As expected, Green Party nominee Jill Stein's 'occupy the debates' protest has created a social media maelstrom. As reported at USA Today, Stein was first spotted on Monday morning with her campaign team, boarding a press bus that took reporters to Hofstra University in New York, where Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump are set to debate. Stein didn't have the proper credentials to be allowed on-campus, but she knew that full well: Her intent was to protest a two-party system that didn't allow herself and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson to participate in the debates because neither had garnered 15 percent of the votes in national polls leading up to the debate.
Stein's subterfuge was temporarily successful; She made it on-campus, and even did an interview with CNN and The Hofstra Chronicle, telling the latter that "Americans want an open debate. Not Hillary, the symbol of business as usual, or Trump, a hate-monger." Soon after that interview, Stein and her team were quietly escorted off campus by the police. Stein pulled a similar stunt in 2012, also at Hofstra University, during a presidential debate between then-candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It was a bit more dramatic that time around — Stein was arrested for disorderly conduct after handcuffing herself to a chair.
Meleiza Figueroa, Stein's campaign spokeswoman, told ABC News that since Stein has a warrant out for her arrest in connection with protests over the pipeline in North Dakota, the plan this year was to protest the debates without risking arrest. "Our supporters are going to attempt to escort Jill [back] in. We are expecting they will be unsuccessful,” Figueroa said.
Not long after being escorted off campus, Stein reappeared, this time outside the Hofstra gates, joining a group of #OccupyTheDebates protestors. She plans to remain outside the University during the debates while answering the same questions posed to Clinton and Trump via Periscope, Twitter's live stream app.
Reaction to these #OccupyTheDebates shenanigans have been mixed. Many on the left side of the political spectrum see Jill Stein as nothing more than a distraction who robs Hillary Clinton of needed votes. Others, though, feel she is a much-needed alternative to Clinton, an "establishment" candidate who is too deeply embedded in a corrupt political system that engages in profiteering wars and caters to the demands of Wall Street.
Among Stein supporters on social media, many seemed to draw an equivalency between Clinton and Trump in that both represent establishment viewpoints:
Other #OccupyTheDebates supporters focused less on the shortcomings of Clinton and Trump as individual candidates, and more on the shortcomings of a two-party political system that, in the words of The Nation writer John Nichols, "erects high barriers to those who seek to open up the process."
Still, there are others who are skeptical of Stein's insistence on participating in the debate. Many point out that while third-party candidates are indeed part of a robust democracy, the Green Party itself is disorganized and has many flaws. Others focus on the more typical critique: that third-party candidates take votes away from the Democratic candidate.
Whatever your stance on third-part candidates, though, we can all agree that Jill Stein provided an entertaining opening act to what promises to be a popcorn-worthy debate season.