Green party candidate for president Jill Stein. Democrats believe she’s the Yoko Ono of the presidential race. Donald Trump believes she’s...yet another faceless disgusting woman who probably has periods. Though they rarely agree, both major parties would like you to think she’s some sort of dreadlock-y hippie that isn’t worth your time.
If, however, corporate shills and/or flat out insane people aren’t your cup of tea she'd like you to think she’s your next best bet, and she might be. Join us as we meet our first of the two major third party candidates and dive a little deeper into this thing called democracy!
A STEIN IS BORN
Jill Stein was born and raised in the theme-park of Chicagoland (or, as some residents refer to it, the “metropolitan area and surrounding suburbs of Chicago”) to a reform Jewish family whose synagogue is, for some reason, named in every single Jill Stein biography. If you know where/what the North Shore Congregation Israel is...great work? You must be the intended audience of her biography. AND, since we’re all so obsessed with what version of the fairy tale our presidential candidates believe in, Stein cut her ties with organized religion after her mother died in 2010 and now describes herself as agnostic. If that thought makes you panic, just remember that you’re reading a blog post written by a confirmed atheist so things could be much worse.
Like every presidential candidate who isn’t a total joke and/or a Yalie (and sometimes aren’t they the same thing?), Stein went to Harvard, graduating magna cum laude in 1973. She stayed at Hah-vahd for medical school, finishing in 1979 and doing that thing you do where you get married to another doctor because who has time to socialize in medical school?
Stein practiced medicine until 2005 and taught at Harvard’s medical school until 2006, but she began her pivot towards politics long before, having become enthralled with the youthful, spirited, sometimes, yes, dreadlock-y ways of the far left beginning in the mid-90s.
STEIN TURNS GREEN
We don’t mean this in the medical accident way, though literally turning people green does sound like a fun science project.
Jill Stein, like any good Jewish doctor who would rather not be ostracized by her community, began her political life as a Democrat. That’s what people do. In 1998, however, she got involved in our favorite pet issue - CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM!!! - and found herself on the losing end of the fight over Massachusetts’ Clean Elections Law. Stein campaigned in favor of the law, which did pass, but it was repealed by a Democratic majority legislature soon after, never having been fully implemented. This just goes to show you that the Democrats were up to shenanigans for basically the whole of the 1990s. In any case, Stein and a bunch of activists brought the issue to court and left the Democrats over the whole kerfluffle.
The Greens were a natural home for Stein, whose work as a doctor dovetailed nicely with her interest in environmental issues. 1998 was an important year in the Stein activism timeline - aside from leaving the Dems she got involved in major protests surrounding a group of Massachusetts coal plants and began working with Physicians for Social Responsibility. She’s since worked with a number of other impressively (longwindedly) named organizations such as Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities, Clean Water Action, Toxic Action Center, Global Climate Convergence, Physicians for a National Health Program, and the Massachusetts Medical Society. Also, she’s won some awards! That’s fun! In 1998 she got "Not in Anyone's Backyard Award" from Clean Water Action, in 1999 the “Citizen Award” from the Toxic Action Center, in 2000 the "Children's Health Hero Award" by Clean Water Action, and in 2004 the "Friend of the Earth Award" from Salem State College. [Ed. note: all of these have silly names.]
As an activist Stein used her doctor-facts to shine a light on environmental threats, especially to children and the elderly. In 2000 she co-authored “In Harm's Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development.” After retiring from medicine she also co-authored a report entitled “Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging.” Wikipedia hilariously notes that she has co-authored articles about health “in publications such as The Huffington Post.” A great way to bring an issue to a wider audience, but is this an impressive career landmark? Literally every person in America writes for them. We write for them. (Are we impressive?!)
STEIN ISN’T A ONE-NOTE CANDIDATE
Like Bill Clinton and Martin O’Malley before (concurrent to) her, Jill Stein likes the unwind with the help of an instrument and a medium-real music career. Like many an activist before her, Stein is an extremely white person who plays the conga and djembe drums. In the 90s and 2000s she and a few other white people released four studio albums as the folk-rock band Somebody’s Sister. Unsurprisingly, they sing a lot about social justice and the environment. One thing’s clear: Stein’s definitely a hit at drum circles.
Just check Somebody’s Sister out at the 16th Annual Kateri Peace Conference (obviously), singing “People Got the Power.” Notable lyrics: “People got the power. Shout it by the hour. Shout it from the tower.” People, apparently, also have the music and the rhythm. Deep.
OCCUPY THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: 2012
After running for office one million times in the state of Massachusetts, Stein was approached by Green Party activists to run for president and announced she’d be taking her first stab at it on October 24th of 2011. That year she joined a Green Party primary (what!?) that included Kent P. Mesplay, a less-optimistic Green who thought she was too idealistic, and Roseanne Barr, a hugely confounding ex-celebrity who sometimes says offensive things on the internet. On the trail, Stein developed her “Green New Deal” proposal, a core component of 2012 and 2016 campaigns, and chose activist Cheri Honkala as her running-mate (yay for all-female tickets!). The pair made enough in contributions to qualify for federal matching funds, which, considering that the only other Green candidate who has ever qualified is Ralph Nader, puts them in impressive Greens company. Things were off to a wonderful start when Noam Chomsky announced that he’d vote for her and the inimitable Brain Trust Live endorsed her as a great safe state option. (That’s basically everybody.)
The Stein 2012 campaign was also fortuitously timed, beginning only a month after Occupy activists settled down for the long haul in Zuccotti Park. Stein paid multiple visits to camped out Occupy activists around the nation and was repeatedly called the “#Occupy” candidate by media, which was awesome for all involved. Being called the #occupy anything is a great honor in our book.
As the #occupy candidate you have responsibilities, and one of them is to go to protests. Stein was also arrested multiple times over the course of the 2012 campaign, once outside a Hofstra University presidential debate that she was protesting her exclusion from and once ON HALLOWEEN for delivering supplies to a group of activists camped out to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. Baller.
BERNIE SANDERS: THE CAMPAIGN
Stein announced her plans to run for president again in June 5th of 2015, just a month after Sen. Sanders’ May announcement. At the time this seemed like best available plan to court left-wing voters - there was literally no way anybody was going to pay attention to that loon Sanders in a big-money, establishment-controlled party like the Democrats. Then, the best and worst thing possible happened: for the first time in recent memory a far-left activist candidate gained massive traction within a major party. So what does a Green do when they aren’t the only anti-corporate option at the polls?
Stein’s solution has been to do everything. She’s actively courted Sanders and his supporters. She’s offered to step aside so he can run as a Green. She’s approached Sanders surrogates like Nina Turner to be her running mate. She’s gotten good at Twitter. She’s gone to the DNC to be part of a fun and thrillingly disruptive walk-out. She’s helped draw attention to the media’s blackout of progressive candidates. She’s done a CNN town hall (go CNN for putting third party candidates on the air!). She’s hit the NPR rounds. She’s gotten national and international media coverage. She’s gotten vilified by the Democrats, which is an exciting milestone for the Greens - only Ralph Nader had achieved it thus far. In short: she’s on a very unpredictable rollercoaster in a very exciting year.
There are some challenges, of course. In a year with such a bizarre looming threat in the form of the unstable Donald Trump, her anti-Clinton rhetoric has resulted in a Democratic backlash with a lot more media access and savvy than the Greens possess. Her opposition to both major candidates has proven to be a complicated position in a year where the GOP challenger is so unhinged and scary. At the same time she’s gotten a powerful confirmation that her policy positions are not out of step with those of voters - that the war she’s fighting is primarily a conversation about strategy.
Stein is polling around 4-5% but has polled as high as 7% so far. Though that’s basically like 156% for a Green candidate, but polling at over...8%...would be better.
IS JILL STEIN RALPH NADER?
No. But if you’d like our thoughts on Nader and his supposed “spoiler” effect on the 2000 election, several episodes of our podcast includes a pretty good compendium of them.
DOES VOTING FOR JILL STEIN WASTE YOUR VOTE?
That depends on what you think your responsibility is as a voter, and the beauty of democracy is that we all get to disagree about that! If you believe your responsibility is to fend off the opposition, you probably aren’t going to be comfortable voting third party - you won’t, after all, see results in the form of an elected candidate. If you believe your responsibility is to vote with your principles so that your voice on the actual issues is heard, then a third party vote might be right for you.
We admit that voting third party in a swing state is very different and sometimes less strategically sound than doing so in a safe state. While we encourage everybody to vote with their conscience wherever they are, we also know that presidential votes in battleground states have outsized weight and are more likely to be actively campaigned for by major party candidates. In those states, you're also more likely to see your local concerns represented by a major party.
In safe states we usually don’t hear from major party candidates unless it’s a request for donations. Voting third party in a place like California or New York gives voice to issues that voting with a major party does not. It’s the opposite of a wasted vote in our view because unlike voting the party line, protest votes help bring new issues into the discussion.
IS JILL STEIN AN ANTIVAXXER?
Jesus Christ people, no. She’s a medical doctor for God’s sake! This controversy is based on a statement she made in which she tries to both affirm her support for mandating vaccines and also parse why so many lefties are suspicious of them. She does so by pointing out that the controversy stems from the FDA’s cosy relationship to big pharma. It’s a fair point that’s consistent with the Green’s negative view of corporate interference at any and all federal agencies, and it’s not the same thing as saying mandated vaccines aren’t an important public health initiative.
PEOPLE LOVE BEYONCE
Stein chose Ajamu Baraka, a celebrated human rights activist, to be her running mate. It was a smart choice in the sense that he’s articulate and brings a lot of experience to the table. It was also a dumb choice in that he’s repeatedly disparaged the Sanders movement AND Queen Bey. We’re not sure where to head from that but one thing we KNOW is that people love Beyonce and Bernie Sanders so we hope they can work it out.