Who is Jill Stein?

I almost titled this column “Why I Refuse to Vote for Obama.” But the progressive case against Obama has been persuasively made again and again and there’s not really much I could add. So, instead, I’ve chosen to focus on the Green Party presidential candidate in this election, in hopes of informing fellow well-intentioned liberals and progressives in the Harvard community about her candidacy. So, who is Dr. Jill Stein ’73 and why are you likely not to know a thing about her?

Jill Stein, an alumna of Harvard College (1973) and Harvard Medical School (1979), is a physician specializing in internal medicine. She was a candidate for Governor of Massachusetts in the 2002 and 2010 gubernatorial elections here. Unfortunately, she and her platform have been rendered virtually invisible in this election! This is primarily due to harsh ballot access laws and a corrupt debate system, both of which work to hide third-party candidates from the public eye.

In an interview with Russia Today, Dr. Stein addressed the difficulties third-party candidates face in terms of getting on the ballot in the first place, noting, “Each state has its own set of rules which are very demanding, very detailed and bureaucratic and require lots of signatures in order to get on the ballot.” Notwithstanding these obstacles, after dedicating most of its campaign time and resources to gathering signatures, the Green Party’s commendable efforts have ensured that Dr. Stein and her vice-presidential running mate, anti-poverty activist Cheri Honkala, will appear on 85 percent of the ballots cast on Election Day. Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party has been even more successful at achieving ballot access through persistent litigation.

If 85 percent of Americans are able to vote for Stein, shouldn’t they at least be able to hear her speak at the presidential debates? If you watched the mainstream presidential and vice-presidential debates last month, you did not see either of these candidates in the mix.

In 1976, 1980, and 1984, the presidential debates were sponsored by a non-partisan group known as The League of Women Voters. In 1988, however, the group withdrew its sponsorship of the debates on the following day and issued a press release condemning the demands of the major candidates’ campaigns.

What exactly was the LWV condemning? The two major parties proposed creating the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates to sponsor the televised debates in 1988. The CPD remains the sponsor of the debates to this day. And, as activist and writer for opensecrets.org Harrison Wills points out, “the CPD’s history indicates that third-party candidates were looked on with disfavor from the beginning.”

The nonprofit and nonpartisan group Open Debates provides a helpful history of the CPD and explains its major problems. In an interview last month with DemocracyNow!, the founder and executive director of Open Debates, George Farah (HLS 2005) stated, “Over time, the candidates have made even greater efforts to control various components of the debates to eliminate both third-party candidates, unpredictable questions, and any threat to their dominance in our political process.”

How has Dr. Jill Stein been affected by all of this? Jia Hui Lee ’12 notes that “the arrest of Green Party presidential and vice presidential candidates Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala outside the presidential debate venue….highlights serious questions about the influence of the [CPD] on the outcomes of election day.” Liberal and progressive voters should consider Dr. Stein’s campaign stances, which include bailing out massively indebted students rather than banks by forgiving student loan debt; support of civil liberties, a more progressive stand on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ issues than Obama; the implementation of universal health care; immediate action to address our serious climate problems; free public college education for all; and a Green New Deal to build a sustainable, green economy, by greatly reducing military spending, taxing Wall Street transactions and creating 25 million jobs. Unlike the major party candidates, Jill Stein would be solely beholden to the American people, not to Wall Street and major corporations. Dr. Stein has been endorsed by the well-known intellectual Noam Chomsky, prominent journalist and activist Chris Hedges, and others including black and Latino activists. Unfortunately, as Open Debates poignantly reminds us, “Excluded third-party candidates… can't break the bipartisan conspiracy of silence on issues where the major parties are at odds with most of the American people.”

Although Dr. Stein may have been excluded from the mainstream debates, organizations such as DemocracyNow!, the Independent Voter Network, and the Free and Equal Elections Foundation as well as news networks like Al Jazeera English and Russia Today have courageously expanded the coverage of the mainstream debates. Some have even hosted debates to which all candidates have been invited, including Obama and Romney (who have suspiciously declined to participate every time). In fact, Free and Equal will host its the next and final debate between Jill Stein and Gary Johnson on Monday night at nine. Obama supporters watching these debates may be surprised to realize that Jill Stein has really matched their beliefs best all along.

Jonathan Solarte is a Ph.D. candidate in Romance Languages and Literatures.

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