The recent strike and mass mobilisations of teachers and their supporters in Chicago were significant for those who opposed them.
The Democrat Barack Obama and the Republican Mitt Romney aligned themselves against this fight to defend public schools.
In contrast, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein expressed solidarity with the movement and was invited to speak at a rally.
Officially, Obama stayed silent on the strike, but he did not need to speak to show where he stood. His former chief of staff in the White House and now Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, led the charge against the teachers.
Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, is in charge of Obama’s program to weaken the teachers’ unions and promote the privatisation of public schools under the banner: “Race to the Top.”
Duncan was the Chicago schools CEO from 2002 through 2008, before he was elevated by Obama.
In a show of bipartisan support, Romney and his even more reactionary running mate, Paul Ryan, came out in solidarity with Emanuel and denounced the teachers.
The Green Party convention in July nominated Stein as its candidate. A physician, she is well-known as an advocate for a national health insurance program for all, and fighter on environmental issues.
She successfully opposed building trash incinerators and campaigned to clean up the “Filthy Five” coal plants in Massachusetts, her home state.
Stein previously ran against Romney for Massachusetts governor in 2002, and for secretary of state in 2006, winning 350,000 votes as a Green-Rainbow candidate against the Democrats and Republicans.
Stein’s running mate, Cheri Honkala, was born into extreme poverty. A single mother in her teens, she became a leading advocate for the poor and homeless, co-founding the Kensington Welfare Rights Union in Philadelphia.
Honkala became a socialist, and for a time was a member of a Maoist group.
Honkala was named Philadelphia Weekly "Woman of the Year" in 1997, and the same title by Ms. Magazine in 2001. Last year, she ran as the Green candidate for Philadelphia sherrif, pledging to stop home foreclosures in the wake of the ongoing depression.
The Green Party convention was a movement event. Many references to the Occupy movement were met by cheers. With the slogan of “Occupy the Elections,” the party declared its solidarity with the goals of Occupy in opposing the “1%”.
In her acceptance speech, Stein said she joined the Green Party because it’s “the only national party that is not bought and paid for by corporate money”.
“The corporate-sponsored political parties — the establishment — isn’t going to change the status quo for us. We’ve got to do it.”
Chants of “Bring the Troops Home Now!” erupted when Stein denounced the illegal wars being waged by Washington and called for closing the nearly 1000 US military bases around the world.
She condemned the National Defense Authorization Act backing the US wars, the use of drones, the Patriot Act, the racist Arizona anti-immigrant laws, and called for the repeal of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which impoverishes Mexican peasants and workers.
Gar Alperovitz, historian and writer, author of America Beyond Capitalism, gave the keynote speech at the convention. A reformist socialist, his references to socialism were met with cheers from the delegates.
He told the convention that their challenge was the “transformation of the most powerful corporate capitalistic system in the history of the world — that’s what it is about … not simply a gesture, not simply a new party, not simply a green movement”.
He concluded by referring to two recent polls that 49% of youth had a favorable opinion of socialism, and concluded that there were opportunities to change the system.
The Green parties in much of the world have become part of the capitalist system, even joining capitalist and imperialist governments. The Green Party in the US has not gone down that path.
From its original formation around ecological issues, the Green Party has broadened into a social justice party. Within the party, there is a wide political variation from left-liberal to socialist. But the party’s direction under the impact of the depression is to become more radical.
The party is largely white. Women, African Americans and Latinos within the party have organised themselves into caucuses, and have run for local and state offices.
The Stein-Hankala ticket also brings much-needed organisational experience to the poorly-organised Greens.
In the face of undemocratic election laws designed to preserve the two-party capitalist shell game, the ticket will be on the ballot in more than 30 states with 85% of the population, not a small organisational achievement.
They have also qualified for federal matching funds by raising at least US$5000 in a minimum of 20 states, with only $250 from any one contributor counting. This was a first for the Greens, and was accomplished by a grass-roots campaign.
The pressure to vote for Obama in spite of his record in office is great because of the sharp moves to the right by the Republicans frightens many.
Against those with a “lesser evil” argument who attack the Greens as “spoilers” taking votes from the Democrats, Stein replied: “You can’t spoil something that is already rotten.”
Speaking on Democracy Now!, Stein said that keeping silent and voting for the “lesser evil” has brought us to the present stage of economic depression, to perpetual wars, to high unemployment and loss of civil liberties.
[Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party — the Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books. Read more of Sheppard's articles.]