Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and vice presidential candidate Ajamu Baraka took part in CNN's first Green Party town hall Wednesday night, laying out their proposals to abolish all student debt, establish a single-payer healthcare system, create a foreign policy based on humanitarian values, and to establish a "Green New Deal" that would both create millions of jobs nationwide and help transition the country to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
"I have serious questions about Hillary's judgment [...] given how she handled major decisions around both the war in Iraq and the war in Libya, where she led the charge."
"I'm not a professional politician," Jill Stein said at the start of the program, when asked by host Chris Cuomo to introduce herself to CNN's viewers. "I've been a part of the social movements really struggling for our health, for jobs, for an environment that's really healthy for us."
Indeed, Stein and Baraka positioned themselves throughout as radicals and revolutionaries, outsiders fighting as part of a broader leftist movement against an oligarchy and duopoly that controls the country's political fate.
"The Green Party is the only vehicle we have right now that can offer a real alternative," Baraka argued. "People are not ready to accept the notion that we have to be held hostage to these two elite parties. People are willing to gamble with the possibility that we can really build something new and different. I think in 2016 we have this kind of historic opportunity—as Dr. Stein said, my whole life has been about building alternative power, about speaking truth to power, about understanding that the people themselves have the power to transform their conditions and transform themselves."
Watch the full event here:
Throughout the town hall, Stein and Baraka explicitly reached out to Bernie Sanders supporters—arguing that his presidential run was about a progressive movement, not Sanders himself—as well as to the tens of millions of young Americans overwhelmed by student debt.
And both candidates didn't hold back their critique of the candidates of both major parties. "I have serious questions about Hillary's judgment, her safeguarding of national security information, and above all her trustworthiness in the job where she will have her finger on the button," Stein said, "given how she handled major decisions around both the war in Iraq and the war in Libya, where she led the charge."
"We confront the Donald Trumps with a positive message of hope and a positive real message of change in this country."
—Ajamu BarakaBaraka also condemned Trump's campaign for contributing to the "degradation of the democratic process" in the United States. "We're going to have to deal with Donald Trump even after the election, win or lose, because he is appealing to a social base that is prepared to continue to embrace the darkest side of humanity," Baraka said. "His appeal to the folks who embrace xenophobia, racism, his bigotry around religion—the unfortunate reality is that it has resonated with some elements of society."
Baraka and Stein argued that their candidacy presents a chance for Americans to embrace "the greater good" in an election in which both parties are running extremely unpopular candidates. "We confront the Donald Trumps with a positive message of hope and a positive message of real change in this country," as Baraka said.
As many observed on social media, CNN's unprecedented town hall shows that many Americans are unhappy with the two major parties' candidates:
It's testament to how horrid candidacies of Clinton & Trump are that CNN programmed #GreenTownHall. People thirsty for alternatives
— Kevin Gosztola (@kgosztola) August 18, 2016
.@CNN hosting a Green Party town hall. Oh, did you know you can vote for someone other than a buffoon or a warmonger?
— aaron bowersock (@abowersock) August 18, 2016
If we don't or can't vote our interest, are we no more than a captive electorate that will ALWAYS have to settle for the lesser evil?
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— officialERICA GARNER (@es_snipes) August 18, 2016
Not everyone was convinced that the Green Party candidates' run is good for the country, however. One audience member asked Jill Stein, "effectively, you could help Donald Trump [win in November] like Ralph Nader helped George W. Bush in 2000. How can you sleep at night?"
"I will have trouble sleeping at night if Donald Trump is elected," Jill Stein responded with a smile. "I will also have trouble sleeping at night if Hillary Clinton is elected."
Others felt that Jill Stein did not perform well, arguing that she did not focus intently enough on Green Party policy and instead played too much defense against charges of being a spoiler:
Jill needs to go on the offense & be much more aggressive. She has nothing to lose. Zero time for defense. Hammer on policy. #GreenTownHall
— Secular Talk (@KyleKulinski) August 18, 2016
But many progressive voices on Twitter praised Stein's and Baraka's performance:
— Raffi Cavoukian (@Raffi_RC) August 18, 2016
— Abby Martin (@AbbyMartin) August 18, 2016
— Ben Spielberg (@BenSpielberg) August 18, 2016
Indeed, those seeking an alternative to both Clinton and Trump saw encouragement and validation in the simple fact of CNN's arranging third party town halls (while the Green Party town hall was the network's first, it has hosted town halls with Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson twice so far this year).
"The [presidential] debates will feature just two participants, which means we’ll soon see a sentient pile of corporate TPS reports shadowbox an angry carny for the country's top prize."
—Jacob Silverman, The Baffler
As journalist Jacob Silverman observed Wednesday in The Baffler: "Being a loser in the attention economy [...] has real costs for the Green Party, which has devoted most of its resources to getting on ballots and into the presidential debates. Stein joined with Johnson to sue for access to the debates, but they were rebuffed. Unless either begins polling above 15 percent—more likely for Johnson at this point—the debates will feature just two participants, which means we’ll soon see a sentient pile of corporate TPS reports shadowbox an angry carny for the country's top prize."
And from the perspective of those voters whose needs have been "pushed ever further down some future politician's imaginary to-do list," Silverman argued, "[i]t's no wonder that from this view, 'impractical' voters seem more like clear-eyed strategists charged for a fight and less like fantasy-sick obstructionists intent on spoiling elections, which already seem spoiled enough."