Chicago turns out for Stein

September 14, 2016

Stacey Bear and Hannah Utain-Evans describe the scene at a Chicago campaign rally for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

SOME 450 people gathered at the Preston Bradley Center in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood on September 8 to hear the Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

The crowd consisted of long-time Green Party supporters, local activists, backers of Bernie Sanders and first-time voters curious about independent politics. Though the speakers who introduced Stein came from differing backgrounds and spoke to a range of issues, one main message united them: Jill Stein's campaign is a campaign for people's movements.

Chicago Teachers Union member Sarah Chambers spoke about the consequences of a Democratic-dominated state government--the lack of a state budget, the suffering of public services under austerity and, of course, the looming struggle facing Chicago teachers as they fight for a fair contract. She especially emphasized the need for a candidate that supports teachers and their fight for well-funded schools.

Following Chambers were college students from DePaul University and the University of Illinoi at –Chicago, who spoke about the difficulties faced by an entire generation of young people as they seek college educations and are forced to take on the heavy burden of student loan debt. They expressed their support of Jill Stein because of her initiative to cancel that student debt.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein greets supporters in Chicago
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein greets supporters in Chicago (Progress Illinois)

"Education is a human right," said Sam Peiffer, a DePaul student and a member of the International Socialist Organization. Gesturing to Stein sitting behind him, Peiffer continued:

Jill Stein is the only candidate in this election who is willing to abolish student debt and make universities tuition-free. But in addition to supporting the Greens in this election, it's necessary that we build movements that are capable of winning these battles, not only during an election cycle, but in between.

Several local community activists then addressed issues of police racism and violence in Chicago, citing Mayor Rahm Emanuel's cover-up of Laquan McDonald's murder by police and the most recent city plans to add ever more cops to Chicago's streets.

The next to be introduced were several Green Party candidates running in local elections, including candidates for Illinois Senate, state comptroller, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. Their speeches connected Chicago's various struggles to a desire for independent candidates with allegiances that lie outside of the Democratic Party.

Tim Curtin, for example, was a former union organizer for United Electrical Workers (UE), whose members led an occupation at Republic Windows and Doors eight years ago. Curtin is now running on the Green Party ticket for Illinois comptroller.

"I spent the last 37 years being a union organizer, and I learned a fundamental truth: The less you are organized, the more you will be exploited," he told the crowd. "We have to build a movement--we should not stop on November 8. We have to build rank-and-file democracy in this state, because we have none."

Having just participated in the protests at Standing Rock in North Dakota the day before, Stein's running mate, Ajamu Baraka, said, "Some people ask why were we in North Dakota and how did we end up in the situation we were in. We explain this simply--this campaign is not just a campaign, but it is about standing shoulder to shoulder with all those who are struggling against oppression."

FINALLY, JILL Stein took the stage, giving the crowd her signature peace sign as they stood cheering. She opened by applauding Chicago's history of activism and its ongoing fight for education justice and immigrant and labor rights. Stein further emphasized the importance of solidarity and the power of movements in effecting real, political change.

She then shared experiences from the campaign trail in which media representatives attempt to frame her third-party platform as hopeless:

Who are these media pundits that are telling the American public to be good girls and boys and take our marching orders from the big politicians in the Democratic and Republican Parties? Who we are telling us: Don't dare stand up and cast a vote for ourselves, for our future? We say to them: Forget the lesser evil. Vote for the greater good.

The audience responded with chants of "Jill Not Hil!"

Stein then highlighted the desire for third-party politics among the vast majority of Americans, arguing that "76 percent--three quarters of the American public--now say in the polls that they want to know about other choices. They want to open up the debates." The crowd responded with a standing ovation, and the cheers continued throughout the night as Stein took up the issues brought forward by each of the previous speakers.

The night wrapped up with questions from the audience, ranging on topics from Stein's foreign diplomacy platform to her support of local union struggles.

She ended with resounding encouragement for participation in her campaign: "Our work has only begun. We have just begun to discover our power. Together we are unstoppable. We are going to give them something they never expected in this election."

Elizabeth Schulte contributed to this article.

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