In 2008, I shook Barack Obama’s hand.
Yesterday Dr. Jill Stein gave me a hug.
Eight years ago, I was so inspired by Obama’s campaign speech in my hometown of Pittsburgh that I rushed forward along with the crowd to grab his hand. It was soft but firm with a tinge of moisturizer. Now I look at his incredibly regressive education policies and feel the need to scrub my palm.
This weekend in Philadelphia, I was at the United Opt Out Conference and saw Stein sitting in the audience.
I walked past the Green Party Presidential candidate the first time thinking I must be mistaken. Then her name tag removed all doubt.
“You’re Jill Stein!” I stuttered.
She smiled warmly, stood up and said, “You’re Steven Singer!”
I want to believe she knew who I was, but I was wearing a name tag, too.
We talked for a moment about what most of us were here for – education policy. She reaffirmed that she wanted to end all high stakes testing and school privatization.
Think of it – a presidential candidate speaking in specifics. Not “We test too much.” Not “Some charter schools are bad.” But I want to end these two perverse school policies!
And to top it all off, before she hurried off to tidy up as the time approached for her campaign speech, she game me a warm, tight hug.
Compare that to Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
As part of the Badass Teachers Association, we reached out to all the Democratic and Republican candidates on these exact same issues. The Republicans ignored us entirely, but both Democrats gave us phone calls by campaign aides.
Even then, the Democratic response was far from convivial. It mostly came down to something like “Education is important.” Well, duh.
In Sanders’ case, we had to conduct an impromptu sit-in at the Senator’s Washington office before anyone would talk to us about policy. And Hillary only started to speak in measured tones about public schools after our national teachers unions voted to endorse her – well, the leaders of those unions voted. No one ever really asked us, rank-and-file.
Moreover, when Sanders voted for the horrible Murphy Amendment of what became the Every Child Succeeds Act, several teachers including myself wrote him an open letter asking him to explain his apparent support for a Test and Punish education provision. One of his aides sent us a reply – some nonsense about accountability.
And Jill Stein just gave me a hug.
The difference is huge!
When activists were holding this conference centering on the movement to Opt Out of Standardized testing, Sanders and Clinton didn’t even send campaign literature. Stein came in person and even gave a keynote address!
Don’t get me wrong. Hillary is far preferable to any Republican candidate seeking the office. I just wish her Presidential bid wasn’t funded by the very people we’re fighting against.
I love Bernie, too. I’ve even got the t-shirt to prove it. I just wish he loved us as much by throwing out a few more specifics. The general thrust of his campaign seems tailor-made to support test resistance and a fight against corporate education reform, but he rarely connects the dots with anything that we could hold him accountable for saying.
And then you have Stein, perhaps the most human politician I’ve ever met.
One look at her platform and it’s obvious she’s the best candidate for President in 2016. But is she electable?
Think about that for a moment.
What does it say about our country?
Design an excellent platform that benefits the most people, organize a movement to get your message out there, draw on the experience of experts in various fields… and you’re an incredible long shot to win the office.
The media says the same thing about Sanders as he speaks to overcapacity crowds and struggles against party politics seemingly written to hobble any populist campaign like his.
Yet Stein has no giant crowds. She has no adoring fans, no comedian on Saturday Night Live giving her friendly jibes.
She’s almost completely ignored by the media. Yet her actual policies make even a progressive like Sanders look like… well… Hillary Clinton!
For instance, Sanders wants to make college free to everyone. Stein wants to do that, too, AND erase all existing student debt.
Sanders is (kind of) against for-profit charter schools but has been vaguely supportive of Test and Punish school accountability practices. Stein is unequivocally against all forms of school privatization and high stakes standardized testing.
Sanders wants single-payer healthcare paid for by raising taxes (but net savings over all). Stein wants single-payer healthcare paid for by cutting our bloated military budget with no raise in taxes.
In fact, while Sanders is against unnecessary military action and an increase in military spending, he is in favor of keeping the $1 trillion military budget mostly intact. Stein wants to cut it by 50%, stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, stop giving weapons to Israel, freeze terrorist-funder’s bank accounts, end the War on Terror and engage in a policy of peace.
Moreover, Stein wants the savings from slashing our biggest federal expenditure to be used to fund a New Green Deal, creating full employment and a living wage all while transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2030!
Correct me if I’m wrong, but all of Stein’s policies sound rather sane and measured. Yet she is the one the media labels a radical and out-of-touch – if they talk about her at all.
It’s a testament to how perverted our politics have become: Sanity looks like the exact opposite. Logic and intelligence are revolutionary concepts.
And only the activists and intellectuals seem to know this is happening.
When Stein was done speaking, someone asked her the inevitable question about Ralph Nader. Wouldn’t casting a ballot for her just divide the Democratic vote and give the race to the Republicans as it did in 2000?
Her response was a bit evasive – the only time, in fact, where she seemed a bit uncomfortable.
She said that Nader wasn’t a member of the Green Party, where she is. She is engaged in building the party and the movement even beyond 2016.
On the one hand, it sounded like she was suggesting that even if she loses, it will bring real progressive issues into the limelight. However, this is not what happened when Nader lost as a third party candidate against Bush and Gore.
On the other hand, she stressed that she actually could win. About 43 million people are trapped by student debt, which she wants to unilaterally eliminate, she said. That’s a large enough chunk of the population that if they all voted for her, she would win.
It’s time for a Hail Mary moment, she said. We have to take a chance to vote for the best policies and not continue to compromise by supporting the lesser evil. Concession is the road to what we have now – continued oligarchy and global hegemony.
We need a functioning world for our children. If we don’t do something about Climate Change, the Earth may not be habitable in as little as five decades.
It’s now or never, she said.
I offer all this not as an endorsement of Stein. Nor of Sanders or Clinton (though seriously stay away from the Republicans, they’re freaking crazy).
I offer this only as food for thought.
Stein is offering us the best platform, bar none. But can we afford to vote for her? Can we afford not to?