Once a homeless mother, Cheri Honkala moved to Philadelphia in the late 1980s and has been fighting for the rights of the poor and homeless ever since. This past year, she was chosen as running mate by Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential candidate. I spoke to her about Obama, Romney, and whether the Green Party would ever consider merging with any other third parties to try to gain a larger base.
How did you feel about your party’s performance in the election?
I’m really excited. For us to come in fourth underneath two billionaires and a millionaire, it’s pretty impressive. And I know the other side has got to be paying attention too, if we can get people to come out to vote for us on $1.95. It’s amazing to see what we could do with just a little bit of money.
How do you feel about Obama winning the election?
I’m very excited that Obama won, because under a Democratic president, it’s easier to build a third party. If Romney had won, they could just blame everything on this bad Republican. But now it’s going to be an awakening. People are going to suffer from medical cuts, the privatizing of schools, the building of the Keystone pipeline, we’re going to continue to have these crazy storms, and this climate crisis is going to intensify, and they can’t say that it’s because of Romney.
You campaigned for Obama in 2008. I take it you weren’t pleased with the results of the Obama administration.
Most of the people I know in the last four years have tried to adjust to a lower standard of living. The few people in my life who had some kind of stability, they don’t have it anymore. The homeless were renters and couldn’t afford to pay their rent. And now the bulk of folks I’m dealing with had stable jobs and worked their whole life. And had two car garages, and mortgage payments, and these sorts of things. And that’s a very different group of people.
Do you have any hope for Obama’s second term?
Once you become a billion-dollar president, this has nothing to do with Obama anymore. His campaign is owned by all of his contributors. Do I see any hope for the environment? No. Do I see people getting access to health care, not just benefiting the insurance companies? No. Do I see stopping mass incarceration in this country? No. Do I see an end to bank bailouts and a moratorium on foreclosures? No. What do I see? I see a growth in an independent political movement in this country out of necessity. Because for the first time, people are beginning to understand that we’re out of step with the rest of the world. The rest of the world has three, four, five, 15 political parties, and we’re still stuck on two.
Unless there is some miracle and people start getting great jobs and corporations stop moving overseas, we’re in for some interesting years ahead.
Is there any talk about merging any of the third parties?
We’ve definitely been engaged in those conversations. The thing that makes it very difficult is that there are a bunch of fundamental differences. But there are a couple of things we were able to unite around. One is this question of ballot acces. In PA, it takes 2,000 signatures to get on the ballot for Democrats, 2,000 for Republicans, 20,000 for any other political party.
And the other thing we united around being left out of the presidential debates. For me it was a hell of an education, and we were able to educate the American people. Most people didn’t know that it’s 10 corporations that finance the Commission on Presidential Debates. And that it’s the Democrats and the Republicans who decide what questions are not going to be asked of each other. It’s similar to several scenes in the Hunger Games, where it’s all finely scripted, and it’s theater, and people think they’re watching something that’s exciting. And then we spend the next several weeks talking about Big Bird.
Mitt Romney said he wasn’t concerned with the very poor, and that there was a safety net there. What did you think when you heard that?
I think the guy has got to have some mental health issues. I don’t like to get personal with anybody. But it’s clearly an indication, people become a product of their environment, and this man is so disconnected from human beings and their reality. That’s the only way I can figure it out. The poor guy. He just doesn’t know any better. He’s so clueless. The guy has no idea how much a gallon of milk costs. Has no idea how those of us who live on the other side of life live, and how far we stretch our $1.95.
What was the toughest part about campaigning?
Some of the viciousness that came from some of the paid Democratic Party gangsters. That was very difficult. Some people have just decided to never talk to me again. People who were colleagues, would be like, I can never talk to you again, because you’re running. That’s a hard thing. But you know what? I gained so many more friends. Lost a few die-hards, but they’ll come over to the right side at some point.