Q&A: Green VP Candidate Cheri Honkala Says She’ll Shed Light on PA Ballot Access
Philadelphia activist Cheri Honkala has been fighting for poor people’s economic rights for the last 25 years. 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.
Last year, she garnered 6 percent of the citywide vote in her run, but what she 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, Honkala has been chosen to run for vice president on the national Green Party ticket, alongside Massachusetts physician Jill Stein. Honkala is at the Green Party National Convention in Baltimore right now, but caught up with PhillyNow by phone for an interview on 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?
I actually … 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 a joke. 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, she, for me, it was a no-brainer because she has really touched on an important issue, which is this question of health.
And health in the larger context. Other than just going to the doctor’s. 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.
Many groups you’ve mentioned have often been taken for granted or known to vote Democrat. How do you expect to take on the Democratic Party if you start moving into those voting blocs?
Well, one, I really hope to stay alive in the process and that’s not a joke. Because some of the worst gangsters I’ve met have come from the Democratic Party and of course they aren’t going to be happy. For years—I know what it’s like to do voter registration in low-income communities and the Democrats get very angry when you’re doing that independent of their party because they want to make sure that they maintain a certain amount of numbers and that number doesn’t really grow unless it’s for whatever candidate that they want to have in office at the time. Because behind the doors that we knock on, people don’t know what is the Green Party, they don’t know there’s another choice. All they hear about is the Tea Party, but they don’t know that there are people who are raising a lot of these economic issues and they aren’t associated with the Tea Party; they are associated with the Green Party and they look just like them and we’re serious about making this a real viable party in this country.
Regarding that, there have been problems getting the Green Party on the ballot in Pennsylvania. What is currently being done to combat that?
Now that folks are finding out that I’m the VP candidate, I have literally received hundreds of calls and email and Facebook [messages], and you name it, with people asking to help. And we have until, I believe, August 1st. I think that if people are serious about getting myself and Jill Stein on the ballot—and that we are in crisis right now in Pennsylvania because we have a backwards state and we don’t have ballot access—then perhaps they’ll go out there and pick up one sheet and get 35 signatures. I know that people are having ’round the clock conversations, there’s going to be a Pennsylvania caucus here at the National Convention and people are really sounding the alarm on the importance of that. But it’s truly unfair: Democrats and Republicans only have to get 2,000 [signatures] and we have to get 40,000, because we’re sure if we get the [required] 20,000, that will be challenged in court.
Does the campaign have a precise number on how many signatures have been collected?
I think we need like another 30,000 signatures.
Do you plan on shedding light on this issue at all during the national campaign?
Absolutely. People can’t believe how backward it is and the article that you wrote yesterday is being sent everywhere because they don’t really understand how backward Pennsylvania is.
Yeah, I’ve been told by lawyers working on this issue that Pennsylvania is actually worst state in whole country for ballot access.
Wow, I can believe it.
Do you and Jill plan on coming to Pennsylvania soon to campaign?
Yes. Basically, the campaign has really been focusing on matching funds in each of the states and … focusing on that ballot access and collecting the signatures and the convention. The next period is going to be about visiting every single spot in the country and of course Pennsylvania is incredibly important right now, for some of the stuff you talked about, and because, historically, Pennsylvania represents a whole lot of things when it comes to presidential elections.