Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate, has made herself known as a viable alternative option to disenchanted former Bernie Sanders supporters. While she does remain the most “progressive” candidate in the race in term of policy, some of her positions remain somewhat questionable.
Anyone who has followed my commentary on the 2016 American election season in the slightest sense likely knows that, after Senator Bernie Sanders’ quixotic attempt to sever the Democratic Party’s relationship with its Clintonian brand of neoliberalism came to a halt, most of my energy in regards to the presidential election has been dedicated to promoting the far-fetched candidacy of Green Party nominee Jill Stein, a physician and long-time activist from my home state of Massachusetts.
As a leftist, I truly can’t bring myself to choose between the candidates that have been chosen to run on behalf of the nation’s two corporate parties.
On the one hand, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, is running on platform of postmodern social liberalism steeped in identity politics that both obscures the reality of class divisions that shape societal structures and distracts from her incredibly problematic record on issues ranging from trade to criminal justice to foreign policy. On the other hand, Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, has, throughout his campaign, worked to mimic the rhetoric of far-right demagogues from Pat Buchanan to Jean-Marie Le Pen in order to divert the anger of the working class towards minorities, immigrants, and members of other oppressed and marginalized communities. That said, my reasoning for supporting Stein over a number of other third-party candidates–many of whom I perhaps agree with on the issues more than I do with Dr. Stein–is based far more in electoral strategy than anything.
Though I recognize the limits of electoral politics in taking a stand against structures within society that encourage oppression, I believe that it can be one of many useful tools that can be used to move away from the current system.
As I live in Massachusetts, a state that has voted overwhelming for the Democratic candidate in every election since 1984 (when Ronald Reagan won forty-nine of the fifty states in his run for re-election), I recognize that the arguably undemocratic nature of the Electoral College can be perhaps used to my advantage.
By voting for Jill Stein in a state where voting one’s conscience is unlikely to hand the election over to a neo-fascist candidate like Trump, voters in Massachusetts and other “safe” states have the opportunity to unite behind a Left candidate like Stein to work to achieve five percent of the popular vote in order to secure federal funding in the next presidential election–perhaps finally paving the way for a major party not controlled by the interests of the capitalist class to rise up and play a role in electoral politics for decades to come.
Criticism, A Fundamental Pillar of Any Democracy, Strengthens Movements
Even as a supporter of Stein’s presidential campaign, though, I find it necessary to hold her accountable for views on policy that perhaps cause skepticism amongst voters from all ends of the political spectrum.
As a supporter of her campaign, it truly concerns me to see so many others turn a blind eye to contentious facets of her platform out of a fear that criticizing the most viable presidential candidate from the Left will harm the overall movement behind the campaign.
It is our duty, both as supporters of a specific campaign and as citizens of a representative democracy, to speak out about the issues that matter to us in order to bring about change on all levels.
Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, perhaps said it best: “Constructive criticism is not only to be expected but sought.”
The Counter-Productivity of Stein’s Anti-Nuclear Position
Like Dr. Stein, I am fundamentally opposed to a continuation of our dependence, as a nation and as an industrialized world, on fossil fuels. I, too, share her opposition to both the extraction of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing and the collection of petroleum through offshore drilling based on the threats to the environment that such risky activities present. However, when it comes to skepticism about mainstream alternative energy sources, Stein goes to extremes that most environmental activists avoid.
Dr. Jill Stein, on whether nuclear power is a valid alternative fuel source, has gone as far as saying that “nuclear is a deadly solution.”
Stein, in shaping her point of view on the safety of nuclear energy in regards to both the environment and to human health, seems to make the terrible mistake of prioritizing preconceived notions ahead of data. The truth behind nuclear energy, though, is that has less emissions, takes less land, and has lower life-cycle costs than any other energy source. In “The Nuclear Industry’s Contribution to the U.S. Economy,” economists Mark Berkman, Stephen Lagos, and Dean Murphy analyze the economic, societal, and environmental effects of nuclear energy. Along with contributing over $60 billion to America’s annual GDP, supporting nearly 500,000 full-time jobs, and lowering electricity costs by as much as 6%, nuclear power has proven to be more environmentally friendly than any other form of non-renewable energy. Nuclear energy accounts for two-thirds of America’s low-carbon energy and has prevented the emission of 573 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, including 650,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and one million tons of sulfur dioxide, each year.
Former Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN), cofounder of the bipartisan Nuclear Matters group, said it most succinctly when discussing attempts by the federal government to reduce carbon emissions: “Without nuclear power, it would be impossible to achieve our carbon reduction objectives.”
The fears of radioactivity and reactor meltdowns that Stein bases her demands for an end to nuclear power upon are based more in paranoia than they are fact. After all, as the U.S. Department of Labor notes, working at a nuclear power plant comes with less risk than working at a fast food restaurant, grocery store or in real estate. The issue of radiation has been incredibly hyperbolized; if a man were to stand outside of a nuclear plant for one year, he would absorb less than one millirem of radioactive particles, as compared to the 620 million millirems that are absorbed through other means each year by the average American.
Nuclear energy is one of the safest, most affordable, and most accessible forms of energy available, and by falling prey to a form of paranoid hysteria when considering the expansion of nuclear energy, Stein is inadvertently working against a “greener” future for our environment.
The Green Brand of Maternalistic Feminism Inadvertently Feeds the Patriarchy
I also truly believe that some of her statements in regards to her brand of feminism have been incredibly problematic.Jill Stein has, for example, defined her brand of feminism through the use of incredibly maternalistic words and phrases throughout her presidential run. On Mother’s Day, for example, Dr. Stein attacked Hillary Clinton on Twitter for “not reflecting the values of being a mother.”
During the CNN Town Hall featuring Dr. Stein and her running mate Ajamu Baraka, Stein continued to emphasize her belief that we need a woman who reflects maternal values in the White House. Some of what she says in regards to feminism does hold up in the face of scrutiny; for example,Jill Stein is correct in noting that “When there’s economic injustice, when there’s racial injustice, when there’s sexual violence, when there’s health injustice…it tends to flow in [women’s] direction.” However, the essentialist view held by Stein that equates motherhood with femininity assumes that women inherently are defined by such qualities.
In turn, these assumptions work to create and strengthen structures within society that restrict women to these roles. These quite patriarchal ideas of what it means to be a woman diverts attention away from dismantling societal vehicles that encourage oppression.
By playing into these patriarchal ideas, we begin to, purposefully or not, objectify motherhood and disregard the subjectivity of femininity and thus work to control women’s energy and bodies.
This isn’t to say that a woman who chooses to lead a live surrounding motherhood is any less of a feminist than one who doesn’t; however, it is essential to note that it is not necessary to be a mother for a woman to find fulfillment.
Stein’s Silence on the Green View on Sex Work Reinforces A Moralistic Worldview
Though Jill Stein has said very little about sex work while campaigning, she has, through her silence, tacitly approved of statements about sex work and prostitution made by campaign surrogates and the party at-large that many feminists find to be very questionable. For example, Chris Hedges, a well-known Green Party activist, writes in his February article on Truthdig endorsing Stein’s candidacy that energy must be focused on “fighting male violence against women, including pornography and prostitution.” The Green Party has, in the past, explicitly endorsed the development of legislation modelled after Sweden’s 1999 Kvinnofrid law that would keep the buying of sexual services illegal while making the sale of sexual services legal. The party, in its platform, requests “that the term ‘sex work’ not be used in relation to prostitution” based on the alleged conflation between trafficking and prostitution.
Svati Shah, in his paper “Trafficking and the Conflation with Sex Work,” notes the problem of such an assumption: “Conflating and equating prostitution with ‘trafficking’ and ‘sexual exploitation’ has ultimately served to undermine efforts to address both trafficking and sexual commerce, while inadvertently contributing to the harm that people working in sexual commerce face from local law enforcement and from potentially violent clients and intermediaries.”
In addition, to conclude that women only enter sex work due to oppression or a lack of opportunity violates a woman’s right to the ability to make an autonomous choice about her life and career. The granting of sexual autonomy for some women that comes through sex work allows women to explore their own sexuality while claiming independence and making their own choices about how to lead a fulfilling life.
Whereas the Green Party seems to adopt the stance that women who choose sex work are victims of circumstance and oppression, many women who choose sex work find such a career to be liberating.
It is, on the other hand, this patriarchal and highly moralistic view of sex and sexual activity held by the party that leads to the stigmatization of sex work; opposing sex work on the basis of misconception can work to only feed that deceptive narrative and block women who choose that line of work from finding self-worth or self-confidence.
By not standing up to this problematic facet of her party’s platform, Jill Stein tacitly approves of such an exclusive definition of feminism.
We Must Be Unafraid to Critique Those Whom We Support
I am supporting Jill Stein’s candidacy for the presidency.
For all her shortcomings (many of which I haven’t even mentioned), I believe that she truly has the best vision for this nation out of the four viable candidates running for the position. I agree completely with her plan to all aid to human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia and Israel. I agree wholeheartedly with her plan to move to completely clean renewable energy by 2030. I agree unconditionally with her plans to secure single-payer healthcare, to cancel student debt, to protect American workers and labor unions, to end the War on Drugs, to reform the electoral process, and to shut down all foreign military bases. That said, it is essential for all of us–regardless of whom we’re supporting–to continue to speak out in order to bring about the change that we wish to see.
Ignoring valid criticisms about the candidates whom we support will do little to convince others to join our fights; rather, by being unafraid to criticize contentious aspects of candidacies, we can work to address weaknesses of movements and make said movements more inclusive and more effective.