Meet Jill Stein, the Other Anti-Establishment Progressive Running for President

By Rebecca Nelson
May 26, 2016

The Green Party candidate rails against corporations and Wall Street. She has a habit of getting arrested—three times in the last election alone. She also happens to be the plan B for a few progressive voters if this whole Bernie thing doesn’t work out. But who is Dr. Stein, really?

Four years ago, when Jill Stein was the Green Party’s candidate for president, she wasn’t onstage trading barbs with President Obama and Mitt Romney during the second debate at Long Island’s Hofstra University. She was outside, in the street, with an American flag draped over her lap. And then, shortly after, she was getting arrested for refusing to move.

Barred from the debates (candidates have to meet a floor of 15 percent in the polls to be invited), she garnered just 469,501 votes, or less than half a percent of the total cast. That, evidently, was enough to convince her that she should run again. Last June, Stein, a medical doctor turned environmental activist, announced that she was indeed throwing her hat into the shitshow that would become the 2016 race—just days after Donald Trump’s own rambling speech announcing his run for the White House.

In an election that includes a playboy former reality-show star, Stein might be the most badass candidate for president. Her platform reads like that of a Miss America contestant exposed to gamma radiation: She’d “end poverty” and also unemployment; “abolish” everyone’s student debt; and, to top it off, she says she’d give everyone healthcare. It’s far to the left, too—much farther than the avowed socialist vying for the Democratic nomination—pushing for a transition to entirely renewable energy by 2030 and legal weed. Plus, she’s plenty angry.

“When corporations are in the driver’s seat, we do not get the thoughtful and informed and principled people that we would like to see running for office,” Stein tells me. “We get really corporate caricatures who are serving the billionaires, or who are billionaires. This is not what democracy looks like.”

Though she likely won’t be included in debates this fall—she’s currently polling at 2 percent—she’s raised her profile to the point that some Sanders devotees have named her their pick if Bernie drops out. Which brings up a question worth asking: Who is Jill Stein, and what is she about?

GQ: Many voters have never heard of you or the Green Party. What’s the first thing you tell someone who doesn’t know you or your platform?

Jill Stein: I tell them I’m what they’ve been looking for. Because American voters are really tired of a rigged economy, and they are tired of a rigged political system. And poll after poll will tell you that people are sick of the two political parties. And I’m from the one national party that is not poisoned or controlled by corporate money. I’m a medical doctor, and I’m now in the practice of political medicine after a career in clinical medicine. Because politics is the mother of all illnesses when it comes right down to it, and we’ve gotta fix that one in order to get at all the other things.

Your “Power to the People Plan” for governing decries “the system.” What is the system, exactly?

Let me put it this way. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, perhaps a century ago, that we have a choice between vast concentrations of wealth or democracy. We have chosen the former. And our democracy has basically slid through our fingers. And it’s essentially a system that’s been hijacked, whether you look at public dialogue, whether you look at access to the ballot, and participating in elections, we have a system that basically circles the wagons around the two establishment parties.

Your agenda has some seriously lofty goals, like “end poverty and unemployment” and “abolish all student debt.” How realistic are those objectives?

Well, put it this way: The course that we’re on right now is—we’re making a beeline for disaster. We’re looking at the next collapse of the economy. The reform bills did not do the trick for Wall Street. And Wall Street is more prone to collapse and failure now than ever before. The banks are bigger than ever, and more concentrated than ever. So I would question the presumption that we are on a stable or sustainable course.

What goes through your mind when you see an avowed socialist giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money, or Donald Trump boasting about the size of his penis and continuing to surge in the polls?

This is what our political system looks like when it’s run by corporate money, by Wall Street predators, by fossil-fuel giants, and by war profiteers. Time is out of joint. The political system is completely unhinged… It’s time to vote the bums out and to stand up for the future that we need and we deserve. The “lesser evil” [phenomenon] is a propaganda campaign in order to intimidate people into voting for more of what is literally killing us. Forget the lesser evil. Fight for the greater good like our lives depend on it.

If you’re honest with yourself, where do you put your chances of winning the presidency?

I’d say it’s as possible as it is for students to ever get out of debt, or as it is for workers at poverty wages to get a decent wage, for the unemployed to get work. Do we want to be told that these things our lives depend on are impossible? I think they are only as possible as our democracy. There are 43 million young people locked into debt. That alone is a plurality of the vote. If that word gets out—even on the Internet—we take over this election, and we win it… If we can get into the debates, you’ll see this completely turn around, in a heartbeat. I’m not holding my breath, but I’m not ruling it out. The house of cards is coming down. And as the house of cards comes down, something needs to replace it.

More than half of Americans say they want a viable third party to choose from. These outsider candidates—Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump—have been so successful this cycle, but you’re polling at just 2 percent. Why do you think you haven’t been able to capitalize on that hunger for something different?

For one thing, Bernie Sanders was at 2 percent six months ago, so we’ll see where we go…we’ll see where his supporters go. And there are many of them that regard us as their plan B. We have a firewalled democracy that is firewalled around the status quo. So, as hard as it’s been for Bernie Sanders to be discovered, we are facing that same problem as an outsider. The press doesn’t cover us, for the most part. We’re kept off the ballot. There are fear campaigns and smear campaigns against third parties. You add that up, it’s a steep hill to climb. But on the other hand, we have no option.

You wrote an open letter to Bernie Sanders in April proposing a unity ticket. Have you heard from him?

No. And our attempts to reach out long preceded this campaign. Since Bernie has been in Washington, he has not been particularly friendly to independent parties. But the sabotage that he’s receiving right now, maybe that will change his thinking. So we’ll see where it goes.

You were arrested three times during the last election—once at a bank sit-in in Philadelphia, another when you tried to get into a presidential debate, and a third when you tried to deliver supplies to Keystone Pipeline protesters in Texas. Any plans to continue your streak in 2016?

No specific plans at the moment, but we’re keeping our options open. So stay tuned.