“My first priority will be to reverse the trend toward the privatization of the public schools,” Brian Jones wrote in the January 2013 Indypendent, when we asked the longtime New York City educator and union activist what he would do if he were appointed to serve as Secretary of Education.
Jones, of course, did not have the chance to carry out that vision. But now, he is seeking public office in earnest as the Green Party candidate for lieutenant governor in this year’s New York State elections. He publicly launched his campaign last Thursday in Harlem, where he worked for nine years as a public school teacher. He will be running alongside Howie Hawkins — a Syracuse-based Teamster and longtime Green Party stalwart — at a time when polls show left-leaning voters are looking for an alternative to incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo.
John Tarleton: Why are you running for lieutenant governor?
Brian Jones: The Democratic Party and Governor Cuomo have turned their backs on the promise of high quality public education for all. Instead, they are heavily promoting privatization schemes like spreading charter schools and wasting tens of millions of dollars on contracts for more high stakes standardized tests. They use this data to close our schools and weaken our unions. I want all of the people who have been working hard to fight back to have someone to vote for in November.
JT: Describe the process that led you to make this decision. Did you reach out to the Greens? Did they reach out to you? When did you decide to make the leap?
BJ: Howie Hawkins reached out to me, and I was honored by that. Howie has tremendous integrity and dedication, and I've admired his ability to enter into the electoral arena and inject left-wing ideas into it. Everyone I know in education — parents, educators, students — is angry at Cuomo. When I started to appreciate that, I began to see the possibility of challenging him from the left. That's what pushed me over the edge and say to myself, "yes, this is something I should do."
JT: What are issues that you look to highlight in your campaign?
BJ: Occupy Wall Street was right — there is tremendous wealth in this city and in this state. There is no reason that we should have the most segregated schools and the most unequal state in the nation. We have the resources to make sure every child has a place to sleep, healthy food, and a great education. I know activists who are fighting around all of these issues and more, and I hope my campaign will amplify their voices.
JT: How will your experience as a teacher shape your campaign?
BJ: The corporate education reformers want us to believe in top-down reform. Give all power to the boss and he or she will whip the workers into shape. Once you set that tone administratively, it becomes the dynamic of the schools, and of the classrooms. But I know from experience that educators — and students! — need power to shape the teaching and learning process. I remain active in the teacher's union because the fight for power is central to making our schools humane, child-centered places.
JT: How widely and how energetically will you campaign?
BJ: I will campaign as widely as my schedule will allow. I expect mostly to campaign in New York City, but I will travel statewide as much as possible. I'm a parent and I'm working on a doctorate in urban education, so my dance card is going to be pretty full for the next few months.
JT: How do you view the overall record of the Cuomo administration?
BJ: Cuomo has a small number of multi-millionaires who fund him. Let's just say they've gotten their money's worth.
JT: Many progressives in New York are hoping that the Working Families Party will run a strong candidate this year in opposition to Cuomo. Do you think that is likely to happen? And if it did, why should progressives who are disenchanted with Cuomo vote Green instead of WFP?
BJ: If the Working Families Party wants a strong challenger to Cuomo, they should look no further than Howie Hawkins. Howie and I are both union members and union activists, so we're a natural fit with the WFP. The other great thing about the Hawkins/Jones ticket is that you can bet your bottom dollar we will remain truly independent from the millionaires who support Cuomo.
JT: You are a Marxist and a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) which seeks to abolish capitalism. You are running as a candidate of the Green Party which seeks to reform the capitalist system instead of calling for it to be ended. Is there a contradiction there?
BJ: There's only a contradiction if you think there's a contradiction between reform and revolution. I don't. We'll never win a mile if we can't win an inch. I support the people who are fighting for a $15 minimum wage and I think we need to get rid of the wage system altogether. I support the right of LGBTQ people to serve openly in the military and I would like to abolish the military. If we can win reforms right now that will improve our lives, I'm all for it. But I intend to keep my eyes on the long-term prize.
JT: Since you are unlikely to win, how will you measure success in this campaign?
BJ: I think working people in this country need their own political parties. Hoping in the lesser of two evils has been a dead-end for us again and again. I hope this campaign will contribute to building genuinely independent politics. I don't want to comment on the likelihood, but if enough people vote for us, we'll win.
JT: Tell us something interesting about yourself.
BJ: I have a background in theater. Since 1999 I have performed Howard Zinn's one man play, Marx in Soho all over the country. Working with Zinn was one of the highlights of my life. I'm too busy now to do it more than two or three times a year, but the few shows I am able to squeeze in are a real joy.
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