Friday, July 20, 2012

On the Importance of Jill Stein

This past week, I watched my Facebook newsfeed fill up with links, an app that provides a presidential election quiz. After completing the quiz, Facebook users can post links announcing the candidate they side with. Surprisingly neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney were the most common results posted. Instead, it was Jill Stein, candidate of the Green Party, whose face was all over my newsfeed. It seemed everyone, from committed communists to disillusioned liberals, had found Jill Stein's platform at least nominally compatible with their views. While normally I would be suspicious of a candidate attracting such a breadth of sympathizers, the trend of the election quiz's results has given me hope that there may finally be a genuine Left alternative to Barack Obama. Assuming the app continues to gain popularity, and assuming more and more disillusioned liberals find they have more in common with Jill Stein than with Barack Obama, Jill Stein could stand a significant chance of making a noticeable political impact.

Moreover, as national media attention has focused away from Occupy, Jill Stein's open endorsement and participation in Occupy's struggles could bring attention back to the movement. Occupy was criticized constantly in the mainstream press for lacking a leader and, later, for failing to transition from direct action to legislative action. Though many involved with Occupy reject legislative avenues and view the idea of an "Occupy candidate" as antithetical to the movement's commitment to horizontalism, Jill Stein could be the voice of the movement's reformist tendencies and the link between the movement's activists and the rest of the public. Her platform - A Green New Deal - translates many of the grievances voiced by the Occupy movement into concrete policy proposals. Stein calls for "an immediate halt to all foreclosures and evictions"and has vowed to create "a federal bank with local branches to take over homes with distressed mortgage and either restructure the mortgages to federal homes to the occupants." Her Full Employment Program is designed to "create 16 million jobs through a community-based direct employment initiative that will be nationally funded, locally controlled, and democratically protected against conflicts of interest and pay-to-play influence peddling." The aforementioned proposals address the concerns of Occupy. Both activists and the media should look to Stein's candidacy as a crystallization of an Occupy electoral platform.

The very idea of an electoral platform for the Occupy movement undoubtedly upsets a lot of people involved with the movement. And that is fine. Occupy participants who are committed to effectuating social justice outside of the legislative or mainstream political framework will be able to continue their radical activism regardless of whether Stein is on the ballot. But for Occupy participants who have grown weary of having no concrete platform, Jill Stein's candidacy is a chance to finally engage in the electoral process under an unabashedly left-wing banner.

Occupy's skeptics of organization and hierarchy, despite their disagreements with Stein's proposals, should nonetheless pay attention to Stein's rhetoric and the values espoused by the Green Party. Decentralization and local control have long been Green Party pillars, in contrast with the platforms of other left-wing parties. While not horizontalist, Stein and the Green Party share many of the more radical Occupiers' values. And that is a good thing. Stein's presidential campaign puts a pragmatic spin and concrete platform behind a set of criticisms and ideas that have been derided in the press as vague or idealistic and ignored by many. It would be a mistake for the Left to disregard her candidacy, especially when faced with the false choice between to servants of corporate interests and the wealthy.

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