Inside a Protestant Church in downtown New Haven, Connecticut, murmurs percolated through the room as former presidential candidate Jill Stein took center stage. The crowd was a mish-mash of prospective Yalies, politically active students, and older Stein supporters from New Haven pushing 70. After posing for selfies with a cluster of undergrads, Stein walked to the altar, silver hair brushed back, and started her speech about why all public colleges should be tuition-free.
But suddenly a voice erupted from the crowd.
“The party of the Left chooses to fight out of love!”
Hundreds of Yale students hissed and banged on the Church’s pews. Another student cried out, “It’s a tough time to be a Republican in America nowadays!” The hollers reverberated throughout the Church as students representing various political groups on campus jacked the event by staking their own soapboxes. Somehow, within a matter of minutes, a Jill Stein talk at Yale had become even more of a laughing stock.
As the former Green Party candidate dived into a 15-minute tirade about free college education, there was hardly a moment free from commotion.
“I thank those standing up for our basic values of social economic justice!” Stein said to placate her antagonists.
The older Stein supporters looked around in bewilderment, horrified at the students’ behavior. The man behind me turned to his wife and asked, “Is anyone filming this?”
The contents of Stein’s speech were as polarizing as her audience’s behavior. Expounding on what she called a “Green New Deal,” Stein warned that “Pearl Harbor is small potatoes” compared to the current refugee crisis. She talked about wanting to impose an arms embargo on the Middle East, tax Wall Street, and bankroll a 70-billion-dollar per year plan to make all public universities free.
“This is not about throwing up our hands and saying, ‘Okay, terrorists, you take over.’ This is about creating effective policy.”
“It’s really critical that we liberate young people from this incredible debt of higher education. If you’re going to survive, you need post-secondary education. This privatized system is just not working. Thank you Joe Biden for creating this system that doesn’t have bankruptcy protection.”
Although it was difficult to make out much of what Stein was saying at the onset, it became easier as the event wore on: every twenty-minutes a third of the audience left in mass.
Following Stein’s speech, students came onstage to debate her points.
“College is not the new high school and we are setting ourselves up for failure thinking otherwise,” asserted an undergrad representing campus Republicans. “Ms. Stein will probably be back here immediately after her plans are implemented asking the state to pay for grad school.”
“All schools already pay students to go to grad school!” a student incorrectly yelled.
“It’s not just rich kids who go to Yale!” shouted another attendee.
Davis Richardson is a writer whose work has appeared in Vice, Nylon Magazine, and Capitol File. Follow him on Twitter @davisoliverr