[Note: Due to this flaky reporter, we neglected to post this last Friday. Please excuse the disruption to our regular fringie programming.]
For week seven of "Fringe Friday," we feature socialist candidate for Congress, Jane Newton, an activist grandmother who's been arrested four times protesting against the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.
We mean no offense by "fringe." Vermont has a strong tradition of putting independent and third-party candidates — and their radical ideas — on the ballot. The reality is, these candidates seldom win more than 1 to 5 percent of the vote and remain on the fringes of the state's political system.
For more Seven Days fringe proflies, click here.
Candidate: Jane Newton
Party: Socialist Party of Vermont
Office Sought: U.S. Representative
Hometown: South Londonderry
Education: Columbia Presbyterian Hospital nursing school (B.S. and R.N., 1971)
Occupation: Retired registered nurse.
Family: Newton grew up in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. the daughter of a watchmaker. She has five children and 10 grandchildren.
Platform: Newton is running on the Vermont Liberty Union Party platform. 1. Socialize all doctors and hospitals. 2. Guarantee Vermont workers one hour of paid leave for every 12 worked, or the equivalent of four weeks annually, plus 10 paid holidays for "stress relief, mental health, and social group reinforcement." 3. Disband the Vermont National Guard and raise a taxpayer-funded militia. No Vermonter under 26 years of age shall serve in any military, paramilitary or police agency. 4. Create Vermont Food and Drug Agency to protect against "big pharma shams."
We recently caught up with Newton for an interview at Seven Days world headquarters.
Seven Days: How does counter-recruiting work? What do you do?
Jane Newton: Well the military recruiters are allowed in. High schools are obligated to let them in because the No Child Left Behind Act says they won't get any federal money unless they do. So we got in more or less talking about equal access. What we do is just have a table outside the cafeterias with information that military recruiters don't talk about, or just exposing some of the exaggerations that lure kids into the military.
SD: What's an example of an exaggeration?
JN: Well, they're not told the contract they sign is actually not a contract. The military can change it and it says in really little letters on the back they can change it. Therefore the stop-loss program and all these changes. Even the Marines and the Navy end up on the streets in Baghdad. And the G.I. bill isn't the same as the old G.I. bill which put my husband all the way through college. Something like 30 percent of the people who are part of the program don't get anything at all. Because they have to pay $100 a month for a year, the military makes money on them. So the kids don't realize they're not getting what they're grandfather got. And we bring some peace buttons. Kids like buttons.
SD: You told me you're worried for future generations. What specifically worries you?
JN: The United States is rapidly becoming a sort of fascist government. But we're also an empire with 1000 or more military bases around the world. The trillions of dollars that go into the military leaves nothing for schools, for health care. There's no money left because it's this gigantic, actually cruel gap between the rich and the poor, which is growing. Our kids and our grandkids will probably never get to college because they can't afford it. Also the great debt we're leaving, no jobs, no health care.
SD: You've run for office before?
JN: Three times I've been a candidate for the U.S. House. I remember a couple times with Bernie [Sanders] and then Peter Welch last time.
SD: If by some miracle you got elected...
JN: I wouldn't know what to do.
SD: But if you did. What would be your top priority in Washington?
JN: First of all, to end all violence and I consider poverty a form of violence.
SD: And you think socialism can fix the system how?
JN: I don't have a lot of hope that anything can fix the system. If we could socialize all the human needs — and that would include transportation, subways and so forth — the rest could remain private. At least we'd have a semi-compassionate government that would take care of the poor, with housing.
SD: Is Peter Welch doing a good job representing Vermont?
JN: I think he's doing a good a job as he can. I really have a feeling people like Dennis Kucinich who went trying to get universal health care. I think in the end he was threatened. I really do. He really didn't want to vote for the health care bill and they took him up in an airplane and the president with his generals. And they came down and he voted for it. I think people once they're elected into office in Washington, they only can do so much.
SD: Maybe they just cut a deal with him.
JN: Maybe they threatened his family.
SD: That sounds pretty sinister. Don't they usually just buy them off? Say, 'Look if you vote our way we'll send $100 million in pork to your district?'
JN: I think they do that if they can. I don't think he's the kind of person to be bought.
SD: Why is it important to you not to compromise. Bernie Sanders — you and [Liberty Union Party co-founder] Peter Diamondstone and maybe some other folks think that he sort of compromised to get where he is. He's gotten a lot done, though, and he has gotten to Washington. And that in itself is not easy.
JN: It depends on what you're compromising about. One thing that was really important during the 1990s, during Clinton, when there was U.N. sanctions against Iraq, Bernie voted for those. He was behind the sanctions. In 1991, we bombed Baghdad, destroyed the water purification systems. They are still not fixed. And all during the 1990s, little children under the age of 5 died from contaminated water because of those sanctions. Nobody but us would talk about that and Bernie, like, they voted for it. I wouldn't want to get mixed up in that kind of politics.
SD: Where do you get your news?
SD: What do your grandkids think about having a socialist granny?
JN: They think it's great. They're not embarassed by it. They're proud of it. They come and tell everybody I got arrested.
SD: When were you arrested?
JN: Four times now I've been arrested at Vermont Yankee. Three times it was at their office building in Brattleboro. Once at the reactor. The first time I got arrested with whole bunch of people in winter and all we did was stand outside Entergy offices and then block their doorway. We all got trucked off in cop cars. They didn't have enough handcuffs to go around. The second time was fun. We got some crime scene tape and wound it around the whole building and then sat down in the front door with a letter for them. We got trucked off. A year or so later, somebody got this great idea of making a huge, huge banner saying "Shut VY" and a big long ladder. It was dark, we climbed up on the roof and hung the sign down. A cop came around in the cop car. Somebody called him. He looked up at us and said, "How you doing up there?" We thought we'd get left up there. The fourth time was up at the reactor. Just a group of walked on the road down toward the gate and we got arrested. We didn't go through the gate. But a couple weeks ago, I was the driver for a bunch of these old ladies from Massachusetts. We drove them right up to the gates and they got really pissed. Four of them got through and the other four didn't.
SD: What do you do for hobbies?
JN: Getting arrested. I taught my kids basic guitar chords and now they're all really good musicians. And I jog.