Q&A: Presidential candidate Stephen Durham on his vision for the U.S.
Stephen Durham, 65, is one of the many candidates registered with the Federal Elections Commission running for president of the United States who hopes to be elected via write in. Durham, who is running on the Freedom Socialist ticket with vice-presidential candidate Christina Lopez, lives in Harlem, with his wife, gastroenterologist Susan Williams, MD, and their two dogs.
Q What would you most like to see changed in NYC?
A An effective, elected civilian review board for the NYPD. The current board is appointed by the mayor, but it really needs to be elected to be accountable. It should have the power to subpoena the NYPD and the power to bring criminal complaints that could lead to the indictment of police officers (who betray the badge). This would put an end to things such as stop 'n frisk. They stopped 600,000 people last year and got a total of 29 or 30 illegal weapons. An elected board would have meaningful input into police practices and improve police community relations but to get one, we'd need legislation through the city council.
Q Do you envision these positions as paid?
A Time spent representing the people deserves to be paid!
Q How many complaints did the current Civilian Review Board receive last year and what was their disposition?
A I don't know. I read a lot, and I never read anything at all about the current review board, which shows you how ineffectual it is.
Q The Federal Elections Commission shows that 430 people have registered to run for president, but that includes the contenders who lost in the primaries and have since voiced their support for Obama or Romney. How many people like you are actually running campaigns and hoping to win as a write-in candidates?
A I'm not sure, but I think there's something like 82. The Freedom Socialist Party isn't officially on the ballot anywhere. One of our issues is electoral reform, creating a unified system for getting on the ballot in every single state and dismantling superpacs. We've raised a total of $22,000, which we're very proud of. They're predicting that Obama will raise a billion dollars. All the (main candidates) are very compromised: They're beholden to the lobbyists and the people who give them money. Our slogan is "vote for the greater good instead of the lesser evil."
Q What do you say to the people who feel a vote for you would be a waste, orsabotage their next favorite candidate, ensuring the election of the person they least like?
A Your vote is wasted already by the way the votes are counted. The Electoral College is winner take all and undemocratic. There is no proportionality at all. Everything goes to the winner, even though the electorate may be split. You have to begin some place! We're appealing to the people who voted to elect Obama last time but who have found his agenda isn't all that different from Bush.
Q Who would you appoint to your cabinet?
A That's so hypothetical: I can't think of anyone! I could mention some of my friends, but that wouldn't be right. I'd do a national search, and I'd look at community organizers.
Q Obama used to be a community organizer. Maybe he'd have a second act after the presidency working for you!
A A community organizer who becomes president and doesn't say one word about the Chicago teacher's strike? Obama would not be in my cabinet.
Q Aren't the most successful campaigns founded on inclusion, not alienating people, and compromising more than you could ever imagine?
A They're not compromising with us! They're running everything for the benefit of the 1%! There is no compromise when they're laying off public workers, making cuts to dental programs for children and reducing social programs. The compromise has to come from them! We didn't create these problems: They did! How about taking responsibility for the banks and the fact that wages have gone down while productivity has gone up?
Q So your platform calls for universal human rights, and an end to sexism and racism and environmental sanity. But what would you actually do as president?
A We want a not for profit economic system whose purpose is to meet the human needs of all, and to preserve and maintain the health of the planet. We'd have free universal health care. That's what needs to be done. We'd take the profit out of medicine, cut out all administrative costs and have a single payer system. Health care should be free! You could do it if you stopped bailing out the banks for $4.5 trillion and stopped giving them another $16 trillion in no interest loans. They're giving all that money to their investors. Not to mention all those wars. My big concern is we'll start another war. The depression was solved by World War II with tens of millions of people killed. Capitalism needs war. We don't support that corrupt regime of Iran, but there's a lot of warmongering right now against Iran.
Q But it doesn't seem that the public and the various constituencies wanted health care badly enough to force their elected representatives to bring it about.
A The propaganda machine is so huge. The first task of a capitalist system is to work over time to reproduce itself.
Q Isn't the whole game in federal elections to capture the middle?
A We need proportional representation. We used to have it on the NY City Council until some radicals from Harlem got elected and they changed it. I don't know how we'd do proportional representation for the president: That's just one person! But for the legislature and the city council, we could allocate slots for people who represent parties. It's wrong to have this winner take all system. Even if almost half of the people don't vote for the winner, their voice doesn't get heard.
Q If you get elected, will you do anything special to help out NYC?
A No. Why would I do that? I know people want me to say that, but no!
Q Maybe get the federal government to kick in a little more to our poor undersubsidized MTA to stop the fares from going up and up and up?
A Oh, the MTA would be FREE. We need higher subsidies for public transportation through the whole country, including here! We'd get the money we need from corporations. After all, the main purpose of public transportation is to move people to and Rom work. Of course, it would cut into profits. My vice-presidential running mate, Christina Lopez, lives in Seattle and they have free buses through the Seattle business district (to prevent downtown congestion). Extend that through the whole damn system! Why not?
Q Is there anything from New York you could export nationally?
A I love how all the different kinds of people come together every day on public transportation. We really do have a common interest. The strength of that could be a model for the rest of the world and public transportation like ours would be good for all cities.
Q What do you love most about New York?
A The way the people here responded to Occupy Wall Street. People were very receptive. They're looking for a solution. They respect bold ideas and bold actions.
Q Vermont Sen. Bernie Saunders has made a lot of socialistic-sounding noise about increasing equity in the U.S. Do you like him?
A No: He's supporting Obama! He's fallen right into the lesser evil syndromes. We have a history of working for the people at the very bottom, and in this country that's women of color, because they're fighting both racism and sexism. We need a change that will benefit everyone.
Q So let's say I'm a multi millionaire. Will I go to the guillotine if you're elected?
A Who knows? We could do a lot of things, but you'd probably get to stay in your McMansion, but we'd increase our tax rate to 70%, which isn't that much, considering that after World War II it was 90% for quite some time. After all, during 2009, 93% of all the economic gains went to the top 1%.
Q Ever candidate usually has some scandal that's unearthed during the campaign. What drug use or sex scandal is going to bubble up from your past?
A No drug use. I'm a married man, but I'm a married gay man. To a woman. Our motivation for marriage in 1993 was so I could get health care benefits. You shouldn't have to get married -- straight or gay -- to have the benefits of married people, like health care or tax advantages or the rights of visitation in a hospital. The institution of marriage is all about property and passing it down. And the family is intensely burdened right now with duties that are more appropriately shouldered by the state, such as medical care for older people and the care of special needs children. My mother had MS and it was a terrible burden on our family. There was no help at all. My sister who is not married and has no children has early onset Alzheimer's and it falls on my siblings and me to help her.
Q What qualifies you to be president?
A I've been an activist since 1969. I worked as a teen for 50 cents an hour mowing lawns, washing windows and so forth, had a job in a stock room. I went to U.C. Berkeley and had a work study job in an anatomy lab taking care of animals, mostly rats. I got drafted and got a student deferment: I told everyone I wasn't going to go to war. Then I went to work at the Parker Meridien Hotel and spent 20 years in hotel and restaurant work. I was active in my union and abortion rights, and supporting my co-workers and standing up to labor bureaucrats. I speak Spanish and Portuguese and went to Cuba in 1997. People like me can run the government in the interest of the people. In 1998, I ran for the state assembly and didn't get a huge number of votes, but we did get on the ballot.
Q congressman Barney Frank (D., Mass.) said people sitting out primaries is a big problem in this country because the people who win them are in part guided by the votes given to their opponents to see how much they have to play to the people on their left or their right. Are you arguing that by voting for you, Obama, should he be elected, would know he had the public's support to be more progressive?
A The subtext is you have to vote for a Republican or Democrat. We see the parties as the same. A big part of the American phenomenon is pragmatism. The problem is, it's worked! But we're offering practical solutions that will make real differences in people's lives.
Q Like what?
A We'd dismantle the Pentagon completely. Bring the troops home and give the soldiers jobs at union wages, working on our country's infrastructure. Abolish the war machine. The national minimum wage would be $20 an hour. But there would be tax credits for the mom and pop stores. I'm a socialist-feminist candidate. Men can be feminists, too, you know.