The Oxford Student, March 12, 2016
Dr. Jill Stein at the Oxford Union: Movements, Students and Changing Minds
by Toby Clyde
Sitting in the busy Oxford Union bar on a Wednesday night, the most successful female presidential candidate in U.S. history looks ever so slightly out of place. It’s not like the Union is any stranger to the great and the good of history; the numerous framed photos on the walls confirm that. Yet as we watch the US presidential primaries squirm to the delight of international press and internet commentators it seems strange to have one of its key players here in the flesh.
Dr. Jill Stein is distant from the current primaries in more than just air miles. A graduate from Harvard Medical School, she is the presidential candidate for one of the few independent parties that have any chance of making an impact on the presidential race this year: the Green Party. In 2012 she garnered 0.36% of the vote, an achievement that earned her the title of the most successful female presidential candidate ever. Standing for 100% clean renewable energy by 2030, a single payer public health system and a 50% cut in military spending she is not holding back. However, what has arguably launched her agenda, and that of the whole America socialist left, in to the eyes of mainstream media has been the success of Democrat nominee Bernie Sanders this year. It is highly unusual to see even an aspiring democrat donkey pulling policies like free public education, issues that Jill Stein has been campaigning on for years.
Yet as the inevitable weight of the democrat party establishment swings round in support of Hilary and Bernie hangs on after Super Tuesday it is time to look at the wider picture of the American left, and indeed that of western democracies all over the world. In steps Dr. Stein, faced with the monumental task of bringing proposals, like the complete abolition of student debt in the US (a figure that now stands at up to $1 Trillion) all the way to the While house. Her response was candid. “I think we’re only going to win this with a movement, put it this way, we’re not going to win this by advocating the right policy. Policies are a dime a dozen and believe me I’ve worked on enough of them to see that they can just be eviscerated with the change of a sentence. You can have a great bill and it’s gone, it’s really about building a movement.” Stein doesn’t see this as merely in terms of US politics either. Citing protests like the Battle in Seattle (huge demonstrations against the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in 1999) and the recent upheaval in Greece she said: “I really think there is a global movement happening in response to this assault of the concentrated corporate power, that movement is happening and it is organised on many dimensions right now.” It is a movement that she clearly envisions as encompassing a whole spectrum of environmental and social justice movements. Talking about the possibility of unifying the fractured movements on the let she described how, “when I was in Paris I was able to meet with Jeremy Corbin and discuss the peace offense…we resolved that we’d look for opportunities for collaboration. I think our agendas are ultimately indistinguishable and so it’s time to work together.”
But to return to the presidential election at hand, it seems this idea of a political revolution is at the heart of the left in the current election. As Dr. Stein said herself: “If we had the momentum to win to office, we would have the momentum to win the fight on the first legislative battle and the next one after that and the next one after that.” But where would that movement come from, particularly in the US? In her talk at the Union that evening she had highlighted once possible source, the 43 million strong youth vote. Her strategy: student debt. “Democrats and Republicans have come out the same over student debt so why would you vote for either of them? In my experience, it’s as simple as letting people know they have the option of coming to erase their debt.”
“If you can get 43 million people to come out upon that one issue then that leverages all the other issues and in my experience many young people who have been strapped for debt have really been taught the hard way about the social justice agenda.”
If one of Stein’s cornerstones for anti-establishment feeling is this issue of social justice, then for Trump it is definitely one of immigration. I was keen to know then, why she thought this feeling extended so vehemently to both the left and the right. “This is, I think, the rule not the exception historically. When people are very stressed economically you see this kind of split.” Stein stressed the opposition between “concrete solutions” on the left and ‘“fear mongering and finger pointing on the right.” “You have demagogues like Donald Trump saying this is the fault of immigrants. … This is horrific, race-baiting and immigrant-baiting and classic demagoguery that paves the way to fascism and this is why we need to stand up for an agenda of social justice.”
Despite this, it is inevitable that mainstream media skepticism and the very real difficulties faced by third parties in the US will shadow Dr. Jill Stein’s campaign. Reserved but expectant she said: “This is the process of boot strapping yourself up as a party until you hit critical mass.” In turn much depends on the fate of Bernie Sanders' democratic nomination. But in some ways what has taken Stein and her commitment to “people, planet and peace over profit” all the way Oxford on this wet Wednesday evening was a televised debate in 2002. Before being recruited at the age of 50 by the Greens she was “completely apolitical.” Of herself and others disconnected from the political process Stein said: “They had been propagandized to believe that they are powerless, when really they are powerful the minute we stand up.” In a televised debate during the Massachusetts’ 2002 gubernatorial election her comments were totally ignored by the two main candidates. But the minute she stepped out she was confronted be reporters who told her an online viewer poll registered her as the winner.
“That’s what I learnt when I won that debate. I didn’t think in a million years I would see that debate won in my lifetime and I walked out and the debate had already been won. History has already changed people’s minds.”