From the Margins, Stein Seeks to Change Policy Discourse

Jill E. Stein
Courtesy of Jill Stein

Green Party 2012 presidential nominee Jill E. Stein ’72-’73 is running to use the campaign as an opportunity to use her party to change the national discourse on government policy.

In early August, a crowd of protesters began gathering outside the downtown Philadelphia offices of the Federal National Mortgage Association. There were about 50 protesters outside the offices by 1 p.m. lobbying peacefully for the embattled mortgage lender to drop two foreclosure cases, according to local media reports.

By 1:30, a smaller group of protesters had tried to enter the building illegally and started a sit-in in the lobby of an adjacent bank. By 2:30, officials met with two of the protesters facing foreclosure with little success, and, by the end of the day, two of the Green Party’s top organizers, 2012 presidential nominee Jill E. Stein ’72-’73 and her running mate Cheri Honkala, were in jail.

Stein and Honkala were among five arrested and charged Aug. 1 with unlawful entry and conspiracy for a sit-in. As Republican nominee Mitt Romney mulled over his looming vice-presidential pick and President Barack Obama campaigned in Ohio, the Green Party presidential candidate spent the night in jail. The game is rigged against third parties, she meant her actions to say, and it is time somebody did something about it.

“Every effort of the Obama Administration has been to prop this system up and keep it going at taxpayer expense,” Stein said, by way of explaining her protest. “It’s time for this game to end. It’s time for the laws to be written to protect the victims and not the perpetrators. It’s time for a new deal for America, and a Green New Deal is what we will deliver on taking office.”

A Lexington, Mass. physician, Stein is not running to win, but to prove a set of progressive points. Her party has come a long way since Ralph Nader first pushed it onto the national stage more than a decade ago, but Stein knows that in an era of big media and bigger political parties, a poorly-funded third-party candidate with a career in medicine cannot win.

So she attends events like the one in Philadelphia. In mid-September she spoke at Occupy Wall Street’s one-year anniversary. Late in the month she called on supporters to “storm” the Commission on Presidential Debates. She tries, as the Greens always have, to provide an alternative to the two-party system, while forcing its hand.

“It’s not necessarily having someone elected to office, it’s having the third party that drives an agenda forward,” Stein said in an interview with The Crimson. “Sometimes you can win the day without winning office.”

The overwhelming question surrounding the campaign, political experts say: Can Stein push her peripheral third party to the forefront of the political debate with just five weeks until November 6?

From the Grass Up

The Green Party has always faced an uphill battle to find widespread support. Barred from debates and forgotten by mainstream media, 2012 will be no exception. But, in the wake of the Occupy movement and the threat of government shutdown, the political climate might be right for a party that tries to loosen, if only slightly, the hold of the two-party system that dominates the national political landscape—or so Stein hopes.

“We’re in a unique moment now in American history. It’s a moment where I think people realize it is up to us to bring the breaking point to the tipping point,” Stein said.

Stein is unwavering in her policy proposals, which are radical in comparison to either mainstream party. The keystone of her platform is a “Green New Deal” that she says would create 25 million jobs while laying the foundation for a more sustainable economy and environment. Specifically, the plan calls for $700 billion in local investment offset by defense cuts and further health care reform, as well as tax increases for the country’s highest earners.

Without big donors, Stein’s campaign could be described as human-scale. Though it has far-reaching ambitions, the camp is largely grassroots, relying on Twitter and alternative media to get the word out.

Ideologically, the Stein campaign is not unlike its Green Party predecessors, and her own political story echoes that of her party.

First organized in the 1980s, the Green Party was originally a collection of local parties united to advance of environmentalism, non-violence, social justice. With Nader, a Law School graduate, at its helm, the party became better established in the late ’90s and early 2000s.