Philadelphia activist Cheri Honkala has been fighting for poor people’s economic rights for the last 25 years, most notably for her efforts to keep families in their homes. But it wasn’t until recently— 2011, actually—that she got involved in party politics. And being as her service can be defined as one of unorthodoxy, she chose a unique position, sheriff, and a unique party: the Green Party.
For those familiar with her work, it seemed a natural fit. The Green Party is further left than the establishment Democratic Party and too cynical to think its views of democracy and social issues still have a place in the two-party system. Its members count social justice, nonviolence, community-based economics and sustainability among the party’s key values, and the votes Honkala garnered (she got 6 percent of the citywide vote) in last year’s sheriff’s race helped shed light on how these issues impact the poor.
And what Honkala lacked in hard votes, she made up for in party registration. Local Green Party spokesman Chris Robinson notes that registration in Honkala’s Kensington neighborhood is up more than 50 percent, the highest turnaround in the city.
Now, the 49-year-old has been chosen to run for vice president on the national Green Party ticket, alongside presidential nominee Dr. Jill Stein. It’s a big deal for the Philly activist, but before they can campaign, they’re going to need to get on the ballot—a feat that’s easier said than done. Many Greens—most notably, Ralph Nader (now an Independent)—have been struck from the ballot in Pennsylvania due to ballot-access rules that keep third parties off the ballot. In a March 2012 PW cover story, we reported that Pennsylvania has been called one of the worst places in the world for representative democracy.)
Honkala was at the Green Party National Convention in Baltimore this past weekend, but managed to catch up with us to talk about what she hopes to bring to the national ticket.
Were you surprised you were chosen as potential vice president of the United States?
I was totally blown away. I knew my name was on a list because I received a letter from the Stein campaign saying could they put me on a list of possibilities but never ever did I believe for one moment that I would be chosen.
How did you come to the decision to accept the position?
When I got the letter, I began thinking about it and I just decided that if Jill Stein’s campaign and folks around the country really think that I would be best suited to run for VP then I have a responsibility to do it. So I kind of knew that if I was chosen that there would be no way in hell that I could say no.
You’re kind of a newcomer to the Green Party. Did you expect to move up this quickly?
The thing is that many of the Greens are involved in different social-justice work across the country. So although I’m a new person to the Green Party, folks are familiar with my work for the last 25 years and I think that they know that I’ve begun to really help in bringing low-income folks across the country and people of color into the party across the country.
Last time we spoke about this race—before you were picked to be vice president—you mentioned you were a Jill Stein supporter.
The woman has a great deal of integrity. She’s very serious about running for president. It’s not something that’s just symbolic, and I think she has some really good ideas and she has really championed the issue around single-payer health care, Medicare and Medicare for all, for a very long time. Right now—and of course, myself, at many times in my life not having health insurance, and basically everybody I know not having health insurance or having substandard health coverage ... it was a no-brainer because she has really touched on an important issue, which is this question of health.
She really has raised environmental issues that low-income folks have had to deal with living in communities where there’s various environmental problems and high rates of cancer and miscarriages and a whole host of other things. She understands the whole nutrition piece. And all of those things that are fundamental, that low-income families have to deal with.
What do you hope to add to that basic platform?
I think what I bring is a bridge to a whole different section of folks in this country, and those are the homeowners that are trying to hold on to their homes and inner-city youth and seniors that are living in nursing homes and the disabled. I really feel like I can help put the spotlight on some of these issues that aren’t being talked about in either the Obama or the Romney campaign and I’m really serious because Mitt Romney keeps acting like he’s talking to poor whites in America or like he cares about or supports their issues and he really doesn’t.
But Pennsylvania’s problems with democracy are buried well below the level playing field. Here’s what’s not mentioned on the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website: Anyone can challenge the petitions of anyone else running for office in Pennsylvania. And if you have the cash on hand to follow through, there’s little your opponent can do to stop you.
John Rodriguez has been a loyal Democrat most of his life. But on a recent Tuesday afternoon, there he was, knocking on doors throughout Kensington, asking mostly-Spanish speaking residents for their signature to help get Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein on the ballot in November. The Philadelphia accountant and father of two says [...]