This is an expanded version of an early-morning Facebook post from about a week ago. It got a lot of shares, some good positive comments, and some reasonable criticisms, so it seemed worth giving some extra, caffeinated time to.
When someone tells me they’re voting for Jill Stein on principle, I have to wonder what that principle is or how much people know about Stein and the Greens. I say that as someone with a history of voting Green under certain circumstances.
If you vote for Jill Stein, you’re voting for a candidate who has never held office above the suburban city level. She did that in one of the wealthiest suburbs in the nation, in a town that would be almost 100% white if it weren’t for students from Asia who settled locally after graduation. She has spent almost her entire political career as a lobbyist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it is a far different set of skills from holding office and representing constituents.
If you vote for Jill Stein, you’re voting for the Green Party, which has chosen to throw its money and work into advertising itself through doomed runs for national and sometimes state offices over putting people in local offices where important, unglamorous work gets done. Yes, they do have some candidates at the local level, where progressive people have organized themselves in their name. Living in Minneapolis, where the Greens basically are our second party, I had one as my city council rep for a while. He turned out to be corrupt, which is a danger within any party. But by and large the party’s focus is on running races they can’t win for visibility, not on getting political work done.
This national focus also means that they spend much of their time talking about a handful of big, showy environmental issues instead of working on environmental justice at the local level where people are being hurt. Some of those issues are completely bogus too, as well as being focused on the affluent. So if you vote for Jill Stein, you’re voting for a party that is focusing on GMO labeling over the nitpicky zoning and regulation that would actually make life better for people in black, Hispanic, and native neighborhoods. You know, the poor and exploited neighborhoods. [ETA: Just to be clear, GMO labeling is a bad issue for the Greens. See Benny’s comment below for more on that.]
That isn’t a problem with their platform but with which parts of their platform they choose to emphasize. However, their platform has its own issues. These problems coexist with some good policy and priorities, but they do exist. For example, the section on sex work is terrible. It reduces sex work to trafficking and cover for trafficking and labor trafficking to sex trafficking, all while referencing a document on labor trafficking that makes it very clear that sex trafficking is only one part of a global problem of exploitative, abusive labor. In other words, it singles out sex work as an invalid form of labor based on reasoning that applies to multiple industries and types of labor. And it does that while pointing to a report that says it should know better.
Then there’s vaccination. That’s not in the platform, but it’s still a significant problem.
I don’t think the Greens are terrible as a party and doomed to remain forever terrible. I do think they’re not the sin-free, wash-your-hands-of-all-political-guilt vote that many people want them to be. They’re still a political party doing politics–not that there’s anything wrong with that. They still make compromises. They’re still driven by their constituencies, even when that leads some irrational places.
If my friends want the Green Party to really be the progressive party that will represent them and their interests, it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than a vote in a national election. It’s going to take an influx of volunteers and candidates at the local level who are willing to fight with current party representatives to make the Greens what they could be. It’s also going to take a shift in attitude away from the idea that doing politics is doing something dirty, corrupt, and wrong in itself.
So if you want to vote for a “little guy” like you, you’re not getting it in Stein. If you want a real alternative third party, you can’t get there by voting for the Greens as they run now. (Go lobby your local elections bodies for instant-runoff voting instead.) If you want someone fighting for economic justice on the national level, you’re not getting that from the Greens based on their history or strategy. If you want someone incorruptible, that’s not a promise any party can make.
About the only principle you can effectively uphold by voting for Stein is that politics shouldn’t be done by people who are good at it. And if that’s the message you’re trying to send, well, then I disagree vehemently. Government is our check on the strong, on the mob, on the rich. It doesn’t always do those things well, but that’s what it exists for. I want people in office who can do that job.