you and Cheri Honkala—where were you taken?
DR. JILL STEIN: We were taken to a dark site, where nobody knew where we were, an unmarked facility that was basically being run by, I think, Homeland Security and the Secret Service and local police. We were surrounded by, according to Cheri, who counted them, some 16 police and colleagues, and handcuffed tightly to these metal chairs for about seven hours.
AMY GOODMAN: Seven hours?
DR. JILL STEIN: Seven hours, until the debates were long over and everyone had gone home. It was, I think, an incredible testimony to how fearful the political establishment was, and is, that people should learn that they actually have another choice in that race—and all the more so in this race, because we know that the current candidates of the Democratic and Republican parties are the most unpopular, the most disliked and untrusted presidential candidates in history. So, people are clamoring for another choice. And we—you know, we’re building a campaign to get into the debates, and we’ll keep people posted as to what our actions will be, coming up. But we will not leave this just to the establishment to shut down political opposition, which is what this commission is doing.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you plan to head to Hofstra on September 26th?
DR. JILL STEIN: Absolutely. Whether we are in the debate or whether we are locked out of the debate, you can be sure that we’re going to be there. And we’re not going to be there alone. We’re going to be there with the American people, who are demanding that we open up the debate and make it a real service to our democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: You have sued?
DR. JILL STEIN: We have two cases, one of which has been dismissed. The other one is still technically in effect. We are not holding our breath that this is going to be favorably decided in a court of law, but there’s every reason for this to be decided in the court of public opinion, where public opinion is very clear that people have had it, not only with the rigged economy, but the rigged political system and with the dialogue, which is rigged by the Democratic and Republican parties. This commission is a private corporation run by the two political parties. The League of Women Voters called it a fraud being perpetrated on the American public. We’re not going to settle for that.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this year, I spoke to Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson in his home state of New Mexico. He talked about the unfair nature of the presidential debate system, as well.
GARY JOHNSON: Right now, running for president of the United States as a Libertarian, there is no way that a third party wins. There’s no way that I have a chance of winning, unless I’m in the presidential debates. There is the possibility of being at 15 percent in the polls, though, if I’m in the polls, that I could be in the presidential debates.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re part of a lawsuit going after the Presidential Debate Commission?
GARY JOHNSON: Yes, on the basis that—on the basis of the Sherman Act, that politics is a business, that Democrats and Republicans collude with one another to exclude everybody else. We think that the discovery phase of this lawsuit is going to provide national insight into just how rigged the system is. I come back to the fact that 50 percent of Americans right now declare themselves as independent. Where is that representation?
AMY GOODMAN: That was former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who is running on the Libertarian line for president. We’re talking to Dr. Jill Stein, presidential nominee of the Green Party. And when we come back from break, you’ll meet her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, new to the electoral scene, the vice-presidential nominee for the Green Party. Stay with us.