Third-party presidential candidates have participated in acts of civil disobedience, risked arrest, been arrested and been jailed with some frequency over the past 150 years. So the fact that Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein faces misdemeanor criminal charges in North Dakota stemming from a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline is hardly unprecedented.
But it is politically significant.
Stein is using her Green Party candidacy to support and highlight popular struggles, as have left-wing independent and third-party presidential and vice presidential contenders throughout American history: including former vice president Henry Wallace and Idaho Senator Glen Taylor (whose 1948 Progressive Party campaign challenged segregation by holding integrated events in Southern states, leading to Taylor’s arrest and conviction for attempting to use a door reserved for African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama), Socialists Eugene Victor Debs (who was jailed after delivering an epic anti-war speech during World War I) and Norman Thomas (who was frequently arrested and roughed up by the police when he joined union picket lines, civil-rights demonstrations and free-speech protests in the 1920s and 1930s), and Equal Rights Party presidential nominee Victoria Woodhull (who spent Election Day 1872 in New York City’s Ludlow Street Jail after publishing an expose in her Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly newspaper).
When the Morton County Sheriff’s Department in North Dakota announced plans to pursue misdemeanor criminal trespass and criminal mischief charges against Stein (and Green vice-presidential candidate Ajamu Baraka) for entering private property that was posted against trespassers and spray-painting a statement on a bulldozer blade, Stein’s campaign was quick to acknowledge and detail her involvement in Tuesday’s protest against the pipeline.
“The action was led by Indigenous water defenders who locked down onto construction equipment. Days earlier the same bulldozers were used to assault the ancestral grave sites of the Standing Rock Sioux nation. Pipeline management at that time had unleashed vicious attack dogs on the peaceful protestors and sprayed pepper spray into protesters’ faces,” the campaign explained, adding, “In support of the action that stopped pipeline construction on Tuesday, Stein spray-painted the words ‘I approve this message’ onto the blade of a bulldozer that had been tagged with other messages of protest and that had been used to destroy sacred burial sites of the Standing Rock Sioux.”