This was perhaps the only opportunity the presidential candidate I have endorsed – Jill Stein – and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, to have the ear of a large portion of the mainstream American electorate. There was little room for error.
They spent little time directly criticizing Donald Trump. This was a wise move, since virtually no one among Stein’s potential base of support is considering Trump as a viable option. Instead, she focused on Hillary Clinton.
At a moment where the Clinton campaign is still attempting to secure the support of frustrated Bernie Sanders primary voters, Stein demonstrated that Clinton’s brand of liberalism does not represent the tone or spirit of the Sanders campaign. By highlighting Clinton’s pro-corporate politics and active role in hawkish foreign policy, Stein raised considerable doubt about Clinton’s leftist bona fides.
“I will have trouble sleeping at night if Donald Trump is elected,” Stein said. “I will also have trouble sleeping at night if Hillary Clinton is elected.”
Throughout the event, both Stein and Baraka rightly refuted the idea that superficial identity politics are enough to constitute a progressive movement. Stein destroyed the notion that a vote for Clinton is a feminist move, as Clinton’s pro-war stances and neoliberal economic policies have compromised the lives and prosperity of women and families around the globe. Baraka drew from Barack Obama’s presidential record to show that electing a black president has not signaled a turn away from anti-black racism at the systemic or interpersonal levels.
Stein also raised doubts about Clinton’s trustworthiness. While these arguments are not new, they carried a different level of veracity when separated from the hypocritical and sexist “crooked Hillary” rhetoric of the Trump campaign. Drawing from Clinton’s own anti-Trump playbook, Stein used Clinton’s email scandal and missteps abroad as a springboard to question Clinton’s judgment.
Of course, such critiques would have been more effective if the possibility of a nuclear armed Trump weren’t lingering in the back of voter’s minds, but they nonetheless focused appropriate scrutiny to the secretary’s actions.
But Stein and Baraka did not merely tell voters what to vote against, they also gave them something to vote for.
Throughout the night, the candidates used their time to articulate the Green party’s vision for the future. Specifically, Stein talked about workable plans to create peace in the Middle East, a plan that includes nuclear disarmament, a call to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and a loosening of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization’s economic strangleholds on the globe’s most vulnerable nations.
Baraka offered a workable vision of a nation without state violence, inner cities without police as occupying forces and vulnerable citizens not viewed as enemy combatants. For the first time since Bernie Sanders stepped out of the Democratic race, the American public was given an opportunity to dream out loud for a few hours about freedom, justice and true democracy.
Despite the town hall’s success, the Green party has a long way to go to snag a significant slice of undecided, Independent and Clinton-leaning voters. The challenge of the Stein-Baraka campaign will be to convince voters of a long-term political vision, one that isn’t prisoner to our collective obsession with individual elections or hyperbolic fear of particular candidates.
They will have to persuade voters to believe that the two-party system, when underwritten by endless corporate money, does not offer the “lesser of two evils” but a fundamental threat to democracy itself. Surely, they have a long way to go to achieve these goals. But they’ve made an incredible start.