"I had never been a member of any political party," says Stein. "I've always thought that the whole process was simply too corrupt to be a part of. After working on campaign-finance reform, though, it became clear that we couldn't fix the fundamental problem of money in politics until we changed the corrupt political culture with a whole new vehicle."
In normal politics, you run for local office and win, then run for statewide office and win, and then — your cred established — you might entertain a bid for the White House. This being alternative politics, the model's different: you run for governor, lose, run for legislature, lose, run for municipal office, win, and then run for president.
This time around, Stein is motivated by reasons that are similar to what spurred her run for governor in 2002, and for state representative and secretary of state after that. As a doctor who speaks healthcare fluently, she was alarmed by Obama jeopardizing Medicare and Social Security through compromise with free-market conservatives. In July of last year, Stein became involved with the national Green Party, but only to help field a presidential candidate — not to become one.
Things soon changed, especially after the onset of Occupy Wall Street and its tangential outposts. Within weeks of the movement kicking off on September 17, Stein began visiting what would eventually be more than 25 protest camps nationwide. Even after officially announcing her candidacy in late October, however, she didn't ask for backing from Occupiers. Instead, Stein says, she offered her support.
"Occupy is incapable of being harnessed," says Stein. The candidate was invited by Occupy organizers to speak at a massive student-debt rally in Union Square, and was even arrested on August 1 in Philadelphia for protesting Fannie Mae alongside foreclosure victims. How's that for cred? She continues: "Occupiers have seen that it's not only the electoral system that's rigged — it's every mode of political action. We can't afford to give the predators a pass anywhere. To only work outside of the system is to see everything you've worked for destroyed by the pressure of the voting booth. I've found over and over again that Occupiers are on board with that approach."THE 15 PERCENT
Despite obvious impediments like their lack of cash and power, Stein and her running mate, anti-poverty advocate Cheri Honkala, are on a relative winning streak. The Green Party has secured federal campaign matching funds — its first time ever doing so in a national race. They're also on the ballot in 24 states, with that number expected to exceed the 40-state mark by election time.
Optimism aside, Stein has more than a few obvious obstacles to getting her agenda heard. Like the other serious third-party candidate, Libertarian Gary Johnson, she's left out of most polls, yet won't be invited to participate in the debates unless she garners more than 15 percent in those surveys. According to UMASS-Amherst political science professor Ray La Raja, Stein faces more than just a stacked deck. Unless America is struck by an environmental catastrophe between now and November, he says most people will ignore the Green voice. "[Romney and Obama] are so different and the stakes are so high," says La Raja, "that people are going to be compelled to vote for one of the two major parties."