Cheri Honkala, a longtime Philadelphia social-justice activist, is the Green Party's vice-presidential candidate. Honkala and presidential nominee Jill Stein are on the ballot in Pennsylvania and 37 other states. Honkala was arrested outside Hofstra University prior to the Oct. 16 presidential debate, one day before this interview took place.
Sounds like you had a bit of excitement at the Hofstra debate.
I had a rough night. I got to know the Secret Service, and Homeland Security. Jill and I had gone down there a little earlier. We wanted to talk to somebody from the commission on presidential debates. But as we got down there, we were met by the entire police force.
We began to have a standoff -- this was on the university campus, but far from where the debate was being held. The next thing we knew, as we were trying to go forward and get closer to the debates, we were arrested, and taken by Secret Service and police to a little trailer on the school grounds. They photographed us and, I guess, did background checks. Then they took us away to an undisclosed location.
Was Dick Cheney there?
It was so bizarre. Jill and I weren't allowed to call anybody, and it starts to get a little spooky when you have all these officers and three Secret Service guys, and it's you and them for 13 hours. We were handcuffed to metal chairs, in a cold warehouse facility where nobody knew where we were.
The debate had long been over by then. Why do you think they kept you so long?
I have no idea. It should have been enough to give us a citation and a stay-away order. That's when it began to feel like this thing was political, and democracy was being prevented. If they'd have merely given us a citation, we'd have had access to the media folks out there [at the debate].
What were you hoping to accomplish by going to Hofstra in the first place?
I thought they might at least have somebody from the commission come out and at least make a statement about why Jill and I weren't considered qualified for the debates. They could have very easily done something diversionary and said, "Let us take you over and have you talk to somebody." They could have chosen a different road.
If it's mathematically possible for a candidate to win [i.e. if a candidate is on the ballot in enough states to get to 270 electoral votes] it's scary to think you can't be part of that discussion. We're on the ballot in 38 states.
Why do you think all this is happening?
We're learning more and more about how scripted these things are, with agreements between Democrats and Republicans about which questions won't be asked. People think these are real knockdown debates -- but then we spend days talking about Big Bird, instead of climate change.
Republicans are portrayed as grizzly bears and Democrats as teddy bears, but they're both corporate pawns. If they continue receiving all these billions [from corporate donors], the United States just looks like a joke. Other democracies have five, 10, even 15 parties, so there's much more room for discussion.
How would the vice-presidential debate have been different if you had been included?
I would have loved to have been on stage talking about [abortion rights]. Or what our foreign policy is: All these guys talk about how we need to get meaner and tougher. [On economics], everything is in this context of how bad the deficit is, and how we need to tighten our belt. But Jill and I refuse to proceed from the belief that there is scarcity in this country. It's a problem of priorities -- big banks getting bailouts while the rest of us fend for ourselves.
[The Green solution] is a public-works program like we had in the Great Depression. It's about bringing home our soldiers, and turning them into organic farmers.
This isn't not rocket science. But we only get one chance at one world. Not addressing climate change, seeing the removal of our mountains, the poisoning of water through fracking, the kowtowing to the coal companies, and investing no money in green energy. We're totally ignoring science, we're pretending like it's something that is fake.
Other than getting arrested and such, how is the campaign going?
I'm traveling the country talking to the people neither of the other candidates will ever talk to and see. They won't talk to the folks in Appalachia. And it's heartbreaking – talking to a guy whose daughter has cancer, because of the polluted stream running right by their home.
People are tired. They are not just going to adjust to a lower standard of living. Particularly the ones that once had a good standard of living: They aren't taking well to losing their homes after 20 years. This isn't just about pissed-off young people who are part of the Occupy protest.
What would you say to people who want to support you, but worry you'll be a spoiler that helps the Republicans?
You can't spoil something that's already rotten. Our planet — our children being able to breathe and have clean water — is at stake. And if you aren't voting for us, you're a spoiler for a new beginning. [The major parties] aren't addressing climate change, the poisoning of water through fracking, the kowtowing to coal companies. When our children get older, they're going to ask why we didn't do something when we had the opportunity.
I know people who voted for Nader back in 2000, on the hope that if he did well, it would start a viable progressive third party. That didn't happen, even though Nader is the most famous progressive alive. What makes you think this time will turn out any different?
Because now, one of every two Americans is in poverty. We didn't have 8 million Americans who've lost their homes in foreclosure. We didn't have the trillions of dollars spent on the military. And we didn't have the amount of money that has been spent on these elections. It's a different time in history now. Anything new is scary and threatening. Democracy is hard: People have to look at the fact that we had to fight for the 8-hour day and Social Security, the right for women to vote. But our planet and democracy -- those are things that we've got to take seriously.