Can This New Jersey Climate Activist Primary Police Unions’ Favorite Democrat?

Can This New Jersey Climate Activist Primary Police Unions’ Favorite Democrat?

Zina Spezakis says that climate change is our biggest national security threat.

The humanitarian issues are—I mean, they're concentration camps [in Xinjiang] and we can't overlook those. But let's start in an area that we agree with, and then work to solve some of those other human rights issues, because adversarial contact is not going to solve any human rights issue. It has not been proven to.

I want to jump to another national conversation your campaign has touched on, which is the Black Lives Matter protests…

There's another angle to this, related to national security, and that's police militarization.

Are there reforms that you would support that would make it harder for the President to deploy military force at home, or for local police departments to get military equipment from the Pentagon?

I've been doing quite a bit of research on that. There are different things you can do with respect to addressing this issue. You can put body cams on people. You can train them. You can renegotiate contracts.

One of the most effective ways of reducing police brutality is to demilitarize, frankly, the police. You have seen probably the same Twitter videos, where the police are walking down the street looking like they're heading into the Middle East, into Afghanistan or something.

They don't need the excess equipment from the U.S. government. I don't know what that does, but I've seen a study that [says] you see lower rates of police brutality in police departments that don't have that military equipment.

One of the things that really surprised me was the body camera issue. It has a small effect, but not as big of an effect as you would think. I understand that we need to pass something, but I don't know whether all the terms of the policing and justice bill have been well thought-out.

I personally feel that we need to start re-allocating some of the resources that go into the police into mental health issues, because a large number of calls that the police get are from people who are suffering from mental health issues.

Education, housing, jobs, or infrastructure. I looked at my own town's budget, and I'm still wading through it, but I was really surprised to see the amount of money that the police force gets paid.

I live in a sleepy suburb—we need police, but we don't need millions of dollars of police.

You mentioned police militarization, and you said oftentimes police walk down the streets looking like they're on the way to Afghanistan. Well, you know, we're still involved in Afghanistan and a lot of Middle Eastern countries.

That's the root cause of a lot of police militarization—the fact that our country is still producing this equipment in large numbers and training people for these conflicts.

What would your approach be to the Middle Eastern conflicts, especially as we nearly went to war again in January?

We spent almost $7 trillion in the last nineteen years. The reasons we went to war, most reasonable people would agree, were fabricated, a lot of them.

We've been doing this for twenty years. Most of my adult life, we've been at war. And we have not managed to make a significant—for the $7 trillion we have spent, we have not managed to become much safer, and we've lost hundreds of thousands of lives.

Congress needs to—we control the purse. We need to stop funding a lot of this stuff. We need to stop voting for expanded powers to give the President...

I'm not sure why Congress sort of relegated or gave away its powers that way, because frankly, that's what they did, but frankly that needs to be reversed, because I think a lot of stuff happens underneath that.

We just need to have people who are going to be fearless enough to call this out. I don't understand why more people are not screaming about this. People are dying every day in the Middle East, we're not any safer, we're spending trillions of dollars that could be better used to update our infrastructure here and get ready for climate change.

It's a matter of priorities…

I would support reversing the AUMF [Authorization for the Use of Military Force]

Would you return to the Iran deal of 2015?

I would return to a deal. The 2015 deal wasn't perfect, but it was something, and it was a start. It was something that engaged the country diplomatically.

Completely throwing it out the window—you're throwing the baby with the bathwater, what Trump did—hasn't done anything. Has it made us any safer? Has it made Iran less antagonistic towards our allies or towards us in the Middle East?

I don't know. That's a question.

I would return to a deal. I would start engaging with them diplomatically.

A large part of our tensions with Iran—as well as with Cuba, Venezuela, and many other countries around the world—is economic sanctions.

Some people say it's a tool of diplomacy, because it lets us pressure bad actors without going to war, but other people say it's another form of war that hurts civilians and actually leads to more tensions.

What's your stance on sanctions?

It's hard to make a broad statement for every country, but you touched on it. In many of these cases, the powers that be hurt less under a sanctions regime than ordinary people, than families…

I think the United States, when we're trying to persuade—whether it's China with the Uyghurs—although I don't think China's going to react a lot to sanctions, because they can retaliate—or whether it's any other part of the world, I don't think sanctions are as effective as we like to think they are.

I, as a mother, always think of the kids who suffer under regimes like that. We've got to find a better way.

The last thing I wanted to touch on—do you think the coronavirus pandemic has any lessons for the way we treat national security, both abroad and at home?

Yes! First of all, the corona pandemic showed the cracks in our system a lot. It was everything from healthcare to the way we're structured as a republic.

It's hard to analyze what's happened here—in an ideal world, you want to take out the Trump factor, and the fact that he just ignored the pandemic, which allowed it to balloon the way it has…

It's a great argument to have close ties [between medical communities], whether they're your "adversaries" or allies, because you find out quicker about a pandemic that might have started in China. If you find out quicker, you respond quicker. That's one thing I would say about that.

With respect to our own national security—what's it doing to our borders? I'm not sure it's doing much to our borders, but given the fact that we are one of the more infectious countries in the world, I would say other countries don't want to let our citizens in.

I looked at travelling into Europe, and I'm like, oh, I can't go in with an American passport, or I have to be quarantined. That's affected at least the perception that we are a superpower…

One thing I will say, though, with respect to Trump—I think, honestly, if we had started implementing a lot of these progressive policies a decade ago, you wouldn't have had the Trump administration for the simply reason that a lot more people would have been better off, and wouldn't have seen Trump as their last resort, because the Democrats hadn't fulfilled their promises for the working class.

Certainly there's a lot of things to discuss in terms of missed opportunities. It seems like a lot of the problems we ignored for the past—however many years—are now hitting us right in the face.

Look, we are one world. We are a plane ride away from a pandemic. As far as a pandemic is concerned, there are no borders, regardless of how many walls you try building.

We only need one person with a bad germ to get into this country. You can't police that. That's impossible to police.

We need to know as soon as possible whether something is happening, and we need to have the political courage—and I speak to the executive here—we need to have the political courage to say, we're in trouble guys, all hands on deck, let's get this done.

The countries did that, like New Zealand, most of the European countries, even the country where my parents come from, Greece, they're well past the peak. They have flattened the curve and they are reopening their economies.

In New Zealand, they haven't had a case in three weeks, and they just allowed mass sporting events again. [Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern] has done a good job down there. She's an empathetic leader, and she wasn't afraid to tell people the truth.

But when you're beholden to corporate interests, it's harder to tell people the truth.

Matthew Petti is a national security reporter at the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter: @matthew_petti.